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Secret Märchen Garden

Chapter Text

Nothing went well in Goro Akechi's life. From the moment he was born to the moment now, he has been a plaything to society. From his father to the adults that used and abused him, there wasn't anyone he could trust. They pushed and pulled on him until he was no longer of any use to them. Even retreating to the back of his mind did not help much.

When your palace was so bad that you had no control of what happened in it, you know you're a messed up individual. Akechi should have had control of the cognition and shadows within. That was not the case. His father…Masayoshi Shido…even in his mind he had absolute control of his life. That was why the worse possible scenario was occurring now.

The Phantom Thieves had wanted to reform his heart. Akechi did not want anyone near his heart even if it was to fix the psychological issues he suffered. They had helped a friend before using this method and they were willing to do it again. The Phantom Thieves had no idea what they were getting themselves into. The palace maze was already hard enough to venture in as it was. Fighting Shido again just seemed redundant to them, but this one wasn't the same as the one that they fought in Shido's Palace. No, he was bigger, stronger and scarier. Their attacks did no damage. He was untouchable…like a God.

Cognitive Shido made quick work of the Phantom Thieves. He remained as impatient as Akechi remembered him to be. Shido chose not to kill the thieves yet. He just needed them to lie on the floor defeated before he decided to finish them off. The one he wanted to kill first was the leader. Akira Kurusu had been the one to interfere with his plans the most. He wanted him gone, but first…

"Do you see now? This is the difference in power between a God and a man. You all have the audacity to attack a living God."

Cognitive Shido was as arrogant as ever. If his ego wasn't bad in his own palace, how Akechi interpreted him was even worse.

"You won't have that much time to live. Think of your final words as I deal with this incompetent son of mine."

Akechi's heart started to race and not in the good way. A part of him hoped the cognitive version of the politician would ignore him but that was impossible. From the very beginning, he was being used as a weapon against the Phantom Thieves. Puppet strings were attached to multiple parts of his body that Shido manipulated on the sidelines. When he got bored, he would unleash an attack that crippled the party. If the Phantom Thieves went out of their way to hurt Akechi, they wouldn't have been in this terrible state now. He was being used as a shield preventing them from doing any real damage without killing the detective. If Akechi died, then the whole journey into his palace would have all been for naught. Akechi wished they never had this plan in the first place because they were going to die for it.

"You were a fool to believe that help would come." Shido spoke. His voice boomed within the palace. "In the end, your pathetic cries for help will be the undoing of you and those criminals."

Akechi wanted to speak up but he couldn't. The puppet strings did not prevent him from speaking by no means, but he couldn't find his voice. His body trembled. Akechi refused to believe he was scared of the cognitive version of his father. Yet here he was doing his best not to look the God Shido in the eye.

"Before I kill you, you need to be taught a lesson on why you don't rebel against your father."

The detective made the mistake of looking at his father before turning away again. Shido wasn't looking at Akechi as much as the clothes he was wearing.

For whatever reason, Shido managed to control what Akechi wore in his own palace. Of all the things he could have worn, Shido made sure to force him to wear the most degrading clothes imaginable in front of the Phantom Thieves. The purpose was to remind Akechi of his place in life as well as to show the thieves of one of the terrible things he has been through. The costume was called a bedlah. Crossdressing was the last thing Akechi wanted to be reminded of in his past especially when it concerned the adults that took advantage of him. A white fitted top that made a certain part of his chest very visible, a hip belt and bottoms that barely covered his legs up. Should the sash be removed, he would be exposed for everyone to see.

Everyone included the Phantom Thieves, his father, the audience watching in anticipation and a Shadow version of himself. The Shadow had been forced to watch in the crowd without any way to interfere with the battle. At a time like this, Akechi wished his Shadow would actually move. Their eyes did in fact meet causing Akechi's head to spin suddenly.

"You only have two options." Shido spoke despite the sudden headache that came to him. "You either die here with your friends or you accept your fate." Shido chuckled as he yanked on the puppet strings. Akechi yelped suddenly being raised in the air. The worse part was that Shido was willing to move one of his fingers to spread his legs to get his point across. The detective trembled causing the God to chuckle. "You knew from the beginning that there was no escape. If I were to go down, you would come down with me. You cannot expect to die as a way to escape your fate."

"That's…" Akechi tried to speak but couldn't find the strength within himself to speak up.

"You are my puppet for me to use and toss away when I see fit. If I cannot use you, my associates will. You will never escape me."

The words stung. Akechi wanted to die when given the chance in Shido's Palace. God apparently hated him seeing as how he was still alive to be placed in this situation. Akechi weakly tried to move his body knowing full well nothing would change. He looked on toward the Phantom Thieves who did not have the strength to get back up. Only Akira was trying to get back on his feet.

"Stay down Akira-kun!" Akechi shouted ignoring his father. "Please! Just stay down!"

Akira was a stubborn mule. He refused to leave a friend in dire need. His eyes were locked onto Shido and Akechi. The God was far from amused.

"Tch. You and that Devil really don't know when to quit." Shido hissed. "Snakes trying to tempt my son to end up as wicked as you. He was obedient before you came along."

"Akechi is not your plaything…" Akira growled weakly. His legs were shaking and he was at wits end, but he sure as hell wasn't going to give up on the detective. "Akechi is his own person…and you will not tell him what he isn't."

"Insolence!"

Akechi could only watch in horror as Shido used another Almighty move to knock Akira back to the ground. How many more of those attacks could Akira take? At this rate, he really would die!

"Stop it!" Akechi shouted before he could stop himself. "Don't kill them!"

God Shido was far from amused. It only took a flick of the finger to force his legs to spread. Akechi gazed in horror at the implication and shut his mouth immediately.

"You must really want to be put in your place. Whatever, you need to remember your standing and why you do not defy God."

Akechi shut his eyes tightly. It really was hopeless.

"So that's it? You're just going to sit there and give up?"

Akechi was confused by the voice. His eyes widened and immediately felt a pounding in his head. He weakly glanced over to the Shadow who seemed to be floating. If the Shadow left his spot, then God Shido would kill him.

"What the hell is wrong with you? Your friends are fighting hard for you and all you're doing is sitting back like the damsel in distress you are!"

I'm…not… Akechi murmured to himself. I never was…I never asked for help.

"You think you're the hero who deserves recognition. You think you're the villain who doesn't deserve redemption. When those two sides clash, you're left with this empty husk standing before you. It's so pathetic to see! When are you going to open your eyes and realize that not everything is black and white?! You fool!"

Akechi clenched his fists. His Shadow was so annoying.

"Akira-kun, he wants to help us…and you're just going to let him die for you just to spite him? Why can't you just accept help? Why can't you stop being a coward?"

"Because I am…" Akechi mumbled to himself. He had resigned himself to his fate. "I am a coward who couldn't achieve the one thing he set out to do…"

"There is still hope you idiot! You just need to dive deep into your heart and find the courage from within!"

His Shadow was filled with never ending optimism. He spoke as if he was some hero from a video game. That wasn't the person Akechi was and never would be. God Shido noticed that the Shadow version of the detective had finally decided to leave the stand.

"Akechi, I order you to stand down." The God ordered.

"No! I'm not going to listen to you anymore!" The Shadow yelled. "I'm going to help Akira-kun! I won't let him or the Phantom Thieves die!"

Why was his Shadow so hopeless? Akechi's mind started to hurt more and more. There was nothing he could do to stop the pain.

The worse part was that Akechi felt himself blacking out. He didn't have the energy to escape even if he wanted to. He could only hear battle cries and screams of names. He refused to watch this foolish charade anymore. Shido will finish him off and he can finally rest in peace…

"I am thou…"

Huh?

"Thou art I…"

I don't understand…this isn't Loki or Robin Hood's voice…who…

And then everything went black.

Chapter Text

Akira Kurusu had very few regrets in his life. As someone who could not help himself from assisting others, he never doubted himself. When he was arrested and given false charges due to Shido's connections, not once did Akira ever regret his decision to help that woman. When he became a Phantom Thief, Akira dove into the danger zone and made it clear that he would reform people with evil hearts. Even when things were going bad for the Phantom Thieves, Akira kept pushing the group to continue moving forward. Nothing has fazed the leader of the thieves to the point that some people might think nothing could stop him.

Except there was one thing that Akira regretted. While his teammates might not share the same sentiment, Akira wished he saved Akechi. To his teammates they might have thought he had a savior complex. Akira wouldn't deny that. Saving people got him into trouble in the first place, but it was the right thing to do, so he kept going out of his way to help people. Akechi was the first person he failed to save and felt guilty about it. It was strange. The detective had every intention of betraying the thieves and killing them himself if they got in the way of his plans. Akechi attacked them in Shido's Palace with the sole intention of stopping them. He treated them terribly and tried to finish them off. The Phantom Thieves barely managed to defeat him, but before they could convince him to rejoin their group seeing as they all had the same goal in mind, Akechi's life was snatched away from him. Cognitive Akechi appeared and revealed what Akechi did not want to believe. Akechi has and always will be a puppet. Akira wanted to prove him wrong, but Akechi felt the need to take things into his own hand. He had forced the Phantom Thieves on the other side of the gate and shot at the switch to close it behind him. Akechi was left alone with the shadows in a gravely injured state. The last thing Akechi asked for was for Shido's heart to be changed. Akira swore this, but didn't realize how much he regretted making that promise. Instead of promising Akechi, he should have found a way to tear down the gate and get rid of the shadows before the fatal shot happened.

Futaba said she could no longer feel Akechi's presence. The detective was as good as dead. Akira couldn't believe it. The soft-spoken detective that he often clashed with…the one who came to Le Blanc on a daily basis and greeted him kindly…the one that joined the group and tried his very best to impress them…the one who betrayed the group and needed to be saved…was gone…

Morgana needed to push Akira to get a move on. Akechi's sacrifice would not be in vain if they stole Shido's heart. Akira knew this and prioritized that once he was forced to leave the area. Talking about the detective as a victim hurt Akira, yet he chose not to say anything. He needed to act like he wasn't affected by Akechi's death. He needed to act like everything was okay and that he wasn't fazed by anything. He needed…

Akira let out a sigh of defeat. Who was he fooling? Akira was not okay. He was still lamenting the lost of someone whom he felt he had a connection with. Shido's heart was changed and the group needed to go into the farthest depths of Mementos to change the public opinion before things took a turn for the worse. Yet, here he was on the train thinking about the now deceased detective. Life went on but Akechi wasn't coming back.

Morgana started to worry for the thief and for good reasons. Akira said he wanted to do something before he decided on whether or not they were heading to Mementos later on in the day. Unfortunately, because Akira was lost in thought, he ended up missing his intended stop. If Akira needed to restock up on supplies, he just missed it. Morgana purred in disapproval at the raven haired teen spacing out.

"You do realize we missed our stop, right?"

Akira jumped hearing Morgana speak. "Oh…we did…"

"Are you sure you're okay Akira? You've been acting weird recently."

"It's nothing…I haven't gotten that much sleep…"

A lie that Morgana easily saw through. Akira had recently gone to bed early after dealing with Shido. This was his way with dealing with the aftermath. If he went to sleep, he wouldn't have to think. Unfortunately, nightmares would plague him instead.

"If you say so…"

"We'll get off of at this exit and then wait for the train to get back."

"So much for stocking on supplies…" Morgana muttered.

Akira might as well delay the trip to Mementos if he wasn't focusing. He forced himself to pay attention to the next stop and get off even if it wasn't a good stop. Morgana rolled his eyes at the specific location he would end up at.

"Shinjuku huh…"

Akira laughed nervously. Nothing to do but wait…

This area seemed more crowded than usual. It made sense. Christmas was coming and people were in the stores buying presents for their friends and family. The sooner you bought a gift, the better.

While scanning the crowd, someone caught his eyes. For a moment, Akira thought the world froze around him. Eyes were locked onto that person. Akira felt his heart skip a beat. He felt a lump stuck in his throat.

"It can't be…"

The person didn't notice him. That was probably for the best. The person looked around the area and proceeded to rush through the crowd. People called the person rude for pushing past them but there was a very good reason for that.

"Can't be what Akira?" Morgana asked.

Without thinking Akira pursued the person causing Morgana to meow in annoyance.

"What gives Akira? The train is coming!"

"Akechi…" Akira muttered.

Morgana couldn't believe his ears. Akira couldn't believe what he saw. Then again, he shouldn't be surprised anymore. Someone who looked like Akechi was rushing through the streets of Tokyo. What were the odds that Akira's eyes would meet his when they passed each other? Now, here Akira was looking back at the person and deciding to pursue said person. Morgana complained about Akira's sudden jerky movement, but Akira's mind prioritized the Akechi look alike more than anything. It wasn't like Akira to push through the crowd just to keep up with the mystery person.

After pushing and shoving through people who gave Akira the evil look for his rudeness, Akira eventually realized that he lost track of the person. Akira needed to stop to catch his breath. How did he lose someone who had to get through the same people as him?

"Are you okay Akira?" Morgana asked. "It's not like you to rush into things."

A scowl was the response Morgana got. A small meow came out that didn't translate to anything in the human ears.

This is strange. He should still be nearby. Akira thought to himself as he glanced around the area. It took some time to realize where he was. Morgana was far from amused.

"Did you intentionally come to the Red Light District?" The cat questioned. "Do you have plans here?"

Akira didn't. He looked around the area some more searching for the person that had Akechi's face. For all he knew, this person could be long gone now. Akira should have just given up and gone home, but he felt like he couldn't leave after recent events.

Morgana felt that Akira was wasting his time searching for what appeared to be a person who had made his way through the crowd. Akira wanted to give up.

After walking aimlessly for a few more minutes and getting suspicious looks from the adults in the area, Akira decided that it was time to head back home. He lost the person he was looking for and would most likely never see said person again.

Just as he was about to give up, Akira looked at one of the alleyways and gasped. He definitely saw that same-cloaked figure enter the area. Morgana noticed the how tense Akira was and tried to steer him out of the Red Light District. Unfortunately, Akira would not leave. After seeing the mysterious person enter the alleyway, an older man would be seen looking around the area before entering the same place. Akira pursued after them and was rewarded for his nosiness.

"I have no idea what you're talking about…"

"Don't play dumb kid. You know very well why I'm here."

Akira had to hide behind a nearby garbage dump just to hear what the argument was about. Morgana hid in the bag in order to not give Akira's location away. From this position, the Phantom Thief could see the face of the young man he pursued. He needed to confirm his suspicions from a safe distance. He couldn't see who the older man was but Akira felt that this guy was dangerous.

"No, I do not know what you're talking about." The person growled. He sounded very much like Akechi too. "Now if you excuse me, I have somewhere to be."

The older man wasn't going to accept that answer. When the younger male tried to walk away, he was rewarded with the older man grabbing onto his shoulder and shaking him. The hood fell off and Akira got the confirmation he needed.

Akechi!

"For a detective prince, you sure are naïve to think I will let you off the hook."

Now that the hood was off, Akira was able to observe Akechi's face. Because of the baggy coat he was wearing, he wouldn't be able to check the injuries that Akechi sustained during their battle. He wasn't pale at the very least. However, the insult the older man threw at him flustered him.

"…Unhand me." Akechi told him harshly.

"And what are you going to do if I don't? You have no power anymore after the stunt you pulled and with that bald bastard confessing his crimes like a fool, you have no place in this world."

Akechi kept his eyes on the man. His other hand was free so he could reach into his coat and get something if things went to hell.

"Besides, you're only on the run because of your father. If anything were to happen to him, he signed you off to the Conspiracy to look after you."

Akechi's expression darkened. "I do not agree to those conditions. You need me to sign that contract for it to take effect." A dark smile appeared on his lips. "I rather die than sign that contract."

"You should have died after you failed your mission to get rid of the Phantom Thieves." The man hissed as he gripped at Akechi's shoulder tighter. Akechi flinched at the sudden pain. "Instead of taking responsibility, you're going to run away like a child. Be an adult and accept your fate."

Akechi was not in the mood for this. This man had a lot of nerve thinking that he would accept his "offer" gracefully.

Fortunately for him, Akechi wouldn't resort to extreme means. Someone else beat him to the punch. Literally.

Akira heard enough and decided to immerge from the shadows. It would have made sense to grab a nearby bottle and hit the man on the head, but Akira had no intention of murdering the jerk. The last thing he wanted was to be convicted of a crime for real. A sucker punch was all Akira needed to knock the man off his feet forcing him to release his grip on the detective. Akechi gasped not because someone was helping him but because of who was helping him.

"A-Akira-kun?"

Akira wasted no time after sucker punching the man. He immediately rushed over and grabbed Akechi's arm. The detective had no time to react as he found himself being forced out of the alleyway. The man would quickly recover and scream at the two teens that left him behind. He began giving chase to Akira's annoyance.

Akira wondered how long they had been running in order to lose Akechi's pursuer. Shinjuku was a huge place and it was only one dangerous man. When running through the streets wasn't getting the job done, Akira pulled Akechi into a nearby building. He didn't read what the sign said, but all he needed to do was make sure the person lost them.

Sure enough, the man would run past the building thinking they were still running ahead. Akira let out a sigh of relief peaking out and seeing that the man was far ahead to not notice that they were now behind him. With how people were crowing the streets, he wasn't going to find them.

Akechi should have been able to rest at ease now that the man was gone. Of course, now he had to deal with an angry thief who eventually turned around and glared at Akechi. The detective didn't bother to make eye contact with his former leader. Morgana hissed being in the presence of the detective that backstabbed them.

"You have a lot of explaining to do." Akira told him darkly.

"There isn't much to explain…" Akechi started. He shut his mouth. He was a good liar, but he knew exactly what Akira wanted to hear. "…Not here…" Akechi felt a shiver down his spine. He didn't like the building they were in. Like Akira, he didn't get a good look at what it was. All he knew was that there was a bored clerk that looked at them and rolled his eyes.

"You two lovebirds want a room?" The clerk asked rather annoyed. "Let me just see your ID."

Both teens were confused. Why would they be called lovebirds?"

"Huh? Lovebirds?" Akechi asked rather shocked.

"This is a love hotel. Why else would you come in here?"

Akechi was the one glaring at Akira now. There was no way in hell he was going to talk in a filthy place like this. The raven haired teen had the same sentiment. Akechi stormed out of the place and Akira followed suit confusing the clerk greatly.

"…Is there a way to get to the Metaverse from here?" Akechi asked. He saw the suspicious look Akira gave him and sighed. "You wanted to talk? You're going to have to do it in the Metaverse."

Morgana already didn't trust Akechi. What would stop him from summoning his Persona and attacking them? Akira wasn't fazed.

"You owe me." Akira reminded him. "No attacking or running away if we go to the Metaverse. Otherwise, I'm taking you to another place to talk."

Akechi assumed it was a place where he wasn't wanted. Those close to Akira knew he was a criminal, so there was no point in going back.

"If those are your conditions…then I will accept."

So far so good. Morgana kept his guard up unlike Akira who felt like he was finally going to get to the bottom of this. How did Akechi survive? How were his injuries? Would he rejoin the group? So many questions…so little time.


It took some time but the trio managed to get into the Metaverse. Morgana only needed them to be at the entrance to talk. Any further would give Akechi a chance to escape. The detective insisted he would not run, but there was no reason to trust his words.

"So are you going to explain how you're alive after that?" Akira asked. He attempted to keep his cool. He wasn't a normal high school student. He was masquerading as Joker. Joker was an arrogant individual but kept his cool no matter what situation. Akechi's outfit returned to the one he had when joining the Phantom Thieves. The only difference was his refusal to put on his mask. "We saw you die after you were trapped on the other side of the gate with the shadow."

"You didn't see me die." Akechi corrected. Akira knew he was right, but he wanted to believe that the detective did die. "I'm sorry to disappoint you."

Akira wasn't disappointed. Quite the opposite. "Answer my question."

"…Let's just say my Persona would not allow me to die."

"Hmm?"

"I was ready to die back there." Akechi began. "My gun was aimed at that puppet. We fired at the same time and I was certain I died. At the last minute my Persona saved me. I don't know how he did it…but all I know was that my body was glowing and before I knew it…I was back in the real world…"

"Just like Ryuji…" Akira couldn't help but mutter.

Akechi tilted his head in confusion. He had no idea what the thief was talking about. Akira wanted to explain how when the Phantom Thieves were escaping from the palace that Ryuji was caught in an explosion and was ejected out of the palace. He suffered no injuries and acted like he almost did not die. It angered the group to no end how casual he was being about it. For Akira, that should have been a hint about the Metaverse. A Persona could potentially force someone out if the Persona user was at risk of dying.

"And your injuries?" Akira questioned.

Akechi did not feel the need to show Akira his injuries to Akira's annoyance. If he was hiding his injuries, he could take him to Takemi and nurse him back to full health. Akechi would not accept help from Akira though and the Phantom Thief knew this very well.

"They're…not as bad as you think." Akechi answered. "Because I was forced out of the Metaverse, the bullet never hit me. The injuries that came from you and the Phantom Thieves are still here…but nothing to extreme."

Well that's good. Akira thought to himself. He was scared that the bullet ended Akechi's life when Futaba could no longer feel him. He's glad that was not the case.

"If that is all you're going to ask me, I'll be on my way."

Unfortunately for Akechi, Akira was not done yet. Morgana wanted to speak but the tension between the thief and detective was suffocating. It would be better if Akira dealt with Akechi knowing how the detective felt about the thief.

"I still have a few more questions for you." Akira told him. "What have you been doing after what happened with us? Now that Shido's heart changed, what are you going to do? And…" Akira paused for a moment before continuing. "What did that guy want with you? What is the contract he spoke of?"

Akechi paled at the mention of the contract. Akira and Morgana were sharp and noticed a shift in the mood before he forced his mask back on.

"The contract is nothing of importance to you." Akechi answered. "I feel like I have answered as much as I'm willing to speak." He looked at Akira and frowned slightly. "Do not worry. Once the incident with Shido-san blows over, I already have intentions of facing the consequences of my crimes."

Akira didn't believe that mainly because of how quick Akechi said it. He felt like Akechi wanted to get him off his back seeing as how he was still a criminal at the end of the day despite being another one of Shido's victims. Still…it felt odd how Akechi spoke so casually of Shido's change of heart after the heartfelt plea to change it.

"Now that you got the questions you wanted, I ask that we end the conversation here and pretend you never saw me."

Akira glared at Akechi. There really was something off with him. The fact he wanted to leave quickly made it feel like he was trying to leave before Akira noticed something dreadful. Still, there wasn't much he could do but allow him to leave.

"You know I can't do that." Akira told him. "Pretending that I never saw you again after we all thought you died."

"It would make things less complicated if you forgot…"

"I doubt it."

The two teens started heading out to Mementos with Morgana. Akira still intended to talk to him with the little time he had before Akechi attempted to walk out of his life again.

"You know the café is always open to you." Akira told him. "I am willing to talk to the others to let you back in with us. You're still part of the team despite what happened."

Akechi laughed bitterly to himself. "You're a fool if you think everything will return to normal after that…"

"Maybe I am, but at the very least…"

"I will not take up the offer. I don't think Boss will be too pleased to see me after what I did."

That was all Akira could say before the two exited Mementos. Once the two made it out of Mementos, Akira watched Akechi leave. He still needed to keep a low profile in case his father's allies found him. Akira waited for Akechi to make his way through the crowd before he disappeared. Hopefully, he would head back home without any issues.

The moment Akechi was gone, Morgana decided to speak.

"Did you notice Akira?"

"Notice what?"

"Akechi…I can sense it…he has a palace…"

Chapter Text

"That can't be. How can Akechi have a palace now?!"

Akira didn't mean to raise his voice. People would be confused why he would be shouting at a black cat on his back. Then again, the one thing that Akira was sure about was that Goro Akechi did not have a palace. For the past couple of months, Akira had checked the Navigation App to make sure that Akechi did not have a palace. Even when the group predicted he would betray them, they still checked their phones. Nothing came up no matter what they did. They just had to accept that Akechi was a traitor and to let him believe he was the one outsmarting him.

Now, Akechi was revealed to be alive and with a palace. Why couldn't the palace appear before the betrayal happened?!

"How should I know?" Morgana asked him. "All I know is that there is this negative aura around him that was never there before. You can check your app and confirm that."

Akira checked his phone immediately. Putting in his name was enough to show that he had a palace. Now the only thing left to do was to find the location and what he thought about said location.

"This is ridiculous…a palace shouldn't manifest in such a short amount of time…" Akira hissed. "How could this happen? You said it yourself that Persona users cannot form palaces so why…"

"Akira, you need to calm down. You do realize what this implies, right?"

Of course Akira knew. The Phantom Thieves needed to prioritize Mementos over anything else but a palace could not be ignored. They would need to investigate the palace in order to estimate how long it would take to complete it. Otherwise, leaving Akechi's palace would be considered the best option. He still needed to talk to everyone else about his recent discovery.

"Are you really going to call everyone over?"

Akira nodded his head. Morgana sighed. Whenever something concerned Akechi, Akira forgot about the other important matters the thieves needed to do. The detective coming back into Akira's life was going to make their plans more complicated.

[Akira Kurusu]: Everyone, meet up at Café Leblanc. I made an important discovery.

[Ryuji Sakamoto]: Really? Is it going to make our trip in Mementos easier?
[Akira Kurusu]: If all goes well, yes. I doubt you'll be happy to hear this.

[Ryuji Sakamoto]: Ehhh?
[Futaba Sakura]: Only Ryuji will be unhappy? I guess it will benefit us all :3

[Yusuke Kitagawa]: Indeed.

[Ryuji Sakamoto]: Hey this isn't funny!

[Makoto Niijima]: What time do you want us to meet?
[Akira Kurusu]: If you can all swing by in fifteen minutes then that will be good. I just finished what I had to do and rushing over now.]

[Makoto Niijima]: Understood.

[Haru Okumura]: Okay.

Akira closed his phone assuming the others were in agreement. Morgana continued to stare at the Trickster hoping that he had an idea on how to explain this odd situation. Akira would just think of something on the way. Surely, the Phantom Thieves would be surprised that Goro Akechi had returned to them.


"You gotta be shitting me! What do you mean he's alive and has a palace?!"

Twenty to thirty minutes later, Akira would return to Le Blanc for the sudden Phantom Thieves meeting. Everyone but Haru made it on time. Haru had an excuse for being late so no one questioned her when she finally made it. Akira needed everyone to be in the café before he could speak up about new discovery. Morgana warned Akira before arriving that they wouldn't react that well.

And Ryuji proved Morgana's point. Ryuji reacted as well as Akira expected. His screaming would wake the entire neighborhood is he screamed any louder. Everyone else was equally surprised. Ryuji slammed his fist into the coffee table. Futaba avoided eye contact with the Trickster. Yusuke had an unreadable expression. Makoto scowled at their leader. Ann and Haru sulked. Haru had every reason to be upset but Ann being depressed confused Akira. Was he the only one that was happy that Akechi did not draw his last breath in Shido's palace?

"Akechi-kun is alive?" Haru asked. Her voice sounded sullen. "How…"

"He told me he was kicked out of the Metaverse before the bullet hit him." Akira explained.

"So…the reason I could no longer sense his presence…was because he no longer was in the Metaverse…" Futaba mumbled.

Akira nodded his head. It made sense. If Ryuji could survive after they all witnessed him being caught in the explosion, Akechi could survive as well. Still…

"Why did he not contact us if he was alive?" Makoto asked darkly. "That is very suspicious."

"He wanted to lay low until the controversy with Shido is over." Akira told her. "I think he's trying to avoid being convicted over what Shido has done…but that's just my speculation. He didn't want to talk about anything else except how he survived. Still…"

Makoto couldn't believe it. Akira casually spoke about the detective like he was still their friend. They fought him, pitied him and came to understand where he was coming from. Still, that did not erase the fact he was running from his crimes by not speaking up about his survival. People assumed he went missing after the last show. The police wasn't doing anything about it simply because they had it in for Akechi.

"Akira, does he truly care about atoning for his crimes?" Makoto asked. "If he's on the run that means that he will continue his life as a criminal."

"Not necessary. He was running away because of this contract."

"And what was on the contract?"

"He wouldn't say."

Makoto folded her arms. "Akira, you may be our trusty leader but I know what you want to do and I am telling you that we will not help Akechi. Unless you can prove that he has a good reason for hiding then I think we are only hurting our cause."

Akira opened his mouth to protest. He closed it realizing it was futile to argue with Makoto. She brought up a good point that the other Phantom Thieves agreed with. He was the only one who understood Akechi. If Akechi showed his real self to everyone and not just him when the two were alone at times…

"If I get the information, will you all consider?"

"It depends."

The raven haired teen let out an exasperated sigh. Akira didn't have time to argue with Makoto. He needed information on that contract. Whatever was on that contract would prove his point that they need to help Akechi. He glanced over at Futaba who noticed his strong gaze was directed to her.

"…Futaba, can we return to your house?" He asked. "I need you to spy on these people who are threatening Akechi."

Futaba groaned. She didn't want to help the detective but Akira's expression changed when she gave him the look. She sighed. "It won't take me long. I'll be right back. We'll decide on how bad the situation is with Akechi once I get the information I need."

Futaba assumed it would take twenty to thirty minutes. Assuming that Shido's associates weren't expecting her to hack into their electronics for data, this would be a cinch. Then again, she might end up just hacking a security camera, grabbing the information needed and then leaving. If the camera wasn't good enough then there was always hacking into the database and looking for the information about the contract.


Akira never doubted Futaba's hacking skills. Once she set her mind to something, she was going to get the information she needed. It was risky to specifically get information on those who worked closely with Shido. They might have spyware that could lead back to the hacker but Futaba would be three steps ahead of them. All she needed to do was hack into the cameras and observe them from a distance. Akira banked on these people being in a room with a camera. Adults tried to act like they were smart but underestimated the youth.

Once Futaba got the information needed, she would get the information and then leave without leaving a trace of ever hacking into security. The only reason Akira was even lucky that Futaba found the exact location needed was because of the current situation. Shido's associates were panicking. They were the reason why they had a time limit to search Mementos. While that was going on they needed to do something else. Searching for Akechi might have taken time away from getting rid of the Phantom Thieves. Whatever information Akechi had must have been in the contract that one guy tried to get Akechi to sign. If they could get information on the contract then they should be set for finding the palace.

Futaba urged Akira to listen in on the conversation that she was currently recording from Shido's men. It didn't take a genius to know that they were panicking. At least five men were in a room with many cameras. They were all wearing suits to the point that Akira couldn't really distinguish who was who from the camera. One of the guys slammed his hands on the table.

"What do you mean you lost him? How hard is it to find one kid? Especially if it's the son of Shido!"

He must have been the ringleader of the bunch. He was the only one raising his voice of the five men in there.

Akira could see the man he sucker punched early on in the day. He needed to wrap a bandage around his head. He was far from pleased.

"I had him in my grasp and then that stupid punk punched me. I'll have him charged for assault!" He growled.

"You should really pay attention to your surroundings." Another man stated.

"I swear the next time I find that brat, he won't be so lucky…"

"I don't want to hear your excuses!" The leader shouted. "We do not have that much time before the deadline! If we want to get rid of one person that can incriminate Shido, we need to find him now! He must sign this contract!"

Futaba wanted to zoom in on the contract the man had. However, it would mean not being able to observe the expression the adults had.

"Do we really need his signature? It's not like he willingly agreed to this." The fourth guy brought up.

"We do. It would force him into silence. He would not be able to incriminate his father for the crimes he has done nor can he turn himself in and expose us in the process." The leader explained.

"Still…the contract is kind of extreme…"

The ringleader smiled evilly. Akira wanted to punch the man's teeth in just for flashing his teeth.

"Besides murder, there is only one way to keep his mouth shut."

"But this contract is illegal and would damn us all if anyone got their hands on this!"

"That won't be a problem. We will find him very soon. Akechi can't run away from us forever. He will sign the contract and he will be silenced." The ringleader licked his lips. That action was worse than smiling and caused Futaba to tremble slightly. "His sanctuary will be destroyed."

At this point, Futaba needed to get an image of the contract before withdrawing from the network. It wasn't too hard to get. The contract was laid out on the table to where it would be rather easy to read. She just had to move the camera slightly and zoom in. Copying the contract was easy. The moment she got what she needed, she disconnected from the camera. She did it fast enough that Shido's men failed to notice the spying from the Phantom Thieves.


With the information they needed, Futaba and Akira made their way back to Café Leblanc. It made sense for Futaba to get the information she needed in such a short amount of time. None of the thieves had to leave and wait another day if Futaba had what they needed. Futaba made sure to print the information about the contract before returning to the café.

"Hey, someone read this!" Futaba exclaimed. "It's the contract Akira was talking about."

Who read it was important. Ryuji was disqualified from reading the contract immediately to his annoyance. Ann would have done it but she felt like someone who was better at speaking would do it. The group would turn to the class president. Makoto sighed realizing that the responsibility fell to her. She took a deep breath feeling that this would make her sick to her stomach.

"I, Goro Akechi am the son of Shido Masayoshi. As such, it is my duty to fulfill Shido's need in order to steer Japan in the correct direction. Because I am his son, I am legal property of Shido Masayoshi. Should the plan fail to become the Prime Minister of Japan for whatever reason, I, Goro Akechi forfeit my rights to Shido Masayoshi and those who he trusts. Once I sign my name, I will no longer have the right to determine my future and will gracefully accept whatever fate I am handed. In which case, Shido Masayoshi requests I, Goro Akechi, become a Baishun to satisfy the needs of the adults who I have failed."

Signed: _"

Makoto wanted to throw away the duplicate contract after that. Haru gasped at the horribly implication. Akira's expression darkened at the term. Everyone else seemed lost.

"Baishun?" Ryuji asked. "What's that?"

Makoto thought it was only Ryuji and Morgana who didn't know but apparently Ann, Yusuke and Futaba were oblivious as well. Ann wasn't originally from Japan so she was not expected to know what the word meant. Yusuke probably wasn't aware of this specific term and Futaba might not realize the implication despite having some idea from how it was worded.

"…Baishun is another word for prostitute." Makoto answered causing the others to gasp when the realization came in.

"P-Prostitute?!" Ryuji spit out in disgust. "What the hell…"

"That shouldn't be possible, right?" Haru asked. "It's illegal to sell anyone."

That should have been the case. However…

"This is a backdoor deal." Makoto responded. "A contract like this must never be exposed to the public." The student president looked over to Akira who had her most undivided attention. "This is an insurance contract. Because Akechi is responsible for the many murders and psychotic breakdowns it forces him to take the blame in the way Shido wants him." Her expression darkened. "Shido was a sick man, but to think he would actually create a contract that would sell his son out like this…"

"How immoral!" Haru exclaimed. "We have to do something to help him!"

"What do you suggest we do?" Yusuke asked her. "This appears to be something that was planned in advance should Shido's plan fail…"

Of course Shido planned something. He already knew Akechi was his son. Why not make it worse for the detective and drag him down a hole that he would never be able to crawl out of?

"Dude, couldn't we just expose that this is illegal?!" Ryuji questioned. He got fired up once the information finally sank in. "This is effin' bullshit!"

"I bet we could…but the problem stems if Akechi-kun decides to do nothing about the contract." Makoto told him. "Once the contract is sign, it will be difficult to get him out of it."

"Why?" Ann asked.

"Akechi-kun is eighteen. He is considered an adult by law. Should he sign away his life then the responsibility is on him unless there is evidence supporting the blackmail. The way this is written makes it clear that Akechi will have everything against him."

Akira clenched his fists. What kind of garbage was he hearing?

"And we have to remember that we are still being targeted by the Conspiracy." Makoto added. "Helping Akechi-kun out might hurt us in the long run."

The student counsel president was referring to the fact that Akechi worked for Shido. Should word get out that the Phantom Thieves helped an evil man's son, they might get ridiculed. It would also justify Shido's associates to intervene in their lives sooner.

"If we settle the problem with Mementos, Akechi will not have to deal with them." Yusuke brought up. "However…"

Akira shook his head. "If we leave the palace as it is, Akechi might do something stupid."

The Trickster could pretend he knew what went on in the detective's head. In reality, he was making a guess and hoping that he was correct. He's been right before except when it came to Akechi. The party examined their leader.

"He's laying low, correct?" Makoto questioned.

"Until Shido is tried."

"Then the palace should not be an issue if we handle Mementos instead."

Akira would not accept that. Akechi was calling out to them and the past instances made the Phantom Thieves want to avoid the detective.

"I doubt he'll be able to hang on any longer." Akira started. "Compared to us, they are persistent with getting Akechi and having him sign that contract. Futaba, you heard what they said, right?"

Futaba nodded her head. She scowled.

"If you know they're close to cornering him, why not find him now. We can put him in our debt."

"What would benefit us from bringing him back?"

It was always Makoto with the hard hitting questions. Akira may have been the leader but his emotions started to get the best of him.

"An extension." Akira explained. "I know Akechi can use this contract back at them. If we see why he hasn't done anything sooner, we might be able to get the Conspiracy off our backs while we continue exploring Mementos. We already don't have that much time as it is. Akechi would give us the extra man power and he can still exert what authority he has left."

This was a good response. However, there were many flaws in this line of reasoning. Makoto folded her arms and gave her leader a disappointed look. The Phantom Thieves as a whole probably did not want to save Akechi. What Akira ultimately decided is what they would go follow through with but that didn't mean they would protest and voice their opinion about it. Makoto just happened to put her foot down when Akira didn't want her to.

"Akira, what you're asking us to do is risk our livelihoods and go to a palace we don't have the keywords for just to save someone who has sold us out and tried to kill us. You know why I would object to what you have in mind."

"Yes but…"

"I think you're over thinking things." Ryuji but in. "If he survived in the Metaverse, he can live on the streets for a few more days. Akechi is like a cockroach."

The description of the detective was disgusting. Then again, the group hasn't forgiven Akechi like Akira did.

"Your reasons for saving Akechi are flawed." Makoto continued. "We do not have the time or resources to help him."

"I know…" Akira mumbled. "But…"

"But what Akira? You want to say something, so say it."

Akira only spoke when he needed to speak. What came out of his mouth always ended up something worth listening to. Not this time. Akira was at a loss of words yet still wanted to engage in this plan.

"…I know you guys still hate him." Akira began. "Despite what he has done to us…everyone deserves a second chance…we couldn't offer it to him because of Shido. Now that we changed his heart…we can try again." Akira sighed. "I know I'm asking for too much when I ask we forgo Mementos for Akechi. But…I don't think I'll be able to concentrate knowing that he's out there suffering alone…"

Akira wished he could admit that he was being selfish. He phrased it to garner sympathy from the Phantom Thieves. They pitied him during their fight with him but now they wanted to go back to hating him now that he had been shoved back into their lives. Akira didn't expect Futaba or Haru to agree with him. They had lost a parental figure because of Akechi. They would want Akechi to have a fate worse than death…but that wouldn't bring the lives Akechi took back.

"I'm sorry for asking you all this…but please…help me take on Akechi's Palace. I'm foolish enough to go alone if I have to. I just…" Akira's voice trailed off. He refused to admit that he would never be able to move on from the incident if he didn't save Akechi. He failed the former thief once but he swore that it would not happen again.

The group stared at each other with worry in his or her eyes. Akira was nearly begging and they needed to make a decision. Would they help Akira out or would they be against it like Haru?

"I'm with you Akira."

Akira knew he could rely on Ann to back him up. The group looked at her. The fire burned in her eyes.

"Akira is right. We did feel sorry for him and wished we could have saved him. Are we just going to forsake him now just because he's alive and avoiding responsibility?"

"Ann…" Akira mumbled. "You…"

Ann leered at the Trickster. "Don't get me wrong. Akechi needs to pay for what he has done. But…I told myself I would not let another person who needs help alone. I don't want Akechi to become like Shiho…"

Ann's reasoning always lead to her best friend. Ann is an admirable person and a great friend. Her reasoning wasn't selfish unlike Akira. Morgana purred at Ann's response.

"Lady Ann…your heart is so kind. I am deeply moved that I will follow your lead."

Morgana may have sounded please but something told Akira the cat would scold him later for allowing this to happen. The group could not believe that Morgana's opinion changed at the drop of the hat for the blond.

"Akechi-kun may have killed my father…" Haru suddenly began. "But what these evil adults want to do him is…so wrong! I was almost sold off to someone I did not even love. I do not want Akechi-kun to go through the same terror as what I faced."

Akira smiled weakly. Haru was too kind for her own good.

"I agree with Haru." Futaba added. "He's going to pay for what happened to my mother, but if we don't help him now, there will be nothing left for him to atone for if he's not even the same person we remember him as."

Yusuke agreed with Futaba's reasoning and volunteered to help Akira. This left Ryuji and Makoto. Ryuji really did not want to help even if he followed Akira's orders. It was more complicated than hating Akechi or making sure the adults didn't ruin another kid's life any more. He felt he had no right to address Akira with the group with them. Ryuji sighed in defeat as he went along with it leaving only Makoto.

"…Are you sure about this Akira?" Makoto asked. "Our time in Mementos will be even shorter and our schedule will be tighter than ever before. Are you willing to forsake our mission for someone who would sell us out again if it benefitted him?"

Akira nodded his head. Makoto stopped folding her arms.

"…If that is what you want and since this is what everyone else has agreed on, I have no reason to stop you."

Akira sighed mentally to himself. He thought the group would leave him to explore the palace on his own while they dealt with Mementos. This was what being a Phantom Thief was about. Even if they didn't agree with Akira entirely, they felt his heart and knew that they needed to do the right thing and not the logical thing.

"Thank you everyone for putting up with my selfishness." Akira admitted.

"Don't mention it. You wouldn't be Joker if you were 100 percent selfless." Ryuji teased.

Point taken. Akira thought to himself. Now we should be able to focus on the keywords.

Now that the group reluctantly decided on the time limit, now they needed to figure out what the words were in order to enter the palace. They didn't have much time. Makoto could ask her sister for some information on Akechi just to get a hint, but her sister was busy with dealing with Shido and his associates. Besides Sae, there wasn't anyone else who personally knew Akechi.

"Well, I'm at a lost." Ryuji admitted. "We only have Akechi's name to go by. Does anyone here have an idea what word represents him."

"Besides café?" Morgana started. "I'm at a stump too."

"Café?"

"He does come here often." Futaba brought up. "I remember Akechi coming in and telling Akira and me about how he enjoys this place."

"The coffee and the curry are good though." Ann added. "I don't think it would be a surprise."

"But the question becomes what does he view the café assuming that the location of his palace is here?"

Yusuke asked the important question. Assuming that Café Leblanc was the location, deciding on how he interpreted the café was a different story entirely.

Akechi enjoyed being here because he can relax. Akira thought to himself. That doesn't mean much though.

"Akechi comes here to relax." Futaba started. "However, since he had an idea on who we were, I assume he was only spying on us on his free time."

Spying might have been what Akechi was doing sometimes but not all the time. When Futaba wasn't around, Akira would speak to Akechi. He personally served him his favorite blend and attempted to open him up. Seeing how things turned out, he wasn't successful. However, even when it became clear that Akechi would betray them, he continued to visit.

"So what would it be? Resort or hideout?"

The group tried the words and got the error response. The café wasn't as sinister as a thief's hideout or as relaxing as a resort.

"What about police station?" Haru suggested. "That would allow him to relax and watch us."

It was worth a shot. Sadly, that wasn't it either. Akira grumbled. If they couldn't figure this out, there would be no way they would be able to enter the palace.

"We should try focusing on one meaning to the café and not two." Akira stated. "I don't believe he would view the café as both."

"So you're saying that what he does is contradictory to each other?" Makoto asked.

Akira nodded his head. He believed that Akechi used the café to relax over spying.

Ryuji rubbed his temples in annoyance. "So which is it? Relaxation or agitation?"

"You know what agitation means?" Morgana couldn't help but snark.

Before Ryuji could yell at the cat, the group put their heads together to think. Agitation seemed to be the right word but relaxation made more sense seeing as how Akechi visited the place before he had his suspicions.

Why would Akechi come to the café? Akira asked himself. He was recommended by Sae-san to come here. He stays here because he enjoys the atmosphere and the coffee. He comes here more than the others realize…especially on his bad days…

Akira needed to dig deep into his memory. He needed to remember what Akechi told him the one time.

A few months ago…he came here when it was raining. He had no real reason to be here on a Sunday. He looked really distraught and exhausted. I gave him the usual and he confessed that he just wanted to get away from work for once. He spent the entire day reading and not answering his phone…

From how Akira remembered it, Café Leblanc was like a safe haven to him. That couldn't be the word.

"His sanctuary will be destroyed."

"Sanctuary? That's it!"

The group looked at their leader with puzzled expressions.

"Huh?"

Akira held his phone out. "Sanctuary. I'm certain this is the word!"

That came out of nowhere but Morgana caught on.

"So he thinks of the café as a safe place for him? Makes sense."

The group wouldn't understand Akira's reasoning. Still, it was worth a shot. Makoto wanted everyone to wait so they could at least prepare if they were correct but Akira had put the word in first. Once everyone had done the same, everything around them suddenly changed. Akira couldn't help but smirk at how right he was. Makoto shook her head in annoyance. Why did Akira have to be reckless now?

It was a good thing that Sojiro wasn't around when the Phantom Thieves typed in the keywords. He might have been dragged in. Fortunately, he had made sure to lock the door when he told Akira he was closing up.


Akechi's eyes shot open feeling a distortion in his heart. He frowned fearing the worse.

"Of course Akira-kun would try to fix me up…" The detective muttered. "He's wasting his time…"

Akechi flinched hearing a knock at the door. The detective had taken refuge in a rundown hotel in Ikebukuro. He would leave the next day just so he wouldn't leave any traces of staying at a hotel. It was difficult to stay at any hotel when his father's men were searching every possible place he could rest. He had plans to go back to his apartment, grab a few things and then disappear again. The probability of actually doing that was near zero with how persistent they were.

Go away. Akechi thought darkly to himself as he kept hearing a knock on the other side of the door. I refuse to open the door to you.

Akechi held his breath waiting for the knocking to go away. If it were one of Shido's associates, they would have barged the door down. It was a false alarm once Akechi heard the person on the other side. A man was grumbling how he was knocking on the wrong door and walked away. Akechi found himself breathing again once he was certain there was no one at the door again. Slowly, he got up from the bed and turned off the light. He made sure to lock the door and close the blinds. No traces of him must be left in this small hotel room.

"This is a good thing. You now have a chance to fight back with them in your palace."

Akechi's expression darkened. After making sure everything was locked, Akechi had turned around. For a moment, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him again seeing a doppelgänger of him behind him. The only difference was this replica had gold eyes and had a dopey grin stuck to his face.

"They're going to die if they stay in too long." Akechi said. He laughed bitterly at how he was pretty much talking to himself at this point.

"Believe in the Phantom Thieves! They're going to get you out of this!"

Akechi rolled his eyes. He dismissed this duplicate of him before resting on the bed. He needed to get as much sleep as he could if he wanted to get moving tomorrow. He could not afford to be caught now…not when so much was on the line.

"You're going to be saved. Believe in me for once."

"…Never…" Akechi mumbled as he closed his eyes and slowly drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Akira would be scolded later for activating the nav immediately. Makoto wanted him to wait but he was so certain about the keywords for the palace that he had to put it in. Already, the first thing Akira noticed was that he was in Joker's outfit. To the surprise of no one, Akechi already saw the Phantom Thieves as enemies. Despite that, there wasn't anyone around.

"Where are we?" Panther was the first one to ask. "This doesn't look like a sanctuary to me…"

The Phantom Thieves needed to look around the area. So far, there was nothing around them that stood out. They stood on beautiful flowers of various kinds, pansies, daisies, hydrangeas, and lilies, all sharing the same white color. The warm sun in the bright sky made the flowers stand out more than anything.

Only one portion of this meadow had a huge shadow. If you were to turn in the direction the shadow was coming from, you would see a huge tower surrounded by an enormous wall. Even from a distance, one could see the many layers of the tower. There was something at the very top of said tower but it was difficult to see from where the Phantom Thieves were.

"I assume beyond those walls is the sanctuary." Queen responded. "Compared to the café, this is…larger than I would expect."

Fox seemed fascinated by the tower. He actually brought his sketchbook this time and took it out. Oracle and Skull couldn't believe how quick he was to forget the objective. Ignoring Fox for just a second, the group needed a plan before entering. The tranquility and silence were too unsettling for them to charge in recklessly.

"So if Akechi-kun views Leblanc as a sanctuary, why are we in a flower meadow?" Noire questioned. "I mean, the flowers are gorgeous but…"

"What is it, Noire?" Queen asked with concern in her voice.

"I don't know how to say this, but these flowers give a…sad feeling."

Joker had an idea what she meant. He had to learn the language of flowers before he took a temporary job as a florist. He and Mona were quite surprised how the color of the flower was as important in conveying a message as the type of flower. Joker only knew about the meaning of red roses initially but now he could be creative with the message when handling bouquets.

"You think so too?" Panther said more to herself than Noire.

"Yes. This somber feeling…"

Oracle focused on scanning the area. She smirked. "The treasure is at the top of the tower."

As simple as it sounded to reach the top, there was always a catch.

"From what I can tell, the building at the top is a church, but I'm not too sure. My signal is picking up strong energy at the top."

Mona agreed. "While it's the strongest at the top, my cat sense is picking up treasure all over the place."

"What does that mean?" Skull had to ask.

"We won't know until we go inside." Joker answered him. "I assume it has to do with the treasure regardless."

"Right." Oracle glanced over at Fox who didn't hear a single thing the group said about the mission. "Inari, what are you drawing?"

"Astounding." Fox started. "This is supposed to be a tower of some sort yet the wall is carefully decorated in odd layers that isn't the best suited for defense. If I were able to examine the palace from the outside a little while longer, I might have mistaken it for a cake. Yet…"

Skull took one look at the picture and immediately regretted it. His face turned blue as if he saw a ghost. "That isn't a tower! That's a penis!"

Everyone else nearly jumped from the sudden outburst. Fox chuckled at Skull's accusation.

"This is also one of the many interpretations of this palace. The human mind cannot help but turn to Sigmund Freud. Someone like Akechi who has problems deeply rooted in his psyche is only expected to create an abnormal shape like this."

"Woah, woah, woah! What are you talking about?!"

Joker remained silent. There was a joke he wanted to say but he had no right to. No one else had a sick sense of humor and Fox only spoke what was on his mind.

"Sigmund Freud developed the theory of the Oedipus Complex. If we were to venture deeper into this palace, we should see many signs that confirm this theory. Akechi has a terrible relationship with his father, so we should expect to see many things pertaining to that terrible relationship. As for his mother…"

"Speak my language!" Skull yelled. "I didn't understand an effin' thing you just said!"

"That's because you're dumb." Oracle said as a matter of fact statement. "And Inari is a pervert so it's not worth explaining what he's saying anyway."

Fox glared at Oracle for dismissing his theories of the palace. Joker needed to get the group back on track despite how amusing Fox was at breaking down Akechi's psyche just from the penis-like tower before them.

"Fox, you can make your own theories later. We need to deal with this palace as quickly as possible. Queen doesn't want us here for too long."

"That's because we have Memento's as a priority." Queen reminded him. "I understand you're worried but our lives are at stake too."

The Trickster's expression faltered. Hopefully, there would be something in this palace that would motivate Queen to help Akechi. They may have all pitied him in Shido's Palace but risking arrest just to help an ex-comrade might have been too much. Joker was banking on something in the palace to change all of their minds though. It was all up to chance.

The Phantom Thieves eventually started venturing forward. They wouldn't get far through the flower field because they all spotted something or someone walking. Fortunately for them, the closer they got to the tower, the easier it was to hide behind broken structures that were conveniently laid outside. If Joker had to guess, these were all broken structures of a wall that had attempted to expand beyond the tower but never came to fruition.

Coming from the opposite direction were people dressed in black cloaks. Despite the brightness of the day in the palace, these people insisted on wearing black. Their faces couldn't be seen and they all walked in a single file line. The cult like behavior was troubling to say the least. The fact they were all murmuring words in a foreign language didn't help matters.

"Woah, who are they?" Skull had to ask.

"Keep your voice down Skull." Panther warned.

"They're the cognitive people of Akechi's mind." Mona answered. "You should have known that."

"I do know that." Skull groaned. He did not need this cat mocking him now. "I meant, what are they supposed to represent? We can't even see their face. Are they shadows or not?"

"They're not." Mona stated. "They are still suspicious though…"

The mysterious people headed into the tower. The door was opened only for them. A person also wearing a black cloak standing on the other side ordered the newcomers to stay in a single file line. The words he spoke to them sounded foreign to the group. It wasn't English or Japanese. Oracle would need to find a way to decipher the language later. Regardless, it didn't sound pleasant seeing as how his tone implied excitement over something happening inside.

The Phantom Thieves wordlessly agreed on following after the cult. The group didn't need to do much to blend in with the cult as long as they stayed in a single file line. It felt awkward but apparently they fit in with everyone else (or that one guy did not care that they stood out). Akira decided that Skull, Panther and Noire would be part of his group. Everyone else had to follow behind. They hurried through the flower garden at the entrance of the tower. Despite not wanting to trample on the flowers, the Phantom Thieves needed to see what was behind the doors. The black robed people could care less about Mother Nature and continued to walk in a single filed line inside.

Inside, they could see what was going on. A public execution. Joker always wondered why it was possible for angels and demons to work together despite being shadows. In Akechi's mind, that clearly wasn't the case. A few angels had forced a demon underneath the guillotine. The demon struggled to escape but the angels proved too strong. The black robed people gathered around in a circle to watch. While Akira was used to the brutality done to his Personas, what he wouldn't get used to is the terrible voice that was ordering the angels around.

"Get rid of these vermin. They have no place on this Holy Ground."

Joker resisted the urge to slice the throat of the person whose voice that belonged to. Shido…

"Huh? Shido is here?" Skull asked. "How? We just messed him up not too long ago!"

"Idiot. This is the Cognitive Shido of Akechi's mind." Mona hissed. "Just because we changed his heart doesn't mean that he's not going to disappear from Akechi's."

If Shido didn't look arrogant in his own mind, how he looked in Akechi's was even worse. Shido held himself as a captain of his ship that would steer Japan into a "bright future". This Shido remained a leader of sort but instead of being a captain of a ship, he was the head pope of a church. Thinking on it, this interpretation wasn't wrong either. A pope used religion to lead the people down the path of "righteousness". Most of the time, the pope and the church tended to be corrupt and used religion to control people to do their bidding.

Shido's clothes were drastically different compared to the one he had in his cognition. This version dressed in a medieval robe of majestic colors such as white and gold. Most of the robe was pure as snow but the designs had a gold color. There was some red too. He wore a cross around his neck and carried an odd staff with him. The staff looked more like a windmill than a cross on its side due to the strings that came out on it's four sides. The string cut off halfway through. It was clearly connected to something. Joker couldn't determine what it could be. Nothing was standing next to the pope while he was giving the orders to continue with the execution.

"Even in Akechi-kun's palace, he's still a scumbag." Panther snarled.

"Are those shadows?" Noire asked. "They look different…"

Oracle scanned the demons before responding. "Yep. They're shadows all right. I'm surprised that they look humanoid given what our Personas look like."

"Why do you think that is?"

"I think," Mona began, "it might have to do with Akechi's view of people. There are normal people in his mind but there are also those who look like demons."

Queen caught on. "In other words, the demons are the rebels of society and the normal people under the cloak are those that follow society's rules."

"Correct." Mona purred. "Although, it seems like his interpretation of people as a whole is overwhelming negative. The angels seem so out of place in comparison to the humans and demons…"

"Shido's still a dick." Joker couldn't help but joke. "Only he's a holy man this time."

"He knows that Shido is a hypocrite." Oracle added. "It's probably why he looks like a pope in the first place."

Their conversation was cut short due to the screaming in front of them. Shido had ordered the demons to be killed and the angels carried it out. One by one, the guillotine had been brought down on the demons and their heads would go flying off into the crowd. Because they were shadows, the demons evaporated as if they never existed. The cult channeled prayers in a vain attempt to send the demonic souls to a better place. The channeling sounded more like a mantra though.

"How cruel…" Akira heard one of his friends mutter. He was certain it was Haru but his attention wasn't really to his friends.

It got worse. All the demons executed looked to be adults and young teens. Now Shido showed his true colors by going for another person. What was different from the other demons was this shadow clearly took the form of a child. It was appalling to think Shido would murder a child so easily but given his track record, it wasn't out of character.

Joker really couldn't stand there and allow Shido to continue what he was doing. Shadow or not, it still took the form of a child. Maybe it was a trap and he was a fool to act recklessly. However, they did need answers and perhaps beating up the cognitive version of Shido would yield results.

"Joker! What are you doing?! Get back here!" Mona yelled.

Joker had already decided to summon Metatron to deal massive damage to the cognitive. Shido only took notice of Joker by the time Joker had summoned the angel and ordered a Swords Dance. To Joker's surprise, a giant barrier appeared in front of Cognitive Shido and nullified the attack. Joker was lucky the attack didn't hit him back.

"There are still more demons?" Shido asked in an annoyed tone. "You demons come in droves like insects. Angels, kill them."

At times like this, it would have been nice to have Akechi take any angel enemy with his dark attacks. Joker had to be the one to do that but fortunately for him, the Phantom Thieves backed him up. Angels were weak to guns or at the very least easy to knock down. Joker made sure to move out of the way as the group aimed their guns at the enemy and fired. The bullets deflected off of Shido. He let the angels get mow downed by the "demons". The angels were of the weakest level despite their clothes looking slightly different than the normal monsters they were used to seeing.

Joker attempted to attack Shido again during the chaos. He raced past the angels and black robes until he reached his target. In one smooth motion, Joker drew his knife and aimed it right at the politician's throat. Shido wasn't amused.

"Game over, Shido." Joker hissed. "You better come with me quietly if you want to live."

"You have a lot of nerve showing up here with your demon friends, Devil."

Now that was a new insulting nickname. "Oh?"

"After multiple losses against me, you have the audacity to threaten me yet again. I will not give my son to you if that is what you think."

Joker blinked. How did the cognitive Shido already know he was trying to…

"Joker! Move!"

A powerful light attack came from above. It was a Hamon type of spell and Joker should have been safe with an angel as his main Persona. However, right after the first spell, he used a Mudo spell right afterward. Just because Shido was associated with the light didn't mean he didn't use other elemental attacks. Joker got knocked off of him and was lucky he didn't faint from that attack.

"I got your back Joker!"

Skull was quick to back Joker up before Shido tried to bring his staff down on their leader. Skull not only blocked it but tried to battle back with Ziodyne. The attack had no effect.

"How did you regain your body?" The Pope asked in a puzzled tone.

"Huh? What are you mumbling about?" Skull asked. He didn't care for an answer. He just helped Joker off the ground before dragging him back. "Got any plans?"

"It doesn't seem like physical attacks work…" Joker muttered. "I'll get everyone to hit them with their spells and see what sticks."

"Now you're talking!"

Joker's plan was foolproof. Too bad Shido wasn't playing by the rules. Joker had ordered the Phantom Thieves one by one to use their elemental attacks on Shido while keeping the angels at bay. It didn't matter if it was fire, ice, wind, psy or frey spells. Nothing worked. Joker tried an Almighty spell but the problem with that was that it wasn't doing that much damage. Shido made a clicking noise before he had attempted to fight off the Phantom Thieves.

Joker needed to switch out who was going to attack the Cognitive Shido. This man was able to use every spell to exploit their weakness. Getting knocked down and then attempting to hit everyone else who was moving around the battlefield proved to be a tedious task. That was it though. Cognitive Shido may have been annoyed but he dished out way more damage than what the Phantom Thieves did to him. No amount of healing spells was going to help the longer the battle lasted.

"This isn't working!" Mona stated the obvious. "We need to try something else."

There was a reason why the Cognitive version of Shido wasn't being harmed by their attacks. Despite Akechi's hatred toward his father, he seemed to be an untouchable God.

Joker didn't like the glower that God Shido had on him. It was the same menacing glare when he had that fateful encounter with Shido that terrible night.

"Be gone, demons." Shido spoke as he prepared for one more attack. "There is no place for the wicked here."

No Hamon spell would be cast on Joker. At that very moment, a black mare charged onto the scene and rammed into the Cognitive Shido's back. It was almost too comical to be real. Yet, Shido didn't see it coming and was sent flying into the crowd of people. The people gasped at their leader being attacked by a wild animal.

"HAAA!" Skull ended up laughing.

This really was not the time for laughing at the humorous scene. Skull wasn't allowed to relish in the moment. The angels had every intention of surrounding the Phantom Thieves even if their leader was down. At the same time the thieves were surrounded, a blinding light shot from above the heavens and hit the angels. The attack didn't kill them but it blinded them. They all covered their eyes and some even swung their weapons recklessly.

"What's going on?" Noire asked worried that these strange turn of events were going to do them more harm than good.

"I'm sensing a powerful Persona using that attack…" Oracle muttered.

Akechi! Joker thought to himself.

Expecting something resembling the detective to grace them, Joker was severely disappointed that the thing that stood out from the angels and demons was a tiny fat bird hovering above the group. That bird didn't flutter around before; it would have been caught in the crossfire.

"Huh? Where did that bird come from?"

Noire pointed toward the bird. The moment the Phantom Thieves saw it, the bird turned tail and flew off. It headed to the left of the Phantom Thieves. There was a garden maze in that direction. The right felt like a dead end in comparison. Without any real plan, Joker suggested to the group to follow the bird. It was better than sitting around and waiting for the angels to attack them. The people in the black robes might have been a problem for them as well but they did not lift a finger when Shido ordered the angels to attack the Phantom Thieves. Skull complained as usual but if they had to fight Cognitive Shido any more than they just did, they would fail before even beginning the search in the palace.

Shido had ordered the angels to follow them but as long as they followed the bird, they would lose the angel shadows. The bird for a moment took a wrong turn before flying in the other direction in the garden maze.

The tower appeared to be huge and would be a terrible building to climb but the location that the bird was taking them was only flight of stairs up. The Phantom Thieves weren't exactly out of the garden but they could see the village below of angels and demons with God Shido finally getting the mare off of him. One would think the mare would be struck down for daring to attack him but the horse already charged off and vanished in a puff of smoke.

Meanwhile, the bird had intentionally maneuvered in an awkward zigzag to throw anyone following it off. Should they have continued the chase, they would find themselves at the entrance of a mansion from within the maze. This was the type of mansion that was hidden away from the world. The owner of the mansion had something to hide. Had this mansion been at the top of the tower, it would have been a prime place for the treasure's location. The place still seemed odd. A small house was seen in the distance. However, the moment the group stepped inside, the garden maze apparently looped them toward the middle of the tower. Oracle would need a map to see what exactly happened. She refused to believe they were already halfway up the tower just from following that bird.

The hidden mansion in the garden maze felt barren. The group had had their experience with palaces to remember how the corrupt adults often possessed gold or money or something equivalent to represent their tainted minds. This mansion paled in comparison to the other gorgeous palaces. A bright white color hid the the paint peeling on the wall. The rug at the entrance appeared clean but it was rather ragged on further inspection. Most of the furniture visible to the Phantom Thieves whether it be vases, jars or paintings was dusty and worn. Joker wouldn't have to do much to break the vases. Finding items to sell was tempting but in a place like this, something told him that the items wouldn't sell for that much.

"You would think this place would be filled with riches…" Skull grumbled.

"I agree." Mona added. He finally agreed with Skull for once The cat was obsessed with treasure and seeing how worn out the mansion was from the inside didn't make him as enthusiastic.

The bird continued to fly ahead of them. Joker ordered the group to keep their guards up. So far, there didn't seem to be any enemies in the mansion itself. The palace was too quiet and it felt very eerie.

If the group tried to open the doors to other rooms in the mansion, the doors would refuse to budge. They weren't just locked. A powerful magical barrier held them back. Following the bird really was the only option. The mansion felt small too because of it. Occasionally, the group heard some whispering and giggling. They would stop and look at each other wondering if someone within the group spoke. Mona assumed it was simply the cognitive voices of Akechi's mind. They had no proof of it yet with how soft the voices sounded. They were barely audible even as they approached the bird on the second floor. A long flight of stairs and the second door to the right was how long they had to walk. The bird literally flew through the door and vanished in a blinding light.

Joker hesitated in opening the door. If it were a trap, they would be falling right into it. The bird wanted to show them whatever was in the room. With no other plan, Joker reached for the handle and twisted the doorknob. The door was unlocked. The Phantom Thieves strolled right on in. If a shadow was behind the door, they were ready for it. But that wasn't the case.

"There you are, Robin. Where did you go? There's chaos outside because more demons were caught and you flew off. You're going to get killed one day."

"Pii-pii!"

"Oh…I did say that if you sensed anything that you would go and help the demons. Still...It's way too dangerous. You and Locke are reckless as always…"

Of all the people to see in the palace, seeing a shadow of the person they were trying to save should not have been a surprise. However, hearing a rather high-pitch voice, the group (mainly Skull) gawked. They could only see the back of said shadow as he was busy talking to the bird. The bird had pirched itself on the shadow's hand as it flapped its wings while chirping. The shadow most likely understood what the bird was telling him.

"Akechi's shadow is here?!"

Skull's voice caused the shadow to flinch. The bird flew off the shadow's hand when the shadow turned his head slightly toward the door. The Phantom Thieves got their confirmation once they saw the gold eyes.

"Looks like we found Akechi's shadow." Mona confirmed. "The bird lead us right to him."

The shadow glanced at the weapons that the Phantom Thieves had and took a step back. The thieves noted the scared reaction. Joker immediately assumed that the shadow wasn't aggressive.

"W-Who…how…" The shadow glanced at his bird who sat at the window sill. "Robin…you brought these people to me…didn't you?"

"Pleep!"

The shadow shook his head in annoyance but accepted whatever the bird told him. The fear emulating from him disappeared instantly.

"I apologize for Robin leading you here. He must have trusted you enough to lead you to my mansion."

The words were confusing. Elaboration was needed. Skull wanted to speak but Queen beat him to the punch. The last thing they needed was for the shadow to become aggressive when he demonstrated a serene aura around them now.

"Are you the one who helped us back there?" Queen asked.

"That is correct. I sent my friends over to assist you and then lead you away. If Daddy catches you, you'll be put to death like the rest of the demons." The shadow chuckled nervously. "Although…I kind of forgot that I sent my friends to help. I was reading my book and became so enamored in it that the request slipped my mind…"

Out of all the Phantom Thieves, Joker was left speechless. They should have expected Akechi's shadow to be in the palace despite the fact Akechi already had a Persona. That alone implied something was wrong with the detective. Regardless, Shadow Akechi took the form of a priest. The outfit was neatly ironed so there would be no wrinkles. He looked refined like how Joker imagined him in the real world. There were some noticeable differences though. Besides the gold eyes Shadow Akechi had, Joker noted the dark rings under his eyes. Akechi's face always looked stunning no matter what but this did take away from the beauty he had. Then there was the fact that he had handcuffs on his wrist that were visible despite the long sleeves of the priest robe.

"Joker, why would you risk your life like that? I know your demon comrades are important but you promised me you wouldn't do anything reckless."

The shadow was speaking to Joker and Joker only. The Trickster tilted his head in confusion. How did the shadow know his name? More importantly, why was he talking like that?

"This is my first time here." Joker told the shadow.

"Huh? You're here all the time. Why do you have to play tricks on…" Shadow Akechi stopped speaking as he examined the thief in front of him. It finally hit him that this wasn't who he was referring to. "Oh…you're not Joker after all…"

"I am Joker but this is my first time here."

"Oh…oh! Are you Joker's long lost twin?"

Was the shadow not getting it? Joker turned to his teammates for help since he was clearly puzzled at what was happening.

"No. That is his code name." Panther finally stepped in. "We're the Phantom Thieves."

Skull would have complained about Panther being blunt but Akechi's shadow didn't seem to register who or what the Phantom Thieves were.

"Phantom Thieves?"

"Oh come on! You're Akechi's shadow. There is no way you don't know about us!"

"Skull!"

It took some time for the shadow to finally determine who the Phantom Thieves were. He gasped. "Oh…you're the people my host wanted to find…"

"He finally gets it." Oracle said as a matter of fact statement. "So now that that's out of the way, you mind telling us where we are and give us a map of the palace?"

"Oracle…isn't that excessive?" Noire questioned.

The shadow kept his confused expression on. He really seemed lost. "If you are demons, you should know what this place is."

"Demons?"

"…You're not?"

"We're human." Mona told him.

Skull was about to say Mona was far from being a human but the shadow beat him to it.

"But you're a cat…"

"I am not a cat!" Mona argued.

Regardless of his denial, Shadow Akechi would answer the previous question. "Acedia is the name of this palace. The Tower of Acedia, the Garden of Acedia and at the top of the tower is the Church of Acedia. Creative name right?"

Skull again failed to understand the subject matter. "Ace what?"

"Acedia is another term meaning apathy." Fox explained.

"Right. Despair without any hope of happiness." Shadow Akechi added. He sounded way too happy saying that though. "There are hardly demon visitors anymore because of Daddy purging them all. The only ones allowed here are angels and humans who need to be guided to the path of God."

There was a pause with how the shadow referred to Shido as Daddy but the group needed to process the information given and not the disturbing name that the shadow would insist on.

"As for a map, I do have one of my mansion, the garden…and I guess most of the tower…"

"Most?" Oracle asked. "What happened to the rest of it?"

"Umm…a demon kind of…ripped the other half off…" Shadow Akechi answered nervously. "Daddy got mad that I let that happen but there wasn't much I could do. Heh heh heh…"

Despite the nervous laughter, Joker saw the glint in the shadow's eyes. He wasn't exactly sorry that the map got torn off.

"The demon is still here though. If you were to find him, you could probably take the map back." The shadow added. "Assuming you survive the palace."

That sounded cryptic.

"You picking a fight with us?" Skull asked.

"I mean it." Shadow Akechi said. "I'm pretty harmless. I can't really do anything so I have to rely on my pets to do the work for me. Everything else will try to kill you. And if Daddy catches you…I cannot do anything about it."

The group turned toward each other in confusion.

"Why can't you do anything?" Queen asked suspiciously. "Are you not in charge of this palace?"

The shadow glanced toward Queen before looking toward the other thieves. His expression saddened.

"I should be…but I'm not. Ever since Daddy took over everything, I lost control of this place and my way of life." The shadow held up his arm showing off the handcuffs. "I cannot even think of leaving with these handcuffs on me. Daddy knows where I am as long as I have these."

Joker assumed that the shadow had no control over the palace was because of how Akechi viewed his current situation. If there was no palace when Akechi forced his way into the group, then Akechi felt like he was in control of his life. Now that he learned the truth about his father, Akechi knew he had nothing. The shadow's pitiful state demonstrated that.

"…I am not going to be all that useful." The shadow continued. "I apologize…"

"Don't apologize." Noire spoke up. "Is there a way to remove the handcuffs?"

"The four keys of course!" The priest responded happily. "If you could retrieve the keys then I can remove these handcuffs and then Daddy wouldn't be able to spy on me any longer."

The goal was to steal the treasure. Not help the shadow be free from his bindings. Oracle continued to scan the area for where the treasure could potentially be. She zoned the shadow out during his explanation so she would be the only one puzzled by the looks everyone gave.

"Do the handcuffs function as power limiters?" Fox asked warily.

"Sort of. I was way stronger when I didn't have these on. When Daddy took over, he sealed my power away so I couldn't fight back. It's frustrating but I have managed for long time."

The shadow confirmed their suspicion. It could be dangerous to let him run loose.

"That would be dangerous for us." Joker told the shadow.

"Why? I would be lending you my powers. There would be no strings attached." The shadow pouted at Joker specifically. "I'm not my host! I'm not going to shoot you in the head or anything."

Joker didn't need to be reminded of that. Shadow Akechi clearly wasn't taking the situation too seriously. Instead of yelling at the shadow, it was best for the group to turn their attention to Oracle.

"Have you picked up where the treasure is?" Queen asked.

"Almost. Give me a sec…" Oracle started. She wouldn't be able to say anything else as the shadow decided to butt in yet again.

"…I know where the treasure is." Shadow Akechi spoke catching their attention. "You're in the very location where it is."

"For real?!" Skull asked. "It's that easy?!"

"You will need four keys to get to the treasure, but I think it will be easy."

The optimism Skull had disappeared in an instant. "Of course things aren't that easy."

Oracle scanned the entire house. Sure enough, there was indeed something resembling the treasure in this area. Mona felt something was odd upon entering the house but the shadow confirmed it.

"Yep. The treasure is directly above us." Oracle confirmed.

"Is there a reason we need keys if the treasure is right above us?" Fox asked the shadow.

"The door is protected by a holy power. No one can open it without the four keys." Shadow Akechi explained. "I know they're scattered all around the palace. I'm positive Daddy had taken them and given them to his best men so the door won't open."

"Are the keys that open the door to the treasure the same one that removes the handcuffs off you?" Mona asked.

Shadow Akechi nodded his head. "The keys also allow access into rooms that are not opened to me. I don't know what's behind those doors but that will be for all of you to decide." He smiled cutely. "If you get all four keys, I get to escape and you get to steal the treasure. A beneficial partnership, wouldn't you say?"

The shadow said it in a politer term. The Phantom Thieves wouldn't have much of a choice. If they wanted to take his treasure, they might have to free the shadow from his binding. Who knows what the shadow was capable of? At the moment, the shadow seemed friendly enough, but what if he became more violent the looser his chains became? Akechi had two Personas so if the shadow lashed out, it might cause problems for them.

"How do we know you won't act like the real Akechi and backstab us?" Skull asked darkly. "You didn't fool us before and you're not going to fool us now."

"I have no power." Shadow Akechi explained. "I can't betray you even if I wanted to. Besides…with the lack of power…even if I were to escape…Daddy would track me down and drag me back. I need him gone before I think of escaping." He looked over to his bird that decided to perch itself on his shoulder. "Besides, Robin trusted you all enough for him to lead you all to me. My bird friend is very observant. He'll only help those who he thinks can help me."

"That…sounds like a smart bird…" Panther mumbled. She wanted to think of something nice but the words weren't coming to her. Plus, it felt like an insult by the way Shadow Akechi worded it. The bird chirped as if he was proud that his owner praised him.

"Probably smarter than Mona…" Skull said to himself.

"What did you say?!"

Nothing passed Mona's ears. Joker wished that Skull got it through his thick skull that insulting Mona would get him nowhere.

The thieves turned to Joker for his answer to Shadow Akechi's request. Joker did weigh the pros and cons. Yes, he was dismissing the idea of the shadow turning on them like the real Akechi did. The raven haired thief couldn't help but notice that the demeanor the shadow had gave him the impression that betrayal was impossible. A different type of annoyance would come their way. Everyone just expected the shadow to be antagonistic, but if the shadow was anything like Futaba's, they still needed to keep their guard up.

"Do not slow us down." Joker answered the shadow's question. "We will be keeping an eye on you if you try anything suspicious."

"Joker…are you sure?" Noire asked her leader warily.

"He won't try anything." Joker told her firmly. He had an idea that would probably get them all annoyed but if it meant their paranoia not affecting their judgment, he would suggest it. "I'll keep him close to me." He turned to the shadow. "Is that alright with you?"

The shadow was pleased by Joker's answer. He nodded his head before a cute grin threatened to show up on his face. Joker wasn't used to Akechi smiling like this. All of Akechi's smiles were superficial, and it was difficult for him to let down his guard and smile for real. The shadow was only a manifestation of what Akechi hid from everyone…so that was probably why Joker felt weak on his knees staring at him.

"I hope you know what you're doing Joker." Mona said.

"I do." Joker said adamantly.

The Phantom Thieves saw that serious look in his eyes. When Joker decided on something, he was going to stick to his guns. They would need to look out for their leader though in case he let his guard down in front of the shadow. Something was off and they weren't going to risk Joker's life again. If they could steal the treasure quickly, then they could go back to their original plan.

"Umm…I have a question for you Phantom Thieves."

The shadow brought their attention to him.

"What?" Skull asked in an annoyed tone.

"Umm…my host and I are one and the same person…but we live different lives here. Address me as something else so you don't confuse me with my host."

It seemed that Skull had no idea what the shadow was asking. Before he had a chance to ask the shadow to elaborate on his point, Ann explained it to him.

"He wants another name that isn't Akechi." Ann frowned. "That's odd for a shadow to want a different name."

It might have to do with his current issues. Joker thought to himself. The shadow looked at him in anticipation. He expected the leader of the Phantom Thieves to give him a name. "Oh? You want me to give you one?"

"I think it's for the best. There's another Joker here who calls me by my name. I got to make sure I don't confuse you two again so…"

The group looked at each other again. Since the shadow was so stubborn, they would probably have to pick a name. Then again, Joker knew that if he let Skull open his big mouth, it would be something offensive. So of course Joker would beat his friend to the punch.

"Cake."

The group thought Joker lost it.

"What?"

"Akechi likes pancakes and the tower looks like a cake from a distance, so why not?"

Oracle raised a hand before deciding that it was best not to say anything and put her hand back down. The shadow's eyes sparkled from the name.

"I like Cake. It's cute." He hummed. "Joker, you never cease to surprise me."

Joker had to look away from the shadow. The way he said that reminded him of the real Akechi. This is his shadow…an adorable shadow but he must not let his guard down yet.

"So…we're just okay with calling him after food…" Skull muttered.

"It would have been better than whatever you would have come up with." Mona snarked.

"Excuse me? I would have just said Shadow…"

"Too edgy."

Skull sighed in defeat. The chance for mocking Akechi even if it was his shadow vanished before him. Pleased with the name he was given, the shadow took a few steps ahead of the group. The second door in the room opened and Akechi walked out of it.

"Come on~ Follow me. I'll make sure you thieves get what you need quickly."

Chapter Text

Cake meant well when he said he was going to help the Phantom Thieves retrieve Akechi's treasure. Mona would describe Cake as a helpful shadow that would do anything to help intruders but might end up attracting unwanted attention. No palace was easy. Cognitive Shido would be trouble later. The angels were aggressive and there were still no signs of the normal shadows. The palace overall gave an eerie feeling that forced the thieves to keep their guard up. Joker found it difficult despite being the leader. Cake was too cute for his own good. Joker's eyes weren't as focused on the mansion as the shadow before him. His eyes did kind of look lower than Cake's back every now and then but no one seemed to notice. Fortunately, Joker didn't run into a wall so no one brought up how distracted he was.

Going through the mansion proved to be disappointing. Cake only gave a tour of everything that was in the mansion while explaining locations that were in the palace overall. Queen had tried to open some of the doors they passed and they were all locked. Something was clearly behind these doors but they weren't opening.

"I'm a prisoner in my own home. I only have access to a few of the rooms," explained Cake. "Keys are everything. The four main ones would be equivalent to the Master Key in this mansion."

"Why so many keys?!" Skull asked in an aggravated tone.

"Akechi doesn't trust anyone." Mona reminded the blond. "That is the only explanation to why everything in the mansion is sealed off, including his treasure."

"But his shadow should be able to open them…right?"

Cake stopped walking through the mansion to stare at Skull. He wanted to tell him something. Skull had a feeling it wasn't something positive. Whatever the shadow wanted to tell him would have to wait. A loud neigh echoed in the hallway of the mansion. Cake's eyes widened, knowing what it was that was coming his way. A purple smoke appeared behind Cake and out came that same purple mare that had attacked Shido. The horse responded to Cake's voice and emotional state of mind. Naturally, Skull triggered the horse to appear before Shadow Akechi.

Skull should have counted his lucky stars that he wasn't the next victim of the crazy mare. The purple horse that had attacked Shido stopped himself from running Skull over before sitting down like he was an obedient dog. The mare gave a loud neigh before making an annoyed sound.

"Locke!" Cake exclaimed. "What have I told you about not attacking Daddy! You know if he has the time, he will put you down!"

The horse made another noise like he was snickering. Joker had this nagging feeling he had seen this horse before and it wasn't even when the mare appeared to distract Shido.

"Locke?" asked Queen. The name sounded familiar but at the moment, nothing came to mind.

"Ahh, this is my other friend. Meet Locke! He's a unique horse and a troublemaker to boot! I usually have Locke take me around the tower. Daddy gets annoyed that my horse does his own thing when he's not inside the mansion but I can't control Locke all the time. He appears and disappears into thick clouds sometimes."

To demonstrate what Cake said, Locke neighed before vanishing in a purple smoke before reappearing behind Cake and nudging against his back. Cake nearly tumbled over.

"H-Hey! Stop!" Cake shouted as he tried to push his horse away. "You can't just do as you please, Locke!"

Locke only stopped because he noticed the thieves were staring at him weirdly. The horse made a strange noise and stopped messing with his master.

"…That horse helped us out." Joker commented.

"I figured as much. I have Locke assist with demons and help them escape this place should they wind up in a tough situation. I refuse to let Daddy do what he wants with his position and kill demons." Cake's expression darkened. "…Locke will never get caught with how his powers work, so I will never have to worry about him dying on me. Still…he and Robin take huge risks…"

Cake wanted to add something else to that but chose to keep his mouth shut. In his mind, he had given too much information to the group.

So much for trusting us... Joker thought bitterly to himself. Unlike the other thieves, he knew that he had to take it slowly with Cake. Depending on how they handled Akechi's palace would determine how much he would change after they stole his heart.

"We need to check every available room." Queen started attempting to get the group back on track. "Cake, if you have something important to tell us, say it now. We want to help you."

Cake nodded his head agreeing with her but not exactly answering her. In Joker's mind, Queen argued the most about helping Akechi so he wouldn't be surprised if the shadow didn't lend any hints until further notice.

Traversing the mansion eventually led to a dead end. Besides a few doors, all the rooms were locked. Unless they found the keys, they weren't going to have it opened. Joker did want to try the lock pick but Cake insisted that he refrain from trying to force the doors open. Cake refused to give a reason, but Joker decided not to pursue the option unless there was absolutely no way to travel.

The mansion was just empty. For something that appeared extravagate on the outside, the fact that there weren't any signs of life excluding Cake and his two pets made the eerily quiet place look abandoned. Perhaps something would happen if each of the keys were retrieved. Theorycrafting was put on hold until they got the first key.

When it became apparent they were wasting time in the mansion, the Phantom Thieves decided to leave. If Cake knew where the keys were, Oracle could scan that particular area for them.

"We need to keep heading up the tower," Oracle started. "The treasure might be in the mansion but the keys might be at the top."

"That makes no sense!" Skull exclaimed. "Why do we have to go up the tower, get the keys and then come back down?"

Cake stared at Skull, puzzled at the question that the blond imposed on him. "Uhh…I don't know exactly what you're asking…but I think my host probably thinks that gaining access to the treasure is harder than locating the treasure…"

"Are you for real?"

"I may be his shadow but some of my host's interpretation is something I cannot comprehend."

Skull would have continued arguing but Cake had already walked ahead of the group.

"Are you going to follow me? I'll help get the key," Cake hummed. Before anyone could say anything, the shadow already hurried along. His horse followed closely behind him.

"You can't be serious…" Skull muttered. "Are we really going to be following?"

"It should be fine for now," Oracle stated. "If something bad happens, we know what to do with him."

Skull sighed in defeat. "Give me a break…"


Ascending the tower wouldn't be a difficult task. There were very few angels in the area that patrolled the gardens. They could easily be snuck past once they turned the corner to the other side of the maze. Cake confirmed that the angels were forced to follow a specific path at certain points of the day no matter how ridiculous the path was. Cake also implied the only reason that the angels followed this patrol route was to catch the Demon Overlord who threatened the area. The group put two and two together that the security was tightened due to the Cognitive version of Joker. Funny how Cognitive Shido deemed Devil Joker too dangerous to keep around. If the Phantom Thieves were to run into him a second time, they wouldn't be so lucky.

A sudden misstep by someone in the group resulted in getting the group spotted and forced them to engage in a battle. Cake kept close to Joker so he wasn't the one that got them detected. Someone in the back must have been caught. It couldn't be Oracle or Fox who usually watched the rear of the group as they traversed palaces. If it wasn't them, then something else caught the angel's attention.

Regardless, angels were the weakest type of angel. These were the angels that came in swarms but went down with one powerful hit. Joker ordered the thieves to conserve their magic and bullets and only rely on brute force if the angels were this weak.

Cake observed Joker's movements with the dagger. His eyes sparkled at the sight of Akira tearing the enemy to shreds. So aggressive yet so elegant to watch. Shadows shouldn't have hearts but Cake could say his heart was skipping a beat just seeing Joker slay the angels.

If any other angel tried to stop the Phantom Thieves, they would meet the same fate. Within a short amount of time, Oracle deducted that the angels in the garden were of the lowest rank. The higher-ranking angels would appear the farther they climbed the tower. There were only so many angels in the garden to have as watchful eyes. Otherwise, stronger angels would have patrolled the garden maze. The thieves were grateful that besides the initial encounter with Cognitive Shido, the infiltration was going smoothly.

Thanks to the map, the group navigated the garden maze with ease. Soon, they stepped out of the mansion area and into an open area that continued the trend with white flowers covering the grass. There was only one smaller hedge maze to the side with a rest stop. This might as well be the equivalent to a safe room with how out of place the area was.

"I think behind the hedges over there is a safe room," said Oracle. "This place may be a little bit on the outside but it has the same properties as the other areas."

"Wouldn't someone see us if we were there then?" Skull asked.

"We should be okay. The angels don't patrol in this area," Oracle answered.

Cake nodded his head. "Yes. This hedge was made to be a secret spot for demons. Angels cannot detect anything in that small area as long as I don't walk inside."

Before anyone could ask, Cake held up his wrists showing off his handcuffs. That was all the reason why Cake couldn't follow them into anything resembling a safe room. Joker was far from thrilled. Cake was putting himself at risk of being seen. If they couldn't pay attention to the shadow, they risked making securing the treasure harder…

Robin let out a terrified squawk that caused the group to turn in Cake's direction to see where the noise came from. Locke also neighed in discomfort. Cake's expression faltered as he looked behind him. Oracle and Mona felt something powerful heading their direction.

"W-What's wrong?" Noire asked Cake. "Why are your friends frightened?"

"D-Daddy is coming!" Cake tried to stop himself from trembling at the thought but Robin calmed down fast enough to peck Cake on the forehead. "Ack! Don't do that! I know what I need to do!"

"Uh guys…" Oracle started timidly, "there's a really huge distortion heading our way…"

"For real?!" Skull yelled.

"D-Daddy is coming!" Cake repeated. "Locke, please get everyone into that hedge. I…I'll handle Daddy!"

Robin and Locke were not amused. Joker wasn't either but seeing as how the group failed to harm Cognitive Shido before, it would be wise to not push their luck. That was the only reason the other thieves didn't protest even though the chances of Cake being harmed increased.

Because Locke refused to cooperate originally, Cake had to convince his mare to get the Phantom Thieves into a good hiding spot. In this garden, it was easy to conceal oneself. Shadows clearly had a difficult time finding anything so it was only natural that whomever Cake had to speak to would miss the Phantom Thieves too.

Of course, the question was whether or not Skull would be able to keep his voice down. The mare led them to a corner of the garden maze where it made a sharp turn before disappearing into purple smoke. It was a perfect place for hiding due to the layout of said garden. Oracle tilted her head in confusion. The readings she got from Locke vanished without a trace.

Cake grumbled something under his breath at how persistent Shido was being today. He waited with Robin perched on his shoulder as Shido emerged from the other side of the garden with a few angel guards with him. He was far from amused.

"Goro, why did you not respond to my calls?" He hissed.

Cake flinched at his tone. He glanced at his handcuff and noticed that the color changed. He frowned. "I'm sorry…I didn't notice…"

Shido wouldn't take any excuses. "How many times are you going to defy me before it gets into your thick skull that nothing comes from disobeying me!"

Cake's attention was more to the angel shadows who had moved either side of him, narrowing his possible escape routes.

"…What is the meaning of this, Daddy? Did you need something? I went for a walk with Robin so…"

"If you responded to my call, you would know that there are intruders in the tower."

Cake feigned ignorance. "I-Intruders? Is it…Joker?"

At first it seemed like Cake was throwing Joker under the bus, but this Joker was clearly another person. Mentioning the name did set the Cognitive Shido off.

"More like maggots found their way into this garden. They are probably demons hired by that devil."

"Huh? Joker works alone now…"

"I have no time for your comments. I do not need you wandering around with intruders on the loose." He glared at the angels behind Cake. "Take him back to his room. Make sure he doesn't leave."

Cake didn't take that well. "W-Why?! I can't go back! I need to find Lock-"

"Do you think I care about your stupid pony? This is for your safety."

Cake didn't believe a word of Shido's fake concern. He yelped feeling both angels grab onto his shoulder. Before he could do anything, one of the angels decided to lift Cake off the ground and throw him on his back.

"Ahhh!"

"Know your place, you foolish child. Take him away."

The angels nodded their head as they carried Cake away. The shadow priest cried out for help and shouted at the angels to drop him. They weren't listening to what Cake had to say. Robin flew after his master without looking back. Cognitive Shido's expression darkened once he was certain that they would take him to the lower floor.

"Damn pests. When I find them, I will make them wish they didn't step on holy grounds." Cognitive Shido growled as he summoned more powerful angels. "Search the entire garden. Do not let a single one of them get away."

The angels nodded their head slowly as they took off. Cognitive Shido snarled under his breath before taking off in the direction the Phantom Thieves needed to head toward. The stairs led to a higher floor and potentially where one of the keys was located.

It was a miracle that Skull didn't make a single sound as they listened in on the conversation. Joker's mind became clouded watching Shadow Akechi being taken away. Yes, he would only be taken to his room but they needed him in order to proceed. It was safe for the group to get out of their hiding place. Locke made a small snort, displeased with how his master was being treated.

"Phew, that was close!" Skull exclaimed. "I thought he was going to find us!"

"If we did, it would have been because of you," Panther snarked.

"…Oh give me a break. I didn't make a single sound!"

"This isn't the time to be fighting," Queen butted in before Panther could retort. "We need to get Cake back."

Oracle looked ready to pass out. "We have to run all the way back down?"

"His house is below this level."

Oracle wanted to scream at the suggestion. "I'm going to die going back down a flight of stairs!"

"We could have probably avoided this if we stepped in," Fox began. "However, it is unwise to challenge this Cognitive version of Shido without the proper preparations."

Fox was right. Nothing they did hurt God Shido. They needed to believe in Shadow Akechi and retrieve the four keys in hopes of finding the power to strike back at him. Finding those four keys and defeating God Shido was the only way to steal the treasure.

Oracle wasn't the only one displeased. Skull wasn't thrilled with the idea of going back down for Cake either.

"Uhh…why couldn't the idiot defend himself?" Skull asked. "That shadow is still Akechi. Why did he just stand there like a damsel?"

"Did you not hear what Cake said to us?" Mona responded with another question. "He can't do anything with those handcuffs on. The more keys we get, the more his power returns to him. We just have to suck it up and go get him."

Skull shook his head. While some of the members were talking, Joker was already heading off to get Cake back. Everyone but Skull had noticed and followed after him. Realizing he was going to be left behind, the blond teen chased after them.


Skull hated backtracking. All that running still gave his knees problems. He no longer complained about it as time went on. Skull had built up endurance with Joker so he wouldn't be slowing the group down.

The one thing Skull didn't want to do though was backtracking for someone like Akechi's shadow. He had never liked that arrogant detective. His shadow was no different even if he was way nicer and humble compared to his human self. It was worse when Joker seemed smitten by Akechi's shadow. He wondered if anyone else noticed how quickly the leader prioritized the shadow's safety. The shadow could not be trusted. The shadow could be like Futaba's shadow who constantly led the group into death traps despite wanting their help. Skull refused to let his guard down.

That was why when Joker assigned Skull to get the distressed shadow, Skull wanted to bang his leader's head into the wall for suggesting a stupid thing. The group wondered why Joker gave the task to Skull. The reason was simple. As the group traveled back to the mansion in the garden maze, the place was packed with angels. All of these angels could use wind attacks. Joker reasoned that Skull was the most vulnerable to these angels so it was best if he was the one who got the shadow out of his room instead of trying to fight the enemies. Normally, Skull would throw a fit and curse out Joker for suggesting such a thing. They had no time to argue as these angels were on high alert and noticed the group immediately. Skull had to suck it up and sneak away while Joker gave the commands to the party. This meant they needed to lure the angel guards away. There were so many angels guarding the bedroom that Skull had to wonder how the angels were able to fit in the hallway. Either way, Joker and Mona provoked the angels into getting away from the door and chasing the entire group. Oracle had suggested luring all the angels to the main entrance where they were given more breathing room to fight. Skull hid in the shadows of the mansion until all the angels had decided to chase after the Phantom Thieves.

With the door unguarded, Skull was free to sneak in and get Cake out of his room. To say he wasn't annoyed at Cake's attitude was an understatement of the year. Cake was lying on his bed sobbing into his pillow. His pet bird perched on his shoulder in a weak attempt to comfort his owner. Cake failed to notice someone was here to save him. Robin did and made a few chirping noises. Cake didn't move from his spot.

"You know, I prefer the Akechi that was a smug asshole than a crybaby," Skull started, getting Cake's attention.

Cake sat up from his seat stunned that someone saw him crying. He quickly wiped his tears and tried to pretend that he wasn't sobbing like a baby.

"Oh…I didn't know you were here."

"Sorry I'm not prince charming," Skull said in a brooding tone. He really didn't want to be the one to go fetch Cake. Why couldn't anyone else do the job? Were they just that uncomfortable around the shadow? Joker would have done it if he weren't the all-important leader. "You're Akechi's shadow. Couldn't you do something?"

The shadow shook his head and raised his hand again showing off the handcuffs. "I can't do anything as long as I have these on. I need the four keys to remove these."

"Couldn't one key help?"

The shadow continued to frown at these questions with obvious answers. "Yes. If I have one key, I can regain some of my powers. As the son of a God, I am very powerful."

Skull rolled his eyes. "You and your old man aren't Gods."

"You're not very smart, are you?"

That insult caught Skull off guard. "What did you say?!"

"From the bottom of my host's heart, my host thinks you aren't the sharpest tool in the shed," Cake continued.

Skull had the urge to strangle the young shadow before him. He resisted the urge to do so. "Now listen here, you little shit. I'm only helping you out because Joker asked me to. Joker…no Akira never asks for anything. We have asked time and time again if he ever wanted us to do anything for him. Of course the one thing he wants is something we all don't agree with."

The shadow blinked in confusion. Skull felt like he was talking to a small child. Not a shadow of an eighteen year old.

"I never liked you," Skull continued. "And you should feel bad for making my friends suffer. You hurt Oracle and Noire. You tried to kill Joker and you framed us for your crimes. The fact you're crying here and acting like a victim pisses me off!"

"I…" The shadow wanted to speak but the blond wasn't finished.

"I'm not finished! When this is over, I'm going to make sure you atone for your crimes! You don't get to pretend to die and make my best friend depressed and then act like some helpless damsel! That's manipulative as hell!"

The shadow finally understood why Skull was so angry with him. Skull expected more tears. The silence between the two would have been deafening had it not been for the fight outside the room. The angels were going to be defeated soon at this rate and Skull couldn't waste his time in here.

"My host does feel bad," Cake finally spoke. "He just…doesn't trust anyone…and he's too prideful to admit that he has messed up."

The shadow could not lie. The shadow could only say the true thoughts of the person of the palace. Skull still found it hard to believe that the liar of liars felt ashamed of his actions given how quick he was to murder people when his father gave the orders.

"If you really are sorry, you would stop lying to us."

The shadow shook his head. "My host doesn't trust you or the other Phantom Thieves."

"…Are you for real?"

"Yes." The shadow looked ready to cry again. "And…it shows with the cognitive versions of the Phantom Thieves here."

Now that caught Skull's attention. "Wait, there are cognitive versions of us too? Oh! What do I look like? Come on! I'm interested."

"My host doesn't trust you. I cannot say anything else."

Skull gave up. Akechi was impossible to crack. The shadow could not lie but he could withhold information if he chose. That was the worse part. The blond sighed in defeat. It was better to let Joker deal with this shadow.

"…Whatever. Let's just go."

Skull had no intention of holding Cake's hand. If Cake was going to make it like an escort mission, he wasn't getting it. Shadow Akechi slowly followed after Skull with his pet bird flying after him.


It was annoying that the Phantom Thieves were right back where they started. Cognitive Shido was searching for them. Getting into a confrontation with him was bad at the moment. Focusing on finding the keys was more important than defeating the head priest. However, Shido made sure progressing through the palace would be hard. Shadows were more alert than before and if they attracted the attention of one shadow, the others would come swarming in. The last thing Joker wanted was for the security to be too high and then being forced to leave the palace.

Sneaking around was the only option at the moment while they headed toward the exit of the mansion. From there, they attempted to retrace their steps from the shadows and then continue traveling upward. The Phantom Thieves did make a ruckus when retrieving Cake so there would be more enemies on the lookout. Cake's life wasn't in danger from the shadows. Cognitive Shido made his orders clear that his son was not to be harmed and to be taken back to his room. In a sense, it became an escort mission. If Cake could fight like Akechi, then it wouldn't feel so tedious.

The problem stemmed from after getting back to where they were originally. Not only did security tighten but also when they got passed the angels, the next area to the tower was locked. To make matters worse, there wasn't anywhere to scale up the tower.

"Sorry…the first key is needed to go any further…" Cake mumbled. "If you want to avoid Daddy…this is the only path to him and the other keys…"

Mona sighed in annoyance. Of course they were going to hit a bump in their journey this early.

"If you knew it was locked, why the hell didn't you say anything?!" Skull nearly shouted.

Cake jumped at the tone he was using. "I'm sorry…when Daddy caught me, I was surprised and forgot…"

Skull didn't believe him. "That's bull."

"Skull!" Panther yelled. "You're scaring him!"

"Oh, I'm scaring him…" Skull grumbled. "Joker, you talk to him. He'll probably tell you."

That he will. Joker thought to himself. Cake regained his composure once Joker was in control of the conversation. Joker wanted to have a stern voice when speaking to the shadow. He recognized the shadow had a childlike mentality from observing him. Speaking to him like a child would get the needed result.

"…Will you lead us to the key?" Joker asked patiently. "You do know where the keys are."

Cake frowned. "I…"

"You can trust us," Joker continued. "If you trust the other me, you can trust me as well. We are here to help you."

Cake didn't put that much of a fight against Joker.

"Are you going to tell us where the other keys are while you're at it?" Skull asked darkly.

"I only have one key…" Cake admitted. "Daddy has one key. Joker has another key and I don't know where the last key is…"

The order didn't sound quite right about the keys but Queen would address it when it came to finding the second key. Cake having the first one made the journey through the palace easier but the backtracking was already tedious.

"I know I need the keys for my host…but I also need to protect what is on the other side of the door as well." Cake admitted. "The treasure is beyond that door, yet I know…that even if it's for the best for my host…I still…"

Cake ended his sentence there. The thieves had an idea why Cake would still put up resistance despite being helpful this far. Skull reminded himself that if Joker asked sooner, Cake would have given the key to him free. Because someone else did, he had made them waste time. This showed how little Cake trusted the Phantom Thieves.

Of course, when Cake meant the first key, he meant a key to the location of the first key. The desire to strangle the shadow for not clarifying which key was strong on Skull's end but he held his tongue. Cake had directed the thieves down another path that had no enemies. The path led to the small library inside the mansion. The library had a very limited selection of books. Children's books ranging from fairytales and mythology were nicely arranged. The bottom row had religious books about prayers, Gods and the history behind the Japanese Gods. It was out of place to have a book about Japanese Gods when the palace had a medieval feel to it. Akechi was smart so he should have known the difference. Then again, there was probably an explanation to this obvious contradiction. With the lack of dust, it was clear someone was here previously. Judging from the information the thieves had, Cake had been coming here often to read.

"I put the key in one of the books," Cake began as he rushed over and grabbed a book from the bottom shelf. "I didn't want Daddy finding it." The book Akechi grabbed concerned the story of Izanagi and Izanami. "This key opens the door that is hidden behind this shelf. And the keyhole is right here."

Cake pointed at said hole in the wall. The wall obviously looked different from the other side. White paint splattered over the area in a vain attempt to cover the area. The keyhole's shape was still there, so when Cake forced the key into the slot and opened the hidden doorway, one had to wonder why Shido never noticed an obvious hiding place.

"And through this door should be the key." Cake finished. "I don't know where exactly, but it's behind this door."

Joker glanced at his friends to check their reaction. Skull and Queen were the most annoyed with Cake because of how unhelpful he was in their mind. Fox's expression was still as unreadable as ever. Noire and Panther stared ahead at the hidden path before them. Oracle attempted to scan the area. Mona's eyes were looking at Joker who saw him examining the reaction of the other thieves.

"If you knew where the first key was and you wanted to rebel against your old man, then why the hell don't you have the key then?" Skull asked, trying to maintain his cool.

Cake opened his mouth to respond. However, he couldn't find the words and shut his mouth instantly. Robin chirped as if telling Cake to stay focused.

"I…I didn't go in there because of the voices."

"Huh? Voices?"

"Mean voices that hate me. They laugh at me…insult me…and tell me to disappear. I hate it! So I didn't want to go back without Joker besides me. But…Joker hasn't been around recently…"

Joker smirked. "I'm here now though. No need to be scared."

Someone was groaning at Joker's flirting. Joker paid more attention to Cake's reaction as the shadow tried to hide the blush that threatened to appear on his cheeks.

"Thank you. I appreciate your concern," Cake replied. He forced a pleasant smile on his face. "I will lead the way in case you all feel like I am leading you into a trap. I assure you there is nothing of that sort when I first went in there…"

So far, Cake had not led them into a death trap. Joker put his trust in the shadow way too easily. Mona intended to remind the raven haired teen later but that would have to wait until they left the palace.


The hidden area of the mansion wasn't anything the Phantom Thieves expected. Devoid of shadows seemed like a good thing but everything was just eerie instead. A strange fog filled this part of the mansion. A single hallway with many rooms was asking for trouble. What would be at the end of the hallway? What was in the other rooms? Would it be a good idea to split up and check just to make sure there weren't any shadows or were there death traps all around?

Cake cared not about what the Phantom Thieves were thinking. He had walked ahead of the group without stopping.

"Hey, wait up!" Panther shouted. "Don't go by yourself!"

It was like Cake was in a trance. The fog enveloped Cake's body before he disappeared. Oracle reassured the others that she still felt Cake's presence so he obviously didn't abandon them at the moment. They still needed to follow him while checking every room.

Mona was disappointed with what was inside the rooms. The fact that there was nothing worth taking meant not a lot of money would be made in this palace. Joker had opened the first door to the right and the room was empty save for a few scattered toys on the floor. The toys were action figures that have been played with to the point being dirty and rusty. Oracle recognized the figurines and nearly gushed over them.

"Oh, these toys are from the old Kamen Rider series!" Oracle exclaimed. "They don't make these anymore!"

"What are these toys doing here?" Queen asked. "What does it have to do with Akechi-kun?"

Joker had an idea but they needed more information to confirm it. The group had stopped moving hearing a faint laughter in the background. It could have been their imagination but again, they needed to confirm it before deciding if it was just their imagination.

Seeing as how there was nothing in the first room, the group left and headed to the next door on the left. Still the same thing except there was a broken table with the chairs being knocked down. Now, the voices were clear and they certainly weren't friendly ones.

"What a pitiful child. His father left him and his mother is but a memory to us all."

"He's a waste of space."

"Hey, don't look at them. They'll see us and lash out at us."

"People who go out of line don't deserve our acknowledgement."

"They're looking at us now!"

The voices became whispers and soon faded out into existence.

"What was that?" Panther asked even if she had a good idea what it was.

"It probably the voice of people in Akechi's past," Mona answered. "It's similar to the voices in Oracle's palace."

Oracle understood what that meant. She always remembered the voices of the cruel adults who blamed her for her mother's death. Akechi really was no different. Yet, the voices were referring to another person. Who else was being badgered besides Akechi?

With nothing of value in this room, the group left and continued on in the hallway. Cake had been waiting for them patiently. He didn't go too far ahead. Joker noted that Cake's overall cheerful demeanor fell the farther into the hallway they went. This was followed by those voices getting progressively louder.

"What a waste. She had so much going for her."

"That child is the reason why she will never merit to anything anymore!"

"I wish you weren't my daughter!"

"Get rid of that child! He's cursed!"

"She's going to go down with that garbage? So be it."

"Man, I wish I was the man that banged her. Would have been a good lay."

Cake shook his head in annoyance. Worried for his master, Robin gave a small peep in an attempt to comfort him.

"…I'll be fine. I managed well until now," Cake muttered to the bird.

Joker knew that wasn't true. Over time, the discrimination he faced wore him out. If the Phantom Thieves continued through the palace, the other thieves would understand how much Akechi was suffering underneath the mask.

"I can't open any of the doors," Cake started. "Only you can open them…"

"Why is that?" Oracle questioned.

"…My host doesn't like to recall painful memories. I can't open them for you to see. You can hear the voices of the past and understand why my host doesn't want to remember…"

Joker looked around. There were three more doors. Cake blocked the last door at the end of the hallway. Even if Cake couldn't open it, he was deliberately preventing them from entering it. The other two rooms though were their next bet.

Cake waited for Joker to open the door on the left. Like the other two rooms, there was broken furniture lying everywhere. Things were worse off this time around. On the wall, something colorful splattered all over. Drawings on the wall were covered with a fluffy substance. Said substance turned out to be a birthday cake that was knocked over on the floor. The worse part was how ants had found their way into the room and were covering the cake. As grotesque as the image was, the cake wasn't real.

"How wasteful…" Fox grumbled. Of course the first thing Fox thought of was how the food went to waste and not the symbolism behind it.

"Wasteful? That's gross!" Oracle exclaimed.

There was hesitance in examining the room mainly because of the ants. Joker sighed mentally to himself as he stepped into the room. From the look of things, there wasn't anything in the room that would imply there was anything worth taking. Joker could get a better view of the cake that was destroyed. It had three candles engraved in the middle. HAPPY BIRTHDAY GORO was written in katakana and kanji symbols. Said symbols were the color of blood and that was worrisome only slightly. The ants effectively covered the HAPPY BIRTHDAY part with their bodies so only GORO was visible.

"You selfish child! Do you know how hard I work?!"

The voice caught Akira off guard. It was the voice of an angry woman. The shouting surprised the other thieves as well.

"I work day and night just to keep our heads afloat! The least you can do is help me out and pretend to be grateful! Arrgghh! Why did I ever give birth to you! You are the reason my life is a living hell!"

Silence followed after the outburst. It was almost like the voice knew she messed up and chose to keep her true feelings to herself. Cake had approached the room only to hear the voice cursing his existence.

"…My host's mother can be so cruel…" Cake muttered. "My host complained about the type of flavor the cake was because his mother couldn't remember due to exhaustion. She was the one who made this mess…"

"How cruel…" whispered Noire.

"…So not only is his father an asshole but his mother isn't any better?" Skull questioned. "Why the hell would he try to extract revenge for her then?!"

Cake flinched at the question directed at him. "M-My host has his reasons…he still…" Cake forced himself to stop. "No…it's nothing…"

"Cake," Joker said firmly, "finish your sentence."

"But it's just an excuse…"

"I would rather hear your excuse than you standing there in silence. You are Akechi's shadow so you do know how he really feels."

Cake opened his mouth to argue. Once he saw Joker's expression, he shook his head again and sighed. "…My host believes that he is to blame for the stress he put on his mother. She always tried her best for the both of them. However, there were times my host wanted to be spoiled like the rest of the children he saw with their parents. His mother wasn't having it…" Cake closed his eyes as if he was trying to hold back tears. He did not cry though. "Is there anything else you would like to know?"

"No," Joker answered. "If all the rooms are memories, then the answers we seek will come to us."

That made the most amount of sense. Since there were two more rooms left, Joker felt like they were near the end of Akechi's childhood memories concerning his mother. This entire hallway represented Akechi's memories of his mother while she was alive. The leader of the thieves expected a very painful memory of Akechi's mother's death at the very end. He wondered if the other Phantom Thieves would be prepared.

"…The key is close…" Cake brought up. "It's not in this room though."

That was the cue to leave the room. Panther didn't want to stay in this room any longer than she had to. Compared to the other two rooms, this one was too painful to stay in. She wondered if the other Phantom Thieves were feeling pity for Akechi if the ex-Phantom Thief had a terrible past like this. There were only worse things to come.

The group left the room and headed toward the fourth door in front of them. There were still no enemies around. Oracle and Mona kept their guard up in case shadows attempted to ambush the group.

The fourth room was different from the rest of them. It was larger than the other rooms but the condition of the room was still just as terrible. Dust collected on the old furniture. The bed wasn't made. Skimpy dresses were scattered all over the room. On the wall were ripped posters of shows that had occurred in the past. They depicted a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress but it was difficult to tell because of how the posters were clawed at. A name could barely be read. The red kanji read Yumiko.

"What's this room?" Panther asked.

Cake wanted to leave the room but he had to answer the question. "This is the host's mother's room…or rather the room that has his mother's memories in them."

That would make sense given the voices seemed to have shifted from insulting Akechi to insulting someone else. Cake had walked over to the bed where he shuffled through the blankets and found a phone. He sighed.

"As you know, the memories are only what my host remembers." Cake explained. "As a child, he probably did not understand what was happening. As he grew older, he would be able to shape a better picture of the situation. Alas, his hatred towards Daddy means he refuses to see other parts of his memories."

"What's the phone for?" Oracle questioned. She wanted the phone for herself to see if it was something similar to what Akechi had.

"My host's mother kept this phone close to her heart." Cake paused as if he wanted to add something. He looked over to the old dresser but said nothing. However his eyes stared at something on the desk.

The item caught Joker's eyes too. Compared to everything that was messed up in the room, something shiny spoke to him. The raven haired teen approached the dresser and studied the item.

"Oooh, what do you got, Joker?" Mona asked with stars in his eyes. He thought Joker finally found something worthwhile.

"…It's a storybook," Joker answered.

Mona failed to hide the disappointment on his face. The same could apply to Skull as well but it wasn't as apparent.

"Oh! Let me see it!"

Joker had a feeling Cake knew what it was. He handed the storybook over to Cake who opened the book immediately.

"Oh…I see…" Cake said out loud. "The host himself didn't understand the situation. As he got older, he gained a better grasp of the situation." Seeing as how the Phantom Thieves had no idea what he was talking about, Cake proceeded to explain himself. "The book fills in a gap of my host's childhood that he didn't understand."

"Explain," Makoto told the shadow.

"Rather than explain, I'll just read what's written," Cake hummed. He sounded too excited for his own good. Turning to the first page, he read:

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful woman who was not afraid to speak her mind. She came from a traditional family that had her life set for her. She wanted more and ran away from home to escape the traditional life. The woman was afraid of the real world and did all she could to survive. Eventually, the woman would turn to dancing as a means to escape from her past. Traditional dancing was beyond her and she struggled to find a place in the dancing field.

All changed one day when a foreigner approached her with an offer to become a revolutionary dancer instead. The woman had seen the other women and they amazed her. They were beautiful, daring and when they danced, they danced with such freedom. The chains of society no longer mattered to these women who were gawked and shamed for rebelling against society at large. The woman wanted to become like them. She wanted to be on a different path her parents set for her. She wanted to be free.

And free she was. What was a rough beginning soon became an astonishing path to glory. She learned to dance. She learned how to act. She learned how to entertain. She attracted the faces of men and women alike. She was different from the rest. The woman's sexuality was her own. With what she learned from the man, she could charm anyone she pleased. She could earn as much money as she wanted. She was even able to move back into her family's good graces all because she proved to them that she was successful. Her life was perfect.

Good things always came to an end. She was at the height of her fame. The climax of her story…and it was taken away by something you call love. The woman fell in love with a powerful man. He exerted his dominance over the people. He was smart, cunning, and dangerous. The woman had already been down the dark path before but it wouldn't hurt to try it again. In the morning, she was a beautiful dancer that everyone loved. She became a seductress at night charming the guests out of their money. The temptress took it as a challenge to claim this man as her own.

She might have succeeded had she not miscalculated the situation she was in. She may have been famous but not for the right reasons. He was a man of dignity and wealth. He must keep his reputation clean no matter what. The love and lust between the two were forbidden but it did not stop the man from coming back to the palace in the evening to gaze upon the woman he thought he could never have. Primal desires overtook them as they ignored society at large to be together.

Alas, all good thing would come to an end. The man wanted more that the woman could not offer him. He wanted fame. He wanted power. He wanted to be the one to steer Japan down the right path. His intentions might have been pure originally but one would never know. He needed to make an important decision. Pursue the path of glory or continue down the path of ruin with the woman he grew fond of. Alas, people were already aware of their relationship and he was shamed for even thinking he had a chance with the beautiful dancer. The man struggled. He wanted to keep her for himself and work to rule Japan. The woman made the decision for him that made him change his mind.

The woman told him she was pregnant. His career would be over if word got out that an infamous dancer was carrying the child of a politician. He had no choice but to abandon her. He cut all ties with her and pretended she never existed. He erased her contact information and avoided all the spots she would be at. He had ordered his men to keep her away from the buildings he resided in. Originally, it pained him to let such a catch go. As time went on, he would soon forget the time he spent with her. She would be nothing but a lingering memory and one of the many people he had to step on for his dreams.

The woman went mad. She had never had a man reject her like this. In a world where she had to earn everything on her own, she did not take the loss well. The five grieving steps started and stopped at denial. She refused to believe the man would leave her for his career. She refused to believe the man who was willing to risk his reputation would walk out of her life. She refused to believe that the cursed child she would have was the end of their relationship and not the beginning. Fate was too cruel.

Word got out about her pregnancy. Her family abandoned her yet again. Her fans had lost interest in a woman no longer representing the ideal woman. She would soon lose her morning job as a dancer due to her pregnancy. Soon, she would be alone in the world with only her newborn son as her only ally.

In a world that discriminated against illegitimate children, the woman who was now a mother had learned that no one would side with her. Her son, who was supposed to be her only ally, had become a stranger in her eyes over time. The masks were put on to the people who knew her. They pretended to be by her side but were living in the past with her. She could no longer claim to be the exotic dancer who caught the eyes of many. She was just a single mother cursed with a child who weighed her down.

She thought she could be saved. She had kept the man's number. She had heard his name mentioned on television multiple times about his rise in power. They left out the information of the man in a relationship with her. She would often call him hoping he would show some mercy when no one else would. She tried constantly even when he blocked her number. She had hoped he would listen to her voicemail. He not once returned her calls. In the small apartment she lived in, she would cry herself to sleep. She burdened her child without the father figure in his life. The child grew up isolated and alone. She had tried her best to raise him the best she could. Alas, her health declined and it became impossible to do the few things she enjoyed doing despite the discrimination she faced.

One day, she would decide that it was time to leave this world. To not burden anyone anymore, she had bought the items needed to ascend to heaven. It would only take one action before the angels came down and took her away from the cruel world. Her child was stronger than she was. He would survive in this cruel world without her. She would continue to watch over him from the heavens above.

And they all lived happily ever after."

The silence was suffocating. The Phantom Thieves had no idea how to react to a story like that. Skull would probably ask to clarify what it was about since he couldn't read between the lines. Cake closed the book and frowned when he saw the underreaction from the thieves.

"…It's not a really happy story," Cake stated. "Mommy hates my host. That's why she went to heaven." His frown widened. "…I know my host wanted to justify his mother's treatment of him and learning about her history helped shaped his opinion but still…"

"It's not your fault," Queen suddenly spoke. Joker and Cake were surprised. "It's not a child's fault for a parent having a harsh life. From what you read, it almost sounds like Akechi-kun's mother knew what she was getting into."

Cake's eyes widened. "N-No…Mommy…my host's mother isn't manipulative! That's Daddy! He did that to her!"

"I'm not so sure…" Oracle started. "Akechi-kun talks like his mother was a victim of Shido but from his memories, she's not victimless at all."

She's complicated. Joker wanted to add. Joker wanted to give the idea that perhaps Akechi's mother did love him but the discrimination hurt her to the point that she ended her life. She worked to make her son proud but couldn't remember everything about him and messed up.

"But…"

"Doesn't the book say that she tried to manipulate Shido to be together with him?" Fox questioned. "Why would she do that?"

"Mommy loved Daddy," Cake insisted. "She wanted to be with him forever. There was passion between the two. Daddy just chose his dreams over his love for her…"

Robin suddenly chirped when Cake started making excuses. The shadow let out a surprised yelp when the bird decided to poke him on the forehead.

"Oww! Stop! Why are you being mean to me?!"

The bird chirped again before flying on top of Cake's head and sitting down on it. Cake mumbled something under his breath, and Joker swore that the passive-aggressive side that he was used to seeing had shown up in the shadow's persona.

"…Robin told me to stop," Cake grumbled. "But what does he know about Mommy?"

Before anyone could answer, Cake's expression suddenly changed. Joker recognized it as the same emotionless one when Akechi had pointed a gun at him in the interrogation room. "There is still one more room left. That is where the first key is. Please, follow me."

This was Cake's way of dropping the conversation about his mother. He left the room before anyone could interrogate him any further.

"Is this okay?" Skull asked. "He's clearly hiding something."

"I think we went too far," Noire admitted.

Morgana agreed. "That may be Akechi's shadow, but his shadow isn't like any I have seen."

"Do you think it could be because he's a Persona user with a palace?"

Morgana looked over at Joker. The cat made it clear that a Persona user should not have a palace but if Akechi was the exception, then that would explain why the shadow acted so human in contrast to what Akechi had demonstrated.

"Most likely. We still need to be cautious. His entire demeanor changed when we challenged his view."

"Challenging a memory is difficult," Fox interrupted. "If Akechi remembers one thing and did his research later down the line to shift his opinion…I can imagine his shadow would be confused."

The bird also made him stop talking. Joker thought to himself. Maybe it's not the shadow we should be paying attention to…

The Phantom Thieves eventually left the room to pursue Cake. He was waiting at the final door at the end of the hallway. His expression rivaled that of a puppet. The bird negated the creepiness by constantly flapping his wings while perched on top of Cake's head.

"The key is here…" Cake said to the group. "And this is the last room memory about my host's mother."

Joker saw Cake's hands were trembling. The reason for Robin flapping his wings was to get his master to calm down. Something terrible was behind the door. Cake must have been aware of what it was and it caused his personality to shift. If the first key was on the other side, the thieves needed to obtain it.

"Joker, the distortion is strong on the other side," Mona warned their leader. "Are you ready to open the door?"

"Yeah, we got no choice," Joker responded immediately.

Oracle gulped. The distortion was as bad as Mona pointed out. There might be an enemy shadow on the other side. The thieves got their weapons ready in case that happened. Joker reached out and slowly opened the door. It was pitch black up ahead. They would have to step inside and search for the key.

The Phantom Thieves should have expected something disturbing in the final room of this hidden area. With how everything started to decay and the voices getting louder, it was only a matter of time before something happened to remind them they were still in a palace of shadows. Joker and Oracle knew exactly what to expect in the final room of this area. Everyone else didn't. Akechi had told the former during that one afternoon after the incident with Medjed about how being born as an unwanted child had caused problems for him and his mother that would eventually lead to her taking her own life. The storybook was preparing the group for what was to come. What Joker should have expected was that when Akechi saw his mother's corpse, it was from a child's perspective. That was why everything was so deranged in the first place. Still, seeing a corpse hung in front of them was too much.

In the final room hung Akechi's mother. A hook tied a rope to the ceiling. A stool was knocked over. The corpse dangled in the air. It was a good thing the expression of the corpse couldn't be seen due to the shadows of the room. It would have freaked the group out even more than it already did.

"W-What the hell is this?!"

"Oh my god…"

"This can't be real."

Queen at least noticed how pale Noire looked and had quickly went over to her in case she fainted. This was not for the faint of heart. Noire did her very best not to scream at the disgusting scene before her. She also held back her tears.

"Noire…" Queen spoke but Noire was lost in thought.

"How terrible…"

The shadow remained unfazed by the corpse of his mother. As eerie as it was, the shadow probably had a reason for not seeming to care too much about it.

"…This is the corpse of my host's mother," Cake stated. He sounded robotic compared to his usual cheerful tone. "She could not bear the discrimination she faced from her peers. Her friends and family abandoned her for the one mistake she made. She struggled to find a job despite how successful she once was. Her love for her son…wasn't enough. That's why she's like this. A doll hanging down from the ceiling…just like what the story foretold."

The shadow spoke like that because of a combination of him being childish and the fact he attempted to narrate the ending of this story. The Phantom Thieves couldn't call him out given they were too busy gawking at the corpse before them.

Cake looked over to Joker. His normal expression soon returned. "Mommy is a Goddess that was sealed away by Daddy here. I have no reason to feel sad when I can see Mommy again soon."

That sounded portentous. Joker knew this and blurted out words before he could stop himself.

"Don't say it like that!"

"H-Huh?"

Joker feared for Akechi. If the detective was suicidal, then they had no time to waste.

"You may be Akechi's shadow but you are not going to give your life away. Understand?"

Cake blinked before he smiled. "Why would I take my own life? That wouldn't benefit my host. Besides, Joker is going to take me out of this place."

Again with mentioning the cognitive Joker of this palace. The Phantom Thieves might run into him soon at this rate.

"I sense one of the keys in this room," Oracle suddenly spoke.

There wasn't anywhere the key could be in this tiny room. All that was here was the corpse…

"…The key is right here," Cake said as he approached the corpse. "I'm sorry, Mommy. I need that key."

What kind of sick person would have a key inside of a corpse? Akechi wasn't the most emotionally stable around. There could have been some symbolism that the group missed but they were more horrified at the shadow tearing down the corpse of his dead mother.

Cake didn't literally tear the corpse apart. His magic was weak because of the handcuffs Cognitive Shido forced on him. That didn't mean magic was impossible. Robin Hood showed that Akechi could use light magic. This would transfer over to his shadow as he was able to create an arm blade made of light and slice the corpse down the middle of her chest. One would expect blood to gush out of the corpse given the realism of the corpse but when the shadow cut open the corpse, angel feathers replaced the blood. So many questions could be asked on how a corpse shot out feathers but this was Akechi's palace so it would be difficult to get a decent answer.

Not only were the feathers out of place but the shiny red eyes inside the corpse was too.

Wait…red eyes…oh!

Joker immediately grabbed Cake's arm and yanked him back. It was just in time too because a shadow's hand came out of the corpse in an attempt to claw at whomever opened the corpse. Cake may have under reacted to the enemy inside the corpse but the thieves were taken off guard. This was not helped that the shadow spoke the moment it was freed.

YoU ShOuLd HaVE DiEd A LoNg TiMe AgO!

Oracle's goggles started blinking the moment the shadow's hand came out of the corpse. "Everyone, get ready! I'm suddenly picking up a powerful signal in the room and it's not from the key!"

The laughter that could be heard in the hallway started to get louder until it reached the room with the corpse. What initial silence that was in the room was ruined by the terrifying giggles. Cake flinched at these new voices. He made a small whine. He wanted to run out of the room and ignore the key. The shadow that was in the corpse had the first key but that shadow wasn't alone.

The Phantom Thieves glanced in all directions of the room trying to identity where the voices and the reading came from. Mona would eventually look up and then see what it was. The cat didn't even get to warn the group before dangling bodies came down from the ceiling. They never hit the ground because every body had a rope wrapped around their neck. The bodies would snap back up and then just hang there. Queen freaked out and immediately clung to the person closest to her, which happened to be Skull.

"AHHHHH! WHAT IS THIS?!"

"H-Hey! You're holding onto me too tight!" Skull exclaimed.

Noire had to cover her mouth so she wouldn't scream. Oracle had also screamed and grabbed onto Fox. He was speechless at the gruesome image. As for Joker, he didn't realize that Cake had nuzzled into his chest just so he wouldn't have to see the corpses. The laughs were coming from the dead corpses as they laughed at Cake specifically.

"Uhh…" Cake groaned. "The host's memories…it's really bad now. The key is in that shadow…"

The shadow that was in the corpse had taken this opportunity to crawl out of the corpse while the Phantom Thieves were distracted. It let out a low roar. It refused to take the form of an actual enemy. The shadow leered at Cake as it prepared to attack.

"Don't get distracted!" Joker reminded the group. "Focus on the big shadow!"

The big shadow was the main target. The group was still shook from the sudden jump scare from the ceiling.

"Panther, Mona, Fox, back me up. Everyone else, fall back. That includes you, Cake."

Skull rolled his eyes realizing that Joker wanted him to look out for Cake again. He had no choice simply because Queen continued to be a liability in this situation. Those who were not in the battle left the room. Everyone else stayed ready to fight the shadow. Joker hoped that despite the intimidating appearance that the shadow would go down quickly.

Chapter Text

The shadow revealed itself to be Mother Harlot. After the thieves that were not set to fight escaped the room, the Empress shadow attacked.

"Careful, this is a really powerful enemy!" Oracle warned. "We haven't fought this before. I'll try to scan its weakness."

It's not like the group could stand around while Oracle did that. Joker ordered the group to circle around the shadow to make it harder for the enemy to hit them. Joker and Mona took one side while Panther and Fox attempted to get behind it. Mother Harlot attacked with a powerful ice spell that was meant for Joker. The leader of the Phantom Thieves was too quick for that. Joker made a mental note how it probably wasn't a good idea to bring Panther if the shadow was shooting ice attacks.

"Panther, be careful!" Oracle warned.

Mother Harlot's attention was mainly toward Joker for good reasons. As a result, she wouldn't focus on Panther until damage was actually done. Fox casted Masukukaja on the entire party to speed them up and make it harder for the shadow to hit anybody. Panther concentrated her magic on the shadow while Joker stopped running to switch Personas. By default, he had Arsene with him at all times but this wasn't one of those times he would need him.

"Trumpeter, Debilitate!"

A demonic angel with a trumpet in its hands appeared behind Joker's figure and blew on its trumpet, casting a spell that weakened the shadow. Mona took this chance to shoot Mother Harlot with his slingshots. Oracle quickly noted down that it was safe to use guns against it without the fear of the bullets being deflected back at the user.

Fox tested the waters with a Bufudyne skill. Despite Mother Harlot specializing in ice attacks, she took normal damage from it. This would make a Persona that reflected ice attacks affected. Fox looked over to Joker, hoping he saw it and take this information to heart. However, Joker had no time to cast an ice spell because of how Mother Harlot had kept her focus on them. Joker warned Mona to watch his feet and the cat hopped out of the way of any incoming ice attacks. Panther finally attacked with Agidyne. The beasts roared in pain and it made Mother Harlot turn around in rage at her pets being injured. The ice attacks were prioritized on both Panther and Fox. Attacks aimed at Fox were cut away with his katana.

"Miss me!" Panther taunted as she dodged out of the way. Mona purred seeing how graceful the blonde was.

Joker had hit the shadow with Megido spell to be on the safe side but it didn't even cause Mother Harlot to flinch. He rolled his eyes realizing he would have to switch to something with a higher risk but a greater reward. Otherwise, the battle would go on longer than he would have liked.

Joker summoned Dominion in hopes of knocking Mother Harlot down. From how the beasts roared when a light attack was aimed its way, Joker assumed it hated the light. Of course Mother Harlot would dodge the attack with how much the beasts freaked out. He hoped he could prepare another attack.

Panther couldn't dodge the ice attacks forever. Eventually, Mother Harlot unleashed a powerful Mabufudyne spell to hit everyone. If Fox was closer to Panther, he could have protected her from the attack. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The ice attack came from underneath Panther and knocked her down. Fox stopped in his tracks to assist her. The ice attack did no damage to him. Mona shivered when hit but fortunately wasn't frozen by the attack. Mother Harlot attempted to get rid of everyone with Mamudoon. Dominion repelled the spell back at the enemy even though nothing happened when the dark spell hit. The other thieves were fortunate enough that the attack didn't knock them out instantly. Joker counted his lucky stars that most of his Personas resisted the dark element. The last thing he wanted was to faint and be dragged out of the palace.

"Go down…" Joker growled as he attempted to cast another light spell. Mother Harlot dodged again to his absolute annoyance.

The shadow had her back turned to Joker and prioritized Panther and Fox now. Fox assisted Panther off the ground before charging in with his katana. The beast roared and attempted to swipe him away. Fox made a clean hit at one of the heads before backing off. Panther had Fox's back and fired her machine gun once Fox moved out of the way. No luck with knocking the enemy down. Mona took the time to heal the party but the heal would be a waste when another Mabufudyne was cast. Panther dodged this one but due to Mona being distracted with the healing, the poor cat ended up frozen solid.

"Mona!" Oracle called out. "Joker, if Mona gets hit-"

"I know," Joker interrupted. He needed a Persona to remove it. "Dionysus!"

Switching out would be slightly risky. If an ice attack hit him, there was a chance he would be the next one frozen. A colorful God appeared behind Joker and showered the battlefield with a shower that cured Mona of his frozen status. The cat hissed at the shadow for even thinking of freezing him.

"Now I'm mad!" Mona hissed. "Come, Mercurius!"

The God of Speed emerged from Mona's psyche and unleashed a powerful wind attack on Mother Harlot. The attack did a decent amount of damage but clearly the shadow wasn't weak to wind. Mother Harlot attacked again with another Mabufudyne. Fox warned Panther before she got hit again. While she wasn't knocked over, an icicle did hit her cheek. The shadow attacked again with a surprise Maziodyne. Mona couldn't catch a break and ended up getting knocked down. Dionysus resisted the lightning and reflected it back at the shadow for no damage. Panther and Fox got hit too but only Fox was stunned.

Mother Harlot then casted Ice Age again and focused on Panther. It would have knocked her out but Panther survived even though she ended up getting knocked down on impact. Joker made a mental note how this battle wasn't going as well as he planned and couldn't swap anyone out without the risk of them getting hit by an incoming attack.

Fortunately, when Mother Harlot tried to hit the party once more with Mamudoon, it missed. Oracle quickly interfered and healed the group as quickly as she could. Joker needed to get the shadow's attention.

HoW BoRiNg. The shadow mocked. WhErE Is ThAt ChIlD? I'lL KiLl HiM!

"…Not on my watch." Joker growled as he swapped back to Dominion. The intent was to get the shadow to focus on him until the group recovered…even if it meant spamming the same attack with the knowledge of it missing always. "Your opponent is here!"

A powerful light attack almost hit Mother Harlot. What the shadow wasn't expecting was a barrage of them. Joker was on the move again in the room hoping to get her attention. He was successful and now all of the attacks were focused on him. Mona and Panther would eventually get up from the ground and heal each other. Panther rushed over to Fox and slapped the status effect out of him with her Hairsen.

"How careless…" Fox grumbled.

"Joker's giving us an opening," Panther told him. "We got to make it count."

Fox agreed. Mona had rushed over to assist Joker again. The raven haired teen couldn't run away forever. Eventually he would get hit by the powerful ice spell and would have to stop to rest. If he forced himself to run, he might twist his ankle. Mona healed him from a distance before backing him up while Panther and Fox focused on getting a powerful back attack.

Panther needed to concentrate again before having Hecate hit Mother Harlot with Agidyne. Mother Harlot didn't even get to turn around when Fox followed up after the powered up fire spell. Fox summoned Kamu Susano-o and hacked away with Vorpal Blade. Because the shadow had her back turned, the attack knocked her down. The shadow screamed as she fell off her roaring beast.

"Nice one, Fox!" Oracle praised.

The group immediately surrounded Mother Harlot and pointed their guns toward her. Joker expected her to remain quiet before the team attack. The Mother decided to speak to Joker specifically. Joker did not flinch seeing the skeleton stare straight into his soul.

FoOlIsH ChIlD! YoU ThInK YoU ArE HeLpInG ThAt PaRaSiTe?!

Joker's expression darkened, "Who are you to call Akechi a parasite?"

The skull of Mother Harlot rattled.

"Be careful, Joker," Oracle warned.

Joker was certain that the shadow wasn't in any position to be negotiating. One more attack would finish her. He should have fired a warning shot to keep her quiet. Unfortunately, Mother Harlot would die taunting her opponent.

If OnLy YoU KnEw HoW MuCh SuFfErInG ThAt ChIlD WiLl BrInG!

Joker looked over to the other thieves and gave the signal. He wasn't in the mood to listen to this shadow insult Akechi any longer.

The group launched themselves in the air and attacked Mother Harlot while she was down.

"THEY'RE DONE FOR!"

Cake couldn't see the damage the Phantom Thieves were doing to Mother Harlot but he could see that she was indeed deader than dead. Once their team attack was done, Joker adjusted his gloves. Mother Harlot went down after that single gesture. Cake's eyes sparked with how cool the leader of the Phantom Thieves acted.

He's as amazing as the host's interpretation of him…so cool! Cake thought to himself as he resisted the urge to cheer for the death of the shadow taking the form of Akechi's mother.

With Mother Harlot's defeat came the key that was kept inside of her body. The corpse of Yumiko no longer existed and the key shined brightly in the air. The key was the same color as the excessive amount of blood the room. With the defeat of Mother Harlot, the room became just another empty room in the mansion.

"That was a pain…" Mona grumbled. "Why are there powerful shadows like that here…"

"The keys are needed to open my host's heart," explained Cake. "I feel it would be fitting that powerful adversaries guarded the keys."

Cake approached the key without fear of anything else jumping out of him. Oracle did not sense any more enemies after the defeat of Mother Harlot so it was safe for him to do so. He reached out and grabbed the key. The key responded to the shadow and allowed him to take it. With the key in hand, one of the keyholes shattered on Cake's handcuff. The shadow felt his powers returning to him if only slightly. He could be more useful to the Phantom Thieves now.

"My powers are returning ever so slowly," Cake stated the obvious. "This memory can now be put to rest."

"Put to rest?" Panther asked.

"I will be closing this place up. Should the change of heart be successful, no longer with my host be plagued by these memories. He will be able to move on without these memories dragging him down."

That sounded hopeful. Joker wondered what else was in Akechi's dark past. This felt more like a therapy session to heal the wounds of the past rather than changing his heart to become a better person (or at least see that he was capable of becoming a better person).

"We can leave now. Daddy can't take this key from me now that I have it. It's safe."

The exhausted thieves agreed to Cake's decision and pulled themselves out of the hidden room. Cake made sure to close the hidden door. The last thing he wanted was for Cognitive Shido to find this place and tear up Akechi's memories.

Unfortunately, getting out of the place wasn't the end of their problems. The angels had suddenly changed their patrol route and searched even the library. The minute they saw Cake and Joker together was when they started calling in reinforcements.

"Are you serious?!" Skull questioned in anger. "We just got out of that hell and now they're sending in reinforcements?" He glared at Cake. "Didn't you say that the angels had a specific route?!"

"T-They did!" Cake exclaimed. "Maybe…they noticed the key was taken…"

"Or maybe they felt one of the locks shattered and rushed over to get you," Mona suggested. "Either way, we need to get out of here before they find us. The last thing we want is to be surrounded by angels and then alert Shido."

As soon as the cat said that, the angels started speaking.

"My child, where are you? We heard a commotion! Is it those terrible demons?"

Cake had to respond. He gulped as he spoke, "I am okay. I just knocked over some books!" Cake quickly pushed the books nearby to prove a point. There was another door with a lock. Cake took the recently acquired key and pushed it through the keyhole thus opening the door.

"How convenient…" Queen grumbled.

"This is a safe house," Cake stated the obvious. "You can use this place to return to the entrance of the tower."

"When were you going to tell us there was a safe house?!" Skull couldn't help but yell.

"Umm…you couldn't access it without the first key." Cake answered. "Umm…you should leave before…"

"My child, who was that?! Was that the demon that Father Shido mentioned?"

Cake's eyes widened in horror as the flapping of the angel wings came closer. "Please, retreat now and return tomorrow. I will try to keep the security level down."

There wasn't much the Phantom Thieves could do. Joker didn't want to continue traversing the tower when he and the members who fought Mother Harlot were exhausted. Now that they knew that overpowered shadows were in the dungeon guarding the keys, they could prepare for tomorrow.

"Take care of yourself," Joker told Cake.

"Just go," Cake answered. "I'll be fine."

Joker ordered the Phantom Thieves to make haste to the safe room. They were gone just as the angels came down the stairs. Cake sighed knowing he would be dragged back to his room for "his own safety". Hopefully, things won't take a turn for the worse in the real world.


Akechi needed sleep after outrunning his pursuers for so long. He knew that he couldn't rest until he was certain he was safe but fatigue eventually won over. He hoped that maybe for one night Shido's men wouldn't consider searching his apartment after he disappeared for more than two weeks and not once returned to the place. The moment he got home, Akechi quickly locked the doors and collapsed onto his mattress. Sleeping on his own bed had never felt so good. Before Akechi knew it, he had fallen asleep.

Normally the detective would have dreamless nights and not sleep as well as he would have wanted. Yet for whatever reason, he was dreaming tonight. Dreaming of an event that had happened two months back. Akechi tried to bury these memories deep within his mind but said memories found their way back to the surface. Happy memories were so foreign to him even if the situation wasn't exactly pleasing.

It occurred after the incident with Medjed. The Phantom Thieves had a huge boost in their popularity and everyone was praising them. Realizing it would benefit their pockets, even critics of the Phantom Thieves switched sides. Akechi had stuck to his guns despite the change in popular opinion and had been ridiculed for it. That month was difficult for him to get anything done as a detective. The public mocked him for being as lazy and incompetent as the police while pretending they cared for his wellbeing. Akechi had to remind himself that this was part of the bigger plan. They just needed the Phantom Thieves to be absorbed in the public opinion before they took a plunge. One month was all Akechi needed before the public changed their opinion on the subject matter again.

That didn't make life easier. Now that the Phantom Thieves earned a cult following, these people came out of the woodwork and pretended that they were loyalists from the very beginning. These people were frauds in Akechi's eyes. They wanted to remain hip and relevant while not actually believing in the justice the Phantom Thieves have done. Akechi had already put two and two together at this point on the identity of the thieves and as a result had observed Akira and his group of misfits carefully. Sometimes, that meant stalking out Shujin Academy and performing his own investigations. Akechi did need to scout the area of course. In order for the next plan of action to start, Akechi needed to know the layout of the academy and find the Principal's Office. From there, he would be set whenever Shido gave the word.

There was one problem with being a popular detective prince though. Akechi's face was recognizable. He had wanted to be left alone because of his drop in popularity. Unfortunately, it meant dealing with thugs who didn't appreciate his presence. Akechi was a fool in letting his guard down though. He hated the gossip going around about him and it nearly distracted him. He found what he needed in the school before leaving. Before that, he had asked if Makoto was still around. She had apparently gone home early that day. Any hopes of getting more information out of her were thrown out the window. Akechi had to call it quits and return home.

He didn't realize two students from the academy were stalking him. They had been spying on him since they noticed him on the first floor of the academy. It was only when he stepped foot outside of the academy did he finally notice menacing glares pointed his way. Akechi made the mistake of making eye contact with them before deciding to walk away as quickly as possible. Akechi needed to get to the train station before they reached him. He still needed to play it off like he didn't notice and wasn't in a hurry.

Akechi tried to outsmart the two Shujin students and take a shortcut. Unfortunately, Akechi needed to remember that as smart as he was and how he had been alone all of his life, he never took the back routes. Akechi had a reputation to keep and it was better to be noticed in public instead of being attacked where no one could see him. He made one wrong turn and found himself cornered by the two Shujin students.

"What's wrong detective? You take a wrong turn?"

"That's not very intelligent of you."

Akechi had rolled his eyes. In the back of his mind, they could say whatever they wanted. He wasn't trash like these students proved to be.

"Ah. I must not have been paying attention," Akechi started. He forced a smile to ease the obvious tension in the air. "I apologize. I need to catch the next train. Someone is expecting me."

It wasn't exactly a lie. He could go to the police station and speak to Sae on any updates on her end. If he checked his phone and saw that Shido needed him for his special services, then who would he be to deny him that? Even if Akechi was telling the truth, the two males were not going to let him pass. The detective wanted to simply slip by and run off but he wouldn't be able to do that. An attempt to walk by just got his arm seized by one of the two students.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"I said I have a train to catch."

"You can catch the next one when we're through with you."

Akechi glared at the other student who gave him a wicked look as well. Akechi slapped the student's hand away from him as he took a step back. He was going to get backed into the wall again.

"Please make this quick," Akechi told them. "I can't afford to be late."

"Where could you possibly go? No one likes you now after what you said."

"…I beg your pardon?"

Akechi was losing his patience very quickly. The second student had attempted to reach out and grab at him but Akechi moved back and held his school bag to his chest. He refused to show weakness to these pathetic scumbags.

"Don't play dumb, detective. The Phantom Thieves are what's hot now. You're yesterday's news. Don't think we take well to you smack talking about the Phantom Thieves."

The detective held his tongue. These idiots didn't deserve to hear him speak.

"You always go on about how the Phantom Thieves are criminal scum, yet here you and the police are letting these criminals go free! What does that make you?"

"Vigilantes cannot take the law into their own hands," Akechi calmly explained. "That is why laws are in place."

"These laws haven't done shit for us. All you're doing is preaching to the idiots who only like you for your pretty face!"

One of the two students started to crack his knuckles. "Hope you don't mind us messing with that face of yours. You wouldn't show your face on TV again once we're through with you."

Akechi's expression darkened. He had a few choices. He could take the risky option and open the nav to the Metaverse and scare them off. He could look for an opening between the two and make a mad dash like planned. Or he could actually show these thugs that he was more than a pretty face. Akechi could protect himself well. He just didn't show it. He was a detective for a reason. There was another option but he doubt it would be effective to call the police on them. These punks were beyond reasoning.

"I should warn you that I can report you to the police if you assault me," Akechi reminded them.

"Not if we break your phone first."

Akechi groaned mentally in disappointment. He really needed to make a decision quickly.

At this point, someone else gave him another option that he found himself taking.

"Akechi?"

The detective sighed in relief hearing a familiar voice. The two Shujin Students were confused at how someone else found them.

"Kurusu-kun…" Akechi hummed.

Akira always found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. How did he know he was here? Did he see him at his school or did he hear the yelling? Did he have a sixth sense in detecting people in need? Either way, Akechi had no problem calling his name out again.

"What are you doing here?" Akira asked in a confused tone.

"I'm sorry. I took a wrong turn and I missed the train," Akechi told him honestly. "I was going to text you that I was going to be late but these two gentlemen had stopped me from doing that."

Akechi continued to keep the fake smile plastered on his face. Akira knew it was fake but his attention was to the Phantom Thief fans. They were far from amused at his appearance.

"What are you doing here, punk? You know pretty boy or something?" One of the students asked.

Akira had a quick wit that matched Akechi's. He had picked up what Akechi wanted him to say and spoke immediately.

"He's my friend," Akira answered. "We were going to hang out."

The two punks couldn't believe it. One of them even had the nerve to laugh.

"The detective has a friend? That's a riot!"

Akechi had to admit that hearing himself being referred to as a friend sounded foreign in his ears. Either way, he played along. While they were busy laughing, he had suddenly rushed and pushed the two punks aside. He made it to Akira's side rather quickly. Akechi did expect Akira to say something before they headed out but Akira continued to surprise him and stood in front of Akechi in a protective stance. Akechi found his heart pounding at the small gesture.

"You best not bother us," Akira started. "I'm not in the mood to cause a scene. I am not missing that movie."

"This has nothing to do with you!" The leader of the two students yelled. "You better move out of the way or else-"

"Or else what?" Akira interrupted. Akechi felt something was off. He looked over to the two Shujin students and noticed how they froze in place. He couldn't see it, but Akira must have had the most intimidating stare of all time for them to be trembling on sight.

"Shit…why would you defend a self-righteous scum like him?" The other male student asked. "He talks so much shit about the Phantom Thieves and now he's getting his just desserts."

"I don't care what he thinks," Akira told them. "I do care that you are trying to hurt my friend. Now, I know you two know about my reputation. You two enjoyed gossiping about it."

It took them a moment to realize what he was talking about.

"No way! The transfer student?!"

"The asshole who got arrested for assaulting someone?"

"Yeah, that's me," Akira said darkly. "You got thirty seconds before I decide to make you two the next victims on my record."

"S-Shit! Don't you care that you're on probation?"

"I can take another year if it's for a friend."

Akechi was impressed to say the least. Akira was a great actor. The line was smooth, touching and straight to the point. Even if Akira would get in trouble for actually attempting to attack them, it was these two fanatics who were freaking out at the consequences. Their attack stance disappered and they lowered their heads. They both put their hands in their pockets before they finally gave up.

"Tch, you got lucky pretty detective," one of the students mocked.

"You better sleep with one eye open tonight. We'll get you."

Akechi continued to smile as they walked away with their tail between their legs. Once the two were out of sight, Akechi's expression dropped completely.

"Are you alright?" Akira asked. "They didn't touch you, did they?"

It was cute that Akira still worried about him. He needed to stop acting.

"I could have managed," Akechi answered. "Your quick thinking did make things smoother than it needed to be."

"What can I say? I'm a smooth talker."

"…You do realize what would have happened if those ingrates used their brain and attacked, did you?" Akechi needed to tell himself that he couldn't let his true thoughts slip out but Akira saw that he was already frustrated. It wouldn't hurt to let his mask crumble in front of the Trickster…just a little bit. "If you actually punched them, you would have been thrown back in jail…and for no reason. I could have called the police. I have connections."

"Sorry. Just couldn't stand by and watch you get ganged up on." Akira shrugged his shoulders. He didn't seem to care about the consequences at least on the surface.

"I was fine, Kurusu-kun…" Akechi murmured to himself. "Still…I do appreciate your assistance. Thank you."

Akira smirked. Akechi figured he would be in debt to the raven haired teen now. Maybe what lie he said was what he would have to do. However…

"Hey, come back to me back to the café," Akira started.

"Huh? Don't you have a movie to watch?"

"Changed my mind. I'm concerned that they will ambush you again. Stay with me until closing."

Well…this was odd to say the least. Akira tried really hard to show that he was concerned for his "friend". Akechi's expression changed as expected. Akira had taken the chance to examine his friend's behavior to the request. That detective needed information…but it wouldn't hurt to relax with the person who helped him out of a tight spot.

"If that's what you insist."

"Don't worry. The coffee will be on me."

"…You're very kind, Kurusu-kun."

"You know you can call me Akira, right?"

Akechi shook his head. He refused to go that far into this make believe friendship they had. They were not that close.

"I'll consider it if you save me one more time." Akechi had to tease.

Akira chuckled to himself. He started to walk away and expected Akechi to follow. The detective thought Akira would wait for him and quickly trailed after him. He heard what Akira said that caused his heart to race yet again.

"I'll hold you to that promise, Akechi-kun."


Akechi slowly opened his eyes. What an odd time to have a dream like that.

Why now? Akechi asked himself as he arose from his bed. He felt a sharp pain immediately. The desire to head back to sleep returned to him. Alas, he was incapable of doing that. Akechi had returned to his apartment in hopes of getting away from his pursuers. He had avoided his apartment ever since the Phantom Thieves revealed themselves to the public and stole Shido's heart. Akechi didn't wake up immediately after being ejected out of Shido's palace originally. He only remembered staying in the apartment of the person who found him unconscious and nursed him back to help. If Akechi wasn't in such a hurry, he would have asked for the person's name. Now, someone he could have potentially relied on was no longer an option because of his rashness.

Sleeping in a different hotel every day wore him out and the money he had was running out. A few times he had stayed in Mementos as a way to hide. He was too strong so the shadows didn't dare attack him. His pursuers remained relentless. It was why Akechi had decided for one night he would stay in his own apartment. He figured that they have checked his place so many times that they have given up on him returning. The detective checked for any bugs and cameras that were planted in case they were looking for him. If Akechi destroyed the bug and then gave the impression he left after getting a few things, his enemies would be fooled.

Still, Akechi didn't think he would sleep for that long and waking up with a headache only made matters worse.

I should get going. Akechi thought to himself. I can't stay here for too long. I can't risk anything…

He let out a small yawn. Running away from Shido's men took so much out of him. For once, he wanted to rely on someone to back him up. Unfortunately, he couldn't turn to the Phantom Thieves. Besides Akira, they all hated him. Akira was out of the question…if he got hurt because of him…

"Dammit, Akira-kun…" Akechi hissed to himself. "Why do I feel like this? Are you…"

There was a knock at the door snapping Akechi out of his thoughts. The first thought that came to mind was that it was the landowner knocking on his door again asking for this month's rent. Because of everything that had happened, he couldn't pay her. Everything would have to settle down before he could do even that. Then again, she was being very persistent this time. Perhaps she saw him come in or her woman's intuition suspected him hiding out in his apartment.

Akechi wasn't thinking when he decided to open the door to his apartment. If he had just let the door continue knocking, the people on the other side would have left. Akechi gave them proof that he was in and regretted his action.

The fact that Akechi didn't get his gun only made the situation worse. Shido's associates gave the detective the most sinister smiles he had ever seen, the darkness of the room making them look even more sinister. Akechi didn't have the strength to slam the door but it was too late. They had forced their way in into his room.

"It took us time but we finally found you, Detective Prince. You're coming with us."

Akechi's apartment wasn't that big. There wasn't anywhere to run. The detective cursed himself for his carelessness. He reached out for what he thought was his gun but grabbed his phone instead. With the amount of time he had to do so, Akechi knew that the men were toying with him.

If only I could escape to the Metaverse. Akechi thought grimly to himself. Then they wouldn't be able to chase after me…

If only he could do that. He hadn't been able to return to the Metaverse after being forced out. He wondered if the navigation app was jammed on his phone. Either way, with no Personas with him, life became difficult simply because he had to outrun these goons. The fact that he was cornered like a rat only agitated him.

"Who are you going to call? The police? You're already an enemy to them."

Akechi glared at them as he took a step back. He would have his back against the wall soon enough. If it was just one man, the detective could potentially outsmart and outrun him. He couldn't do that with three men. One of them was the same one Akira attacked. The second one was equally muscular and the third appeared to be the leader of the three. He held a binder in his hand and Akechi had an idea what was in it.

"Give it up! There is nowhere to run!" The persistent man chuckled. "You're going to come with us quietly."

"I refuse," Akechi answered sternly. "I will not sign that contract my father wrote. My life is my own and I will not let my father degrade me any further."

Akechi surprised himself with how easily he was able to talk back to Shido's associates. The two muscular men were far from pleased but the third one found Akechi's resistance amusing. He only needed to point toward the detective for the two to lunge at him. Akechi intended to make a run for it but his headache proved too much for him. They knocked his phone out of his hand and pinned his body to the ground. A pathetic growl escaped his lips as he tried to wiggle free from their grip. Alas, that was impossible.

"That's a cute speech but we don't care what you want," the smug adult stated. "You were aware that this day would come. There is no use running." He looked at the two bulky men and ordered one of them to get Akechi's cellphone. Akechi desperately tried to move. One of the lackeys' grabbed the phone and handed it over to his superior. At that point, the phone lit up as if he received a text message. Akechi's felt his heart sink as the smug man glanced at the phone. "Oh? Who is this texting you? Is this your boyfriend?"

"Give it back…" Akechi hissed. "That's not yours!"

Akechi's threats were ignored as the man looked at the message. The man couldn't help but laugh at the message that appeared on the screen.

[Akira Kurusu]: Akechi, we started looking into your heart. Sorry it was last minute but I know we need to get rid of the palace before something happens. We will be able to get you out of your situation once you come clean.

"Should I respond?" the arrogant man asked.

Akechi found it difficult to breathe. "N-No…"

"I wasn't going to anyway. I am certain your father told you to eliminate the Phantom Thieves, yet here you are with their leader's number. Did you seduce him to get him back in your good grace? He must be masochistic if he stuck his cock inside of you."

"Shut up…" Akechi snarled. "You know nothing about Akira-kun…"

Shido's associates could care less about what words came out of Akechi's mouth. He let out a bitter laugh as he opened the binder with the contract.

"We might know him personally very soon. If you don't cooperate with us, we might as well consider the possibility that we need another fine young male to satisfy us. Your boyfriend will do."

Akechi gasped. "Y-You wouldn't!"

They noticed Akechi's will to fight them started to fade almost immediately when Akira got dragged into this situation. They knew how to manipulate the situation to get the detective to do what they wanted. Akechi failed to realize his body trembling as the contract was laid out in front of him.

"We could leave your boyfriend alone if you willingly sign this contract. You are still the property of your father and he told us that should anything happen to him, we are allowed to do with you as we please. Now, we might go down because of your father's…illness but we will make sure that you won't be able to recover from his fall from grace."

Akechi was at a loss of words. What could he do? He was trapped in his apartment. His gun was out of reach. His Personas weren't responding to his call. His phone was in the hands of this madman who would text something to Akira that he couldn't stop if he allowed him to. Akira's life was on the line. Now that Shido was dealt with, the Phantom Thieves were safe but if this man willed it, they would suffer because Akechi refused to sell himself to these perverted adults.

"How could you people…"

The two muscular men laughed at Akechi's predicament. The one holding him down had the audacity to rub his hand down Akechi's back and eventually put his hands in between his legs. Akechi squirmed under the touch.

"It's not a hard decision. If you care about your boyfriend so much, you will sign the contact. If not, then we are capable of leaving you alone. We know you have the experience unlike your faggot boyfriend."

Red eyes glared daggers at the smug man. He lost some of that arrogance seeing the defiant look Akechi had.

"You will not degrade Akira-kun…" Akechi warned. "If you leave Akira-kun and his friends out of it…I'll sign it…"

"Good."

"But…before I do that…" Akechi felt drained. There wasn't any way to get out of this without someone he started to care about get hurt. "…Please give me one more day to myself…one last day as my own person…please…I won't fight anymore if I have one more day…"

The men found this amusing. What would stop Akechi from going into hiding? Then again…they already revealed their trump card. Should he flee, Akira would take his place. Akechi couldn't have Akira go through the same hell he had endured.

"You can try and delay the time you have but you won't escape us. One wrong move and we will act sooner than we need to for those kids."

Akechi nodded his head. Once the men were certain that Akechi knew his place, they released him from their death grip. Akechi was only able to sit up before those hands grabbed at his arm.

"Remember, if you don't sign the contract, we will make you do it."

"Get your hands off me…" Akechi barked weakly. His threat sounded more like a whimper.

The bulky man refused to listen. If touching his waist wasn't bad enough, his grubby hands were in between his legs. Akechi did his best to close his legs. The man found this action amusing and attempted to open them back up.

"S-Stop…" Akechi tried to tell the man in a threatening voice but it was failing by the minute. "I'll sign it. Just stop…"

"Why are you fighting back? You'll be doing this for the rest of your life so you better get used to it."

"I…I can't sign it with your hand in the way!"

Akechi thought the man would never stop. Fortunately, the leader of Shido's associates showed some mercy and ordered the man to stop touching him. The contract was shoved in Akechi's face with a pen in hand. Akechi only needed to skim through the contract to read the words typed by his father. His father only saw him as a tool whether it was for killing or for sex. Akechi thought killing his father would end this scenario but it was no longer an option. Shido thought this through with a contract. Had Akechi not realize his father manipulated him from the start, he would have signed this willingly without a second thought. Here, Akechi slowly grabbed the pen that was handed to him as well as the clipboard with the contract on it. How easy it would have been if he could just tear the contract to pieces. These men knew Akechi might try that. They might have had multiple copies waiting to shove in his face had Akechi thought he would have the last laugh.

I really am a fool. Akechi thought grimly to himself as he signed his signature at the bottom of the paper. He blinked feeling his vision get blurry. The detective wanted to kick himself for wanting to cry. That was what these men want. He already gave up. There was no need to make them feel good about themselves.

"That's a good boy," the leader of the three men praised as Akechi handed the contract back. "Shido-dono taught you well."

Akechi gave one last weak glare before he turned away. No matter what the Phantom Thieves did, it was too late. Shido's associates would take him away to the darkest parts of Japan tomorrow. No one would see or hear from him again except from the underground where crime bosses were. Kaneshiro may have been gone but a new underworld boss would rise. Either way, Akechi was going to make these corrupt men rich.

"As a celebration of your cooperation, we ask you to spread your legs for us."

Akechi didn't know why they kept tormenting him like this. "W-Why? I have one more day, right? C-Can I…not…"

The auburn haired detective looked at the man with his phone. He shivered at the thought of them doing something to Akira even if he had obeyed them. Still, there was nothing much he could do. He glanced over to the leader of the trio hoping he would see a sign of mercy again. Alas, a second wind did not come.

Akechi closed his eyes and accepted defeat. He slowly opened his legs for the perverted adults to get a good look at him. He heard a clicking sound and that made his heart sink.

"Just to remember this night by," one of the guys' said. "The more pictures we get, the more you won't even think of disobeying us. Understand."

"I…understand…" Akechi mumbled.

"Good. Now open your eyes. We want the best shots to capture the adorable detective underneath that fake defiance you are giving us now."


Akechi's turmoil in the real world affected the palace. Cake felt dizzy while attending the flowers. Nausea started to kick in and Cake wanted nothing but to throw up. Alas, as a shadow, something like that wasn't possible. Cake only felt the sensation and couldn't act on it. The shadow frowned as he looked toward the sky.

"Akira-kun…please hurry. My host will soon be lost in own despair…"

As soon as he whispered that, the clock tower at the top of the tower rang. The noise disturbed the animals of the garden. Cake was disappointed that the birds and butterflies flew away. His eyes were locked to the number behind the clock hands. The number went from three to two. There wasn't that much time…

"Goro."

Cake flinched hearing his father's voice. He didn't turn around. He continued to water the flowers like he didn't hear his father. Bad move as his handcuffs started glowing a bright pink color as his father approached him.

"Goro, we have new members of the church. You will service them immediately."

Cake gawked in disbelief. "B-But, Daddy."

"Do not test me, Child." He hissed. "I swear if I find that demon, I will pound him in the ground and have his death be a reminder of your disobedience."

"P-Please leave Joker out of this…" Cake pleaded. "He means well…"

"I don't need to hear this."

The Cognitive version of Shido was more irritated than normal. Not waiting for the shadow to give him an answer, he seized the young shadow's arm. Cake yelped as he was dragged away from the flower garden. He dropped the watering can he was using to water the plants. The water spilt onto the ground until the watering can was emptied out. By that point, Shido and Cake had vanished, heading straight to the church at the top of the tower…

Chapter Text

The group gathered at LeBlanc after school the next day. Exams were still going on while they were dealing with Akechi's Palace. Makoto made sure that Akira was aware that he was putting them all in a bad situation. Even though Akira had told himself that only Ryuji was a lost cause when it came to exams, he knew that the group as a whole needed to pass them. Makoto and Haru would graduate next year and it would set the pace for Ann, Ryuji and him. Yusuke admitted to already finishing his exams the week before so he had nothing to worry about, and Futaba had no school. The sooner they got through Akechi's Palace, the sooner they could prioritize exams and get rid of the people off their back. Makoto thought otherwise but seeing how bad the situation already was in Akechi's palace, it wasn't like she and the other Phantom Thieves could just abandon the mission now.

Sojiro was kind enough to close the shop early for the group to do their mission. He was told earlier this morning about how his café was the location of Akechi's Palace. At first, Sojiro felt offended until he was told his café was viewed as a sanctuary.

"Well, make sure you kids finish what you need to do quickly. You cannot expect me to keep closing the store for you," Sojiro told the group as he headed out for the day. "Make sure you close up the shop once you're done for today. Call me if you need anything."

Once Sojiro left, the group began to evaluate the data they had obtained from yesterday. Ryuji and Ann sat on one side of the table with Haru and Makoto facing them. Laptop at hand as usual, Futaba sat behind the table, leaving Akira and Yusuke leaning against the bar table. Morgana hopped onto the table to start the discussion.

"We barely scratched the surface of Akechi's palace," Morgana started. "If we want to finish in three days, we need to pick up the pace today."

"Urgh…this is more troublesome than it needed to be," Ryuji complained.

"Playing escort wasn't exactly what I was expecting in the palace," Yusuke added.

"Mona-chan, do you know why Akechi-kun's shadow is like that?" Haru asked the cat.

"No…" Morgana answered. "Akechi shouldn't have a palace in the first place. We know he didn't have one when he joined us. He only developed one after we stole Shido's treasure. Something changed between the confrontation with him in Shido's palace and Shido's change of heart."

Akira had no idea what could have changed. The only thing he could think of was Igor telling him that he had reached a max bond with Akechi even in death. However, not only did Igor not tell him that Akechi was alive but Akira still didn't feel close to Akechi like he did with his other confidants.

"Cake said that he represented the repressed positive emotions Akechi has," Futaba started. "Maybe he was enlightened after he learned about his father's plans to get rid of him?"

"That would make sense…but I don't think optimism would come from an event like that," Morgana told her. "I speculate that the shadow has always been like that but it's only manifesting now."

"Maybe…his shadow is another Persona?"

Akira threw that one out there. The group didn't take the time to think about how Akechi had two Personas when they battled him. If Akechi were a trickster like their leader, then it would make sense that he would have another Persona waiting in the form of a shadow. After all, Akechi clearly loathed his own existence and refused to acknowledge those positive emotions.

"That might be a possibility. Still…" Morgana wanted to continue but decided against it. "We need to gather as much information as we can just to be sure. I don't trust Akechi's shadow."

"Even though he can't lie?"

"Akira, just because you trust him doesn't mean the rest of us do."

"It's not exactly trust…" Akira began but realized that he wasn't going to convince his friends otherwise. "If you want me to try and get as much information from Cake about Akechi and the palace, I'll do my best."

"His shadow trusts you," Makoto told him. "He sees you like the cognitive version of you."

Akira sighed. He almost forgot that there was a cognitive version of him somewhere in Akechi's palace. Would they eventually encounter each other? Would the cognitive version be friend or foe? What would he even look like? There were just too many questions and so little time.

"The goal today is to secure the treasure if we can," the black cat continued. "If complications rise, we might have to find Akechi to clear things up."

This would only be the case if they ran into any trouble. If Cake cooperated with them, then things would go by smoothly. Hopefully, they wouldn't be forced to retreat like they did yesterday. A high security would only cause problems should they encounter the powerful shadows that were in possession of the keys needed.

"If we know what we need to do, then we should be ready to depart." Makoto finished as she turned to Akira. "You have everything we need, right?"

Akira was always prepared for infiltration missions. All the money he had earned in the Metaverse always went to supplies and upgraded weapons. Ryuji always teased Akira about how he bought too many band-aids but it was always better to be safe than sorry.

Before Akira could give the a-okay, his phone started buzzing. The raven haired teen tried to play it off like it wasn't important but Morgana knew better.

"It's Akechi, isn't it?" Morgana asked. "You have a specific buzz sound when he's texting you."

Akira chuckled nervously. "I'll…be right back."

Akira dismissed himself from the group so he could speak to Akechi. Morgana wanted to pursue the leader but Akira wanted to speak to Akechi alone. The problem was that Akechi had no intention of talking to Akira. He simply sent him a text message.

[[Goro Akechi: I was sleeping when you sent me that message. Do me a favor and stop trying to enter my palace. You're exhausting me.]]

The raven haired teen stared at the message as if expecting Akechi to say something more. He groaned as he quickly typed in a response.

[[Akira Kurusu: This is important. We can get you out of your situation. You just need to be patient.]]

Akechi already had a response ready.

[[Goro Akechi: My confession will not do anything. It's annoying how your interference with my palace is effecting how I feel.]]

Perhaps this would be a question to ask Cake. It never occurred to Akira that entering a palace would affect the person who they were infiltrating in. Morgana did say that the person inside the palace should not be aware of what's going on. Akechi had shown time and time again he was the exception to this rule.

I should ask Morgana what he thinks. Akira thought to himself as he typed another response.

[[Akira Kurusu: We met your shadow. He wants us to help you. Who are we to deny it?]]

Akechi didn't respond after that. Akira thought maybe he said too much. Akechi sent one more message before calling it quits.

[[Goro Akechi: Your responses continue to surprise me Akira-kun. You know nothing will change my situation. Do what you want but do not expect me to be thrilled with your decision.]]

Akira chose not to text anymore. Akechi was done with him for the day. The raven haired teen groaned at how difficult it was to speak to him. He could just make the conclusion that Akechi was moody because of them diving into his palace. Checking up on Cake would be the first thing they did. He could give better insight on what was really going on in Akechi's mind.

Before Akira headed downstairs, he got another text message. The delinquent checked his phone thinking the detective decided to send one more message to him. Akira's heart sank and he felt his legs wanting to give up on him. This wasn't Akechi's number that texted him. Whoever had his number decided to send him of the brunette he was texting a few minutes ago. What confused Akira was who had the time to send pictures of Akechi in compromising positions. One picture had Akechi's legs spread open while he posed for the camera. The second picture had Akechi's legs high up in the air in an awkward position. Akechi forced a smile while posing with a peace sign at the camera. The final picture had Akechi on his stomach. His jeans were pulled down and his underwear was only pulled down slightly so only a small butt crack was showing. Compared to the other two pictures, Akechi had a difficult time maintaining a cheerful exterior. He tried to hide the blush he had but the camera was angled to see as much of Akechi's face and rear as it could.

[[Akira Kurusu: Who is this?]]

There was no response. Akira figured as much as this person wanted to remain anonymous while taunting him with these pictures of the detective. As Akira was about to put the phone back into his pocket, the phone vibrated.

[[Anonymous: Stay away from the fake detective. Stop trying to find him. Stop trying to help him. Unless you and your friends want to end up in his situation, you will cease all actions.]]

Shivers crept up Akira's back. The message worried him more than it should have. He snarled as he texted the same message again. The person did not respond afterwards. Akira tried to determine the number but the caller ID was unknown. As a result, Akira knew he would be wasting his time trying to find the person. Having Futaba look into this would be better.

But I can't do that now. Akira told himself darkly. We have to focus on the palace first. I can ask Futaba when we return from the palace. Hopefully, we can secure a route to the treasure today.

Akira put his phone away and returned to his group of friends. With him back in the group, they were able to go back into the palace.


The changes in the palace were apparent the moment the Phantom Thieves stepped foot into the Metaverse. The calm breeze that greeted them originally with the beautiful flower field was gone. The air was stagnant and the flowers around them were already turning brown and withering away. Not all the flowers of course. The strong resilient flowers still bloomed but every fragile one had already fallen to its side in desperate need of water. The clear skies were gone and placed with a gray color as if it became a part of a grayscale picture.

"What happened?" Panther asked. "Why is everything like this? It's only been one day!"

"Something must have happened…" Mona muttered. "No…I'm sure of it."

Joker gulped. He wanted to tell the group right now about the pictures he got. Did they relate to what was happening in the palace or did what Akechi tell him about feeling exhausted contribute to the palace decaying? Maybe it was wishful thinking that the pictures were unrelated to anything but Joker knew deep down that was not the case. When they returned from the palace, Joker had every intention of getting back in contact with the detective for clarification.

"Hey, wasn't the clock tower at three yesterday?" Noire asked suddenly.

"Yes, why?" Oracle wondered out loud.

Noire just needed to point to the clock tower for the group to see what she was talking about. The three that was originally on the clock tower had struck to two.

"Huh? Why did the number change?" Oracle asked herself more than the other thieves. "Did something happen to Akechi-kun?"

"…He told me he was exhausted." Joker answered. "I got a text from him before we came in the palace."

Queen folded her arms. "Did you talk to him?"

"No. He wasn't in the mood for a call. I'll try calling him once we're done with the palace for today. He already knows we're in his palace."

The group gave Joker an odd look. Mona wasn't exactly pleased even though he had an idea.

"Joker, you do realize that might have contributed to his palace changing its structure, right?"

Joker said nothing. Maybe he was a little too hasty with warning Akechi about what the Phantom Thieves were doing. Akechi must have been aware that he had a palace and why he under reacted to the message the previous night. Joker felt that Akechi wanted the Phantom Thieves to help him but was too stubborn to come out and say it.

"If there are more enemies around, we know who to blame," Skull said in a mocking tone.

Joker glared at his best friend before urging the group to hurry along. They needed to get farther in the palace today. In Joker's mind, he was hoping they would be able to secure the route to the treasure and be finished by tomorrow. That way, Queen wouldn't give him a harder time than she already was.


The Phantom Thieves continued where they left off from yesterday. The safe room had a secret passage that allowed them to get from the entrance of the tower into the mansion without being detected by the angels. Mona commented how convenient all of these secret passages that lead to the mansion were and wondered why so many of them existed. Skull had one idea that he didn't want to voice. Cake had told them there were cognitive versions of the other Phantom Thieves so one could assume that the cognitive demons used these passageways to bypass security and move from the mansion to other locations in the tower without getting spotted.

Another convenient thing about this particular saferoom was that this one was below Cake's room. This saferoom was locked originally before the first key was obtained. Unless the saferooms in this palace opened up with each key obtained, there was no way for Cake to have opened that room for them. It was a perfect starting location seeing as how it would be locked to Shido and the angels as well.

Once the Phantom Thieves were in, Joker asked Skull, Queen and Noire to follow him while the others guarded the back in case any enemies showed up. They didn't need to keep their guard up as much as they thought when they returned as Oracle pointed out how the mansion was different from yesterday with fewer guards. Whatever transpired after the Phantom Thieves left must have made the angels attend to their duties elsewhere. It made things easier for the group to reach Cake's room. The shadow was fast asleep when the group opened the door. Cake lay on his stomach and as a result, it made it easier for Robin to dance on his back and peck at his head. Robin wasn't trying too hard to wake his master up originally. The moment the Phantom Thieves entered, Robin chirped and proceeded to peck at his master in the back of his neck instead of the back of his head.

Cake attempted to grab at whatever was poking at him but Robin moved too fast for that. The shadow groaned before turning away from the thieves.

"Five more minutes…"

Robin kept chirping as if that would change anything. At that moment, a dark cloud appeared above Cake, revealing the purple horse before it landed on him. Cake let out an ear-splitting scream at the rude awakening. If Cake weren't a shadow, the horse's weight would have broken some bones. Robin flew off his master before he too got squished.

"GYAHHHH!"

The horse snickered before disappearing in purple smoke. The Phantom Thieves were speechless at what just happened before them. Cake groaned as he forced himself to sit up. Robin flew back on his head and continued chirping as if Locke didn't show up and squashed him.

"I hate you both…" Cake growled. He rubbed his eyes trying to drive the drowsiness away. Then again, if he tried to go back to sleep, his would return to bug him. Once he finished rubbing his eyes, he could see the Phantom Thieves in front of him. Cake blinked before he tried to hide his face. "Oh! You saw that…uh…"

Joker already had something to say about it. "Good morning to you too, sweet prince."

Despite being a shadow, Cake could not hide how red his face became. Joker couldn't help himself. Cake was Akechi's shadow so teasing the shadow would get a similar reaction to Akechi if not better. "T-This is not funny! I overslept!"

Joker and the thieves could see that. One look at Cake clearly showed that he wasn't in the best of conditions. While he had dark rings under his eyes yesterday, they weren't as visible as they were now. Despite being asleep, the shadow looked like he didn't sleep at all. And while it wasn't that obvious, Joker thought he saw some purple bruises on Cake's neck and his hands. He feared to think there were more underneath his body…

"Yo, what happened to you?" Skull blurted out without even thinking whether that it was a good idea to ask.

Cake frowned as he slowly got up from the bed. His legs were shaking but at least he didn't fall down. "Daddy was mad at me yesterday for leaving the room. He punished me for that." Cake sighed. "I don't like being overworked to help him out at the church. I didn't get to water the flowers and none of the angels did either…"

Overworked sounded like an understatement. Joker observed Cake's expression carefully. The shadow had a distant look in his gold eyes when speaking about his father. Something terrible went down in that church.

"Did he hit you?" Joker had to ask.

Cake did not respond. Robin chirped instead as if answering for his master.

"Daddy is aware that one of the locks is gone on my handcuff and demanded to know where the key was. I told him I didn't have it and he got furious. It's another reason I was overworked."

"So where is the key?" Mona questioned. "I would think he would have searched your room but it's rather tidy."

"There is nowhere in my room that I could hide the key." Cake admitted. "So I gave the key to Locke…"

Just mentioning the creature caused the purple smoke to appear above Cake. Now that the shadow was awake, he wasn't going to just stand there and let his horse crush him. Locke landed right next to Cake after the priest moved out of the way.

"Asshole…" Cake cursed under his breath. A part of Akechi's snappy side was threatening to come out of the shadow because of the horse that wanted to make his master's life a living hell for him at the moment. "Locke, show me where you put the key."

And Locke continued to prove why Cognitive Shido would never be able to get anything out of him. The horse snickered and opened his mouth. The key was on his tongue covered in saliva. The shadow gave Locke the most disgusted look he could muster. He wasn't going to take it so what ended up happening was Locke turning in the direction of Skull and spitting it at his forehead. The horse forgot he was still a shadow and it ended up functioning like a bullet attack. Skull wasn't expecting such a thing and got knocked down.

"LOCKE!" Cake screamed. "WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?!"

The horse vanished immediately after being yelled at. The Phantom Thieves saw the stupid grin the horse had before he went poof. While Panther and Fox were helping Skull up and asking if he was okay, Mona and Oracle had to stop themselves from laughing at what just transpired in front of them.

"I'm sorry!" Cake apologized. "I don't think Locke likes you very much."

They weren't even in the palace for that long today and Skull was already done with this bullshit.

"I'm going to murder that pony the next time I see him," Skull snarled. "That bastard got his spit all over my outfit!"

"At least the key is here in one peace," Mona hummed. "And you're not too hurt."

"I could have died!"

"Nah, you're a numbskull," Cake said as a matter of fact statement.

Joker couldn't help but crack up at that one. Skull could only frown at the shadow.

"Man, this is already not my day."

"Just deal with it, Skull," Oracle told him. "Fight on!"

Skull groaned in defeat. At least Panther and Fox were kind enough to help him up. Heck, Panther even healed his injury just to make sure.

Once the group got over Locke's crazy antics, Cake was able to speak normally to them.

"I am sorry for the delay. Can we continue searching for the keys?"

Joker nodded his head. Skull still grumbled something about how the thieves made him use his clothes to wipe the slobber off of the key before handing it back to Cake.

"Sorry about that," Cake apologized again. "We can continue now."

Skull prayed to God that they find something important quickly before he decided to pull Joker to the side to complain about how bad his day was.


Whenever Skull wanted something to go his way, he was always met with disappointment. The Phantom Thieves needed to try every room in the mansion with the new key and hope that something opened that would give hints or clues to the next key. The mansion continued to be empty except the few treasure chests in the newly unlocked rooms. Joker was far from pleased that the items weren't even good. Then again…Joker only thought that because the weapons found in the chest were weapons that Akechi would use in combat.

I guess I should hold onto these. Joker thought to himself before returning to his friends and telling them there wasn't anything useful in the rooms.

It was funny how the huge mansion continued to demonstrate how empty of a place it was. Cake living alone with his two pets must have been suffocating. Did Shido let him out? Did angel guards escort Cake? How did he live a life of isolation? What did Shido make him do for a living if he was stuck in his room most of the time?

Eventually, the Phantom Thieves ran out of doors to try. Not all the doors could be opened with the red key. One particular door in the mansion did stand out from the rest and Cake said what most of the thieves guessed.

"This door leads to the second key. You either need to open the door from the other side or get a smaller key to open it. No, I do not have this smaller key. I wouldn't be surprised if Locke ate it when trying to hide it from Daddy."

"Well ain't that great…" Skull grumbled. "We're back to square one. What now, Leader?"

"…We can try outside now," Joker responded. "This key should open up that one place we couldn't get past before and open up another area. From there, we can try searching for hints on how to get this door open."

That sounded simple enough. Skull groaned thinking how much backtracking this plan implied but kept his opinion to himself. Enemies were scarce but they still needed to keep their guard up. Skull just wanted to bash some enemies if things were going to be this boring and repetitive.

Before Cake followed after the thieves once they turned around and headed toward the entrance of the mansion, the shadow had asked Robin to be a good bird and stay in his hair. His hair acted like a ness for the chubby bird so as long as Cake didn't move too much, Robin could be perched on his head without much of a problem. It was the safest place for a bird like Robin after all.

The group continued where they left off from yesterday. The garden maze still had the angels patrolling the area but there were noticeably less angels than yesterday. As a result, it was easy to get rid of them before they detected the thieves. From the locked place at the end of the flower garden, the first key was able to unlock the door to the next area. That meant more stairs to climb and that rubbed Oracle the wrong way again.

The area above the garden maze was in better condition than the garden below it but that wasn't saying much. The new area that opened up was a clearer area with a waterfall. The water that was flowing down the tower was what was keeping the garden nice and healthy yesterday. However, now discolored water flowed down towards the garden, causing the decay. Whatever happened between yesterday and today was huge. As the thieves approached the water to see why it was darker than normal, they realized that a dark shade of purple tainted the water.

"…Blood?" Mona determined.

Cake's eyes widened but he made no comment. Oracle quickly scanned the area for signs of possible enemies. For some strange reason, there was a lack of angels in this area.

"That's odd. There's nothing here," Oracle observed. "You would think there would be angel guards around here as well."

"There should…" Cake mumbled, "but if you say it's blood…then…that means…"

Joker finished Cake's sentence for him. "The angel guards are dead."

Cake nodded his head slowly. "I think…Joker did this…he's the only one who could kill and not leave a body behind…"

"So he made our jobs easier?" Fox asked.

Cake remained silent. Something was on his mind but he didn't want to talk about it. "We…should be looking for the door to the next area…"

That was easier said than done. Most of the angels were dead. However, once the group looked around the water area, they would soon determine where the next set of stairs would be. One angel guarded the stairs. Power was a stronger angel but still weak enough that he could be ambushed and taken out with relative ease. Joker felt the power imbalance in the area. The enemies were capable of being stronger like Mother Harlot. Something was clearly messing with that system.

When the group got past Power, they attempted to open the door. Trying to open the door didn't do them any justice. Skull tried to force the door open and was sorely disappointed when brute force wouldn't work. The small key Cake had was too small for the keyhole, and the key they got from Mother Harlot wasn't the right shape.

"I don't think forcing the door is going to do us any good, Skull," Fox grumbled. Seeing Skull struggle to open the door without a key wasn't amusing to him in the slightest.

"Maybe we need two people to open the door. Why don't you help me out?"

"…I doubt that will make a difference."

Fox hoped that Joker would tell Skull he was stupid and should stop, but seeing as how Joker, Mona and the girls were putting their heads together and trying to determine what to do next, he had no choice but to help the blond. As expected, two people trying to force the door open made no difference.

"It doesn't seem like we can go any higher," Panther commented.

"We need another key," said Queen. "The ones we have now aren't going to open it. However, it seems like the second key is needed to open this particular door."

Oracle was already on the case and started scanning the area. If they couldn't go through this door, they would need to find another entrance. It wouldn't take too long for her to find something in this area.

"Hey, there's a really strong energy coming from the waterfall!" Oracle declared.

The group looked toward the waterfall in confusion. The waterfall was tainted like the rest of the water but nothing stood out that would warrant a search. Still, with no options left the Phantom Thieves left the locked door and approached the waterfall instead.

"…I do sense something is odd about the waterfall…" Mona began. "I don't know what to expect though."

Joker had a few ideas. They could have someone run into the waterfall and see if there was something on the other side. They could throw something at the waterfall and see what happens. Or Joker could just ask Cake on his opinion and hope he's telling the truth.

"Cake, is there a secret with the waterfall?" Joker ended up asking.

Cake fidgeted slightly. "Uh…"

"You can tell me unless there's a problem."

"Uh…there is…something behind the waterfall," Shadow Akechi admitted. He stared at his handcuffs expecting something to happen when he did. When nothing happened, he scowled. That scowl ended up being directed at Joker. "I'm sorry. I must ask for you all to move. I will do something about this waterfall. Just…make sure Daddy isn't around."

"What are you going to do?" Noire questioned.

"Watch."

The Phantom Thieves moved out of the way so Cake could handle the waterfall. If there were something behind the waterfall, the shadow would reveal it to them. Cake held his hands in front of him. Said hands started glowing red like the first key. The handcuffs trembled as if trying to restrain Shadow Akechi from using his powers. With that one key in hand, the powers could flow out of his body naturally. The magic manifested into an odd shape. On closer inspection the shape was actually a tiger symbol. The symbol fluttered over to the middle of the waterfall and disappeared. Upon the spell hitting, the waterfall suddenly stopped flowing water from the upper part of the tower. Once the water stopped, the waterfall split in half and pulled away from each other. A hidden cave was behind the waterfall once the water had completely parted. The Phantom Thieves should have expected this but ended up appearing flabbergasted to the young shadow.

"Yo! There was a cave behind the waterfall?!" Skull asked in an exasperated tone. "What's the point of those stupid angels guarding the door if you can just go through here?!"

"…That's the point," Cake stated. "Daddy and his followers must not know about this entrance. Where it leads is important after all…"

Oracle picked up another reading now that the cave was open to them. The second key was surely inside. Cake wanted to get inside the cave before an angel saw that he had left his room again. The Phantom Thieves pursued the priest, knowing full well they could be led into a trap. Joker waited for everyone else to go in after Cake first before he took up the rear. Once Joker entered the cave and pursued the others, the magical symbol on the waterfall disappeared and the water pushed itself back together before becoming a waterfall once again.


As the Phantom Thieves walked inside the cave's waterfall, more voices became apparent. Similar to the voices in the mansion, the voices were far from friendly. Instead of the words coming from the mouths of people who shunned Akechi's mother, they were voices directed at Akechi after he lost his mother.

"Cursed child! He is the reason his mother is dead."

"It was his mother's fault that he exists. Still…this child is the reason why she couldn't handle it anymore."

"Eww! Why do I have to take in a child like this?!"

"I will do it only for the money. You're worthless otherwise."

Cake's expression faltered. He hesitated to take another step deeper into the cave the louder the voices got. The shadow took a deep breath and forced himself to continue forward. The Phantom Thieves still had questions to bring up, but Cake wasn't ready to deliver the answers to them yet.

So much for Akechi managing well. Joker thought grimly to himself. Before he had a chance to ask Cake where this was, Queen beat him to it.

"Where are we now?"

Cake did not stop walking to answer her question. He continued on as if he didn't hear her but spoke up when he was a good distance away.

"My host still has memories he wants to forget," Cake admitted. "Perhaps changing his heart would allow him to move on. However, I do feel like some of his memories would best be removed…"

Joker didn't agree with that notion. Everyone had a past that shaped them into who they are today. Without the memories, you were just a blank state. Cake might have just been talking about how Akechi felt about these memories but…

"This waterfall is also used by Joker," Cake continued. "Daddy will do anything to find Joker and put him to justice. The tower has many secret passageways like this that allow him to move from one place to another."

Again with mentioning Cognitive Joker. With the pace the group was going out, they would surely encounter him soon. Would it hurt to ask about him though?

"So you already knew about this place?" Mona asked. "Why feign ignorance?"

"I have to so Daddy doesn't suspect anything," Cake answered. "Also, you didn't ask."

Mona hissed at Cake's sarcastic answer. If Cake wanted the Phantom Thieves to help him, he needed to come clean with the answers. As Akechi's shadow, he clearly knew what was going on. If they did not ask the right questions, then they would be walking around in circles.

"So where is this other Joker?" the leader of the Phantom Thieves questioned. "If this place is hidden, there are no enemies to spy on you."

Cake stopped walking only because Joker asked the important question. He turned around to face the raven haired teen specifically. "Joker is in his hideout. It's higher up the tower and it's in a location that is easy to miss."

"So…" Queen interrupted, "what does the hideout look like?"

"Confidential," Cake answered rather quickly, "Sorry, that's something I promised Joker I would not do. If I blabber too much, he'll get annoyed."

No one was amused by this response.

"Dude, why are you withholding information like that?!" yelled Skull. "We're trying to help!"

Cake winched slightly, "…Joker is the only ally I have besides Robin and Locke. I don't want to lose one of the few people who has helped me deal with Daddy when you all will meet him soon enough. He has one of the keys needed to get to the treasure."

While they got more information out of the shadow, Panther couldn't help but glare at Skull. "Skull, don't scare him!"

"What? I didn't scare him!"

Cake rolled his eyes. He couldn't bother with the blond. He said his piece and now needed to continue guiding the thieves through the secret area.

The place had an odd layout. Because of its covert nature, the area had no map so the Phantom Thieves could only rely on Cake to guide them. The area was damp but there were no enemies waiting to ambush them here. The only sound in the cave was the sound of running water.

Skull groaned loudly when it turned out that the cave led back to the mansion. Like the first hidden area behind the library, this area was hidden behind the waterfall.

"The second key is here," said Cake. "When the key is obtained, we will be able to return to the mansion."

"…Are you for real?" Skull asked in an agitated tone. "Why does everything lead back to the mansion?!"

It was a good question. It felt kind of redundant to have a hidden area that Cognitive Shido didn't know about only to lead back to the place that was heavily guarded.

"The treasure is in the mansion," Cake said simply. "Everything about my host returns to the beginning."

"So you're saying that the mansion is a representation of his memories?" Queen asked.

Cake nodded his head. "Bad memories are ever so present here but there is always a key at the end of the despair. Once all the memories are laid bare to you Phantom Thieves, I believe the treasure will appear…"

Cake didn't know a calling card was needed for the treasure to manifest itself. Akechi might have known that but this shadow seemed oblivious to that fact. Then again, he didn't even know who the Phantom Thieves were until they explained themselves to him.

"And just a reminder, Joker has a key, so he can move around this area freely without getting caught by Daddy."

Yep, they were going to have to deal with Cognitive Joker soon if they end up at a roadblock in the palace.

The layout of this secret area wasn't like the previous one where each door showed a memory of Akechi's childhood. The dark hallway stretched farther than the Phantom Thieves' vision could see. The quick movement of the water running down on either of the walls managed to catch their eyes. Despite the endless amount of water flowing, only puddles barely reaching above their shoes littered the area, distorting the fear of the area actually flooding. With little light in the area, images on the mini waterfall walls were difficult to make out.

"There is nothing in the water," Cake suddenly said. "So do not fear about anything jumping out. Joker made sure of that."

Mona didn't like this area at all. As a cat, he hated wet areas. He wanted to hop onto someone's shoulder and hope they would allow him on but that wasn't happening anytime soon. Fox and Oracle didn't appreciate the area either for different reasons entirely.

"This place is filthy," Fox grumbled.

"Well, we are inside of a cave," Oracle told him. "Still…something is off in here."

Mona could sense something was wrong as well. Cake wasn't going to explain why this secret area was just a single hallway threatening to fill up with nothing but water.

Eventually, the group would hear something in the hallway. Cake pretended that he didn't hear anything but it was similar to the voices they heard when they first entered the cave.

"Why must I have to take a child as disgusting as that in?"

"These children are in dire need of parents. The more of them we can give to good people like you, the better."

"Fuck, you just care about your reputation! I heard it was going to shit with how many children have been returned."

"Now I reassure you that the reason is because of the lack of support from heartless adults but you two are very reasonable. Please take this child in. I'll even pay extra if you can keep him away from here for a while. I need to show my superior that even an illegitimate child such as this one can be taken in. Once that's out of the way, you can do whatever."

None of the thieves were amused by this conversation.

"…My host tends to sneak around the foster homes to see what is going on. He was always a curious person," Cake explained.

"The adults are treating the foster system like it's a business transaction," Queen said in an icy tone.

"What the hell is wrong with the system?!" Skull shouted. "Kids aren't used to make money!"

"The foster homes and the orphanage aren't really…the best in Japan," Cake admitted. "Even now, many kids are struggling. I heard there was an orphanage massacre in another part of Japan a few years ago. It was terrible…"

The Phantom Thieves were bewildered. Was there a terrible incident like that? If so, why haven't they heard about it? Did authorities cover it up or were they too busy with their own problems to not notice that orphaned children were massacred?

"I'm not looking forward to coming down here," Cake continued. "It's just going to be nothing but terrible adults seeing my host as a bank…"

The voices were going to be just as bad as they were yesterday with Akechi's mom. The Phantom Thieves braced themselves for what was to come at the end of all of these bad memories.

Once the voices stopped being sound projections, Cake seemed to ease up a bit. Then the memories became cinematic. The memories played in front of the thieves like a black and white film. They needed to keep walking so they wouldn't be able to see all the memories. The voices bounced off the walls so they wouldn't be able to ignore whatever the adults were telling Akechi.

"I can't keep you anymore. I don't make enough money to support you."

"I'm sorry, sweetie. I love you, truly…but I can't make this month's rent…I won't have anywhere to stay…and the foster system is kind to you so…I'm sorry!"

"You're not worth my time."

"You drain my wallet more than that dumb dog does! I can get rid of both of you and my wife won't complain too much."

"Why do you seem so shocked that I'm giving you up? Huh? You thought you were a good boy? Unfortunately, you cut into my life one time too many. Back to the foster care you go. It was nice knowing you."

Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. Joker thought darkly to himself. Why the hell would these adults even bother to adopt anyone if they were just going to throw him out like garbage?

Joker contained his anger quite well. If he knew the name of those adults, he would have knocked some sense into them. It wasn't right to constantly give hope to foster children only to crush it when something came up and they didn't want to deal with a child anymore. A foster child was easier to get rid of simply because that child did not belong to them. Psychological damage did not matter to them if it meant saving money or saving their reputation from dropping for adopting an illegitimate child.

Eventually, the memories of being sent to different foster homes would come to an end. Nobody wanted to take Akechi in after being sent back multiple times. It was never Akechi's fault no matter what the adults said. It did not stop the pain that the detective felt when he was sent back to a place that represented hell on earth. Once it became obvious that he wasn't going to have a foster family for a long time, he got thrown into an orphanage and was forced to stay there until further notice. Joker recalled that Akechi only brought up that he was sent from foster home to foster home. He never said anything about being sent to an orphanage at any point in his life. There was a good reason for this. Cake's expression changed for the worse once it became clear that the memories were going to be about the days in the orphanage. It made the shadow not want to open the door to the next area at the end of the hall.

"Uhh…why was this child sent here? Do they want our reputation to be thrown out the window?!"

"We're one of the best orphanages around. We have the most well behaved children. They want us to make this brat into another one of the good ones."

"That's impossible! You know how many times he got sent back to the foster homes! He's a monster!"

"I heard his mother committed suicide because she wanted nothing to do with him."

"Look at the kid. He looks like some devil spawn."

The words cut like a knife. The adults who were in charge of the orphanage were just as cruel as the people who attempted to adopt Akechi into their home. Joker glanced at the reaction of the other thieves. The darkness made it difficult to see the exact expression they were making but he knew they were clearly disturbed.

"What the hell is wrong with these adults?" Skull had to ask. "How can they just stand there and say that sort of thing to a child?"

Cake wanted to answer. He really did. He chose to keep to himself on what his host thought.

The adults continued to reveal how cruel they were to a young Akechi. Smaller images showed on the wall of Akechi overhearing a conversation that the adults had and it wasn't pretty.

"I should warn you that it would be unwise to adopt this child into your home. You see he has a stigma attached to him."

"W-What do you mean?"

"He's a cursed child. His mother…left him because of it. Other foster parents have tried to tame him but they gave up because of the curse he brought to their homes. It is best to keep him here and choose someone else."

"A-Are you sure? He looks to be a sweet child…"

"I am certain. He is a difficult child. He's a wolf in sheep's clothing. He is not to be trusted. So sorry…"

The Phantom Thieves could not believe their ears. Panther was the one that snapped.

"What the hell?! Who the hell tells someone who they can and can't adopt?! That's evil!"

Cake shivered at the words the head of the orphanage told the one adult who was genuinely interested in adopting his host but succumbed to the rumors and chose not to. "…It was so easy for my host to not get adopted. All the adults had to do was remind others of why he was in the orphanage to begin with."

"But why would they do such a terrible thing?" Noire asked. Her voice trembled as if she was going to cry.

"I do not know," Cake mumbled. "My host could not trust adults ever since he overheard that man preventing him from getting adopted into a good home. My host…really is cursed…but not in the way these adults make it out to be…"

If this was the reason Akechi didn't talk about the orphanage, then he had every right to leave that information out when talking to the leader of the Phantom Thieves' about his past. However, the adults weren't the worse of Akechi's problem in the orphanage. The children were worse than the adults were. While the adults in the orphanage never hit Akechi in any way, the children were more than happy to do it for them.

When Cake reached the door, it lead into an oddly shaped area where the stairs descended down into a spiral. Oracle noticed something disturbingly strange after entering the door. Try as she might, she couldn't open up a map at all. It was like they weren't even in the cave anymore. However, the water still ran down from the cave. The images were even clearer now than they were before. The projected images gave the Phantom Thieves some light allowing them to see where they were stepping. Joker saw Cake's hands curling tighter in correlation with the increasing volume of the children's voices.

Eventually, the laughter of the kids would stop and be replaced by distorted singing instead.

Kagome, kagome

The bird in the cage

When, when will it come out?

In the dark-time before daybreak,

A crane and a tortoise slipped and fell.

Who is right behind my back?

The song explained why the stairs curled up in a circular fashion. The water projected blurry images of orphaned children circling around a scared child with a blindfold around his eyes. They continued to chant the song like a mantra when it was supposed to be a children's song. Cake glared at the image shown to him and the thieves. The child in the middle of the circle was a young Akechi being forced to participate in the game where he was the "Oni".

The game was rigged. There was no way for the young Akechi to guess who was behind him. It was a game of chance where the only way you could hope to guess correctly was if there was an audio cue to the footsteps right when the person stopped. These children weren't even playing by the rules. Should Akechi happen to guess right, the child behind him would move away and be replaced by another one. The kids would then laugh at Akechi for being wrong and continued to circle around him again to Akechi's frustration.

Kagome, kagome

The bird in the cage

When, when will it come out?

In the dark-time before daybreak,

A crane and a tortoise slipped and fell.

Who is right behind my back?

Akechi tried to guess again and he was incorrect. Whoever was behind him decided to shove him to the ground. The other kids found this humorous and laughed. At that point, Akechi had taken off the blindfold and glared at the one who pushed him.

"Oh come on, Goat-o! You going to give up after a few tries? Stop being a crybaby!"

"But…I'm always the Oni…" Akechi mumbled weakly. "I want to play…"

"You gotta earn it, Goat-o!"

"Yeah! How can you not memorize our names after being here for how long?"

"The least you can do is be a good Oni. Maybe we need to pull on your ears so you can hear us better."

Akechi moved away at the last moment when one of the kids reached out and tried to grab his ear. The poor child wasn't in the best of positions and just fell back on the ground. The other kids found Akechi's clumsiness humorous. They pointed and laughed at him while still remaining in the circle.

"Goat-o is as clumsy as a goat!"

"I wonder if he can make the same sound as one."

The young brunette tried to get up but the kids weren't going to let him leave their little game. He shook his head furiously, bitter tears threatening to fall. "My name is Goro and I'm not a goat!"

The Phantom Thieves made it to the bottom of the stairs while the scene played out before them. Cake's hand started to glow at this point adding a light to the dark area.

"You say that but you don't act like us. You look weird and you're more interested in reading those stupid books."

"Who cares? I'm just trying to…"

"Who cares? I'm just trying to be like us."

The laughter boomed again causing the young Akechi to stand up from his spot. He wanted to do many things. He wanted to punch the bully who made him play the stupid Kagome game. He wanted to walk away and let the kids laugh at him. He wanted to get an adult and ask them to get the kids to stop messing with him. None of those things happened. The leader of the bullies grabbed at Akechi's arm and forced him to put the blindfold back on. Akechi yelped at the tight grip on his skinny arm. They giggled at the pain displayed on his face.

"Come on! You're not leaving until you guess right! It's boring when you don't memorize our names!"

"But I don't want-"

"This is why you have no friends here. You're a freak who wants to be alone. Now shut up and play with us!"

Akechi had no choice but to be forced back into the circle. The children had already started circling around him again humming the children's song to him. It haunted Cake's mind and was the sole reason his powers were starting to activate.

Kagome, kagome

The bird in the cage

When, when will it come out?

In the dark-time before daybreak,

A crane and a tortoise slipped and fell.

Who is right behind my back?

"Shut up…shut up…SHUT UP!" Cake screeched as the light from his hand suddenly shined and lit up the entire room. The Phantom Thieves needed to cover their eyes if they didn't want to be dazed. Lighting the room not only made things easier to see but it turned off the water projections displayed on the wall.

"…You could have turned on the lights sooner…" Skull grumbled.

Cake ignored him. He was this close to punching the door to the next room. Joker approached Cake cautiously and placed his hand on his shoulder.

"Cake…" Joker started.

"…I'm fine," Cake muttered. "I just can't stand that song playing over and over in my host's memory…"

Joker knew Akechi enough to know if he wasn't okay. Well, Joker wanted to say that confidently. Alas, if he was able to tell something was on his mind, he could have talked some sense into the detective before trying to steal Sae's treasure. They could have gained a powerful ally. Instead, they had lost Akechi and were now trying to get him back onto their team (or at least Joker was).

"…Can we continue?" Cake asked. "I know you all want to steal the treasure. Asking about me is just wasting time."

"That's not…" Joker began before Cake took off. Joker shut his mouth. There was nothing he could really say at the moment. The Phantom Thieves knew Cake's words were important. It was why they had taken after him despite the anger he displayed.

The next memory proved to be even worse than the previous one. On a dark and stormy night, the orphaned children thought it would be entertaining to lock Akechi out of the building. They held the door in place when he tried to open it. They laughed and demanded a password for entrance into "sanctuary". Akechi had no idea what the password was and after a few tries, the young boy gave up. It was pouring harder by the minute and Akechi would surely catch a cold if he didn't find shelter. If the orphanage weren't an option, he would rush off to the undercover area in the park and stay there until the rain let up. Those jerk children wouldn't be holding the door for that long. They would get bored and leave, allowing Akechi to sneak back in and return to his room.

Akechi rushed to the park as quickly as his little legs took him. The undercover area was empty. The young boy took a seat on one of the dry benches. He sighed in relief that at least the bullies wouldn't be able to stop him from keeping himself dry. Akechi soon brought his legs to his chest and buried his head into his knees. A pathetic groan escaped him.

The child flinched hearing a strange chirp near him. Confused, Akechi turned his head before looking all around him. He didn't spot anything. It wasn't until he looked down at his feet that he noticed a tiny bird chirping at him. The bird was chubby with an odd shaped beak and made a strange sound that normal birds didn't make. The bird was the color of the sky on a bright and sunny day. It stared at Akechi with wide eyes.

"Hello, what are you doing out here?" Akechi asked softly. He put his legs down and attempted to lift the bird up. At first, the bird hopped away but stayed in place when Akechi tried again. "It's cold and wet. You should return to your mama."

The bird let out a small chirp. Akechi blinked as if he understood what the bird was telling him. Books he read did say birds were intelligent animals capable of communicating with humans.

"Most birds would fly away after a hand reached out to them. Why won't you do that, little one?"

It was an honest question. Akechi managed to lift the bird off the ground. The bird did not retreat. Observing the bird allowed Akechi to see why it didn't fly away. One of its wings seemed a little crooked. An injury like this would hurt the bird's chance of surviving.

"Oh…you can't fly," Akechi stated the obvious.

The bird chirped as an answer. Akechi frowned at the bird's predicament.

"I'm sorry. You can't even return to your mama." The brunette brought the bird close to his chest. The bird did not mind this one bit and snuggled against him. "I lost my mama and I don't know who my papa is. Now no one wants me…they keep calling me a cursed child."

The bird wouldn't understand what Akechi was talking about. It could feel the sadness from the child though. The bird let out a weird chirp as if trying to comfort the boy. Akechi smiled weakly as a response.

"…I have managed on my own…I know one day…someone will take me in. Someday…I will meet people who care for me and won't call me a cursed child. And…I know I'll find my father someday…" He sounded hopeful on the last one. "Papa…will be a nice man. He will remember why he loved Mama and will take care of me…I know he will…I…"

Droplets fell from his eyes. Akechi could have dismissed it as the raindrops getting past the overhead and onto him but that wasn't the case. His body shivered from a combination of the cold and his emotions overwhelming him in the moment.

The bird stopped nuzzling against Akechi's chest and chirped. Akechi felt something sharp hit his cheek. The bird had an odd way of trying to comfort the boy. Pecking his cheek forced the brunette to gaze at the bird who continued to stare at him with its big eyes.

"I…I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me," Akechi admitted. He wiped away his tears in hopes that the tears would stop falling. The tears kept falling even when he tried to stop himself. "It's no use…I'm just tired…"

The bird decided to hop from Akechi's hand (the one that wasn't being used to wipe his eyes) up to his shoulder and finally on his head. Akechi wondered why the bird decided to go on top of his head. It moved around before resting in his hair like it was a nest. The bird then let out cute noises in a weird attempt to cheer him up…or that's what Akechi thought anyway. Either way, Akechi felt a small smile return to him.

"Hey, my hair is not a nest," Akechi tried to tell the baby bird. The bird didn't move from its spot and continued to make chirping noises. The boy found himself giggling at becoming the baby bird's home in this terrible weather. "If you want my hair to be your home, you're going to have to come back with me. Where I live isn't the happiest of places…but it's still home."

The bird stopped chirping as it looked down at the young boy. It tilted its head in confusion before fluttering its wings. Akechi laughed knowing he probably looked ridiculous to people passing him by. He didn't care. The bird had awoken something inside of him. Something he thought he lost after his mother died.

"Can I call you Sora?" Akechi asked the bird.

The bird peeped as a response. Before hopping on Akechi's head as if trying to fly before settling down in his hair again. Akechi laughed again but louder this time. The positivity radiated from the boy. He felt as if even if the orphanage continued to give him hell, he had a friend that would allow him to plow on through.

After what felt like eternity, Joker finally caught Cake smiling. Cake hadn't smiled at all since the Phantom Thieves returned. Whatever Cognitive Shido did really messed with his head enough that the "positive feelings" weren't coming out of the shadow.

"My host was so happy that day," Cake said as he spoke softly and quietly like he had been enlightened by the memory. "He made a new friend even if it was an animal. From his own research, he learned it was a rare mocking bird that could be found only in the western region. For one to find its way in Japan without dying is a miracle in itself." Cake's expression started to falter though despite how happy he sounded. "My host took care of the bird. He nursed it back to health and gave it a name. Sora is a pretty name for a bird. With a friend like Sora, he would be able to endure the hardships in the orphanage…but of course nothing lasts forever…"

Robin made himself apparent again making a small chirp in Cake's hair before becoming still again.

"Did something happen to the bird?" Noire questioned. She had a bad feeling of what was to come next.

"…It will all be revealed in the last room." Cake answered grimly. "Sora…he…"

The shadow closed his mouth and hurried to the final door. The thieves found it odd that the shadow wanted to witness another bad memory. Maybe it was because of the key that would be at the end, so reliving the memory would be the price he had paid.

As Cake stated, all good things come to an end. Akechi wasn't allowed to feel happiness for long. The pleasant memories were skipped in favor of a dreadful one. Cake telling the "unimportant" stuff marked the timeskip in memories.

The last room at the end of this room was where the final memory was. Like the previous room in the mansion, the power of the key was in this room. No hanging corpse met the Phantom Thieves this time. The room took the form of a kitchen and with it came a memory of Akechi and the bullies. There were three boys that had cornered Akechi in the kitchen when he had tried to run away from them. They had found out that he had been keeping a bird in his room and instead of tattling on Akechi like they normally did, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Akechi could not outrun the kids and eventually was caught. The bird that was in his hands hopped out of them and tried to hop away. The leading bully proved to be faster than the baby bird. He had caught the bird rather easily and refused to let him go. The boy also ordered his goons to hold Akechi in place while he made a spectacle out of the helpless creature. Akechi's eyes widened in horror when the leader of the bullies grabbed one of the butcher knives from the drawers and pointed it toward the defenseless bird.

"We're going to have chicken tonight," he said with a wicked laugh. "Hold that freak down, boys!"

Akechi tried to fight back against the boys holding him down. Unfortunately, he was just one weak boy unable to escape the two stronger boys. No one would come into the kitchen to help him.

"SORA! FLY AWAY! PLEASE!" Akechi screamed. Tears already started pouring down his eyes. "PLEASE!"

Alas, a bird with an injured wing could never hope to fly. He squawked and chirped in a vain attempt to wiggle away from the antagonistic children. The leader of the bullies held the knife in the air and brought it down on the bird's back. The horrible sounds that came from the bird hurt Akechi's ears. He could only watch in horror as the bloody knife was pulled into the air only to be brought back down on his only friend.

With every scream came a desperate struggle from Akechi. He snapped at the bullies and attempted to break free from their grasp. He was a frail child and could not hope to help the baby bird.

"Wow, you're just as obnoxious sounding as the bird," one of the bullies stated as he gripped harder as Akechi's arm. "Maybe we should compare you to a featherbrain instead of a goat."

The clean mouth Akechi had was gone in that moment. Words he learned from the adults and those around him came out like wildfire. The kids found it entertaining to see the normally passive boy they bullied lashing out at them and still not having the strength to do so. The leader had ignored Akechi and continued impaling the bird until someone brought up the obvious.

"I think the bird's dead, Sho."

"Oh, it is? Good. We can put it in a frying pan and start cooking it." The leader looked over at Akechi who had stopped screaming once the mocking bird breathed his last. "Oh, is the little freak going to cry?"

"Come on, Goat-o! Cry! Cry like you normally do, you freak."

A small sob escaped his lips. However, Akechi's eyes were burning with hatred despite the tears running down his eyes.

"Oh? The goat is angry? Come on! Tell us what you want to say. We're all ears."

The bullies chuckled knowing Akechi was incapable of doing anything to them.

"You can't do anything can you? Continue being a crybaby, Goat-o! You are weak and will always be alone!"

Laughter echoed in the room. Laughter was the only thing that Akechi heard. Even when he snapped and tried to fight back against the bullies, they continued to laugh at how weak he was and how powerless he was in protecting his animal friend. Laughter was the only thing Cake heard. The voices of the other Phantom Thieves didn't reach his ears.

Compared to seeing the corpse of Akechi's mother, Cake reacted poorly to this memory. Anyone would have been appalled seeing the type of treatment Akechi was being put through. Something snapped in Cake though.

"You're not even human…" Cake growled before his expression became twisted. "GARBAGE LIKE YOU SHOULD ALL DIE!"

Cognitive Shido had a very good reason to put a power limiter on Cake. As the shadow that needed to defend his treasure, he needed to be powerful. Even with a quarter of his powers returned, he demonstrated why crossing him was a terrible idea. A powerful light engulfed Cake and blasted the unprepared thieves back. Skull caught Mona before he hit the wall. Noire planted her axe into the ground so she wouldn't get knocked back. Joker, Queen and Panther stood their ground and while Fox was blown back, he needed to be near Oracle so she wouldn't be blown into a nearby wall.

The worst part was the outburst was strong enough to destroy the scene before them. Would that cause permanent damage to Akechi if his shadow was the one that was doing his very best to get rid of these awful memories?

"Holy crap!" Skull cursed. "He's going to get us killed!"

Normally, Mona would have corrected him but it was impossible to deny that a large amount of concentrated energy was being forced out. If they stayed in this room too long, they could end up like the memories. The room had reverted to its original empty state but Cake acted like the memories were still present.

"W-We should retreat!" Oracle suggested. "His power level is off the chart! We might actually die if we stay in here too long!"

"But what about Cake?" Noire questioned even though she agreed with Oracle's suggestion to leave the room.

"I don't know! He might get seriously injured if he doesn't calm down! Joker!"

Joker didn't know what to do. Here was Akechi's shadow reminding them why he was the person originally in charge of the palace. Here he was reliving the memories of Akechi's tragic past. Here he was revealing his true personality and how he felt about the situation. Akechi always pretended he wasn't suffering on the outside. He was crying on the inside, and Cake didn't know how to handle these negative emotions. In the back of Joker's mind, he knew what he was going to do next was risky. However, he couldn't bear to see Cake in this state.

So he reached out and grabbed Cake's arm. Cake was taken aback and snapped out of his berserk state. The rage still remained and his powers continued to go out of control. That was the first step and so far the shadow hadn't pushed him away. Joker took the risk and wrapped his arms around the shadow. Cake's eyes widened in bewilderment at Joker's actions. Then again, the other Phantom Thieves thought Joker was insane as well.

"Calm down," Joker told him. His voice was smooth despite his heart pounding. "That's only a memory of your past. What those kids told you holds no weight to you now."

"J-Joker?" Cake croaked. Joker noted that the shadow would break down in tears at any moment.

"I'm here for you," Joker continued as he tightened his embrace around the shadow. "You are not alone anymore."

One would think these soothing words would work with a shadow with a childlike mentality like Cake. However, Cake was still Akechi. He tried to push Joker away but wasn't all that successful. As a result, he beat at Joker's chest in a vain attempt to get away from him.

"You're lying!" Cake screamed. Joker flinched not because of Cake's suddenly loud voice but because he didn't realize it hurt to be accused of lying to the innocent shadow. "You don't care about me! You and the Phantom Thieves don't care! That's why you left me to die!"

That was new. Was Cake referring to what happened in Shido's Palace or…

"We didn't leave you," Joker reassured him. "You promised us you would return once you were finished dealing with Shido's cognitive version of you. We had no intention of leaving you…"

Joker wanted to add that he wouldn't have left him to die. If his reflexes were faster, he could have rushed before Akechi decided to handle things himself. Instead, all he could do was watch Skull bang on the gate helplessly in hopes that it would be knocked down by brute strength, promise Akechi he would change his father's heart and nearly break down in tears when Oracle told him that Akechi's presence could no longer be felt.

"…You hate me. You all hate me!" Cake insisted. Joker felt something burning. Being too close to Cake was burning his outfit. "I'm better off dead! The Phantom Thieves would have killed me if given the opportunity!"

"Joker!" Noire called out.

"I don't hate you," Joker insisted. His voice lowered but that might have been because of the sudden pain hitting his skin. "The Phantom Thieves don't hate you…they just…never got a chance to know you…like I did."

Cake had no filter. Even if Akechi wanted to keep some things secret, he still ended up spilling information the Phantom Thieves didn't want to know.

"Stop lying! You're all going to hurt me like those bullies did! If you keep meddling, I'll kill you like I did those bullies!"

Joker knew a lie when he heard one. He knew the detective was incapable of murdering in a situation like that no matter how much he felt.

"Please speak the truth Cake. I know you would not harm anyone."

"Not true! I remembered their names! When I got my powers, I made sure they had mental shutdowns! I don't care if they turned over a new leaf! They ruined me so I ruined them!" Cake laughed menacing at the declaration. "Joker, you and the Phantom Thieves hate me! Just admit it! It will make your trip out of the palace that much easier!"

"That's not true…"

"You and the Phantom Thieves are only here to feel better about yourselves! You don't care about me! You are just self-proclaimed heroes!"

"That's not true!" Joker repeated. He still couldn't speak for the other thieves but if Cake suffered a mental breakdown here, then any hopes of saving Akechi would be lost. "Listen to yourself!"

"You don't speak for your friends…" Cake hissed.

"…No…I don't," Joker muttered more to himself. "I know I am being selfish for asking them to risk their lives for someone they hardly know. But…instead of making assumptions…talk to them." Yes, Joker knew it was very selfish to ask his friends to speak to the detective in the real world. Akechi who had murdered Oracle's mom and Noire's dad in cold-blood…what hopes did he have of being friends with them if he was responsible for the deaths of those they cared about?

"How unrealistic…" Cake mumbled. "I'll never be accepted by them…I was never accepted anywhere…"

Oracle and Mona both noticed that Cake's powers dwindled. Joker was talking some sense into him even if it didn't sound like he was winning the argument.

"That's not true," Joker said again. "Café Leblanc is your sanctuary. I don't know what your home life was like…but you were in Leblanc almost every day after you opened up to me that one day," Joker began. He was betting on Cake knowing what incident he was referring to. "I didn't know what to think when you told me about your past. I didn't know what you had to gain from saying that…but I was glad you were willing to be yourself around me…so…even if I can't speak for my friends about their opinion of you, you can trust my words when I say I won't leave you again."

"…Really…" Cake wondered in disbelief.

"I won't leave you or Akechi," Joker said firmly as if he was referring to them as two different people now. "You need to trust me on this."

The magic leaking from Cake completely demolished once Joker finished his little encouraging speech. The shadow stopped struggling in Joker's grip before he rested his face into his chest. The raven haired teen saw Cake resisting the urge to cry but he was incapable of containing his emotions any longer. He started to sob into the other's chest. Even though Cake was Akechi's shadow, the tears falling from his eyes were wet and soaked Joker's outfit. Joker loosened the hug and started to rub Cake's back instead.

"It's not fair…" Cake choked a sob, "I…I'm supposed to be my host's emotional crutch…I'm supposed to be his happy thoughts that keep him grounded…but I can't even control myself when I see his sad memories…"

"Cake…"

"Daddy's punishment wore me out…it has never been this bad…I can't even concentrate on what I need to do…but I…"

Cake still wouldn't enlighten the Phantom Thieves on what Cognitive Shido did to punish him for his defiance. Joker wanted to pry but now was not the time.

"We're here now," Joker reassured the shadow. "As long as we are here, we will protect you from Shido. We have every intention of obtaining the remainder of the keys and securing the route to the treasure. If you can endure it just a bit more, we will be able to help you."

"…Am I capable of holding on a little more?" Cake asked himself more than Joker. "I feel like I'm at my wit's end…"

"You are strong. If you weren't, you wouldn't be able to guide us through Akechi's memories. Trust us."

Cake only nodded his head slowly to the teen's words. Joker couldn't stop his heart from pounding. Yes, he was calming down the shadow but the raven haired teen felt like he was comforting Akechi more than anything. These are the words that Akechi wanted to hear. These are the words that Akechi needed to hear. If someone reached out to him sooner, then he wouldn't have gone down the wrong path like this. Cake continued to sob into Joker's chest until the bright magic radiating from his body dimmed. Joker continued to lightly rub Cake's back hoping his words knocked some sense back into him.

"…You're just like him…" Cake mumbled weakly. Joker tilted his head in confusion. "…The Joker of this palace…he's warm and kind like you…I feel like I can believe you…when you tell me these words…"

Joker's cheeks lit up when Cake stared at him with his gold eyes. The tears were mostly gone, but the face was too adorable to ignore. The darkness saved Joker from being teased for getting flustered over the shadow's compliment.

"I feel safe with you, Akira-kun…"

Joker gasped. His heart almost leaped out of his chest. Unfortunately, Joker wouldn't be able to ravish in the complement due to Oracle's voice snapping him back to reality.

"Hey, as cute as this romantic interaction is, Cake attracted a lot of shadows. They're coming this way!"

By shadows, Futaba wasn't referring to the angels. She was referring to another dangerous shadow. Joker did not let go of Cake even as shadows forced themselves into the room using the darkness as a way to move around freely.

"Everyone, watch yourselves!" Joker warned.

Oracle got the reading at the right moment and warned Noire and Queen to move out of the way. This shadow was crafty and wanted to attack them when they least expected it. A random slash attack came out of thin air but the moment it missed, the shadow revealed itself and it wasn't pleased.

I missed. The shadow lamented.I won't miss again, Goat-o…

Cake flinched at the insulting name. Even if Joker calmed him, the immense hatred toward the bullies was still there. He glared weakly at the shadow that took the form the demon Baal. The laughter of the other children started to overtake the room. The small circles hovering around Baal morphed into Motoi demons.

"You…" Cake hissed as he pushed himself away from Joker to his surprise.

Are you looking for this? Baal asked in a taunting voice as he dangled something in front of Cake.

"The key!" Cake exclaimed. Before he had a chance to approach, Baal had hopped back behind his lackeys.

If you want the key, come take it! You won't be able to do that, Goat-o! You're too weak!

The mini shadows cackled at their leader's awful joke. Cake wanted to unleash his magic on those who have wronged him. They deserved to be wiped out of his mind. Because Cake had no intention of backing down after being provoked, Joker knew he had to select who would assist him in combat.

"Joker, there are shadows outside of the room too!" Oracle exclaimed. "What do we do?"

"Queen, Noire, Mona, you stay in here and help me take back that key. Everyone else, go outside the room and subdue the shadows," Joker commanded.

Joker had considered having Noire go out with Skull, Panther and Fox and assist them but Cake couldn't be trusted with obeying orders. Cake needed someone to watch over him but keeping him out of the room while they dealt with the shadows wasn't going to be easy. The Phantom Thieves obeyed Joker's orders and split the team. Joker looked over to Cake with worry. He stopped his tantrum for a few minutes but it could always occur again.

Chapter Text

The battle felt like a ramped up version of Shadow Okumura to Joker. Baal was the main target but he had his own henchmen. Oracle stated that the Mokoi were very weak and went down in one hit. It was best to use attacks that hit all the enemies just so the Mokoi couldn't buff up their leader or target Cake.

That was the main difference between fighting Shadow Okumura and fighting Baal. The former had a time limit before he escaped while the latter forced an escort mission of sorts. Cake had nowhere to run and the group outside of the room had to deal with the outside reinforcements. Joker insisted that Cake stay near him but that meant having to take unnecessary damage. Cake wasn't like Akechi in battle. Akechi was able to keep up with Joker no matter what the situation. The shadow had the power limiter on him so what he could have done couldn't happen until more keys were obtained. It was probably the only reason Cake stood there and was rather hesitant with what he needed to do despite knowing that his objective was right in front of him.

"Noire, Mona, make sure Cake is protected," Joker reminded them. "Queen, let's get this over with."

What Joker meant was that he wanted Noire to cast protective spells on Cake and for Mona to make sure that the shadow was always healed. Queen would have to do the bulk of the main damage if Joker didn't want to risk Cake getting hurt.

Noire reacted faster casting Tetrakran on Cake. Mona prioritized killing the first set of Mokoi instead of listening to Joker. With how pathetically weak the Mokoi were, one Magarudyne eliminated the first batch of them. Baal absorbed the wind spell so any damage he might have taken from stray attacks were completely healed.

"Mona, be careful! That shadow heals from wind attacks!" Oracle shouted.

Joker didn't get time to yell at Mona because of the need to back up Queen.

"CHARGE JOHANNA!" Queen yelled as she used Flash Bomb to clear out another batch of Mokoi.

Despite their best efforts, one of the Mokoi managed to buff Baal. He then tried to hit Mona with a Panta Rei spell. That did nothing to the cat and it was a waste of magic. Baal snarled as he tried to shoot Joker, who dodged the severe wind spell. Joker took aim at Baal's hand and tried to shoot it. Unfortunately, he couldn't knock it down and would need to resort to finding out the demon's weakness.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like this enemy is weak to anything," Oracle said as if reading Joker's mind. "Don't use wind attacks…or fire magic…or bless spells…or curse skills."

Joker rolled his eyes. That was half his arsenal of Personas already that wouldn't do that much good. He should switch to Dominion to be able to do neutral damage but didn't want to risk getting knocked down from his carelessness.

If wind doesn't work, what about electricity? Joker asked himself as he switched Personas. "Thor!"

He cast Ziodyne on Baal, hoping to get it paralyzed. He wasn't having any luck on that. Even the Mokoi resisted the lightning attacks. They were ready to take those hits on Baal. Thor wasn't a good idea in the slightest. Joker ended up switching back to Trumpeter to be safe.

The few Mokoi that got past Queen and Mona did their best to hurt Cake. The barrier Noire casted earlier proved useful. Cake shrieked whenever those demons got too close to him. Noire was the one that would swing her axe at the demons and kill them. Mona had yet to cast the spell on Cake.

"Mona!" Joker yelled, knowing the cat heard him the first time.

"But no harm has come to Cake…" Mona murmured before casting a healing spell on everyone.

Noire recasted Tetrakran back on Cake before leaving his side to get rid of other Mokoi that were trying to sneak up behind Queen. She gave Queen a quick warning before bringing her axe down near her.

"Thanks, Noire." Queen thanked.

Noire nodded her head in acknowledgment before looking up at Baal. The demon continued to summon henchmen to do his bidding. Even if the Mokoi were easy demons, their overwhelming respawns would begin to tell. If the Phantom Thieves wanted to get the key and secure an escape, they had to get rid of the real threat quickly.

Some Mokoi tried to get crafty and cast Marin Karin on Mona if they couldn't hurt him. The cat luckily managed to avoid the status affect but it was apparent that they wanted the main healer to assist them.

Baal let out a menacing laugh as he decided to change his strategy. He quickly recalled the Mokoi to stand by him. With all his minions gathered, he pointed toward Cake. The priest's eyes widened in horror seeing the gesture aimed at him.

Get him! Baal ordered his henchmen.

The Mokoi did a zerg rush at Cake.

"Huh?! What are they doing?! Everyone, watch yourself!"

There were too many Mokoi to deal with at that moment. Everyone was forced to guard to avoid excessive amount of damage from them. Yet Joker immediately dropped his guard the moment he heard Cake scream. One of the Mokoi had snuck up behind Cake and blinded him. A few others attempted to drag him closer to Baal.

"Dammit! Get out of the way! Siegfried!"

Joker summoned the warrior in hopes of doing one clean sweep on every shadow that was charging Cake. Try as he might, when a dozen of the shadows were taken down, a dozen more would take its place. The last thing Joker needed was to be pushed back by the weaker demons. He needed to get to Cake before they hurt him. Cake couldn't do much if he was blinded by the shadows and they started to circle around him. The haunting melody returned.

Kagome, kagome

The bird in the cage

When, when will it come out?

In the dark-time before daybreak,

A crane and a tortoise slipped and fell.

Who is right behind my back?

Cake held his head as if he were in pain. The shadows weren't even attacking him. The song affected him that much.

"Cake!" Joker called out. "Dammit! Trumpeter!"

What was Joker expecting summoning Trumpeter in a situation like this? Brain Buster only got rid of the wave of Mokoi in front of him. The ones surrounding Cake were still alive.

"Leave me alone…" Cake pleaded. No matter how much he tried to drown the song out, they weren't going to leave him alone.

Goat-o, that's not a name. God, you're pathetic! Baal taunted. Just die already.

The Mokoi all pointed their weapons toward Cake and lunged forward to stab him. Cake sensed the shadows coming and immediately put up a barrier of light around his body. Baal snarled at the light and backed off. The Mokoi were vanquished the moment their body touched the light barrier.

Divine protection? Don't make me laugh. Baal snarled as he summoned another wave of Mokoi. I'll just shatter that barrier and take your little heart like I did with your bird friend.

Cake could see again thanks to the light barrier. He glared at Baal who continued to mock his dead friend. Baal casted Revolution on himself, affecting everything in the room. It should have benefitted the Phantom Thieves but if friendly fire occurred, Cake was most likely to be in danger. Baal immediately charged for a physical attack afterward.

"Alice!" Joker suddenly shouted switching Personas. He had to prioritize Baal now. Cake was more likely to go down in one hit. He needed to prepare himself. He casted Concentrate on himself in hopes that he could get a powerful attack in before Baal could attack. "Everyone, cover me!"

"Joker, what are you planning?" Oracle asked. "If you do something reckless…"

Joker wouldn't tell her it was reckless but Cake refused to move from his spot. He failed to see Queen roll her eyes as she casted Marakukaja on everyone. Mona cleared the way again with Magarudyne and Noire brought out her bazooka and shot at Baal to make him turn her direction. That had no effect as he still stared at Cake.

"Cake, get ready to move out of the way!" Joker shouted.

Cake turned his head slightly. Joker's warning puzzled him until he saw Joker prepare to summon something. The shadow immediately ducked and covered his head just to make sure he wouldn't get hit.

"Megidolaon!"

Joker expected the attack to kill him in one hit. Alice was overpowered, and he charged his magic stat so Baal should have went down. Baal didn't expect an almighty attack and yelped in pain. The raven haired teen was sorely disappointed that Baal was still alive.

Damn you! Baal hissed. You'll pay for this!

Baal aimed his next attack at Cake who was still ducking. Joker didn't care that Oracle warned him to not rush in and hurt himself but that was what he ended up doing. Instead of letting his teammates take the hit for him, he took the fatal blow for Cake. The only reason Joker did this was because he knew Survival Trick would kick in. While the skill might help him survive, the pain from the Ayamur attack still hit his body like a ton of bricks. Joker bit his tongue so he wouldn't scream in pain but he still drew blood and groaned in agony.

"JOKER!" Oracle shouted. "MONA, HEAL HIM!"

Mona was quick on that. Baal needed to recharge and summon his reinforcements so the fatal blow to Joker or Cake would never come. Cake's eyes widened when he witnessed Joker taking the attack meant for him. He couldn't believe somebody would do that. Though his mouth was open, it took him some time before he could form words in his shocked state.

"Why?" Cake asked quietly. "I could have…"

"Sorry…couldn't help myself…" Joker admitted. He would get scolded for trying to show off later.

"Idiot!" Cake shouted. "You can't do that!" Shadow Akechi stood up when he yelled at him. Despite the searing pain through his body, Joker couldn't help but smile at the sight of Cake unharmed.

"I just did and I'll gladly do it again for you."

Flirting wasn't going to win Joker any favors. Cake scowled at the younger teen before looking toward Baal. "I will never understand you, Joker."

Baal started to limp when he summoned reinforcements again. This seemed to be the last one with how exhausted the demon looked.

"Hey, Joker, I think one more good attack will get Baal," Oracle told him. "Don't get yourself killed."

"I won't," said Joker as he looked over to Cake. He noticed the expression on the shadow changed after he protected him. "Cake, did you see something you like?"

The other thieves were ready to act on Joker's orders. Cake stared at Baal and then turned his attention back to Joker.

"I can expose his weak point now," Cake replied. "I won't let this jerk torment me anymore."

Joker trusted Cake more than the other Phantom Thieves did. Queen had to comment on the situation.

"Joker, you know if Cake messes up he'll be putting himself at a huge risk."

Cake heard Queen's complaint. "I know it doesn't look like it but I know what to do now! P-Please believe in me…"

Akechi would never beg for anyone to trust or believe in him when he didn't trust or believe in himself. Joker refused to speak for the other thieves since they were the ones who Cake needed to win over.

"I trust you," Noire said quickly. "You just need to be careful."

Mona grumbled at how quick Noire was to go with Cake's idea that they didn't know about. They were going in blind.

"I'm not really thrilled with this," Mona grumbled, "but I already know that Joker trusts you so I don't really have a choice."

Queen sighed. They didn't have time to argue. "I swear if you put Joker in danger one more time…"

"I won't!" Cake exclaimed. "Just shoot Baal after I finish! I can end him right now!"

"Okay," Joker answered. "Like Noire said, you need to be careful."

The look in Cake's eyes proved to Joker that he had a good plan. That was the same expression Akechi gave when he was determined to prove himself to the others.

Cake approached Baal without looking back at the Phantom Thieves. Baal at first found this amusing but then saw the look in Cake's eyes. The priest was no longer scared of the demon in front of him. Baal took a step back as the reinforcements finally reappeared. They were ready to capture him again.

I'm ready this time. Cake told himself as one of the Mokoi rushed over to him and blinded him. Noire immediately gasped but Joker held his arm out. Cake didn't react the same way he did the previous time. The Mokoi started to circle Cake again, repeating the same awful melody.

Kagome, kagome

The bird in the cage

When, when will it come out?

In the dark-time before daybreak,

A crane and a tortoise slipped and fell.

Who is right behind my back?

Cake's hands started to glow. He forced himself to focus on his main target. The other Mokoi did not matter to him. The one who was holding the key was.

"The one behind me…" Cake started as he was able to manifest a bow of light in his hands. Baal was completely taken off guard that he was able to do that as Cake continued, "is not Baal. The bullies never played fair. Even when I memorized the sound of their footsteps, I was always wrong. I'm sick of being lied to and I'm going to expose that lie!"

Cake aimed his arrow at Baal. He knew exactly where Baal was standing. He wasn't in the circle of Mokoi. He was hovering in the air out of the Phantom Thieves' range. Baal screeched when Cake fired his arrow and hit his chest head on. The glass he had in his hand fell out as the demon came tumbling to the floor. Even though Baal was supposed to resist the light, the speed and power of the bow proved too much for him. Joker was ready to get rid of the Mokoi before they surrounded Baal.

"DIE FOR ME!" Joker shouted as he summoned Alice again to perform her signature move. Anything from playing cards to sharp objects fell on top of the Mokoi surrounding Cake. Due to their low level, they were obliterated. The only reason it didn't hit the shadow was because of the light bow that Cake had. It created another light barrier that deflected any curse attacks. Joker counted his lucky stars that the sharp objects didn't get deflected back at the thieves.

The Phantom Thieves quickly surrounded Baal and aimed their guns at him once he was down. Joker urged Cake to get behind him in case Baal tried something. Not like the enemy could simply because the arrow pretty much took his health down to near zero.

Garrghh…curse you Goat-o! You cheater! I'm telling your father on you!

Cake wanted to be the one to end Baal's life. The Phantom Thieves kept their guns on him but it was Cake who had changed his bow back into a familiar pistol.

"Cheaters never prosper."

Cake pulled the trigger before the Phantom Thieves could. Joker should have been impressed had it not been for the fact Cake's expression became rather emotionless. The look was identical to the one Akechi gave him when he shot him in the interrogation room.

"Sheesh, you could have just warned us that you could do that." Oracle complained.

Cake put his pistol back when Baal evaporated into nothingness, leaving behind the second key. The priest didn't have to worry about it being in the corpse of someone Akechi cared for. The key had a yellow pigment this time around. The end of the shadow made the room as hollow as the rest of the rooms in the mansion. Cake quickly retrieved the key. He let out a sigh of relief as grabbing the key immediately removed one of the locks on his handcuff.

"I pray that my host will no longer remember the pain of the past and move on from this moment. It's what Sora would want," Cake mumbled to himself.

"I don't think Akechi should forget," Joker said, surprising the shadow. "He was made into the person he is today by these events. Moving on is important but not forgetting."

"But…it's not worth…"

"If one could erase their past, they would. Akechi needs to remember that he is strong despite what he has endured in the past." Joker couldn't help but smile when he said that. Cake had a look of disbelief. He could only imagine what expression Akechi would have if the leader of the thieves repeated these words to him. "We're not here to remove the painful memories. We're here to steal his heart and rehabilitate him." Joker looked at the other Phantom Thieves who were returning to the room once the outside threat was gone. "I think we can all agree to that."

So far, watching Akechi's memories had changed the opinion of him. Panther was determined to help Akechi now after seeing he was the same as her. Oracle and Noire started sympathizing with Akechi even though they knew he had wronged them. Fox started to understand how complex Akechi was with his memories, and it was only going to get more complicated the farther into the palace they went. Mona needed only one more push to finally agree with Joker's words. Skull and Queen were probably the only ones still wary of Akechi even if they were at least growing sympathetic after witnessing some of his painful memories.

Cake still wasn't convinced with the other thieves. However he kept his opinion to himself and nodded his head to Joker's words.

"I'm concerned about what that shadow said though," Mona said. "Before he died, he said something about alerting your father."

Cake's expression fell almost immediately, fear replacing the hesitation on his countenance. "O-Oh…we've got to get back to my room now! Daddy is going to see that I'm not there and throw a fit! Oh no, oh no! He told me to not leave the room! What am I going to say?!"

Robin chirped once. That single sound managed to calm Cake enough for the shadow to think a bit straighter.

"Y-You're right, Robin. If we hurry now, I won't get in trouble…" He stared at Joker and then back at the other Phantom Thieves. "I know it's asking too much after that battle but please take me back to my room. I really don't want Daddy to lecture me again."

Lecture was putting it lightly. Judging from how tired Cake looked and the potential injuries underneath his clothes, the shadow was more scared of the likely beating than a few nasty words. The Phantom Thieves could hide out in the safe room until things died down before starting again. Still, if they were in the waterfall area, would they be able to make it back to the mansion before Cognitive Shido?

"How are we going to get to your room from here?" Skull had to ask. "You know how far we traveled?"

"I told you how everything leads back to the mansion," explained Cake. "A door we couldn't open previously can now open, and it leads back into the mansion. This is so Joker can move around without Daddy noticing him."

"But why-"

Robin interrupted Skull's train of thought with a squeak to remind his master that he has no time to explain things. Cake apologized to Skull and immediately rushed out of the room. The Phantom Thieves were forced to pursue the shadow without complaints.


The Phantom Thieves quickly rushed out of the hidden area. Sure enough, once they exited a specific door that initially denied access, they arrived back at the mansion. Cake hurried ahead of the Phantom Thieves back to his room. The last thing he wanted was for his father to come into his room and see his son wasn't in the location he was supposed to be at. Even if Skull shouted at Cake to wait, the shadow didn't listen. They couldn't go back to the safe room when Cake was putting himself in danger.

Unfortunately, Cake wasn't going to let the group help him. Angels were more prevalent in the mansion again but their attention wasn't to the Phantom Thieves. As long as the thieves hid in the shadows of the empty mansion, they could avoid confrontation. The large amount of angels showing up had to do with Shido being in the vicinity of the mansion. The Phantom Thieves wouldn't be able to talk to Cake without him freaking out when they opened the door.

"P-Please hide!" Cake exclaimed. "My room is big! C-Closet! Hide in the closet, please! Robin, show them!"

It's not like they could argue with Cake. Robin chirped and flew over to the large closet in Cake's room. One had to wonder what was in there. Joker opened the door and was sorely disappointed it was only clothes identical to what the priest was wearing now. Joker had no time to admire them because Skull literally kicked his leader into the closet. The closet was big enough to hide all of them and there was a hole that was big enough for the group to look through but not noticeable enough for people from the outside to see something was in the closet. The closet was very dark and because of the clothes hindering the view of some of the thieves, it was very difficult to get situated for a few minutes.

"Hey, don't step on my foot!"

"Skull, move! You have all of this space!"

"Joker is the one who won't move his ass!"

"Speaking of ass…"

"Whoever has their hand on my rear, please let go. It's embarrassing…"

"Huh? You're not Panther?"

"SKULL!"

"Aiee!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Queen! I thought you were that idiot!"

"No worries, I will punish him!"

"Stupid cat! This is not the time for that! It wasn't even my fault!"

"Are we going to be quiet now? I think Cake is expecting us to not make a sound…"

It was Robin's sudden squawk that made the thieves stop their bickering. The bird gave the signal for good reasons. Cake had closed the door to his room but it was forced open again by his father. Cake immediately stepped back. His teeth chattering, he tried to look his father in the eye but found himself looking toward the floor instead.

"D-Daddy…" Cake stuttered, "y-you're here early…"

"Goro, what is the meaning of this?" Cognitive Shido demanded. His sentence was short and swift.

"W-What do you mean? I was sleeping…"

"Do not play dumb, child. You left your room without my permission again. Did you meet up with the Devil?"

Cake shook his head. "N-No…I-"

Shido's menacing stare caused the young man to take another step back. Shido approached him with no qualms of anyone who could be watching and grabbed at Cake's arm. The priest shrieked at the rough handling.

"…You found another key and unlocked your shackle," Shido snarled. "You will tell me where the keys are."

"N-No! I don't…"

"Goro."

"I don't have the keys!" Cake shouted. He was met with a slap to the face. When Joker saw that, he burst out of the closet and give Cognitive Shido a piece of his mind. Skull and Fox had to hold their leader back and remind him that they needed to stay quiet.

"Your lying has become as obvious as your corruption," Cognitive Shido hissed. The slap knocked the wind out of the young shadow and eventually, Shido decided to release his grip on his son. Cake ended up falling on top of his bed. "Are you going to tell me where the Devil and the keys are or am I going to have to force the information out of you?"

"I-I'm not lying!" Cake shouted as he forced himself to sit up. The pain on his cheek still lingered and Cognitive Shido had no qualms slapping him again if he felt like Cake refused to understand his situation. "Daddy, please! I just went to get a book from the library!"

"Perhaps I have to overwork you again." Cognitive Shido decided. Cake made a noise of a frightened animal when "overworked" was mentioned. "The new followers of the church were pleased when you gave them your blessing. They would like to receive it again."

Joker could see Cake's body was trembling. He had this nasty feeling he knew what "overworked" meant in context. It was still vague and confusing but judging from everything he observed in the shadow's palace, it was an idea Joker wanted to strive away from.

"I-I'm tired…" Cake muttered. "A-And you told me I have to be in good condition for tomorrow. T-The wedding…"

That got Cognitive Shido's attention. "If you're aware of what is to happen tomorrow then you need to stay in your room and prepare yourself. I do not need you leaving this mansion when there are still demons to eliminate."

"But we don't need to…they don't have any more power…it's just you…" Cake started to argue but was shut down immediately.

"Fool, you do not understand why it is important to exterminate the demons. You must burn the seeds of rebellion before the seed begins to sprout. You understand that one demon is causing me so much grief when you are this close to finding happiness."

Cake didn't realize he glared at his father when he said that marriage would lead to his happiness. Cognitive Shido caught that and ended up approaching his son again. He snatched a piece of his hair and yanked him forward.

"Oww!" Cake cried. "Daddy, that hurts!"

"Why must you be such a disrespectful child?" Cognitive Shido asked. "Your mother abandoned you and those demons have every intention of trampling on your mother's legacy. You love your mother so much that you continue her line of duty as a priest who guides the souls to enlightenment and here you are lollygagging with a demon. I refuse to let them take advantage of you."

"But you…" Cake started as he tried to pull away. That only made the pain worse from Shido's hair-pulling, so much so that Cake drew back his initial statement. "S-Stop!"

"Now be a good child and actually do as I say!"

Cognitive Shido relinquished his hold on Cake again, only to wrap his hands around the shadow's neck. Unless Cake promised to listen, he knew Shido wouldn't let him off the hook with just a slap and some hair pulling. He made another pathetic noise when he felt his air supply tightening. He didn't want to freak out while there were people in the closet watching this event transpire. Cake needed to make his father leave before the pope noticed that something was amiss in the room besides the missing bird that Cake always had.

Joker was at his limit. It was already bad enough to know that Shido only saw his son as a puppet. In Akechi's mind, he had to relive the abuse by his father's hands. They were in no condition to fight this man, but Joker's emotions were starting to get the better of him. Skull and Fox held onto their leader tighter than before when they felt him shuffling.

"Joker, don't even think about it," Skull hissed.

"So we're just going to let Shido do that?" Joker asked a little too loudly. If Cognitive Shido weren't paying attention to his son, he would have heard the Phantom Thieves.

"Joker, we can't fight him now," Queen warned him. "Our attacks won't work."

"But…"

"This area is too cramped to fight," Noire added. "Please, Joker. Please calm down. We will make him pay but we can't now."

The raven haired teen knew his teammates were right. He just couldn't stand Shido abusing his authority on someone yet again. This man had ruined the lives of many and, even if Cognitive Shido was only how Akechi interpreted him, Akechi's interpretation was spot on.

Fortunately Joker didn't have to expose himself and the Phantom Thieves. Someone else would be attacking Shido for him. Shido failed to notice that the window was opened so when three daggers flew through the opening and impaled him in the arm, he released Cake in surprise and pain.

"You're getting sloppy, old man! You should have been able to deflect my daggers with your fists."

There was silence in the room. The Phantom Thieves all turned to Joker, thinking he spoke those words. He shook his head in denial. The voice came from outside anyway. Shido had to pull away from Cake and focus on the assailant who dared to attack him.

"And the Devil spends a day resting, I see…" Shido snarled. "Your very existence makes me sick."

"I'm glad. That's what demons do best, Shido."

So the group finally got to see Akechi's interpretation of Joker. The cognition was way different from what they imagined. While most cognitions were usually false interpretations of how they saw their targets, Akechi took the fantasy aspect of his palace and ran away with it.

Devil was a fitting name for Cognitive Joker. He literally was a devil, an incubus to be exact. Joker looked pretty similar to the one hiding in the closet in terms of a first glance. He retained the same coloration of black and red along with the same messy hair and facial features of the original. While the outfit at first appeared identical, Cognitive Joker wore all black with nothing underneath his trench coat. He had no shame in exposing his chest to others. The cape portion seemed a little off as well but the thieves couldn't tell from the angle of the room they were hiding in. His skin was also slightly darker as if to signify he was a demon. His belt looked exactly like a living snake, yet it was difficult to know for sure its authenticity due to how stiff it remained. Finally, Cognitive Joker had sharp horns on his head and an incubus tail that curled into a heart.

"Joker…" Shido growled but Joker already had something to say.

"Shido."

"Joker."

"Shido!"

"Joker!"

Cake held back a snicker. Joker had that power to influence people to go along with what he wanted at times. Even if his father probably thought he would be able to say something threatening, what came out instead was ending up on the short end of the stick of the joke.

"Goro~." The demon hummed his name. The real Joker found it weird to hear Goro's name coming out of his mouth, or rather, his doppelganger's mouth like that. "It's almost time. You should prepare yourself. I'm going to take you to hell very soon."

Despite how anybody else might tremble at the idea, Cake's eyes sparkled at the declaration. Shido, in contrast, was far from amused.

"Arrogant Devil," he hissed. "Divine punishment will befall you if you think you can take away my son."

"You barely treat him like a son," Cognitive Joker mocked. "If I were you, old man, I would be surrendering the key you have to me. Don't want to be taken to the gates of hell, would you?"

Shido's response was to gut the devil before him. Cake gasped when his father took the cross around his neck and attempted to slash at Cognitive Joker with a sharp light. The demon saw that coming a mile away and simply moved out of the way at the last minute to look flashy.

"Too slow!" Cognitive Joker taunted before turning around and spanking his butt. "Try to catch me, old man! You won't."

And with that, Cognitive Joker jumped away from the window to take took off. Cake managed to move away from his father who almost hit his son with the cross in a fury. The rage was so apparent that a red aura emitted from his body. The Phantom Thieves felt the power from Cognitive Shido. It was way stronger than Shadow Shido if that was even possible.

"ANGELS, WHERE ARE YOU?! SEIZE THAT DEVIL BUT DO NOT KILL HIM! I WILL PERSONALLY END HIM!"

"D-Daddy…" Cake called out in a small whimper.

It was in that moment that when Shido turned to Cake, his eyes flashed a crazed crimson. Cake shrieked and ended up cowering before his father.

"You will stay here," Shido told him darkly. He tried to lower his voice but it was impossible to hide the rage that ran through his veins. "If I hear that you have escaped again, you will be severely punished."

"B-But Joker is…"

"He had his chance to atone but when I get my hands on him, you will watch what will happen when a demon enters the sacred grounds of the church."

"No…"

Cake could have been smacked again for talking back to his father. Yet Cognitive Shido had no time to discipline his son. Every minute he spent scolding his son was a minute Cognitive Joker would get away from him. Cognitive Shido also had to deal with the injury that the Devil left him.

"I am warning you, Goro. I will put you to work if I hear you have escaped this room."

Cake's eyes widened in horror, "N-No…please not that…I was really tired…"

"Then be a good boy and stay put. You were a good boy to the guests and you can continue being one. Do not anger me anymore."

Cake nodded his head weakly. He waited for his father to leave the room before he fell to his knees. Robin chirped in worry but Cake did not respond to his pet. He was trying his best to hold back his tears and did that by gripping clenching his fists tightly. If he held his fist tightly enough, he could draw blood…but he was a shadow, so that was impossible.

"…You can come out now…" Cake finally whispered to the Phantom Thieves.

It was a miracle that Joker didn't run out before Cognitive Shido left. Seeing Cake like this caused a terrible feeling in his chest. He hated seeing such a defeated look on Cake…no…Akechi's face. One inspirational speech wasn't enough to help Cake. His father was as oppressive to Cake as the real one was to Akechi. They needed to kill Cognitive Shido if the thieves wanted any hope to save the detective. Unfortunately, Cognitive Shido continued to prove that he might be too powerful for the group to fight and they would still need to avoid him.

"Are you okay?" Noire asked in a worried tone. "Your father hit you very hard."

"I'm used to it…" Cake mumbled. Despite his words, Joker urged Mona to heal Cake's wounds caused by his father.

"That's not something you should say!" Panther exclaimed. "Why would you sit and take those hits! You're stronger than your father, right?"

Cake closed his eyes and shook his head. "…I only have half of my powers returned to me…it's still not game changing. And…I'm tired…"

Mona quickly healed the wounds but still felt something was off. "Hey, are you going to tell us what he meant by overworking you?"

Shadow Akechi had no intention of talking. Mona looked over to Joker hoping he would say something.

"Cake," Joker began, "please tell us what happened yesterday."

"No," Cake responded, which surprised everyone. "It's not important."

It is important! You look ready to fall over and die! Joker wanted to shout but kept it to himself. "Why would you think that?"

"We need to find him…we need to find Joker…" Cake mumbled. "His life is in danger if Daddy finds him. If Daddy gets Joker's key…there won't be any hope to open the door to the treasure."

Cake forced himself to stand up after Mona finished healing him. The shadow psyched himself up so he wouldn't cry in front of the Phantom Thieves. His red eyes let the outsiders know of his weak state though.

"…I don't want to get caught," Cake admitted. "I don't want Daddy to punish me again…but I don't want Joker to die because of me…so…I'll show you where Joker's hideout is."

They would progress through the palace faster if they got to Cognitive Joker. Queen still felt the need to interrogate the priest though.

"We appreciate that. However, you need to explain to us why the cognitive version of Joker is like that."

Cake titled his head in confusion. "Like what?"

Queen didn't know how to put it in words. Mona picked up the slack though.

"He's not chained down by the normal rules of the palace," Mona explained. "In a palace, the person has an interpretation of how they view others. These cognitive will act accordingly. Shido is very much like he is in the real world. Joker acts widely in comparison."

Noire was equally as confused as the shadow. "Acting widely?"

Skull actually had the idea. "Basically, the Joker here is totally different. He acts like our idiot Leader but his appearance and how he is handling the palace isn't normal as Mona would put it."

"Idiot?" Joker asked, acting like he was offended. Well, he was a little offended but that didn't change the fact that Skull was mostly right.

"Oh, Skull said something smart for once," Mona exclaimed.

"Hey! Even an idiot would notice that!"

"You are not supposed to admit to being an idiot…" Fox said in a low voice so Skull wouldn't hear him. He didn't.

"Either way, Cake, can you explain why the cognitive version of Joker is unchained?"

Cake didn't have an answer right away. It was clear even he didn't understand why Devil Joker was like this. Still, he was a shadow that knew everything about the palace so he had an answer.

"Joker isn't controlled at all," Cake finally said. "I think I brought up before how my host has an odd way of viewing others. Like, some of the stuff in this mansion doesn't match with the overall theme but my host has an odd imagination. Joker is how he views you though." Cake addressed the real Joker specifically when he said this.

"So I'm a handsome devil?" Joker asked.

"Well-"

Cake couldn't agree with Joker since Skull jumped in.

"I would be creeped out if I had less clothes on in my interpretation of you, Joker."

Joker shook his head. "You would imagine me feeding you burgers if you had a palace."

Skull's eyebrow twitched but it wasn't visible for anyone to see. "Eh heh heh…"

Cake cleared his throat before he continued. He avoided staring at Joker so he didn't have to confirm how he really felt about Devil Joker. "My host views you as an enigma. Someone who is bound by fate but refuses to be chained down by societies' expectations."

"So, Akechi thinks the devil is the most fitting interpretation of Joker?" Fox wondered out loud. He ended up smirking thinking more about it. "Like how Lilith tempted Adam, Devil Joker tempts you."

Cake had a hard time hiding the faint blush on his cheeks. "U-Umm…it's less temptation and more 'I want to get away from this place'. Daddy has made my life hard, and Joker promised me a good life if I go with him."

"Pretty sure going to hell isn't exactly a good life but that's just me," Oracle snarked.

Cake puffed his cheeks. The pinkness on them disappeared. "Hey! Joker told me that hell is actually a wonderful place. Hell on earth is lame so partying like no tomorrow in hell sounds cool!"

The Phantom Thieves looked at each other, unsure what to think of that. No one understood how Akechi would think he would find hell cool unless hell was a metaphor of something else.

"Anyways, we should go talk to Joker now," Cake hummed to change the subject. "He has the third key. I know that's the key that can shut down all the magical security devices."

Oracle eyed Cake suspiciously. "Magical security? Were we being watched this entire time?"

"Nope," Cake answered quickly. "What I mean is that with that key, Joker had avoided detection for so long. Angels cannot find any traces of his magical power with it and even with all the secret passages he still is able to walk around without fear of someone catching him by surprise. Also, the key will allow access to the church."

Cake paused when he said that. The church was at the top of the tower. Cognitive Shido would be waiting at the top. He would be tougher to fight than Shido's actual shadow with how Akechi interpreted him. They needed to be prepared when the time came. For now, they could focus on Cognitive Joker.

"Cake, I think there is issues with your plan." Queen spoke.

"Huh?! What is it?!"

Cake seemed lost again. Queen sighed as she explained to him the issue.

"Cognitive Joker may be your ally but he might see us as enemies. We won't know what to expect when we do encounter him."

"You can trust Joker!" Cake exclaimed. "He's the only one who cared!"

And I wonder where the rest of us went. Skull thought darkly to himself.

"The point is, Cake, that we will still need to be on our guard. He may not harm you but the rest of us he can't trust…especially when he sees the real Joker."

Joker chuckled nervously. He wondered how his demonic self would treat him when they meet. Would it be with smooth words or a practical joke? He honestly didn't know what to expect of himself.

"Everything will go fine…" Cake whined. "I'll take you to Joker now…please follow me…"

The Phantom Thieves had no choice but to follow Cake. The shadow wanted to reunite with the devil as soon as possible. If things went well, they should get the third key with no issues, but given how Akechi's palace was, things weren't going to go smoothly. That was why they needed to stop by the safe room first before pursuing the shadow.

Because Cake was ahead of the group by the time they decided to trail him, Cake had stopped rushing and waited for them. He closed his eyes and tapped his foot impatiently. Cake assumed they were patching each other up before going after him. It gave him time to think to himself. Robin started chirping again the moment the shadow's mind wondered.

"…Sorry, Robin…I'm not being honest with them this time," Cake admitted to his pet. "They're right to not trust Joker. He would never trust them with how they have treated my host. If they want the key…they're going to have to see some of my host's worse memories…" Cake sighed. He felt defeated thinking about what was to come when they ventured on in the palace. "I'm not looking forward to being rejected…Akira-kun said he wouldn't leave me but when he sees that memory…he will…I should remain positive and believe but my host has lost all hope already."

Robin's head drooped as if sympathizing with his master. Cake jolted hearing the sound of the clock chime. Fortunately, the number still read two but that didn't make it all better for Cake. Soon, everything would come crashing down…


Akechi needed to escape from his terrible fate. Just because he signed the contract didn't mean he couldn't disappear and never be found. Yes, the Phantom Thieves would be targeted because he vanished but he wouldn't have to return to the hell that his father put him through. He just needed to get as far away from the mainland as possible. He needed to use the remainder of his strength to get away…he needed…

Who am I kidding? Akechi thought weakly as he walked down the streets outside of his apartment. They'll find me no matter where I go.

To add insult to injury, Akechi struggled to even walk outside of his apartment. Last night was terrible and today wasn't any better. Shido's men put him in so many compromising positions and took pictures of it for more blackmail material. And they still couldn't keep their grubby hands off him. By the end of the night, they had stripped him of his clothes and his dignity. Akechi could only watch helplessly as he was forced onto the bed in another position. They enjoyed watching him suffer in agony. The men had left him like that after promising to pick him up tomorrow as they didn't want to break their promise to give him one more day. They knew he couldn't escape and had no power to now that he had no one to turn to. Akechi refused to cry when they left. He had locked the door and immediately hopped in the shower trying to wash away the filth. He had passed out only in a towel and he woke up in the afternoon. They told Akechi they were going to pick him up tonight. The detective just wanted to sleep and conserve his strength. Alas, the childish part of him had put his clothes on and walked out in a hopeless attempt to get away from his apartment. Akechi intended to go to another hotel far away from his apartment to hide again even if it didn't do any good. He at least wanted to have more time to himself if they decided to go against their word and pick him up before then.

What am I doing? Akechi had asked himself as he had to stop walking. He didn't get far from his apartment complex and he was already feeling exhausted. No matter what I do, they're going to get me. I already accepted my fate…I never had a future to begin with. If everything went according to plan, I still wouldn't be here…


 

"Sora-senpai, wait up! My legs aren't as long as yours!"

"Come on, Shinji! You can keep up with me!"

The voices were loud and coming Akechi's way. He couldn't even move out of the way in time until someone had crashed into him. The detective had no strength in his legs and fell over while the other person stumbled back almost into his friend.

"See, Sora-senpai?! This is what happens when you run!"

The person known as Sora had no comeback. He prioritized helping the person he knocked over.

"Hey, are you okay? I know I am a fast runner but I don't think bumping into you would hurt you that much!"

Akechi didn't respond. He was too tired to speak. The two people noticed that something was wrong. The person who knocked him over immediately felt his forehead.

"H-Hey, you're burning up! That's not good! Sick people should be in bed! Shinji! What do I do?!"

"I-Idiot! We either take him to the park so he can rest or find his damn address! I don't have a computer in front of me!"

"But he's going to faint at this rate! Please help!"

"Sora-senpai, don't cause a scene! If he's just sick, we just take him back home…"

"Urgh…"

Akechi already found their voices grating, and the fact that his brilliant idea of escaping his apartment and Shido's men by proxy wasn't happening any time soon only aggravated him even more.

"Hey, where do you live? We'll take you back."

Akechi had no choice but to point to the apartment complex behind him. Sora blinked before he sighed in relief.

"Oh, you just left your house and collapsed? Well, that makes things easier! I'm going to take your key and take you back in."

Shinji didn't sound all that amused. "Breaking and entering is a crime, Sora-senpai."

"It's fine. We have his consent! Hey, don't pass out! Hey!"


Akechi had indeed fainted. He woke up later on back in his apartment with an ear-splitting headache. Why did the world have to spin? Did he have a bruise somewhere when he fell down? Was that a dream?

"Yay! You're awake!"

The detective then remembered that he bumped into an idiot boy and his friend but didn't get a good look at them seeing as how his vision was already blurry. Now he could see again. The loud male was actually older than him even if he didn't sound like it. The first thing he noticed was the obnoxious male's tall height and forest green hair. Akechi immediately assumed this guy had dyed his hair. It wasn't natural by any means. His hazel eyes also stood out with their rather large size. Big eyes gave the impression he was younger than he actually was and he clearly acted like it. The male must have been in his early twenties. His clothes were rather casual; a green jacket with a gold symbol on the chest pocket. Akechi felt like he had seen that symbol before but couldn't remember right at the moment. Another thing was he wore a gold necklace around his neck. The casual outfit with the expensive jewelry clashed with each other and Akechi didn't know what to think of this guy before him.

"Hey, don't sit up so fast. You're only to hurt yourself even more!" The green haired male continued as he forced Akechi to lie back down.

"…Where am…"

"We took you back to your apartment. It took some time to find it. We had to ask the lady who runs the place where you lived. She also told me that when you wake up to pay for the apartment. She knows you're stressed so she has been lenient with you."

Of course he was going to be reminded of the late bill for the apartment. With how he needed to go into hiding after his apparent death, he didn't have time to actually stop by and pay. If he did, Shido's men would have caught him and interrogated the landlady about it.

"Oh yeah! Shinji is going off to pay the fee for you. That will be our apology for knocking you out."

Akechi forced himself to sit up again. He couldn't believe his ears.

"Umm…what?"

The cheerful male grinned happily. "You don't need to worry about the fee you owe. It's more of my apology, I admit. I have a lot of money to spare so you don't need to worry yourself over paying the bills."

Akechi blinked. He didn't understand. What did this person want? Was he going to be in debt to him now?

"Y-You didn't have to…"

"I wanted to. Don't hit yourself over what I do." The older male grinned. "I enjoy helping people out in trouble."

Akechi didn't believe this person at all.

"Oh, before I forget…my name is Hihara Sora. All my friends call me Sora and I prefer being referred to my first name."

Hihara…have I heard that family name before? Akechi asked himself. He was too tired to remember.

"When your landlady told me who you were, I was so surprised. You're the ace detective Goro Akechi!" Sora exclaimed. Akechi rubbed his temples thinking he had another dumbass fan to nag him after all of this time. "I thought a man of your caliber would have a fancier place than this but looks can be deceiving!"

"…Thank you?"

"It's funny how I didn't recognize who you were. I'm bad at remembering people but you have been on TV lately talking about the Phantom Thieves and then you suddenly disappear after your declaration and some people have been wondering where you have been and it's good to know that you were just under the weather and needed time alone."

Before Akechi could say anything, the door to his place was forced open. The detective didn't realize how he grabbed the blanket and wrapped his body around himself in a vain attempt to protect his body frame. Sora giggled as a result.

"Shinji, you need to learn to knock. You scared Akechi-kun."

"Sora, I called your name five times and you didn't respond! I had to get your attention," the younger male snarled. "I bought food like you requested since there's nothing in this dump."

The detective just met the boy named Shinji and he already didn't like him. Even if his apartment wasn't the homeliest of places, it was flat out rude to call his place a dump.

"Shinji, don't be rude. It's better than your room back in Kisaragi."

"Uhh…don't remind me."

Looking at Shinji, he appeared to be someone that was still in high school. Akechi didn't want to question his age feeling that he might have guessed wrong. Shinji was like Sora with the weird hair color. Who dyes their hair purple? Is it a hip thing with young people? Akechi wouldn't know. Bleaching your hair made more sense than going for the weird hair colors. The purple hair was one thing to stand out. The fact that Shinji's hair was messy as if he hadn't combed it was another. A cute hair antenna popped out at the top of his head and no amount of hair combing would bring it down. Like the green haired male, Shinji dressed very casually but still oddly. It was odd to wear a white lab coat during December when it clearly wasn't a warm outfit. The blue undershirt underneath his lab coat was supposed to warm him up but that didn't seem to do Shinji justice either. Wearing baggy pants was another thing that wasn't situated for December's weather. Akechi made the conclusion that either Shinji didn't get out much and didn't dress accordingly or he was dragged out of his place without given the time to choose outfits suitable for the weather.

"I'm going to boil the hot water now," Shinji said. "Just sit there and be patient. The noodles will be done."

Despite the money that Sora had given Shinji, the purple haired male decided to be a cheapskate and grabbed the quickest thing to make at the lowest price. Once Shinji disappeared into Akechi's kitchen, Sora apologized to the detective.

"Sorry about Shinji. He's not good with talking to people," Sora confessed. "He's usually on his computer all day so I had to get him out of the house."

Akechi nodded his head in acknowledgement. Now that he was able to sit down and think in silence, he was able to think more about the male in front of him.

He has the same name as my pet bird. Akechi thought darkly to himself. I wonder if God is trying to tell me something…

Shinji wasn't coming back until the food was done, leaving Sora to continue the conversation. Akechi preferred to go back to sleep and recover his strength for the inevitable doom coming. He zoned out on what the stranger blabbed on about in favor of driving away the desolate fear of what's to come. Despite him telling himself that there was nothing he could do, Akechi couldn't help but continue to rack his brains for a way out of his predicament.

"So, do you have someone you like?"

That was out of the blue. Akechi snapped out of his thoughts. "Huh?"

Sora grinned. "I'm trying to start a conversation. I thought that if work was stressful to ask about your love life. You have someone, right?"

"No…I don't have time…" Akechi admitted.

"But you have someone though, right?"

Why is he nagging me about this? It's so sudden. Akechi thought to himself. There was someone that came to mind but he shook his head. There was no way…

"Oh, you do like someone," Sora continued. He grinned. "Who is it? Who's the lucky girl?"

"I-"

Akechi didn't even get to deny the possibility because Sora kept rambling.

"Oh! It could be a lucky guy too! Gender doesn't matter."

The detective hated how his cheeks turned slightly pink. "N-No…I don't…"

"Oh! You do have someone! Who is it? Tell me! Tell me!"

"Sora-senpai, leave the guy alone!" Shinji shouted from the kitchen. "You barely even know him and you're trying to gossip about his non-existent love life."

If Sora was nosy and obnoxious, Shinji was rude and condescending. Akechi wanted to go to sleep but Sora wasn't going to let him.

"Umm…pardon me…but I think you should watch your friend in the kitchen," Akechi, began trying to drop a hint for Sora to leave him alone. "He doesn't seem the type to be able to cook."

"Oh, you're right!" Sora exclaimed. "Hold up, Shinji! I'm going to help you!"

"I-Idiot! I don't need your help!"

Sora already left Akechi's side to help his underclassmen. Akechi sighed in relief once he was able to breathe. The detective looked to see where his phone was. In his state of panic when leaving the apartment, he forgot his phone. Coming back at least allowed him to retrieve his phone. When Sora and Shinji left after they gave him food, he would try to leave again assuming he had enough energy. His head was still hurting unfortunately.

Why did he have to bring up something as pointless as crushes? Akechi wondered to himself. Normally, he would laugh off the question but now his heart wouldn't stop pounding. Akira came to mind when he thought of a special someone who made him feel better. His mood dampened. "I don't even like Akira-kun…he's just a nuisance…"

Yes, that was the best thing to say about Akira. Despite telling him to stop messing with his palace, Akechi had this nagging feeling that his headache was caused by the Phantom Thieves infiltrating his palace. If he knew what the keywords for his own palace were, he would force his way inside and get them to stop trying to steal his treasure. Alas, he was at a loss and he would have to wait for them to eventually succeed.

But they won't make it in time. Akechi told himself. Those bastards are coming tonight and there's nothing I can do about it…

Chapter Text

With Cognitive Shido and the angels distracted with Devil Joker's appearance, getting to their next destination was ridiculously easy. Joker found that ambushing the enemy and slitting their throats was a great way to avoid combat. Because the angels were still the ones they had fought before, they went down easily.

The problem was the large quantity of angels searching for Devil Joker. It became impossible to avoid them so when the group couldn't ambush the enemy, they had to engage in combat. The battles went by as quickly as they started. Queen and Oracle kept track of the weaknesses of these weak angels so ordering the right thief to finish them in one hit was simple.

Cake led the Phantom Thieves to Devil Joker's hiding place – the huge tree planted in the middle of the tower. On the first day, the tree didn't look out of place given how flowers and bushes grew everywhere in the tower. Now that everything started to decay, the tree looked out of place. It started to wither, and it wouldn't be long until it fell apart. Cake hated how much damage the tree sustained in a short amount of time.

"Soon…Joker won't be able to use this place for a hideout anymore," Cake muttered. "If Daddy finds out…then…Joker will…"

The group looked around for the secret entrance. However the large tree just looked like a decaying tree with no secrets hidden away. While Oracle detected demonic energy from the plant, nothing else screamed "entrance".

"I'm assuming that the hideout is inside the tree," Fox stated.

"So, how do we get in?" Skull asked. "Do we have to knock on the tree or do we need to knock it down?"

"You don't need to be violent with the tree," Noire scolded the younger male. "Cake wouldn't appreciate that."

"No, I wouldn't," Cake admitted. "I know how to reveal the entrance."

"You do?" Panther asked.

"Yes. Because my powers were sealed away, Joker needed to take me out of the mansion and bypass the entrance. However, I cannot be in the hideout for long. My presence mixed with his is…noticeable to everything in this palace." Cake sounded sad when he said this. "Joker explained that as long as I created the correct symbol in front of the tree, then I would be able to reveal the entrance."

"Can you do it now?" Joker requested.

"Yes. It will not take long, but just as how quickly I can show the hideout to you, there is not a lot of time to go inside. If any of you are left outside, you won't be able to go in unless Joker permits it…actually…you can get out if nobody resides inside the tree."

This was important information they needed to keep in mind. Cake had the thieves stand back as he started to channel another spell. Instead of using the same spell that he used before when he obtained the first key, he used the power locked by the second key. His hands shined a yellow color this time around, and a rabbit symbol, rather than a tiger one, appeared in front of the tree. Compared to the huge feat of opening a waterfall, revealing the entrance to the door felt underwhelming. The amount of demonic energy surrounding the tree vanished the more magic that was used to open it. Hell, Cake struggled with revealing the door much less opening it.

"Is Cake going to be okay?" Noire asked in a worried tone.

"I don't know. There is a lot of negative energy here than any place we've been so far," Mona answered.

"He can," Joker said with confidence. "He's almost done now."

Sure enough, Cake managed to summon the hidden door in the tree. It's funny how fantasy like the door looked. A door pattern was carved into the tree and swung open a few second later. Looking inside showed nothing but darkness. The chances of the tree being a huge maze upon entering were very high. Cake sighed in relief that he was able to use just enough magic to reveal and open the door without alerting the angels.

The tree might have opened a path to Cognitive Joker but not without consequence. A dark cloud surrounded Cake upon revealing the secret hideout. The thieves had no time to react before the cloud suddenly lifted Cake in the air and placed him on one of the few remaining tree branches. A wicked laugh emulated from the smoke before purple smoke appeared next to Cake. The smoke revealed Cognitive Joker sitting on the branch. Despite the branch being ready to snap in half, it barely supported the incubus's weight.

"Goro, what have I told you about being too trusting?" he asked the priest. "You're going to get us both killed at this rate."

"J-Joker, I swear we can trust them!" Cake insisted. However, his protests were ignored by the real Joker standing below the tree branch.

"Let him go," Joker ordered rather calmly. He expected a sarcastic remark.

"Don't wanna," Devil Joker responded rather childishly. "I'm the only one who is going to protect Goro, Faker."

Joker paused. "…Faker…you're the only one here who is fake!"

Oracle looked at her friend before looking at the incubus. She really wanted to say something, but now was not an appropriate time.

Devil Joker rolled his eyes. "You're not even good enough to be my fake."

"I'll make you eat those words…" the Phantom Thief hissed. He intended to duke it out with Cognitive Joker but the shadow wasn't having it.

"I would love to fight and prove who is the real, perfect Joker for Goro, but I don't need that old geezer ruining the fun. Since Cake was so nice with revealing my hideout, we'll simply have to duke it out in there." The incubus smirked. "Try and catch me if you can."

Joker didn't have a retort in time. The incubus vanished in a purple smoke, taking Cake with him. The priest screamed at Devil Joker for not listening to him, but his sentence got cut off when he vanished with the incubus.

"Easy there, Joker," Mona warned him. "He wants you to make a mistake."

"I noticed…" Joker growled. "We still need to follow him."

Skull shook his head in annoyance. "Can Akechi's shadow not get kidnapped every five minutes?! It's so annoying!"

"He can't help it," Mona reminded him. "Cake is a prisoner in his own palace. Anything can abduct him even if he's powerful enough to shoo them away."

I wish Akechi even gave me the opportunity to kidnap him like that. Joker thought grimly to himself. "We need to hurry and get Cake back."

The group didn't have much of a choice. Without Cake, they couldn't progress any further. Plus, Cognitive Joker had the third key they needed. One by one, the Phantom Thieves rushed into the entrance of the tree that Cake left them. Once the last member went into the tree, the entrance started to close. Before the angels noticed anything amiss, the entrance disappeared completely.


The inside of the tree wasn't anything the Phantom Thieves expected. One might have expected it to be rather organic given their location. However, it was Oracle who had to comment about the inside of the tree looking like the inside of a belly. That imagery made the place creepier than it needed to be.

Oracle's description ended up being incorrect as the group traversed deeper in search of Cake. Once they got through the initial area, the next area was nothing but jail cells. Joker shivered thinking how this was too similar to the Velvet Room.

The whole way, the normal shadows seen in palaces were the ones hindering their progress this time around. It made sense that the demons were inside the tree instead of outside. If the angels had forcibly taken over, there was nowhere for the demons to hide but inside. Cake acted like there weren't that many left but he either lied to them or did not realize the large amount of demons remaining.

The demons were stronger than the angels. This meant the group had to actually stop to battle them instead of forcing their way through. Joker needed to rotate the members in the group so they wouldn't tire out. That was the problem. If they got tired before confronting Devil Joker, they wouldn't be able to obtain the key. Not to mention, the incubus proved to be a trickster. What tricks would he pull if they let their guards down?

There were some major differences with these shadows though. Compared to the ones they battled in previous palaces where they had one-dimensional personalities. Each demon they thought always had something to say. They were…dynamic in character to say the least.

Oracle made a mental note about everything the demons said. They referred to Devil Joker as "the boss". They clearly respected Cognitive Joker but some also feared him. Many demons cowered in the presence of the real Joker, unaware that he was not their boss. Sometimes, their eventual realization would trigger another fight. Queen suggested that Joker could order them around to move around the tree but then that would also give away his identity. At the end of the day, they had to deal with the large quantity of demons until Oracle knew they were near the end. Despite being close to Devil's main chamber, there were no signs of a safe house anywhere. Either the tree was incapable of creating a safe house, or Devil was one of the few shadows aware of how great one of them was and denied intruders the chance to rest. Either way, the group was going to be in for a dangerous fight.

There was one more door before the group made it to Devil Joker's room. Cake should have been in the room. When Joker forced the door to open, the first thing he noted was Cake's absence. If the first few rooms felt like the inside of a belly, then this room was certainly a belly of a demon.

"Finally! I was wondering if you idiots got lost in this place."

Joker's eyebrow twitched hearing that insult. It was his own voice that snarked at him and his friends. The incubus waited for the Phantom Thieves before he decided to make his presence known. The lack of traps in his secret area said so much about how Akechi saw Cognitive Joker. He was so confident that whatever plan he had in mind would work on the Phantom Thieves that he didn't need them. The only thing Devil needed was his two bodyguard demons.

"Welcome!" Devil said cheerfully.

The raven haired thief's attention was to the two demons. It was funny how despite his lookalike garnering more attention, Joker found himself staring in awe at the two demons. The two demons stood on opposite sides of Devil's throne. The leader of the Phantom Thieves nearly gasped at their appearance. One was a red oni, and the other was a blue oni. Like Devil, they weren't dressed in anything but a caveman tunic. The red oni had short white hair and menacing gold eyes while the blue oni had slightly longer white hair tied in a braid with the same colored eyes as his red counterpart. Both carried a large sake bottle on their back as well as a huge club that cavemen were known to use in combat.

"Justine…Caroline?" Joker ended up asking their names out loud.

The Phantom Thieves didn't know who these people were. The demons reacted by the names they were called and did not respond well.

"That's not our names!" the red oni shouted. "Of course some faker like you would get it wrong!"

"We are not that important, Carol," the blue oni said calmly. "It is a miracle someone would even get our names partially right."

"Justin, what the hell are you saying?! Anyone who calls us women names deserves to get a severe beatdown!" the red oni declared as he smacked his club in the palm of his hands.

"Silence, you two," Devil ordered. "I did not give you permission to speak."

While Justin shut his mouth without a second thought, Carol muttered snarky insults under his breath that Devil probably caught but chose not to say anything else. Joker needed to ask Akechi when this was all over how he knew who Justine and Caroline were. No one could replicate them unless they had access to the Velvet Room. Then again, it would make sense that the detective had if he was able to summon two Personas.

"What service can I do for you fakers?" Devil asked in a polite tone. He put a lot of emphasis on faker and that annoyed Joker more than the other thieves.

"Cut the crap! Just give us the key before we beat your ass and take it!" Skull threatened.

"Where is Cake?" Panther asked. "You took him!"

Devil let out a cold laugh. "Are you speaking about my sweet Goro? My darling has already been sent back to his room. Don't want that old bastard to punish him for letting criminals like you into my secret hideout." His expression darkened. "To think that the old bastard would actually send demons after me…"

"We aren't demons," said Noire.

Devil wasn't convinced. "Oh? Besides that faker there, you all resemble my fallen comrades. That can't be a coincidence."

Whatever backstory Devil had in the palace, it tied to the Phantom Thieves. Where were the other thieves? How come the interpretations of the Velvet Room attendees were here? There were so many questions that Joker wanted to ask. The raven haired teen wanted to learn about how Akechi viewed him. The next batch of memories might contain the information the group needed to save the brunette. They just needed to dig deeper…

"Coincidence? The only coincidence here is the fact that Akechi has a cognitive of Joker."

"Skull," Joker started. "Let me handle this."

The blond gave his leader a puzzled look. The other thieves must have found it odd as well. Still, they wanted to see if Joker would try to talk to the doppelganger instead of throwing insults at him not too long ago.

"Can we trust you when you said you took Cake back to the mansion?" Joker asked. His eyes rivaled that of the shadow when it came to Shadow Akechi.

"I never lie when it concerns Goro," Devil responded. "You all wasted your time coming into my lair when you could have returned. I would never hurt my precious Goro."

Is this how Akechi sees me? Do I act that possessive? Joker questioned. He hated to admit that this shadow was spot on. The sarcasm, snark and appeal this shadow had reflected the real thing. Even now, Joker felt like he was talking to himself.

"I apologize for not introducing myself sooner. I lost my name long ago to that corrupt priest on the top of the palace. I am simply Joker now." He smirked. "However, that old bastard sees me as the devil incarnated. I don't mind being referred to as Devil Joker if it means being able to differentiate from a fake like you."

"You really like to convince yourself you're the real thing…" Fox said as a matter of fact statement.

"I don't see why not. In this palace, I am me and anyone who looks like me is fake," Devil admitted.

Like Cake, Devil was self-aware of being in a palace. It should have made things easier…right?

"If you know we're intruders in this palace, then why not just give us the key?" Joker asked. "We don't need to fight if we're after the same thing."

Devil wasn't convinced. "Oh?"

"We're here to change Akechi's heart. We want to save him. We can't if we don't get the rest of the keys."

"…"

"Cake told us you have the third key. Just give us the key and-"

"We're after the same thing? Don't make me laugh," Devil snarled.

Joker tilted his head in confusion. "Huh?"

"Why should I believe that you want to save Goro? I know what I want. I want to kidnap Goro. I want to get him away from his father. I want to make him a demon. That's all."

The Phantom Thieves didn't know what to think. Joker had a good idea what Devil meant. However, he worded it in a way to sound more sinister.

"Besides, even if you were honest and wanted to save Goro, your friends don't think the same way."

Why did it feel like this entire palace wanted to throw everyone out except Joker? Why did Akechi think so lowly of them? Yes, they were all suspicious of him but now that they knew the truth of his actions, they wanted to help him from the hell his father planned for him.

"That's not true! That's-"

"Shut up. You don't speak for them. If I were you, I would have done this all by myself."

Joker glared at him. "That's selfish."

"Goro seems to agree that you are."

Joker clenched his fist. He couldn't afford to lose his temper.

"If you weren't the leader, they would have ignored your request and let my sweet little Goro suffer. They don't mind him being locked up in his room. They don't mind that he has no freedom. They wouldn't mind if he were to die. The only one who cared enough is you." Again, Devil frowned. "That's why my comrades who looked like them have been…terminated."

Of course Skull misinterpreted that. "You…You killed us?!"

Devil gave him a weird look before the shadow decided to run with that theory. "Yeah, I did. They got in the way of wanting to help Goro. I wanted to be selfish so I had to sacrifice them. I am so close now by myself."

"…This interpretation of Joker is wrong," Queen finally said. "Akechi-kun…doesn't seem to understand you."

"Or maybe Goro does understand your leader and you all don't want to admit that he keeps secrets from you."

Joker flinched. Oh, he had secrets about Akechi all right. They were buried deep down within his heart…he would never let those secrets submerge after Akechi's supposed death.

"…So you have no intention of giving us the key?" he asked. He wanted to steer away from this topic before it got out of hand.

"If you want the key, you'll have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands!" Devil declared. "Come now. You guys are tired of looking at someone who speaks nothing but the truth about how your leader is."

The Phantom Thieves as a whole did want a piece of Devil Joker now. Once it became clear that Akechi interpreted their leader as someone who would throw them under the bus in favor of someone who had attempted to murder him, they were ready to throw down. Joker reluctantly took out his weapon. Maybe if he admitted to what Devil said…he would surrender the key to the group…

No…that's what he wants. He wants me to turn my back on the others. I won't do it. Joker told himself.

"Before we start, I would like to propose background music," Devil Joker declared. He was mainly talking to his henchmen. They gave him an annoyed look. "Justin, play my favorite tune!"

Joker was convinced that perhaps Akechi had too fun imagining what type of individual he was if he was going to make a demon play music while they fought. Justin had an utterly disgusted look on his face as he magically took out a violin. He started to play a sinister yet beautiful melody…fitting for an overlord such as the Devil himself. Cognitive Joker had no problem moving out of his throne to the sweet violin music.

Good music could not last forever. Justin might have been playing an evil tune but Carol decided to ruin the blue oni's performance. He created a lute out of thin air and began playing his own tune that clearly had nothing to do with what Devil Joker wanted. The expression the red oni made rivaled that of a clown wearing a comedy mask. Justin's face warped to a tragic mask with Carol's interference. Devil Joker was out of his chair and walking toward the Phantom Thieves, but the moment the melody went off tune, he stopped. He turned his back on the thieves in order to scold his men.

"What are you two doing?!" he asked in an angry tone.

"It was him!" Justin exclaimed as the magical violin vanished into thin air. "I was doing what you told me!"

"Justin is a goody two-shoes. And Boss, you need to know that fancy music like that ain't gonna cut it. We need rock and roll! Death metal! The villainous organ!"

Carol had no problem admitting to messing Justin up, but he was going to take the blue oni down with him.

Devil Joker shook his head in annoyance. "You two will pay to work for me when I am through with these intruders."

Both oni weren't expecting that response (or did they?) They both shrieked knowing they fucked up.

"We'll die if you make us pay to work for you, Boss!"

"You're so cruel, Boss!"

Regardless of the whining and complaining, the two demons were prepared to aid Devil in his "test". Joker made a mental note to pay attention to Carol and Justin. Who knew what would happen if Justine and Caroline fought the same way as these oni.

"I only need to test one of you…" Devil added as he stared at Joker.

That was a trap. Complying with Devil meant that he would take advantage of the one versus one situation. Joker could not afford to let this fake run amok.

"I decline," Joker answered honestly.

"Tch, you're no fun," complained Devil but he didn't seem all too upset. "I expected as much."

Again, shadows spawned behind the group, forcing Joker to split his team up. He needed the guys to back him up and had the girls deal with the reinforcements.

"Panther, Queen, Noire, help me take this faker down," Joker ordered. "Skull, Fox, Mona…you keep those shadows under control."

Traversing the tree exhausted the thieves. They couldn't stop now. They had to retrieve the third key and return to the mansion. If the fight went sour, the guys should have cleared a path for them to escape.

"Carol, take that one. Justin, take the other one. I can handle my faker and the sheep next to him."

By sheep, he meant Noire. Her hair was fluffy enough to pass for one. It was meant as an insult. The expression Joker had made it seem like sheep wasn't meant to berate the female thief but Noire thought otherwise.

"A-A sheep?"

"He's just taunting you," Joker told her. "Don't let him get to you."

"Huh? I'm taunting her? A sheep is what she is."

Noire eyed Devil Joker suspiciously. If he thought calling her mindless slave was a compliment, he had another thing coming!

It didn't take long until the fight begun. Devil stood in the middle with his two demon guards protecting him from the front. They both had their clubs out ready to strike down anyone that opposed them. However, Devil warned them to "observe and charge" instead of recklessly going in for the attack. They obeyed without a second thought.

"Be careful, guys, he's planning something," Oracle warned them.

"I know," said Joker. "We'll be watching for his attack pattern. Everyone, keep your guards up!"

Devil didn't play by the rules. Testing the waters allowed the Phantom Thieves to see what he was capable of. Devil was how Akechi viewed Joker. If Cake implied that the detective thought highly of Joker, it would reflect in battle. Devil demonstrated as much.

Joker tested Devil by firing a warning shot at him. The incubus didn't even flinch when the bullet flew past his cheek. When Joker did aim to hurt him, he moved out of the way of the bullets. Noire used this opportunity to strike him with her axe. Again, the shadow moved out of the way at the last minute, predicting where she would swing at.

Makoto casted Flash Bomb hoping to hit Devil along with the other demons. The two oni stood there and took the damage but Devil simply hovered over the ground to avoid being hit. He yawned at the "weak" attempt to damage him. Panther tried to use Agidyne but that was the one spell that probably wouldn't work on Devil in retrospect. He took the hit like a champ as the attack did nothing.

"If this is your attempt to test me, let me tell you, it's making you all look bad," Devil groaned. "Either you come at me with everything you got or these two idiots are going to deal with you."

They needed to scan what Devil was weak against, but he wouldn't let Oracle get a good read on him. His body wrapped itself in a purple aura. Oracle gasped feeling something hit her visors.

"I can't get a reading on him!" she exclaimed.

Devil chuckled as a response. "I'm just like Goro sees me as. If he can't get a good read on me, then no one can."

But I know myself better than Akechi does. Joker told himself. He took aim at Devil's leg and fired his gun again. Devil didn't take well to the underhanded tactic and surprisingly deflected it.

"You never fail to surprise me," Devil taunted. "That is what Goro would say."

"Don't mock me…" Joker growled. "Oracle, if you can't get a read on him, then get the other two."

The raven haired teen referred to the two bodyguards. They seem to be standing there but upon further inspection, for every minute the thieves focused on their leader, they spent time casting buff spells on each other. Now that they were prioritized, they started attacking.

"Agidyne!" the red oni yelled.

"Bufudyne!" the blue oni followed up afterward.

They specifically aimed at Joker at the same time. The thief leader dodged one spell but the other one hit him. He flinched at the flames hitting his arm. As powerful as the attack was, he had suffered worse injuries.

"We're not done yet!" Carol hollered. "Maragidyne!"

"Mabufudyne!"

With how fast they were firing the spells, it was difficult to dodge them. Panther might have taken the fire hit like a champ but she fell down when her ice weakness got exposed. Queen forced herself to take both spells. Fire and ice cancelled out the effects they normally would have. Joker flinched feeling his legs get frozen only to take a full hit from the flames. He almost screamed in pain. Noire barely dodged the fire spell only to be impaled in the arm by the ice attack.

"That was really powerful!" Oracle exclaimed. "Are you alright?"

Joker wanted to snark about how he wasn't okay but he kept his attention on Devil. Would Devil try to get his oni to fire spells at an alarming rate?

"We got to charge again," Carol lamented.

"I told you to save that sake for fights like this," Justin scolded. "Having to wait for you to charge is a pain in the ass."

"I can just go in and maul them with my club."

"You'll miss."

Devil snickered more at the Phantom Thieves than his minions. Panther slowly stood up. Her head felt woozy and she didn't know why.

"If you're going to give up, now is the time. I'm a generous man. I am willing to spare you."

The Phantom Thieves weren't leaving until they got the third key to the palace. Joker should have swapped Queen and Noire out with Skull and Mona. If the demons were fire and ice, then it would be best to avoid having Panther and Fox in battle. The problem was that the large amount of shadows outside of the throne room prevented the group from swapping.

"You must be really cocky if you think that we'll just walk away without the key," Joker told him.

"Cocky, eh? I think overconfident is the better word."

He really has my snark down. Joker thought grimly to himself. Hopefully, Oracle got the time to scan those two demons.

Oracle finished scanning Justin and Carol. If Devil Joker wouldn't leave an opening, then his minions would. It required some time, but she felt like she had an idea on how to handle them. The thieves guarded while they waited for Oracle to give them the juicy details. If the thieves didn't attack, then Devil ordered his minions to prioritize charging their attacks instead.

"I got it!" yelled Oracle. "The red one is weak against ice and deflects fire. The blue one is weak against fire and deflects ice. The red one focuses on physical attacks and the blue one prioritizes magic."

Unfortunately, Oracle couldn't get a reading on Shadow Joker. This guy protected himself as well as Joker did. The orange haired teen felt that if they focused on the oni, Cognitive Joker would not interfere. His cockiness would be the downfall in this battle.

"And the Devil?" Queen asked.

"Uh…I can't get a reading still. Just focus on the demons and be careful."

That wasn't exactly that helpful. These oni proved to be more troublesome than their appearance made them out to be. Once Oracle revealed their weakness, they wasted no time in covering for each other. Fox was occupied with the shadows outside of the throne room so he couldn't assist with dealing with Carol. Focusing on Justin made sense given his weakness to fire. Alas, Panther just couldn't hit him when Carol intentionally stepped in front of him and deflected the flames back at the thieves.

Joker tried to force a knock down situation…but that was when Devil stepped up his game. Should Joker try to cheat the fight, Devil would do the same thing to his comrades. They weren't fast enough to stop the fake from replicating Joker's movement.

"Are you serious? Joker, he's literally you!" Oracle exclaimed.

"Of course! I can do anything that he can do. Goro watched you battle after all." He laughed softly to himself. "And of course, Goro witnessed how you all battled. It would make sense for someone like me to remember each and every movement and have my moves around what you do."

At this point, Devil used a purple shadow to pull out a revolver. He pointed it toward Joker and started to pull the trigger. Joker momentarily froze. Devil's words about Akechi watching them only served to confirm the reason why everyone didn't want to help him. Sooner or later, he would use the data he had against them. He didn't do a good job in Shido's palace, but Cognitive Joker was the type of shadow to exploit a trauma.

"Joker!" Noire squeaked as she leaped off the ground and jumped in front of the bullet meant for her leader. She shrieked feeling dark magic being lodged into her shoulder.

"Noire!" Joker called out.

"I-I'm fine…" she murmured. "It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would."

"That was a warning shot," Devil warned. "If you don't entertain me, I will start treating these shadow bullets like real bullets. I am not giving up the key unless you defeat me in combat and prove you have the resolve to save Goro. If not, I do not need to waste time with vermin."

Would Devil be the type of shadow to get rid of the one item they needed to progress if it meant protecting the person he loved? Joker wondered if shadows were capable of feeling positive emotions. Even Shadow Futaba wasn't the nicest individual around.

Joker snapped out of his thoughts because of Oracle. Without her, he probably would have thought about things some more without realizing how a battle was still going on and it wasn't in their favor.

"This is going nowhere," Oracle proclaimed. "We need a way to stop those demons from doing too much damage to us."

Justin and Carol might have been obnoxious henchmen but Devil handpicked them for a reason. They can deflect any attack aimed at the other effectively removing each other's weakness if someone tried to exploit their elemental weakness.

At this point, Devil made it clear that he had no intention of killing the Phantom Thieves. He made it obvious that he wanted them to waste their time and energy on him and his bodyguards. Cake was the person who allowed them to traverse the palace despite the angels moving around. They only needed the third key from Devil but even then, they could wait and just go for the one Cognitive Shido had instead. They just needed to finish up…

"You can give up now," Carol started.

"You can't beat us." Justin added.

"We're the best."

"At what we do."

"The Devil hired us."

"To finish you."

Once they finished adding onto each other's sentence, the two finally unleashed their charged up attack. It wasn't anything the Phantom Thieves had seen before. The attack was so strong that even those not participating in the fight got knocked down from the sudden gust. Noire had also fallen over from the strong gust.

"What was that?!" Queen questioned.

"A team attack," the demons hummed in union. "We will do it again if it means pleasing our boss."

They might have said this but Carol kept on swinging his mace. He attempted to hit Queen in the face. She moved at the last minute. He ended up smacking at her chest instead causing her to retreat further. Panther tried to use this instance to hit Justin. He was prepared. A Fire Wall spell had been casted to protect him from an otherwise lethal move. Joker had to switch Personas and heal Noire and the others before he could even hope of hitting Devil. Devil had the audacity to turn his back on his opponent.

"If you can't even handle these goons, you aren't worth my time," Devil mocked. "Carol, Justin, if they take too long to win, just force them out of the tree. They aren't even worth killing."

"Sure thing, Boss," they responded in union. "Time to speed things up!"

The moment the two oni started casting buff spells on each other, Joker knew they had to do something quickly. They were already using tactics that allowed them to take the least amount of damage. Now, they were casting spells that made themselves resilient to their weakness. They also had spells that allowed them to avoid attacks and spells where both physical and magical attacks were nullified completely. The one thing they lacked was healing spells, and this was the only saving grace of this fight. Either the Phantom Thieves hit them hard or they go home.

"How are they powering up each other so quickly?" Panther asked. "They're faster than anything we have fought so far."

I know. Joker thought to himself. What makes them tick?

Queen suddenly had an idea. "They're demons that are obsessed with money, right? What can we do to distract them from the fight?"

Oracle had the answer. "Oh, there's some expensive stuff in this room. Like…the vase."

Joker didn't look around the room when he forced his way in. He didn't get a good look of his surroundings. Besides the throne, there were other expensive items in the throne room. Vases, picture frames, glass…anything that could have been stolen from aristocrats. Akechi still kept the idea that the Phantom Thieves stole more than just the hearts of people…

"Are you suggesting we destroy the items in the room?" Queen asked.

The oni just weren't going to sit there and let the group talk about this plan.

"Don't you fucking dare destroy Boss's furniture!" Carol cursed. "You know how hard it took to get those?! You know how much it would cost to fix them?!"

"We would rather you think about fighting us than fighting the furniture," Justin added.

Joker rolled his eyes. Oracle's suggestion would be optimal.

"Oh, you two know what will happen if something were to break…" Devil warned them. "You won't just be paying for the repairs…I will have your heads."

The oni shrieked at the threat. "Boss, anything but that!"

Joker looked over to Noire. He needed to trust Oracle with the plan. If they weren't being played, then this would make the battle end faster. They couldn't afford to waste any more time.

"Noire," Joker addressed. "Can I trust you to handle it? You're the only one here they aren't focusing on."

"I can," she answered. "Just tell me when."

Devil wasn't stupid. He knew what she was planning. The plan wouldn't work on him. His minions weren't as smart so they didn't even notice when Noire had withdrawn from the frontlines. Justin focused on Panther while Carol prioritized Queen, leaving a duel between the real Joker and the imposter Joker.

Words did not need to be exchanged. Fighting Devil was like fighting a reflection. Devil didn't have Personas to summon but whatever Joker did, he mimicked the action immediately. Devil shared the same weakness as the real thing depending on what Persona Joker had. Alas, just because Joker could exploit the weakness of a Persona with an attack that it was weak against, it didn't mean Devil would stand there. Thor proved that. A Persona weak against Psy was given a laughable Psy move just to exploit that particular weakness. Devil laughed when Thor performed the move that should have knocked him down. Devil hovered above Joker as a response.

"You're smarter than I give you credit for," Devil praised. He clapped sarcastically shortly after. "This is how a mirror match is supposed to go."

"If this is a mirror match, why won't you let yourself get punched?"

"Now, why would I want to do harm to my beautiful face, silly?"

The two lookalikes went back to clashing their weapons and spells together. All the rumbling could have alerted anybody on the outside but there were no signs of Cognitive Shido knowing a battle took place in the very giant tree below his church. Panther and Queen did their job and made the oni pay attention to them. Oracle had this nagging feeling that they were playing into Devil's hand despite not being able to stop what the group had in mind.

Noire just needed to get to the other side of the throne room and get the oni to lose motivation. What better way to end a fight than just making the henchmen quit? It put the rumors the other demons said while heading to the throne room in the tree memorable.

I hope this works. Noire thought to herself. If what those demons said were true, then these demons should just abandon their leader if they are put in a situation where it was their life over Devil Joker's life.

Noire did question why they didn't just do this sooner. The vase was in plain sight. Demons weren't exactly smart so they would leave something so expensive out just to take advantage of it later. Hell, Oracle only considered the idea to make the bodyguards think about their greed instead of their loyalty to Devil.

Getting the vase was harder than it looked. Avoiding attacks thrown in all directions of the room plus attempting to move something heavy only made things worse. She told Joker she could handle it and she would stick by her words.

Wait, I don't need to carry the vase…I just need to break it.

With that thought in mind, Noire was ready to turn the tides of battle. Once she initiated the plan concerning the vase, Devil tried to stop it. At this point, Joker forced Devil into a deadlock. If Devil was exactly like Joker, he wouldn't want to end this knife to knife deadlock. The sound of metal clashed against each other as Joker held him in place. Devil was rather surprised that Joker put himself at risk like that.

"You think you're so smart because you know everything I'm going to do. Too bad for you that I know what you're going to do. Strange, isn't it?!"

At that moment, Noire knocked one of the vases over. The thing about fighting in a throne room was that there were too many valuable items to use to their advantage. This vase was intentionally higher in the air and once Noire knocked it off, it made the oni lose complete focus upon hearing it shatter.

"OH NO! NOT THE VASE!" Carol screamed. "HOW MUCH HEL WAS THAT WORTH?!"

"Like 1,000,000,000,000 hel," Justin answered coldly.

"HOW MANY ZEROS IS THAT?! ACTUALLY, FORGET THAT! HOW ARE WE GOING TO PAY FOR THAT VASE?!"

"The same way we always do…we don't…"

The two demons simply did not care about the enemy anymore. Noire returned to the battle but it was already over at this point. Panther and Queen gave each other a look before they attacked the two oni at the same time. Panther unleashed her fire spell on Justin while Queen charged into Carol with her Persona. Carol was sent flying into the wall. Justin tried his best to keep his giant sake bottle from catching on fire. Alas, nothing he did was going to work and he was going to lose what he valued the most.

"Get it together, you idiots!" Devil threatened.

Unfortunately, the oni pair were done at this point. Devil tried to go against his original plan. Joker saw the opening and knocked the demon to the ground. He then unleashed Arsene to do enough damage to Devil so he would be immobilized. Knowing Akechi, killing this shadow would only serve to damaging his psyche. Devil needed to be reasoned with.

Carol slowly got back up only to be met by the firearms carried by the Phantom Thieves. Everyone including Joker had their guns pointed to the three demons. When Joker gave the signal, they would open fire on them. Carol reached into his caveman tunic to grab something. At first, it looked like a hidden weapon. Yet the moment Carol took the item out, the thieves lowered their weapons.

"I SURRENDER! I GIVE UP! I AIN'T DYING HERE!" Carol cried. The item was a white flag that he waved in the air. Devil leered at the red oni.

"Carol, I told you to get rid of the flag! You are a disgrace to all demons!"

"Carol has the right idea…" Justin agreed. "I need to fix this. Sake is more important to me than my life…but I can't fix this bottle if I die here."

Carol and Justin wasted no time opening their sake bottle. It created a white mist that forced the Phantom Thieves to cover their mouths. If it was poisonous, they were screwed. The thick mist covered the two oni. They giggled and said farewell to their boss before they weren't heard from again. The smoke cleared as quickly as it appeared. Only Devil was left. Joker saw that Devil attempted to use the mist to get away from the thieves. He hit the shadow in the shin, hoping Devil would surrender like his lackeys.

"Cowards, both of you…" Devil growled. "When I find you two again, I am firing you and will make you pay for my losses…"

Joker made a mental note to never imagine Justine and Caroline like that if he wanted to not get killed by them in the Velvet Room. Still, the fight felt a little too easy in his opinion. This was supposed to be a cognitive version of him and Akechi knew he was strong…so why did he feel like something was off?

"Yeah! Take that, faker!" Skull declared.

"…That's what I was going to say…" Joker grumbled, "It's over. You might as well give us the key."

Devil snarled as he tried to move but the injury he sustained in the shin prevented him from doing so. There was an attempt to play it off like he wasn't injured but his arm said otherwise. Joker approached thinking that there wouldn't be much of a resistance.

"Joker, be careful…something is clearly off!" Oracle yelled.

The raven haired teen knew that and still approached. He wanted that third key for Cake. When Joker got too close to his clone, that was when a powerful aura shot out of the demon. Joker's eyes widened in horror when he realized that he couldn't move his body at all. The Phantom Thieves only saw purple goo suddenly appear underneath Joker and his replica.

"I'd rather drag you down with me than give the key to you and let you all hurt Goro…"

The devil suddenly lunged at Joker and grabbed at his arm. Joker underestimated the strength his cognitive self still had and found himself being dragged into the goo. He could barely register the voices of his friends screaming to him. Someone must have grabbed at his cape and pulled him back but it was a struggle between a scary force below the surface and his friends who were trying to save him from his carelessness.

From now on, I am you and you are now me. Enjoy your life in the palace.

Joker blinked before he only saw the purple goo. That purple goo had covered him completely. He couldn't scream for help. He struggled to move or even breathe. The goo wasn't anything like water, yet he thought he was drowning. A sinister laughter rang in his ears as he swore his soul was being ripped out of his body.

Skull, Panther and Noire had reacted the fastest to Joker's sudden distress and attempted to save him before the goo swallowed him completely. The goo put up a fight. At a few points, Oracle noted that the goo transformed into the shape of a horse in a vain attempt to kick the other thieves away. Skull snarled and punched at the horse's face effectively causing the goo to lose some power. Oracle had no time to scan what the goo was and what it was trying to do to their leader.

The goo suddenly gave up its efforts on trying to claim Joker as one of its victims allowing Skull, Panther and Noire to pull him out of danger. The purple goo evaporated into the floor before no traces of the shadow remained.

"He got away!" Oracle exclaimed. She realized too late that the goo had something to do with Cognitive Joker. All traces of his presence vanished with the goo.

"Of course he did…" Mona hissed. "What better way to retreat than a sneak attack?"

"Joker, are you okay?" Noire asked. She, Skull, Panther and Queen were the main members to help Joker up. When he didn't respond, Noire assumed that he was stunned at the new turn of events.

"Dammit…he got away…" Joker growled. "I let my guard down."

"We're just going to have to chase after that asshole!" Skull declared.

"Skull, that isn't a great idea," scolded Queen. "We don't know where Cognitive Joker even went."

"Higher…" Joker muttered, confusing the thieves. "He went up the tower."

"How do you know?" Queen asked suspiciously.

"If that shadow goes down the tower, the angels might catch him. He can only go higher from here without reaching the church."

Before Queen could ask for Joker to elaborate, the leader immediately changed the subject.

"We have no time to talk about this. We need to pursue him now."

"Sounds good to me," Skull hummed. "When we corner him, we'll make him give up the key."

The Phantom Thieves could not afford to waste any more time. Despite being shaken up, Joker insisted that he was fine. If they kept going, they would eventually run into a safe house where they can wait. One by one, the thieves quickly left unaware of how twisted Joker's expression became once he was the last one to follow them.


Joker blinked his eyes a few times before his mind came to. He needed to recall what happened.

We found Akechi's cognitive of me and we fought him. We beat him easily but I got dizzy and fainted…

His thought trailed off when he noticed that he wasn't wearing gloves. Something was off. The next thing he noticed was that he was lying on top of a beautiful mattress with clean, white sheets. This wasn't a bed he was familiar with. He attempted to sit up but felt a pain in his shoulder. This confused him greatly. Joker was certain he wasn't injured in combat. If anything, he was certain that he hit his cognitive self in the shoulder instead…

"Joker, you're finally awake. Thank goodness."

Joker cocked his head in confusion. It was Akechi's voice but only lighter in tone. He didn't need to turn around to see it was Shadow Akechi.

"Uh…Cake…what happened?"

The use of the name confused the shadow. Joker could hear him gasping before he was met with silence.

"Only the real Joker would call me that…so…you're not the Joker I'm friends with…"

Once Joker turned around to get a glimpse of Shadow Akechi, he noticed immediately why the shadow seemed disappointed. There was a mirror to Cake's side and he noticed that his clothes were different. He wasn't a Phantom Thief anymore. He was now the Devil. Joker's eyes widened in horror at the surprising turn of events as he looked over to see Akechi's shadow trying to hide his annoyance.

"What is going on?" Joker asked. "Why am I dressed up like this? Where are my clothes? Where is everyone?"

"Please don't ask so many questions at once," Cake answered. "I'm trying to figure out what Joker's plan is…"

Besides not having any control of his palace, Akechi had no idea what went on in the palace either. Joker needed to calm down if he wanted to get the information he needed.

"First of all, you're going to need to explain why there is a cognitive version of me in here and no one else."

Shadow Akechi knew the answer very easily. "Because you're very important to him."

Joker could believe that…except Akechi's interpretation of him was this handsome devil who happened to be a huge trickster. The interpretation wasn't wrong by any means, but he felt slightly offended that Akechi's view of him was rather shallow.

"So he thinks I'm a sexy demon?" Joker had to ask.

Cake noted the teasing tone and nodded his head. "His feelings of you are very complicated." Cake debated on telling the raven haired teen before deciding it was for the best. "Remember how he said that he was drawn to you?"

Joker nodded his head. Akechi always mentioned this whenever they bumped into each other.

"He was fine with being able to talk to you. My host bottles everything inside and when combined with Daddy harassing him, his interpretation of you changed."

Joker frowned at how Cake could not stop referring to Shido as "Daddy". Some habits are hard to break.

"Daddy had threatened my host multiple times about him slacking off. He always wanted him to do his assassination missions without caring about the schedule he already had. Failure resulted in multiple threats to hurt him…and he did go through with some of them." Cake sighed thinking about it. "My host convinced himself that you were to blame after Daddy referred to you in a negative light."

He must be talking about my criminal record. Joker thought darkly to himself.

"Joker started to manifest into something the longer this went on. What started out as the normal you transformed into a demon. My host is convinced that you are trying to tempt him to change. Not like change is a bad thing. If Joker were to succeed, then my host would be free from Daddy's influence, but he would have to suffer the consequences of staying with the devil."

There was a metaphor in there somewhere. Either way, Joker wished he had the opportunity to get Akechi to abandon Shido. If he did, then he wouldn't have felt the guilt of leaving the detective for dead. He didn't want to go through that again. To be told that he held so much power over the detective wounded him greatly.

"Joker is weird…" Cake continued. "I can't get a read on him. He says he wants to save me from my suffering. He wants to take me out of this palace. He tells me wonderful things that I want to hear. They're genuine words…" He trailed off.

"My words have always been genuine." Joker told the shadow. "I know how Akechi is. He probably thinks that I choose my words carefully just to manipulate him…right?"

Cake nodded his head.

"While I do choose my words carefully to not offend him, I do care about Akechi."

"I know you do. I assume the cognitive version of you demonstrates that very well."

Looking back on it, Devil Joker did seem different from all the rest. He wasn't interested in hurting the Phantom Thieves until he felt his plans were threatened. He had the same goal as they did after all. The Phantom Thieves wanted to change Akechi's heart while Devil Joker wanted Cake to "escape".

"He did…but that doesn't explain why I'm in his clothes…"

"I don't think you changed clothes as much as you swapped bodies with him." Cake admitted.

"…What?"

"Joker is a trickster. He probably has an ulterior motive to swapping places with you. Whatever the case, you are now in his body and he is in yours."

Joker paled. How could that happen? This hadn't happened before in the other palaces! Yes, he had an out of body experience turning into a mouse but this was something completely different!

"How do I change back?"

"No idea," Cake said rather quickly.

"Are you for real?"

"Yes, however…I feel you shouldn't worry too much. Joker can't leave the palace, so you should be able to get your body after Joker feels like you have accomplished your task."

"But what about the others?"

"Joker will probably act like nothing's wrong but lead them astray…" Cake rested his chin on his finger and pondered what he just said. "If he does that, they are at risk of dying. Joker is rather careless when handling the guards around the church…"

"Wait, so how has he been surviving on his own? Is he able to summon Personas?"

"No. He has your body, but he can't summon a Persona. Your friends will notice eventually. He might make an excuse on why he can't summon, but he will be a liability unless he persuades them to do his bidding. I suggest you figure out what Joker wants before confronting him. He will say that you are the enemy after all."

The leader of the Phantom Thieves shook his head in annoyance. Why were things so complicated? The third part of the palace was supposed to be easy. The shadow thought so himself seeing as how the area wasn't guarded. Devil Joker must have manipulated things to give him hell for the sole sake of it.

"Do you have any ideas what he might want from me?" Joker questioned, feeling his patience running thin.

"Well…besides being with me again…he probably wants you to do some research on your own without your friends." Cake opened his mouth to speak. A light bulb went off in his head as if he figured out what Devil Joker possibly wanted. His expression saddened as he looked away. "Oh…there is something…"

"What is it?"

"…You won't be happy…" Shadow Akechi lamented. "You might even hate my host after learning about it."

So far, nothing in this palace had changed Joker's opinion of Akechi. Yes, the detective was a pitiful person who needed all the support he could get, but Joker wasn't going to let Akechi's past cloud him of what the detective had done today. The memory sequences were important to fill the gaps explaining and justifying his decisions in the present time.

"I honestly doubt it. If I haven't changed my opinion after he shot me in the interrogation room, then nothing will."

Cake wasn't so sure about that. Joker noted that the shadow looked ready to cry. However, the shadow knew what he needed to do next.

"…This mansion isn't open to that many people…" Cake started as he tried to change the subject just slightly. "Only Daddy is supposed to come in but I had allowed Joker to come visit me when Daddy and his associates aren't looking. That is why you're here. Joker has tried to explore the place but because of the locks, he isn't able to do much. Because you have found two of the keys, you are able to unlock some of the doors in this place. The last room will have the treasure as you already know but you have to find the remaining keys first. Joker has the third key with him but knowing him, he has already unlocked the door into the room he wants you to see…alone."

Joker had all the information he needed. As Devil Joker, he could freely explore the mansion without alerting the shadows in the area. They were working with the cognitive version of him and wouldn't suspect a thing. However, the same could not be said for the angels who had no problem attacking him. Joker could handle them easily, but fighting them on his own would be a bad decision.

"Please be careful…" Shadow Akechi mumbled under his breath. "I am very worried about what Joker is planning."

Shadow Akechi gave the cutest puppy eyed look that Joker had ever seen on a person. The fact that this expression came from Akechi of all people caused his heart to thump. Shadows were supposed to be creepy, but this shadow was good at keeping his yellow eyes in check. It worked when he wanted to turn on the charm after all.

Joker chuckled nervously as he reached out and petted the shadow on his head. Cake enjoyed this display of affection and purred. He sounded so much like a cat with how relaxed he looked.

"I will be careful." Joker told him. "I just need to go through the rooms that my cognitive self couldn't get into originally and see what new information I can find. I will come back afterwards."

Shadow Akechi held onto that promise. As he allowed Joker to leave the room, he couldn't help but feel a sense of dread crawling up his spine. Joker thought the memories of Akechi's childhood were bad but how was he going to handle the next segment of recent memories that his host tried to hide? If Joker could get past this…then Akechi would be one step closer to opening his heart.

"…I really hope you know what you're doing, Joker…if Daddy finds out…he'll kill you…"


Having the freedom to access any room in the mansion was a blessing in disguise. It made sense that Devil Joker could enter any room. He was a demon that had known the layout of the mansion for as long as the palace manifested. Even if Joker wasn't with the other thieves, it gave him time to himself to find the memories that Akechi tried so desperately to hide from everyone. If what the thieves had seen before was bad, what else could the detective be hiding?

Every door that was locked to the group was open for Joker. These memories…were the small happy moments in Akechi's life. It was strange. The first door Joker was able to open was of his first meeting with the detective. The debate they had on TV did leave a lasting impression. In these rooms, Joker can hear Akechi's thoughts and feelings of the situation.

This boy is strange. He is not afraid to speak his mind. He is willing to make me look bad and not care what anyone else thinks. This will be interesting. Ah…I wish we could talk about justice after this…alas…

Joker did enjoy the debate. It gave him a different perspective of how people might view justice. The Phantom Thieves did the right thing but at the cost of breaking the law. Heck, it wasn't even a bad thing until their popularity skyrocketed…and then it pummeled all because of Akechi.

Once the memory ended, only silence remained. Joker waited for something else to happen, but these doors just had positive and confused feelings coming from the brunette. Joker needed to know more about what was going in Akechi's mind during these instances. It would allow the leader of the Phantom Thieves to be able to communicate with him better once they left his palace for the day. The next door Joker went into dealt with the memory concerning the time after dealing with Medjed. Joker didn't expect Akechi to open up to him like he did and with Futaba next to him.

Why am I telling him about my past? I haven't even told Sae-san about it. What makes him so special? Why does it matter? Do I just want his sympathy? Uh…I wish I could take it back. I have to pretend like this doesn't bother me…

Akechi, it didn't bother me. Joker thought to himself. I was actually…surprised and relieved when you told me. I wanted to know more about you…

Alas, Akechi didn't think the same thing. Again, when the memory was over, the room remained still. Joker tiptoed out of the room and closed the door quietly. There were still many rooms to go.

Do I really need to go through all of them? Joker asked himself. So far, these memories are what he thought about me when we interacted.

Joker wanted to continue but the problem appeared in the form of feeling guilty. Changing a heart meant invading someone's privacy. Akechi's closed off past was one thing but hearing what he felt in the moment of their conversations felt selfish and self-centered. Joker learning this wouldn't change anything. All it would do was satisfy his ego…and he didn't want that.

And yet…Joker continued looking through Akechi's memories of the times they had interacted. The happy memories started to fade away the more doors Joker opened. The sad prince that Akechi tried to hide started to reveal his true colors. It was around the time of Okumura's murder that Akechi started having self-doubts.

Shido-san wants me to kill Akira-kun and the rest of the thieves. I just need to stick with the plan…but…I really…don't want to. No. I cannot think of defying Shido-san. I have come too far now to think about other people's lives. I…

Joker assumed that this was the time where Akechi kept him at arm's length after the successful mission. The detective was troubled by something and clearly distracted. He pretended nothing was wrong and left the store sooner than usual.

The rest of the memories that Joker went through confirmed Akechi's opinion about the group. Besides Joker, he didn't see everyone in a positive light. That would explain why the rest of the Phantom Thieves have no cognition.

Still, most of Akechi's thoughts and memories were still locked onto the leader of the Phantom Thieves. Akira was his target but he found it incredibly difficult to go along with the plan.

That one memory that Joker tried to forget was behind one of the bigger doors. The thoughts were rather distorted but Joker could hear Akechi loud and clear.

I'm not going to die. I'm not going to die. I'm not going to die. Where is everyone? Are they really going to abandon me to the Grim Reaper?! No! No! No! No! I was so close! I don't want to die! A-Akira-kun!

The memory formed in the room for Joker to see. He remembered this clearly. The Phantom Thieves had messed around in Mementos just to collect more treasure. The Grim Reaper decided to show his ugly mug and pursued them. Because of the sudden ambush, some of the group had fallen out of the bus. It was a convenient time to dump Akechi seeing as how he was one of the people that fell out. Unfortunately, Joker refused to abandon the newest member of the thieves and had went against what everyone said in order to protect him. Before the Grim Reaper could one-shot the detective, Joker had already pushed Akechi out of the way and nearly avoided a fatal blow.

Joker had apologized to Akechi quickly. He didn't want Akechi to believe that he abandoned him. Alas, the thoughts that Joker started to hear confirmed the lack of trust of the other members.

Akira-kun came for me? Why? We're enemies. He probably knows I'm going to kill him and he saved me anyway? Why would he do that? Now we both might die…but…

Joker blinked noticing that the voice started to trail off. Akechi's mind seemed to white out as the memory vanished immediately.

Akira-kun saved me again…why do I feel so…happy…

The thoughts and feelings Akechi had confused Joker greatly. Was the brunette happy or angry with him for saving him? He didn't know…or rather…he couldn't comprehend what Akechi felt for him. If any of the thieves were around, they might have called him out for being oblivious. That wasn't the case, and he was putting the puzzle together on his own.

The thoughts were all mumbo jumbo at this point from the time in Sae's Palace to the betrayal to a shameful memory that Joker didn't remember to Shido's Palace.

I am nothing.

I need him.

I work alone.

He cares for me.

Killing Shido-san is my goal.

Akira-kun offered a way out.

He's the only one who cares…

He's manipulating you. He doesn't care.

He does!

I am alone.

What is this feeling?

Eventually, the voices stopped in the rooms entirely. The next room Joker went into was eerily silent. Either Joker had seen everything or Akechi was doing his best to keep his emotions in check.

I don't think I learned that much. Joker told himself. I just know that he's confused and he needs a friend to reassure him everything is okay.

Friends…that's all they were. If that was the case…why did Joker feel uneasy when Akechi's thoughts asked what he was feeling for the raven haired teen?

There was one more door that Joker had access to. This door gave a bad vibe in comparison to the other doors. For one, Joker was certain that this door was not present before. Another thing was that toxic aura spewed underneath the door as it made its way into the hallway. Joker had a bad feeling about this one…

Well, there's no harm in looking at this one. It will probably be another bad memory that Akechi tried to hide from us. Joker thought to himself as he slowly reached out and grabbed the handle. His body trembled as he slowly opened the door. Why was he the one feeling anxious? What was behind this door? There was only one way to find out.

This memory was different from the previous ones. Sorrow and rage circled around those memories but this one was different. Joker couldn't figure out what this emotion was supposed to be. It felt empty…devoid of all sorts of emotions…

And yet this is the memory that Cake wished that I wouldn't see but knows I need to. Joker told himself. If I want Devil Joker to give me back my body…I'll have to endure whatever horrible images I see.

Joker regretted opening the door. The previous memories were enough to show how messed up Akechi was. This one would have Joker witness something he was all too familiar with.

Joker arrived in a fancy room. The walls were painted a dark red and the room was dim due to the lamps at the corner of the rooms. Joker assumed it was a hotel room of some sorts. Whoever had this room must have been rich. He had some guesses on who this room was being used by.

Not too long after entering the room, Joker witnessed Akechi walk in with his father. If Joker had to guess, the detective was a year or two younger in this scenario. Would this be the memory where Akechi offered his help to his father?

No…something is off. Joker thought to himself as he saw Shido close the door. Akechi appeared to be nervous.

"Shido-san, who is the next target you want me to eliminate?" Akechi asked, trying to maintain his pleasant tone. "Is there a reason you wanted to talk in here instead of your office?"

The way Shido looked at Akechi caused Joker to tremble. The detective saw the same stare and tried his best to avoid eye contact.

"I do have a task for you, but it's not one you are used to."

Joker felt his heart sink.

"What do you mean, Shido-san? I am capable of doing anything for you."

Shido hummed at Akechi's response. He probably wasn't aware of what he was getting himself into.

"I need you to…entertain some important people for me."

"Huh? What do you mean?" Akechi asked nervously.

Joker watched as the door opened and men around the same age as Shido (if not older) had entered the room. One of Shido's men had allowed them in. Akechi was clearly confused on why potential political allies needed to be in here. On closer observation, one of them had a video camera on him. The door closed behind them. Akechi waited for Shido to speak to him but his attention was to the guests.

"Good evening, gentleman. I have brought my escort as you wanted," Shido started.

Joker's expression fell as did Akechi's.

"E-Escort?!" Akechi gawked in disbelief as he attempted to take a step back. There was nowhere for him to go. "W-What is the meaning of this, Shido-san?"

Shido gave his son a wicked smile. "These fine gentlemen are willing to work for me for a price. They saw you with me not too long ago and we made some negotiations about how our relationship will work. You will please these men and do what they tell you to do, and they will help me in the political world and garner more support."

Akechi couldn't believe his ears. "I-I didn't agree to this…" he squeaked but then kept his mouth shut.

"You said you were willing to do anything," Shido said. His expression darkened. "Or were you lying, you little brat?"

"N-No…of course not, Shido-san! I-It's just so sudden…"

Akechi looked to the other politicians hoping this was a mistake. The expressions these men have were far from sympathetic. Akechi saw the predatory gleam they gave him. They eyed him from head to toe. The detective didn't realize that he wrapped his arms around his body.

"He seems nervous Shido." One of the men addressed. "If I didn't know, he's acting like a virgin."

Shido chuckled. "I assure you that is the case. I groomed him until he was ready to help my future colleagues and myself out. This boy is inexperienced but eager to please. A long term investment will allow you to help him."

Oh, how Joker wanted to grab Akechi and run out of the room. With how things were going, Akechi was going to be…

"Oh? He's a virgin? I love them virgins." The cameraman spoke. Compared to the other three men dressed up like politicians, the cameraman appeared sleazy in comparison to everyone in the room. "I'm going to enjoy recording every minute of his cherry being popped."

The detective needed to remain calm. Alas, that wasn't happening. Shido had placed his hand on Akechi's shoulder. Akechi visibly showed fear and that was something his father loved to see.

"Be a good boy and pleasure these gentlemen," Shido ordered. "If you do a good job, you will be rewarded."

Akechi didn't believe a single word. The idea of being praised made his heart soar but a small praise was not worth what these men wanted to do to him. One of them already reached out and grabbed the brunette, causing him to yelp.

"B-But, Shido-san, I-."

Akechi was thrown onto the bed before he could finish his sentence. He bounced slightly before one of the men was on top of him. Akechi panicked as he tried to get the older man off. He wasn't having it and seized his wrists.

"Shido-san, since you were so generous to keep him a virgin until the time is right, why don't you take it first?" the cameraman asked with a perverted smile. "I don't mind recording it if you want this for later use."

Blackmail? Joker wondered to himself. If that were the case, it would explain why Shido had Akechi wrapped around his finger.

Akechi shook his head. "N-No…anything but…"

The detective gasped. His shirt was the first thing to go and that was before the negotiations were finalized. Akechi struggled but knew it was impossible to escape. If he fled, his plans were ruined. If he argued, he would be punished. All he could do was endure the pain. He didn't want to though.

"You are very kind," Shido said in an honest tone. "I adore my escort more than people realize."

Akechi should have been thrilled by such praise. His heart sank when Shido turned his attention to him. He suddenly felt very small in a room filled with adult men.

"Hey, Shido-dono," the cameraman started, "my customers enjoy some roughing up. May I request some scare shots?"

Normally, Shido would not have appreciated being spoken to like this. Then again, his goal was to get on their good side for future purposes.

"Be a good boy and do exactly what I tell you."

Joker immediately tried to intervene but he couldn't. His body went right through Shido. He couldn't stop the politician from getting on top of the bed and yanking at the rest of Akechi's clothes. Joker didn't want to watch him expose Akechi's body to the perverted men in the room.

"N-No!" the poor detective squeaked.

Just that small protest caused Akechi to be slapped across the cheek.

"You keep your mouth shut," the politician ordered. "You do not want to anger me now."

Even with the threat, Akechi still struggled. Shido had no problem requesting the assistance of the other politicians if they wanted to take a crack at his "escort". Besides the cameraman, the other predators eyed the detective like a piece of meat. The way his cries came out, the way he struggled and the way his body looked without his clothes, they couldn't resist. It didn't seem to matter if Akechi was underage and not consenting. They wanted to make a mess of him.

Joker knew he should have turned away once he realized there was no way he could interfere with Akechi's memory. Unfortunately, he couldn't look away. He saw how the adults have seized Akechi's wrists and held him above his head. He saw how the men put their greedy hands on the detective's fair body. He saw Shido being the main instigator with "calming" Akechi down.

And then he witnessed Shido's way of "calming" the teen down was to crush his lips against Akechi's. Joker heard a horrifying sound come from the young detective as he was scared into obedience with Shido's action. Shido made it clear that if he resisted he would be punished. Obeying was the only way to make things as painless as possible.

Shido pulled away to allow his son to breathe. The teen wanted to throw up but couldn't. The cameraman kept his camera on the brunette.

"Oh, you didn't like what Shido-dono had to offer you?" he asked in a perverted tone. Teenagers like you are ungrateful to the adults who are offering you their love."

Akechi glared weakly at the cameraman. How dare he imply that adults even cared for someone like him?! That reaction only caused the man to smirk.

"Oh, this is going to make a good film."

Before Akechi could argue, Shido had forced their lips together again. This time, he resigned to his fate and allowed his father to do as he pleased. The disgust didn't wash away even after the first kiss. This was wrong and cruel and disgusting but he had to lean into the kiss. He couldn't afford to fall out of Shido's favor.

The older man broke away from the kiss again with a trail of saliva parting with it.

"You will learn in due time how to use your tongue," Shido told his son. "You will also allow yourself to let these men do as they please. Understand?"

"Y-Yes, sir…" Akechi mumbled weakly. He tilted his head downward as if to avoid another kiss.

"If you understand, then stop trying to avoid confrontation."

"…What…do you expect me to do?" Akechi asked timidly. "I…don't know…"

It was pathetic. The usually charismatic detective could barely string words together. He couldn't just admit he had no idea how to pleasure a man.

Shido suddenly released Akechi from his grip. The detective froze up thinking he said something Shido did not want to hear. That was partially correct but Shido did not lash out at him again.

"You are capable of spreading your legs," Shido told him. "I shouldn't have to be the one to do it for you."

The detective made the mistake of looking his father in the eye. The man's glare made him almost forget to breathe. He looked over to the other men, and they waited in anticipation for him to do what he was told. Akechi shut his eyes tightly as he did what he was told. He wasn't the most flexible teenager, but he hoped that the distance he spread his legs would be enough to please his father. Akechi flinched hearing the men gawk.

"I-Is this okay, Shido-san?" Akechi asked in a quiet voice.

The silence that followed the question made things worse for Akechi. He wanted to close his legs when given the opportunity but he needed his father's approval first. If Joker was actually there, he would be the only one looking away at how vulgar Shido made Akechi act. It made his heart sink. The detective tried asking again:

"S-Shido-san-ahh?!"

Without any warning, Shido yanked at his hair. Akechi tried to shrink his size when he did that but the politician wanted none of that. The detective usually wasn't so submissive and it just seemed like another deliberate mask put up. The problem stemmed from Akechi freaking out about the situation he was in. Squeaking like a mouse was also out of character when Akechi felt something poke at his stomach.

"S-S-Shido…sa…"

"Silence," ordered Shido. "Do not speak unless I tell you to."

Akechi needed to speak up. Otherwise, his father was going to…

"Akechi!" Joker cried out. Despite it being a memory, he felt compelled to shout at him. "Fight back! Don't let this asshole take advantage of you!"

At that moment, Akechi could have used those encouraging words. No one there supported him getting out of this situation. They embraced his fear of the sexual unknown. The cameraman waited for Shido to start. Shido had no intention of preparing his son for intercourse. Akechi jumped feeling the tip of the politician's cock rub against his hole. The brunette opened his mouth to protest. However, Shido's order rang in his ear and he remained silent. He closed his eyes instead and tried to imagine being anywhere else but in bed with his father.

It felt like eternity before Shido finally pushed in. He didn't even wait for Akechi to adjust to just the tip. He pushed his hard cock in without a care in the world. Akechi screamed feeling Shido inside of him. Without the lubricant, he felt the full force of the pain. The politicians around the bed enjoyed the sound he made and cared not about the state of the teen.

"Take it out…" Akechi cried out, "Please…take it out…"

"Shut up."

Shido showed no mercy. Akechi's walls were tight and despite Shido's large size, he was able to fit his cock in.

"Shido-dono, your escort is taking it in like a champ!"

Akechi refused to believe the cameraman. He squirmed under his father's grip. Shido held him in place and the pain kept building.

"S-Shido-san, it hurts!" Akechi sobbed. "M-My body! It can't…"

The detective was caught off by a strange sound. He didn't realize he made the sound immediately. Shido's usually calm expression changed ever so slightly. The perverted men surrounding the bed made animalistic noises as a response to whatever Akechi did.

"That was a good sound," the cameraman said. He licked his lips. "Why not make more of those cute moans?"

"M-Moans?"

The fear only built up inside of Akechi even more. He clearly didn't want Shido to be doing this and yet he apparently made a sound of approval. Why did that happen? He soon learned that he was making the noise because of where Shido's cock was hitting him. Every hard thrust in that spot caused Akechi to shiver.

"Feeling better?" Shido questioned in a mocking tone. "That's the end result, boy."

Akechi choked out a pathetic sob feeling Shido hit his sweet spot repeatedly. The pain subsided and replaced with something else. The fear refused to leave his mind and body. Shido was making him lose complete control of the situation. Begging for his father to stop didn't help. These perverted men wanted a show so they weren't going to lift a finger. His body betrayed his mind on what he had to do. All that was left for the detective to do was pray that this would all be over soon.

"Look at me, brat." Shido ordered. "I want to see that pretty face of yours when you cum."

Akechi's eyes widened at his father's orders. He peaked an eye open before he shut it again. His face was horribly flushed and he was completely out of breath before this was even over.

"What an adorable expression," the cameraman said in a mocking tone. "Keep making it for the camera."

"Ahh…ahh…no…" Akechi moaned. Tears already stained his eyes.

Joker couldn't watch this anymore. As erotic as Akechi's moans were…as mesmerizing as his body was…as much as a dark desire wanted to come in and join those perverted adults in ruining the young male…

Joker took a step back. Something was coming up from his stomach to his throat. The raven haired teen had to look away. His legs gave up on him as he kneeled down and finally hurled. Focusing on the sick feeling allowed him to miss the moment when Akechi was forced to climax. The men in the room gasped or applauded at Shido for the amazing scene before them. Shido grunted before spewing his liquids inside of his son.

"Was that so hard?" the man asked in annoyed tone. He wasted no time removing himself from his son's body and fixing himself up. "I hope that was to your liking."

"O-Of course, Shido-dono! The moment you made the boy cum was perfect! My customers are going to love it!"

Akechi needed to catch his breath. He thought the pain was over and the men would leave him alone.

"You may now do what you want with him," announced his father. "He will enjoy every minute of it now that he got a taste from me."

"N-No!" Akechi croaked when the men laughed at Shido's approval. Now, their attention was fully on Akechi as they prepared to use his body however they wished. "N-No! G-Get away!"

The cameraman licked his lips again. He made the lens zoom in on Akechi's terrified face as one of the men got on top of him to take Shido's place. The brunette screamed when another cock was shoved into him again. Begging for Shido to get them to stop fell on death's ear. Shido stood back to watch his son be abused by the men who would help further his political career.

Akechi still held onto the hope that Shido had a heart, that after seeing different men assaulting him that his father would finally step in. That never happened. These men tried different positions with the detective…positions that forced Akechi to stretch his body to its limits. The choked sobs and pleas eventually stopped and were replaced with pleasurable moans. The light in Akechi's eyes all but vanished as he soon submitted to the whims of the men in the room. Shido gave Akechi a pleased expression as if praising him for learning his place.

With no one coming to help him, Akechi finally complied with the cameraman's wishes. No longer did he care who would see him being gangbanged by these perverted men. He just pretended that he was no longer in the room.

Joker wished he didn't look back into the room to see if the memory was done. He saw the broken smile Akechi gave to the camera. Joker's heart twisted. He didn't realize that a Persona was summoned at that moment.

"Calm your heart."

Joker heard Arsene speak to him in his mind. Yet, rage took over. Arsene disapproved of Joker's actions but he still obeyed the thief's command. Joker roared as Arsene slashed at Shido and the men in the room. He should not have been surprised that he was cutting nothing but air. The room was empty so the only thing he was hacking away at was the worn out bed and the furniture in the room. It did not matter if the angels heard a battle cry and rushed to see what was going on. He couldn't handle the memory anymore.

"If you let your emotions cloud your eyes, you will lose yourself to the illusion."

Joker slashed the area where Shido was. No matter how many times he hacked at him, the man did not flinch. Instead, he looked over in the direction of Joker as if he acknowledged his presence. He smirked before looking away. Joker's rage continued to build.

"You filthy scum! How many lives do you continue to ruin?!"

Why did Joker expect Shido to answer him? He was just a memory but Joker treated him like the real person. His own hatred toward the man seethed through his actions. He wanted this man to pay. A change of heart wasn't enough for him. He deserved worse. He deserved death.

Why did I let that man go free? Why didn't I just end him? Why did we just let him win the election and let the useless adults judge him? Sae-san isn't going to change anything! We're still screwed! We're still…

Joker's temper ended when the vision finally stopped but that was only because he had slammed his knife into the ground. As usual, the attack went through the memory and he was left in an empty room. The knife was now stuck in the floor and it would take a few minutes before Joker could pull it out.

"Are you done throwing a temper tantrum of a child?"

Arsene's voice made Joker snap back to reality. The scowl on his face did not fade.

"You see how useless this endeavor was?"

"…I…that was…"

What Joker did just now was embarrassing. Futile. Disgraceful. Hopeless. Were these emotions what Akechi felt when he was being assaulted?

"Refrain from speaking. Even you know your actions were unwarranted."

Joker shut his mouth. No excuse could justify how he reacted. How would the other Phantom Thieves react if they saw their leader lose himself to his emotions?

"…What was the point?" Joker asked himself more than Arsene. "What was the point in making me watch this memory?!"

Arsene had no answer to that. The only person who could give an answer were Cake and Devil. Even if he were to demand an explanation from either of these shadows, it wouldn't be the answer Joker wanted to hear.

"…Akechi…you went through this much pain…and none of us knew…" Joker continued to murmur to himself. "Even now you're…"

Joker's train of thought stopped when the sound of the angel footsteps drew closer to the memory room. There was no way to avoid this battle and it was made worse with how he had the appearance of Devil Joker. All the angels had their weapons pointed toward him.

"Halt!" one of the angels ordered. "You will be taken into the Church of Acedia to face judgement! Do not resist!"

Joker's sour mood worsened as he tightened his grip on his knife. His glare should have been enough to frighten the angels but the angels were ordered to capture him. He refused to be taken away before Cake answered his questions about this horrible memory.

"...Too bad for you, I'm about to check out," Joker taunted as a dark summoning aura appeared behind him. "You feather brains better be ready…"

From a safe, distant place, Cake noticed a gruesome scene take place. He closed his eyes as if ashamed with how Joker reacted to the memory. The angel massacre would trigger a chain reaction unless he stepped in.

"…Akira-kun…"


Devil Joker did exactly what Cake feared. He lead the Phantom Thieves farther away from their leader in an attempt to bide time before the truth was out. Because Devil Joker knew that Cake was safe, he insisted that there was no need to go back to the mansion and waste time.

"Cognitive Joker and his lackeys can only go higher from here," Devil Joker insisted. "The clock tower near the top…that's the only place they can be without Cognitive Shido catching them. I'm most certain of it!"

The way Devil Joker spoke should have been a red flag to the Phantom Thieves. While Oracle and Mona felt something was off, the others didn't want to argue with their leader's reasoning. Skull assumed that his friend didn't want to waste any more time. They made good progress with getting the second key so they just needed to catch Devil Joker and make him spill the beans on how to get the final key while they take the third key. If their leader didn't let his guard down, they would have already had three of the four keys. Joker must not have felt good about that.

After leaving Cognitive Joker's secret hideout, the path to the next area opened. Oracle had no time to scan the door to make sure there wasn't a trap ahead. Devil Joker insisted the group push on.

"Those demon minions probably made the mistake of opening the door when they tried to escape," Devil Joker reasoned.

His logic made sense but the problem stemmed from how it was the same type of door that required a key. Unless Devil Joker's minions were capable of changing the rules, there would be a reason to doubt this reasoning. Their leader gave them no time to second guess him. They followed after him without a word.

The lack of angels despite the demons exposing themselves in the open caused Oracle to do some more scanning. For some strange reason, she sensed the angels below them. Were they in the mansion guarding Cake? If Devil told them the truth, then Cake should be safe. They could go back to him after they got the third key from Cognitive Joker.

It didn't take long for the Phantom Thieves to reach the next level of the tower. This was the section of the tower where the number displayed on the clock was. The outside looked more rundown up close than it did from a distance. If the outside looked ready to crumble, the inside must have been a hideous place.

"Why do you think there is a clock tower in the palace?" Panther had to ask.

"From what Joker said," Fox started, "whatever is going on with Akechi in the real world affects the number on the clock."

"He's running out of time…" Devil mumbled to himself. The group heard him.

"What do you mean, Joker?" Noire questioned with worried. "You said that Akechi-kun was tired when you texted him."

"I was referring to that old bastard and his followers," Devil said darkly. "Akechi doesn't have that much time left…I think if we don't get Akechi to confess to us sooner about his situation, he'll be…"

It was Panther who placed a hand on Devil's shoulder. He flinched at the sudden contact. If Panther didn't notice, she didn't say anything.

"Joker, I know you're worried for Akechi. You usually don't express how you really feel. That's why we're here. We will get the rest of the keys and steal Akechi's heart."

Devil pitied Panther the most out of the members in the group. She spoke honestly and unlike the other members, she sympathized with Joker. Devil convinced himself that everyone in the group was judgmental of the detective, that they didn't deserve to live if they couldn't help the people in front of them. Despite these dark thoughts, Devil nodded his head slowly.

"Thank you, Panther," Devil thanked. He was being truthful to her at least. He almost felt bad about what was going to become of her as they traveled farther into the clock tower.

"Don't mention it, Joker. Come on, let's go."

Skull grumbled something about Panther but kept to himself. Something told Devil that the real Joker would probably get chewed out later. Not like he cared. The Phantom Thieves weren't making it out alive until they witnessed the suffering Akechi had endured.

Getting into the clock tower was easy. The door to the entrance had been knocked off its hinges for a while now. This wasn't a recent thing. The clock tower's old appearance showed that this place in the palace wasn't taken care of. If one compared Cake's mansion to the clock tower, the difference was night and day. The path into the clock tower was linear. One straight path started out bright with lights randomly flickering inside of the tower. From the entrance, the straight path continued to get darker making it harder for the thieves to see what was in front of them. Devil could see just fine and he assumed the other thieves had good night vision as well. Either way, they were almost at the halfway point.

Eventually, the Phantom Thieves reached a fork in the road in the tower.

"Which way should we go?" Noire asked.

"Hold up…" Oracle began. "Let me determine which way…"

"There's no need," Devil interrupted. "I can look ahead."

The only way for Devil to know about Joker's third eye was if Akechi knew. Because the Phantom Thieves witnessed Joker use them to move around in the dark, they relied on his vision. However, something told the navigator of the group that they did need to stop before they made a mistake.

"The left path has no shadows but leads to a dead end. The right path has suspicious activity. It's faint, but I can feel the faker's presence on the right path."

Now, this was the opportunity to call Devil out on his bullshit. Oracle needed time to determine this. While Mona did feel Devil's presence, it was a lot closer than Devil made it out to be. The other thieves didn't notice a thing.

"Should we split up?" Fox asked. "We might be able to cover ground faster this way."

"Normally, I would agree," Devil started. "However, with how dark the clock tower is, it's best if we stick together. The last thing I want is for the faker to take advantage of our fewer numbers if we decided to cover more ground."

Again, the reasoning was decent but even Queen had her doubts.

"Joker, with all due respect, the reason we haven't gone back to the mansion is because you said we should not waste time. Sticking together seems to go against what you said previously."

Devil sighed mentally to himself. Not all of Joker's friends were stupid and gullible. "I did say that but if we look at the situation around us, we can't separate. I am aware that I'm letting my emotions get the best of me but the last thing I want is to risk everyone's life because of trying to rush things."

Queen probably would have addressed how finicky her leader was being had Devil not addressed it himself. Appealing to the emotions of his friends proved to be a good trait of being a doppelganger. He needed to convince everyone to follow him before Oracle had a chance to scan both paths and see that he lied.

"It's already too late for that, Joker," Skull stated. "The 'don't ask everyone's lift' part."

A part of Devil wanted to punch Skull for that comment. The obvious implication he wanted nothing to do with Akechi still stood. It was a miracle that the real Joker convinced them but the Devil had to pretend that he wasn't affected in order to make the true trap work.

"Sorry…" Devil murmured. "But…we really need to get going. The sooner we check one path for the fake, the better. But we need to stick together so he doesn't get the jump on us. If Go…Akechi thinks of me as a crafty person, my shadow would try something underhanded…"

Devil hoped that the slip of the tongue didn't get their attention. Either they didn't notice or the real Joker had made slips like that before. Devil hoped there would be no more protesting as they took the path he wanted them to be on.

The path that had some light became dimmer as the Phantom Thieves continued walking. Devil walked in front of the group as a way to prove that he picked the correct path. Mona and Oracle trailed from the back. Regardless, they trailed after the others. Eventually, the path became pitch black and the only noise that rang in their ears was their own footsteps. Devil refused to run for a good reason. There clearly was something here. Oracle picked up something in the darkness as did Mona. It was safe to assume that whatever was in the room responded to sound.

Skull still felt the need to talk.

"Hey…what is this place?"

Queen wanted Skull to keep his mouth shut but they all wanted to know what was going on. Devil wanted to explain this place but refused to have his cover blown. They needed to keep going…

"Joker, did you guess incorrectly?" Noire asked him. Someone was going to do it. If not Noire, Skull would have demanded an explanation or at least given Devil a hard time.

"I sense something…" Devil murmured.

"Hey, I just stepped in something!" Mona complained.

"Hey, keep your voice down!" Skull yelled.

"Knock it off, you two!" Panther added.

A huge groan escaped from Queen. The dangerous thing in the room would burst out of its hiding place and attack them. She was certain of this.

Whatever Mona stepped on was something that they needed to pay attention to after all. While the group couldn't see what it was, they all stepped into a pile of something. Devil knew what it was but chose not to voice it. What got his attention was the heavy breathing of something terrible in the room.

"What was that?"

"Is it a Shadow?"

"No…it's…"

At that moment, an ear-splitting scream rang in their ears. Suddenly, the only visible thing in the dark room was bright spirits that were clearly not shadows. If they were shadows, they wouldn't have been set up as a jumpscare. The spirits either flew past the group or circled around them. Whatever they were saying came out as gibberish.

"What the hell is that?!" Skull asked as he tried to hit a spirit. His weapon went right through them.

Mona shivered in their presence. He must have understood what these spirits were saying despite the others not having a clue that the spirits were talking at all.

"No way…" Mona mumbled. "These spirits…are the people that Akechi has killed…"

"What?!"

Oracle wanted to turn back. If they kept going, did that mean she would see a spirit of her mother?

"What are they saying?"

Mona chose not to answer. The spirits were malicious but they could do no harm to the thieves. They hated the presence of the living. They hate how their lives were snatched away from them. Even if Shido ordered for his or her death, Akechi still dealt the final blow to them. Akechi must have interpreted the clock tower as something sinister, something reminding Akechi how the corpses keep piling up and time was running out. Karma would attack him full force very soon.

"We need to leave…" Mona answered. "Before they do something drastic."

That sounded like a great idea but it was too late. Devil couldn't help but smirk seeing how one of the spirits stopped moving and decided to do something completely different from the rest. This crazed spirit unleashed a bright light in the darkness. The Phantom Thieves had no time to react before they were hit. The attack did not affect Devil Joker. He planned for this to happen so he made himself vanish before the light hit him. He reappeared a moment later to see if everyone else fell into the trap. None of the Phantom Thieves were spared. Not even Oracle or Mona who were in the back of the group. Those closest to the front would feel the true pain Akechi had felt.

In this room, one fell into a memory. One you couldn't hope to get out of. Devil thought to himself. They must be seeing that incident…if not that one…then it would be that one and not that one then…

There were too many painful memories for Akechi to show to the Phantom Thieves. The light randomly chose a memory and stuck with it.


Devil glared at the scene before him. These memories were not available to anyone inside of Akechi's cognitive. Because of the Phantom Thieves, they became accessible to Devil himself.

The Phantom Thieves were confused at what their "leader" was looking at before they walked into the area and were given access to the scene before them. They appeared to be in an underground area of some sort. It could have been in the basement of someone's house or an actual dungeon of some sort. Either way, the sounds of water dripping from the water pipes to the sound of sizzling electricity were in the room besides voices of angry adults.

"S-Shido-san! W-What are you doing? Gyahh?"

"Shut up and stop struggling brat! Shido-dono gave you one job and you couldn't even do that! Now accept your punishment!"

Akechi failed to realize how much he was struggling. He just knew that he couldn't see anything. A blindfold wrapped around his eyes preventing him from seeing anything. His wrists were tied together and were being yanked at forcibly. He shivered feeling his clothes were completely missing from his body. His feet touched the wet surface of rocky ground and it hurt to walk. He was being led up the stairs to something and it was a miracle he didn't trip.

"S-Shido-san!"

Shido was in the crowd along with many of his allies. His eyes leered at Akechi. The detective didn't see how furious his father was looking at him.

"Shido-san! What did I do?!"

Akechi sounded surprised and scared. Shido would not have it.

"I promised a potential ally of mine your service. Not only did you reject his advances, but you had assaulted the man as well. He no longer wants to do business with me."

Akechi groaned being tugged at to the top of the stairs. He was being forced to the edge of something. Something fell down and it caused a loud splash.

"Your defiance will result in a severe punishment. I'm sure everyone here wants to see it."

Akechi didn't understand. All he knew was that the man that was pulling him had pushed him off whatever he was standing on. Akechi let out a surprised cry as he fell down into something cold. Water covered his entire body. Akechi desperately tried to stand up and raise his head above the water. Panic overtook him when he found that he couldn't get up. He opened his mouth and swallowed water by accident. Before anything else could happen, he was yanked out of the water. The man had tied the rope to a pulley and pulled him halfway out of the water. Akechi coughed the water that he accidentally swallowed. The blindfold fell off after being wet. The detective would have preferred to keep the blindfold on with what he was seeing.

The brunette was forced into a tank full of cold water while completely naked. Surrounding the tank were Shido and his associates. Most of them had their pants pulled down and their dicks out. Shido was not one of those men fortunately. He stood higher above ground from the rest of the people he was with. That wasn't the worse part of Akechi's situation. Akechi noticed something long and black swimming through the water. It only took a minute to realize what these creatures were. He screamed.

Shido couldn't help but smirk when the detective showed weakness to him and his peers. That was the intention. Akechi needed to realize how much he screwed up his plan. He couldn't get rid of him now so this would have to do.

"S-S-Shido-san?! W-Why?!"

"Electric eels are not easy to get." Shido answered. "I had you prepared before you woke up from your slumber. Normally, these eels would ignore your presence but you had disturbed them. Now you will pay."

This was the first time Akechi had ever seen an eel before. They appeared menacing and threatening. The fact that they could electrocute him in the cold water made it worse.

"S-Shido-san! I'll die! Gyahh!"

One of the eels poked at his stomach before sending lightning bolts throughout his body. The detective roared out in pain at the sudden shock. He jerked his body in a fruitless attempt to make the pain go away. The other eels reacted and had approached Akechi's slim body. They would lightly touch his skin before letting out a weak jolt. One swam in between Akechi's legs and let out a shock. The constant shocks clouded his mind.

"Did he just moan?"

"You were right. He is enjoying this."

"He wants more!"

Akechi glared weakly at Shido who continued to stare at him menacingly. Most of the men had started stroking themselves upon seeing the young male be tormented by the eels. The eels had no sympathy for Akechi. They only saw him as an odd specimen that they could touch and torment. If he died in the tank, that would be a meal for them.

The detective stared at the eels as two of them started slithering up his waist. Akechi's mind drew a blank not knowing what these eels were doing. Once he felt teeth sink into both of his nipples, a horrifying noise escaped his mouth. He was screaming again and this time the pain was unbearable. His body surrendered to the pain being delivered to him. The screams started to sound like something else again. The eels stopped electrocuting him just to allow him to catch his breath. Akechi thought the eels pitied him but that thought was short lived as they electrocuted him again.

The men were close to cumming from the scene before them. Akechi made the mistake to open his eyes while being electrocuted. He needed to see how Shido handled this. His heart became heavy seeing the sadistic grin he had. The detective's vision blurred.

"Remember this pain," Shido told him. "This is what happens when you disobey."

Akechi weakly apologized to his father. Over and over again before his voice wouldn't allow him to voice how sorry he was. This was fine. He wouldn't feel the pain once he passed out. If he died like this…it simply meant he wouldn't feel the pain anymore. Akechi wouldn't realize the torture would continue until he woke up…but by then…Akechi had become more humble and started to obey without a second thought.


"What the hell is this?!"

"No! Make it stop!"

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!"

This was a cruel thing for Devil Joker to do. He had no choice but to do this. If the real Joker was in the mansion viewing one of the worst memories that Akechi had, then his friends could shoulder the burden and look at the other awful memories he kept to himself. Devil Joker felt that the thieves would understand the ex-Phantom Thief better if they saw what sort of hell Shido had put him through.

The other route was the safe path out of the clock tower and to the church. The path that Devil Joker put them on was the path that Akechi took…the bloodier path that had cost the lives of many people who stood in Masayoshi Shido's way. If hearing the voices of the dead didn't drive anyone insane, then the torture Akechi had sustained from Shido when things didn't go his way would do.

Eel torture. Nail ripping torture. Sleep deprivation. Anything to get Goro to submit to his will. That old bastard has ruined Goro. If the Phantom Thieves refuse to see him as a victim, then they don't deserve to leave this palace.

As extreme as his mindset was, Devil needed to know if his decision was the correct one. It all depended on how the real Joker reacted to one of Akechi's worse memories and how the Phantom Thieves acted assuming they get out of this eternal hell in the first place. Devil needed to find his lackeys and give him a piece of his mind before returning to his body. The plan he had worked out just fine but it might not have worked had his henchmen stuck with the plan instead of fleeing for their lives.

Devil moved back knowing that the Phantom Thieves would be stuck for a while. What he didn't expect was a slingshot nearly hitting him in the back.

"I knew there was something fishy!" Mona declared as he pointed his slingshot at Devil. "You're not the real Joker!"

Devil gasped at being found out but found himself smirking. "I guess the cat's out of the bag."

"Mona!" Oracle called out. Devil wasn't all too pleased that another member of the Phantom Thieves escaped. "I'm so glad you're okay!" Even though the goggles covered her eyes, Devil could tell she was glaring at him. "Alright, faker! What have you done to my friends?!"

Devil looked down at Mona. He started chuckling at the idea that this small cat thought a slingshot of all things could hurt him.

"I was just showing them more of Goro's memories," Devil answered. "Did you know these are the memories that cause what my host calls 'mental shutdowns' or 'psychotic breakdowns'? You two should pat yourselves on the back for not letting the despair engulf you.

Oracle didn't understand. "What?!"

Mona hissed at the imposter, "Explain yourself!"

Devil had no obligation to explain anything but humored them anyway. He was still planning something. "I think you two are smart enough to put the pieces together. My host has endured many hardships in his life. You have seen only a small percentage of the hell he has endured. It's quite an effective tool to use on anyone who could never understand his pain."

In situations like this, Oracle wished her Persona could fight. She could punch Devil Joker so hard that his smirk wouldn't return to his face.

"That's wrong!" Mona shouted. "If you're supposed to be a cognitive of what Akechi thinks of Joker, you wouldn't be putting his friends through this! Joker values us-"

"More than Goro?" Devil cut off. He expected Mona to say "values us more than you" referring to the detective but he refused to hear that. "I wonder about that."

"You're just what Akechi thinks Joker is about," Mona started. "Well, he's wrong! Joker would never abandon his friends! We are the Phantom Thieves!"

"You say that but I'm pretty sure you had your doubts when I was alone with Goro."

The black cat did have his doubts. He had warned his owner how Akechi had to be kept at arm's length. The detective could not be trusted. Joker knew this but continued to grow close to him until it got to the point where it did seem like Joker would try to throw the plan they had in favor of what he shared with Akechi. That didn't happen and he chose his friends over the detective. That was the truth.

"If I cared about you guys more, I wouldn't even consider coming back in here to save my beloved Goro. You all must have been so disappointed in me. I'm the leader after all."

"You're not Joker," Oracle said firmly.

"Tch…" Devil Joker wasn't all too pleased. "I guess non-humans and those who already have a Change of Heart cannot stay in the illusion for long."

"So you know how to stop the illusion then," Mona hissed. "I'll rip the truth out of you for using Joker's body and trying to kill us!"

"I mean, your friends could die if they stay in the illusion too long. Any normal person would have died at that point."

"Mona…will you be okay?" Oracle asked. "It's just you…"

"I can handle this faker myself!" Mona insisted. "Just keep an eye on everyone."

Honestly, it was all Oracle could do along with searching for the real Joker. Devil didn't need to worry about that. The real Joker would appear before long and have a verdict about what to do about the host. Oracle wouldn't be able to do even that. Devil had the most evil smile on his face once he set his sights on Oracle.

"Goro's host has met your mother. Perhaps you would like to see how he felt when he ended her life. Surely, that will be enough for you to fall into despair."

Chapter Text

Joker did not remember passing out. He also didn't remember being on someone's bed. His memory came back to him like a tidal wave hitting the beach shore. He looked into Akechi's deepest memories and saw something he shouldn't have. He then reacted badly when he saw one of Akechi's worse memories that he tried to hide deep within his heart. Because Joker lost control of his emotions, the angels took notice of his presence and attacked him. He didn't remember if Arsene obeyed him or not nor did he remember if any of his Personas were responding. Hell, he only remembered taking out a few angels with his knife before blacking out.

"Are you awake now, Joker-kun?"

Cake's soothing voice rang in his ears. The pointy ears that belonged to Devil Joker twitched, and his entire body shiver in delight. Joker shot up almost instantly to see the cute shadow. There was only one problem. Cake was far from happy when Joker awoke. To the side of Cake was that same horse that could appeared and disappeared at whim.

"Don't move your arm around too much. The angels injured you."

Joker ignored Cake's warning. He groaned at the sudden pain in his left arm. "Guh…what happened…"

"You saw something terrible and screamed..." Cake answered softly. "The angels heard you and attacked. They thought you're the Joker of my host's mind so they went all out. You fainted after they ganged up on you…so I had to step in and take care of them."

Before Joker could ask Cake how he managed to do that, he explained that as well.

"Locke helped me."

The horse neighed in agreement to Cake's words. Joker started to believe that the horse was more than what he originally thought. Then again, both Robin and Locke proved to be odd shadows in this palace…

"Your injuries are still healing up. Give it a few more minutes and you'll be good as new. Because I don't have all of my powers, the effects aren't immediate."

"…Thank you." Joker had to thank. He was grateful for Cake but a part of him felt bad for having the shadow step in. He needed to play the stealth part better but how could he when he saw those dreadful memories?

"I'm sorry that you had to see that…" Cake mumbled. "That was probably something best not seen…"

It took a moment for Joker to realize what Cake was referring to. He shook his head.

"No…don't apologize."

"…The angels caught you because you snapped at what you saw. You don't need to hide how disgusted you were."

How couldn't Joker be disgusted by what Shido and those men did to Akechi? It was absolutely sickening.

"That door was locked for a reason," Cake added. "Any normal person who saw that might have gone insane. You were lucky that my host wanted you to know…yet at the same time he didn't." Cake shook his head. He looked so defeated. "I never felt so powerless in my life. Daddy does the same thing to me here like what he does to my host in the real world…"

Joker's eyes widened in horror. "So those bruises are from…"

"Are from Daddy…"

"For how long?"

"Ever since the palace manifested…and my host won't admit it…but he's had a palace longer than you would all like to believe."

Joker had a hard time believing that. The Phantom Thieves had checked if Akechi had a palace before their plan went into action and it came up negative. The detective didn't believe he had a palace either. Persona users weren't supposed to have any. Yet, this palace contradicted what the thieves knew.

"Persona users can't have palaces," Joker started but was interrupted.

"They can. It may be in a dormant state but someone like my host…everything he tried to hide built up over the years. It was…lonely here. Joker and the others…they didn't exist until my host met you. But everything still became worse and I…" Cake shut his eyes tight. He needed to hold back his tears and be strong. "I was so lonely…a palace that could never be accessed. A palace that would have been lost forever…and yet a miracle happened. I don't know what it was…but the gateway to the palace opened. I prayed every day for a chance to be free and I will finally have my chance…and yet…my host still doesn't believe…even if I am the living proof he does cling on to hope…"

Joker felt sorry for Cake. The shadow was the hope that Akechi had of getting out of the hell he had suffered for years. Overtime, Cake was getting weaker the more Akechi let despair win. Despite that, he was still trying to survive on his own. Joker would never have been able to survive for that long had it not been for his friends.

"Joker-kun…" Cake whispered catching his attention. "Am I still…worth your attention?"

Huh?!

"You saw one of the darker memories of my past…something I never wanted you to know. Will you still…fight for me despite that?"

Of course Joker would still fight for Akechi! If anything, it only increased his resolve to get Akechi out of the hell he was thrown into. Shido wasn't defeated until the shackles around Akechi broke.

"O-Of course I would! I'm still here now!" Joker announced. Why did he sound so awkward announcing his resolve?

"You don't sound honest…" Cake muttered in a discouraged tone.

"I am honest!" Joker insisted. "You think my opinion of you would deter after finding that out? Whom do you take me for?"

Cake feared the worst possible outcome but here was Joker telling him that it wouldn't happen. Yet, the shadow kept his distance when it came to the raven haired thief.

"My host has come to accept that he will never be loved for who he is…" Cake confessed. Joker immediately wanted to repeat what he just said only with more sincerity. "My host…and I…we both learned something terrible about us. I reflect what my host thinks…and my host hates being ignored and forgotten. Yet…what Daddy and those evil men did to him…he hated it at first. Over time…my host decided it was better to be used and noticed rather than thrown away and forgotten." Cake wanted to stop talking but kept going against his better judgement. "You only saw the moment Daddy took his purity away from him and tainted him even further. There are many more bad memories…of how far gone my host thinks he is."

If the first time Akechi was raped wasn't bad enough, just hearing that there were many more moments afterward made Joker sick to his stomach again. The last thing he wanted to do was puke on Cake's bed.

"That's horrible…" Joker could only whisper.

"It's sickening…I know. My host cannot believe anyone would want him if they found out about this…no…not just anyone. Joker-kun…my host wishes that you would never know."

"…Then why show me?"

"Because I know that you need to know. My host is too prideful to admit that he needs you."

The honesty was overwhelming. Joker knew that Akechi needed someone in his life who believed in him. Yet…this almost sounded like…

"My host is short-sighted," added Cake. "He may have succeeded in ruining Daddy but my Daddy always wanted him to be his plaything. So…even if everything crumbled around him…my host…"

"Would still be sold into sexual slavery…" Joker finished.

Cake nodded his head slowly. "Right now, he's just realizing that and thinks it's too late. And yet…" The shadow psyched himself up for something before looking directly into Joker's eyes. At this point, Locke volunteered to give both of them privacy and disappeared. Robin followed suit and disappeared in a pile of feathers.

"Cake?"

"If someone as dirty as me were with someone like you…wouldn't you feel disgusted? Wouldn't I drag you down?"

Now, Cake started to refer to Akechi as himself. The shadow was up to something. Joker still played into his hand.

"Never!" Joker shouted. "Cake, I would never let Shido have his way with Akechi! Not anymore! I just need you to trust me. And I need you to know that the adults can't treat you like that anymore."

"…I wish I could believe you…"

Joker wanted to say "When have I ever lied to you" but Cake would bark back with how Joker lied from the beginning. He had tried to stay as truthful as possible without hurting him but Akechi continued to push him away.

"I want to believe you…" whispered Cake. "But I'm scared, Joker-kun…you're the only one left in this world who cares for me. If you're lying to me, I'll have nothing left. I don't want to be alone anymore…"

"But I'm not lying. I will save you."

"But…"

"Not just me but the rest of the Phantom Thieves as well. Akechi can't run away from his crimes but they know they can't leave him in this situation. If you just opened up to them like you did with me, then surely…"

"Things have gotten to this point because of that!" Cake exclaimed. "I don't know what to believe! I'm supposed to be positive but it's so hard to do that!"

If Cake continued speaking, he would start crying. That was the last thing Joker wanted. Cake had suffered enough today.

"Is there…anything I can do?"

There was something Joker could do but he didn't know what it was until it hit him. Cake's entire demeanor changed in a split second. By the time Joker realized what happened, it was too late for him to react. Cake had pushed the thief onto his bed and forced a kiss on him. Joker blinked before realizing what the shadow was doing. His lips were soft…were Akechi's lips just as soft or…

"Akira-kun, I need you." Cake murmured as he broke the kiss. The sudden name change and the way he said it did not go unnoticed. "I'm nothing without you."

"W-Wait-" Joker started before Cake crashed their lips together again. The raven haired teen knew he couldn't accept these feelings. Not now, at least. This was not the time nor place.

The gentle look that Cake gave him caused Joker's heart to skip a beat. He was smitten by the shadow even though he knew he shouldn't be. Cake took the time to remove Joker's mask from his face and set it down on the top of his nightstand. Cake then slowly started to undo the priest ropes on his robe.

"You care for me…so you'll let me be in control this once…" Cake mumbled.

Cake's body was everything Joker imagined Akechi's body would be. Small, somewhat slim but had enough muscle that suited his career and beautiful on the eyes. The fact he was so willing only added to the situation. The only thing that hurt Cake's body was the scars and bruises laced across it. Chances were that Shido and his men were the cause, whether it was from physical or sexual abuse.

The shadow attempted to remove Joker's outfit too but Joker slapped his hand away.

"Don't…" Joker snapped. He didn't mean to sound offended but he needed to get out of here and find the others…

"But you always wanted this," Cake mumbled as he pulled Joker's hand away. "My host sees the way you look at him. You look at him like the adults do. The difference is your sincerity…and my host cannot stop his heart from melting. I'm willing…to give you everything my host refuses to give you."

Joker didn't understand. How could he? He couldn't register Akechi liking him. Did he miss the signs of not only Akechi's cries for help but the detective's affection for him too? When did it first start?

"I cannot lie about what my hosts wants," Cake mumbled. "Please…make use of me. Make me feel like a human being. Make me feel like I'm needed."

"Cake…"

"Whether it's you…or Joker…I am willing to be your everything…even though I'm trash. Daddy reminds me that I am every day…"

"You're not trash!"

If Joker wasn't offended then, he was now. Shido's name left a bitter taste in his mouth. That man had the audacity to call the detective trash after the parental incest he pulled!

"Whether I'm trash or not…just use me to what you see fit…I can't afford to lose you…"

In the back of Joker's mind, Cake forcing himself on him is the best way to lose him. Cake and by proxy Akechi wouldn't register it as such. He flinched feeling the shadow get in between his legs. His hand was in a place it shouldn't be.

"My host will never tell you he loves you…" Cake murmured. "So please…"

He was going to keep pleading until Joker agreed to the act.

"I can't…"

Cake clearly didn't hear Joker. Again, he tried to pull down Joker's pants (or what little Devil Joker had on) and Joker had to grab his hand to stop him. Cake groaned but continued his actions.

"Stop it, Cake…" Joker growled weakly.

"I want you," Cake insisted. "I was never given anything to be happy with. The little things I did have always got taken away from me. My mother, Sora, my treasure…and what little faith you had in me. I want so much but I'm a flawed creation."

"Cake, you're not…"

"Please, you're the only thing I can hope for! Please, Akira-kun! Don't leave me alone!"

Joker couldn't get his heart to stop pounding. If the situation wasn't dire, he would have given in. Hell, he would have given in a long time ago. There was no one here to judge him for his actions. There was no one to scold him for his decisions. It would just be him and Akechi alone in the room.

Except this wasn't Akechi. This was shadow Akechi. This was shadow Akechi pleading for Joker to take advantage of him like Shido and his men did. This was shadow Akechi screaming the things Akechi did not have the courage to say in the real world. This wasn't a romantic gesture. This was Akechi begging for someone to save him from his despair and loneliness.

That was the only reason Joker showed restraint. That was the only reason Joker pulled his head back when Cake tried to kiss him again. Soft lips of an angel were not meant for someone like him. Not now…

"Why? Why are you stopping? Do you hate me? What did I do wrong? Am I really not…"

"Stop."

Cake looked up with confused eyes. Tears threatened to fall from his eyes. Joker knew he shouldn't have had looked at the shadow. The feelings he had only grew.

"Akira-kun…"

"You may be his shadow but you are not Akechi," Joker said bluntly. "If I'm going to accept his love, it has to be from him."

Cake blinked. "Huh?!"

Before Joker could stop himself, he continued explaining. "…I am a fool. I never noticed before. But…if I were to think back on all the times we had spent time together…I think the signs were always there."

"Are you…serious?"

Joker nodded his head slowly. "These feelings…they were always there. I just…never bothered to think about them. I mean…Akechi and me…together. That sounds absurd. He wanted to expose the Phantom Thieves. He wanted my head. He wanted all of my friends killed for his father's sake. I wanted to help him. I really did. I made subtle hints of wanting to extend his hand…but it wasn't enough. Maybe…if I came clean with how I really felt…this would have never happened." Joker laughed bitterly to himself. "It's funny. After how many people judged me for a crime I didn't commit, I ended up fearing how my friends would react if I acted on my feelings. I'm the leader of the Phantom Thieves. The group comes first before how I personally feel."

"…So my host's interpretation of you…"

"…If I wasn't chained by my friends' expectations…I might have actually…acted like that." Joker admitted. "I hate to admit it. I don't want to admit it. I want to be selfish. I want to continue having my friends but I do want Akechi. I really do…" Joker's voice trailed off. He couldn't say it to Akechi's shadow. His face started to turn red thinking about the three simple words that might have moved the detective.

"…Do you love my host?" Cake asked. "Do you want to save him?"

"Of course I do…" Joker muttered. "I dragged my friends into this mess just so I could save him. If I could go in alone, I would have done that. But…you were right. I do have a hero complex."

Cake eyed him suspiciously. "So it's out of pity…"

"I can't deny that feeling," Joker confessed. "At the same time, I am the only one to blame for this. Akechi has reached out to me multiple times…and I failed to pick up on it. I did what everyone else had and ignored him. He needed me…"

The memories of Akechi in Shido's palace came back to him. He remembered the expression Akechi had as he prepared to fight the Phantom Thieves.

"If only we met a few years sooner…" Cake whispered softly. It hurt Joker to hear those words again seeing as how the person who said it originally truly meant those words.

"I need to tell him that it's not too late to start over," Joker continued. "I need to tell him that he's not alone. Akechi needs to know that I will accept him no matter what has happened."

Cake's eyes widened in horror. "A-Are you serious? You're not lying…"

Joker decided that Cake needed to make the decision on whether or not he was telling the truth. The shadow's expression darkened observing the raven haired thief. He wanted to find some contradiction in the other's eyes. Something told him that Joker was just saying that to feel good about himself…but all he found was sincerity and warmth in those eyes.

"You really are serious…"

Joker nodded his head again. Confidence oozed from his action. "I might have failed you and Akechi…but when I get back to the real world, I will do all in my power to save him."

"…You're too nice for your own good…no wonder my host is in love with you."

Joker flinched when the shadow start sobbing. Did he say the wrong thing?

"C-Cake, I didn't mean to make you cry."

"Don't…I'm just so…happy…" Cake told him softly. "Are shadows capable of feeling happiness…or…is my host happy that you do return his feelings?"

"Why not both?" Joker suggested. He was no expert on shadows. Futaba's shadow was the closest thing to a helpful shadow. Cake was a different type of shadow entirely that displayed powerful emotions and felt like a piece of Akechi that had been hidden for so long.

"…Does my host deserve happiness? Do I deserve happiness?"

Joker nodded his head slowly. He went over to the shadow and held him in his arms. "Everyone deserves a second chance. I know Akechi deserves to be happy after everything he's been through. He cannot run away from his past and he has to atone for what he's done…but I will be there every step of the way…I promise you that."

Cake acknowledged Joker's words and warmth. He closed his eyes and bawled his eyes out. The emotions he felt was too much at this point. The two remained in that position for a while. Joker lost track of time. What might have felt like eternity might have been a few minutes. He chose not to let Cake go. Cake needed to cry his heart out. Not just Cake…Akechi needed to do this too.

Eventually, the tears would run dry and Cake breathed normally. He mumbled a weak apology for what he just did to Joker even though the leader of the thieves insisted that he was okay with being the literal shoulder to cry on.

"The cognitive Joker is with your friends in the clocktower," Cake finally said after he calmed down. "Locke will take you to where you need to be."

Joker could only nod his head as if telling Cake he understood the situation. He wanted to know what Devil Joker was doing in his stead and he needed to see if the other thieves were holding up. Joker barely held on from that dark memory Akechi had. He couldn't imagine what the incubus had in store for his friends who weren't as open to befriending Akechi.

A purple light suddenly wrapped around Joker's body. A loud neigh rang in his ear as he was teleported out of the room. Cake looked up toward the ceiling. One more tear fell down his eyes.

"…There is hope."


Joker was teleported to where the fork in the road was in the clocktower. It didn't take the leader of the thieves long to identify which path he needed to follow. A familiar scream came from the right path. Joker felt his heart stop.

"Oracle!" Joker shouted as he rushed down the path.

The screeches from the spirits rang in Joker's ears as he rushed over to help his companion. If Oracle was here, then the other Phantom Thieves would be too. Alas, by the time Joker reached Oracle's destination, Devil Joker had saw through his threat to her. Devil shoved Oracle into one of the coffins that had that one specific memory Akechi had of her mother. She kicked and screamed trying to get out of the coffin but she wasn't strong enough to get out. Reliving her mother's final moments only made her panic more apparent. As for Mona, he knocked the cat out and stepped on his head for good measure. Devil didn't look all too pleased with what he had just done to Oracle despite making good use of his threat.

"You thieves haven't suffered enough…" Devil lamented. "I won't let you leave until you understand how much Goro has suffered."

"DEVIL!" Joker roared. Devil Joker didn't like how he got referred to that.

"I think you mean Joker, replica," Devil snarked. "I'm surprised you're still in one piece after what you saw in the mansion. Tell me, how do you feel about Goro now? Did your opinion of him change or do you still see him as a piece of meat?"

"What the hell did you do to my friends?!" Joker demanded. He didn't take the bait about Akechi. His friends were in danger at this very moment.

"They are seeing what you witnessed in the mansion," Devil told him. "You now understand what Goro has gone through. We are the only ones who know…"

"…You're referring to…that incident…"

"Two years ago when Goro came in contact with his old man…that made him realize how little anyone cared for him. If no one can understand his pain, then no one deserves to be close with him…" Devil's smile fell thinking about his host. "…If your friends cannot see that Masayoshi Shido is the reason that Goro Akechi is the person he is today…then I do not see the point in trying to change his heart."

Joker didn't have a retort to Devil's words. If he were to speak, he would be told that he did not speak for his teammates again. The other thieves never had a reason to like Akechi, so Devil was technically correct. Alas…

"…They don't have a reason to like Akechi," Joker admitted. "I was the only one who bothered to approach him…and it wasn't with the best intentions."

"Oh? You admit it?"

"…Everything I did at the beginning was for the Phantom Thieves…so I admit that. But…I wanted to know more about him as time went on…it's why…I want to save him." Joker clenched his fists. "…When it was obvious that Akechi wanted to kill me, I decided to go with the plan we all came up with. A part of me wanted to stop and save Akechi though. I could have talked him out of trying to kill me. I could have made it so we could turn our attention to Shido and fight. Instead, I decided to go with the risky gamble. It was a miracle we were able to pull it off. There were so many holes in the plan if Sae-san didn't…" Joker cut himself off. "…You probably already know the plan."

"I only know as much as my host," Devil admitted.

"Now that I have the chance to save Akechi and make everything right…I refuse to back down. I saw those memories he has of his father in the mansion. I am disgusted with Shido for putting Akechi through that. I hate how he suffered and I did nothing. I hate how this is all my fault…"

"Your hero complex is showing," Devil snarked. "At least you know it's your fault."

"…I'm going to save Akechi," Joker continued. "However, you of all people know that Akechi isn't going to get out of his current situation without consequences."

Devil glared at him. "Would you throw Goro under the bus?"

"He has caused the death of many people, including the death of Oracle's mother and Noire's father. If Akechi cares about justice like he claims, then he knows that he has to pay for his crime-"

"He never cared for justice."

"…No…he does."

Devil glared at Joker for his argument. Devil knew the host better than the Joker. Why would Joker insist on something that Akechi admitted to a long time ago?

"Cake is also a part of Akechi's psyche. Not just you." Joker reminded him.

"So…my sweet Goro was telling you things and going off script…" Devil grumbled. "He really trusts you."

"Cake told me that you should trust me. I can't save Akechi if the two shadows inside of him can't let others help them. You're at your wits' end."

Devil's expression darkened. "I've been alone ever since my friends have been killed. Seeing you with friends who don't care about Goro pisses me off."

"...Release my friends."

Joker didn't forget the situation his friends were in. As much as he would like to continue arguing with Cognitive Joker, he needed to save his friends before they went insane from Akechi's memories.

"…They're going to kick my ass…" Devil grumbled. "But I know if I don't do it, Cake will get them out."

"You might as well give me the key while you're at it."

"…Don't push your luck," Devil hissed.

Joker resisted the urge to laugh at his shadow. Cognitive Joker pouted at the idea of being lectured by Cake. Despite the situation he was in, he still tried to keep a straight face. Unlike him, Cognitive Joker failed miserably.

"The cat is only unconscious," said Devil. "A good healing spell will fix him up. I'll get the girl out first. I think she has seen enough of her mother. I'll get everyone else after that."

Joker nodded his head in approval. Before Devil could even start helping the Phantom Thieves, he stopped feeling a dark presence behind Joker. His eyes widened in horror.

"Hey, look out!"

It was too late at that point. When Joker turned his head, he saw a huge shadow above him. The raven haired thief no longer stood in that spot. He felt his head get bashed by something and was sent flying into the nearby coffin. That coffin was opened specifically for Mona but Devil's appearance stopped Cognitive Joker from throwing him inside and reliving Akechi's memories. Now, Joker ended up in the coffin instead and he got locked into another terrible memory as a result.

"Well shit…" Devil mumbled. "I think I'm in trouble…"


Akechi had been knocked out by Shido's men and taken away. He woke up in a warehouse. He was strapped into a chair with his arms and ankles chained to the arms and legs of said chair. The detective had no idea how he ended up here but hearing Shido's voice made him whimper at the man he worked for.

"S-Shido-san…why am I here?" Akechi asked, trying to keep his voice level-headed. "Have I done something to displease you?"

Shido glared at his son in answer to the detective's question. Akechi's expression faltered when he saw that look on his father's face. He looked around and noticed that besides a few politicians there were also members of the yakuza that Shido had wanted to get on his side.

"Boy, where is your phone?" Shido asked darkly.

"It's…" Akechi closed his mouth. He was too embarrassed to admit that after being forced to go into Mementos for the past couple of days without break, studying for exams and dealing with assholes at school, Akechi had just thrown his phone at the wall. It broke from the impact, and the detective was too lazy to get it fixed immediately. He just wanted a few days off from everything before getting back into things. The detective was aware of the risk but he thought that Shido would show some sympathy for a tired teen such as himself. "…broken…"

"And why didn't you get it fixed?"

"I was tired…" Akechi spoke slowly, wondering if that was the correct answer. "I was going to fix it after exams…I just didn't want any distractions."

"Are you telling me that you couldn't balance my simple tasks with your pathetic school life?"

The detective flinched at Shido's tone. He really didn't care about Akechi's future. He was just a slave driver at this point. "I'm sorry, Shido-san. I had no intention of ignoring your calls. If you can please release me, I'll show you that I am not lying."

"I know you're not lying about breaking your phone," Shido responded surprising the brunette. "I have someone watching you if you recall."

"Oh…"

"If you were just studying and sleeping your life away, I might not have to resort to giving you a punishment. However, I do not take to you using your time to associate with people from your school."

Akechi was clearly lost. "Huh?!"

"The boy. The one you were speaking to for the past couple of days. What is your relationship with him?"

"I…I don't understand, Shido-san…"

It was then did the man who was issued to spy on Akechi step up. The detective gave the nastiest glare to that man who found it amusing to give him the perverted smile in return. The man had pictures on his phone showing Akechi with this male student at his school.

"You know what this is?"

"That's…" Akechi sighed in defeat realizing he had to explain why he was associating with this male student. "I was falling behind in class so I asked someone if they had notes. He was the only one who offered them."

"That's nice and all, but was it necessary to go out and eat with him?" the spy questioned with a venomous look. "What about him walking you to the station? Explain why you two were in the park."

The detective was starting to have an idea what they were getting that. He could easily deny what they were thinking. "There is nothing between me and him. I felt like it would be rude if I refused those offers."

Shido wasn't convinced at all and it confused Akechi. Despite being a liar, Akechi had been honest the entire time. The yakuza started to approach him and they had something in their hands that the detective didn't know about.

"Shido-san…I'm not lying…so stop whatever you want to do…"

"The few days you decided to lollygag, I lost another potential ally. You need to realize that I do not tolerate slackers like I don't tolerate disobedient children."

The yakuza were close to Akechi now. The young man was confused on what they were fitting under Akechi's hand. He blinked seeing that they were putting his finger – specifically his fingernail underneath the contraption.

"S-Shido-san, what are you making them do?" Akechi asked with a hint of panic in his tone. "I will make it up to you."

"Perhaps the eels weren't enough for you to realize your place." Shido spoke as if he didn't hear Akechi. "Maybe putting you through more agony will make you realize that defying me again will result in worse pain."

After what happened with the eels, Akechi wanted to avoid angering Shido like that again. He did whatever was asked from his father's political clients. He gave his body up to these perverted scums. Now, he's being told he did something his father didn't like because of a third party spying on him.

"S-Shido-san…this isn't necessary…I…"

He was cut off because of the contraption suddenly coming down on him and slamming into his fingernail.

Akechi had convinced himself that he was incapable of feeling pain. Any injury he obtained from the shadows only made him stronger. Whatever Shido did after he took his virginity meant nothing if he just kept thinking about revenge. And yet, the moment the contraption slammed down on his fingernail, whatever he was about to say to the politician came to a halt. He opened his mouth clearly puzzled at where the sudden pain came from but what ended up coming out was a terrible squeak. Akechi bit down on his tongue to avoid any more unpleasant noises from escaping. His entire body trembled from the pain he received. The yakuza were rather impressed at his pain tolerance even though the detective was visibly shaken. All he could do was call out Shido's name.

"S-Shido-san?!"

Akechi failed to realize that his voice cracked. He was in disbelief at what happened. The pain had hit him but he still had the voice to call the politician's name out.

"W-Why?"

"You are a disobedient child," Shido answered coldly. "You broke your phone, ignored my messages and spent the time hanging with people I have no use for instead of fixing your phone. Lying to me is the last thing you will do."

"But I…" Akechi tried to move from the chair. He wanted to flee before he felt any more pain. However the chains held him in place, and the yakuza surrounding him prevented him from running away. "I'm not…"

One of the yakuza laughed at Akechi's misfortune. "Shido-dono, you sound like an angry father punishing his son."

The detective's heart froze from the comparison. How did this guy know? Was the secret out?

"I might as well be. This child clearly has no parental figures in his life."

Akechi wanted to scream, "And whose fault is that?!" But he couldn't. His plan would be exposed right there and he would be at his father's mercy. He just had to endure the pain no matter what.

"His silence speaks volumes," the yakuza hummed. Akechi gasped feeling the man grasp at his chin and forcing him to look this way. "Maybe if you play the role of an obedient son, I'll be gentle."

Akechi tried to move his face away from the yakuza boss. His grip on his chin was too strong.

"…Shido-san…I won't let this happen again…just stop…"

"Do not tell me what to do."

The yakuza had let go of Akechi's chin and focused on the nail ripping contraption again. This time though, the brunette could not hold back his scream when the second fingernail got ripped off. His eyes focused on Shido.

"I don't like that defiant look," Shido told him harshly. "Perhaps calling me Daddy would make things easier for me."

Akechi had his pride. He wouldn't dare refer to Shido by that term. It was the truth and it was condescending and it would make Akechi feel smaller than he actually was.

"Shido-dono, can we have fun with him after you're doing playing with him?" one of the yakuza suddenly asked. "You said before how he's your private escort."

Shido nodded his head. "I am fine with that but only after I'm done with him. Now Akechi, are you going to refer to me as 'Daddy' or am I going to make you refer to me as that?"

"…You're cruel, Shido-san…" Akechi muttered darkly.

The third fingernail was placed under the contraption. Akechi's eyes widened as he tried to curl his finger in an attempt to move it away from the machine. The yakuza men kept Akechi in place.

"Stop…please…" Akechi mumbled. "I'll make it up to you Shido-san…"

Shido ordered the men to remove the third fingernail. Now that Akechi was watching the process, he couldn't help but panic. The nerves in his fingernail were being attacked while the fingernail itself snapped off. He wanted to throw up seeing after witnessing how it was done.

"D-Daddy!" Akechi choked before he realized it. "P-Please…"

Shido wasn't impressed. "You're going to have to do more than that to stop this."

Akechi froze when he felt the third finger being removed and being replaced by the fourth finger.

"Daddy! I'm sorry for disobeying you! I won't let that happen again! Please stop!"

How much of his pride did the detective have to throw out just to get his father to stop the torture? Shido did like how quick Akechi was to give up when the pain became too much to bear. Alas, the politician enjoyed putting his son through hell, and it was the main reason why he ordered the men to continue. Akechi's screams was music to his ears and the screams shot straight to his groin.

"The first fingernail was removed for your disobedience. The second fingernail was removed for your interaction with that boy in your class. The third interaction was for communicating with another detective."

Akechi wished Shido didn't know about that. He wasn't the only rising detective star going around. There was another detective like him who rose along with him. The two did hit it off because of their age, occupation and how they viewed the adults in the workforce. Hell, this other detective could have saved Akechi from the depths of hell. Shido shattered that dream.

"You will cease communication with that detective immediately. I'm sure you wouldn't want him to be on my hit list."

Akechi's eyes widened in horror. "P-Please…no, Daddy…it's nothing like that…"

The pain was unbearable and it was only the third fingernail he lost. If this torture continued, he would faint from the shock and trauma Shido delivered to him.

"You already know what to do."

His pinkie fingernail was going to be removed in a few moments. Akechi shut his eyes as he screamed the answer Shido wanted to hear.

"I won't talk to him anymore! I won't ask him for help! I'll be independent! Please, Daddy! Please stop this! It hurts!"

Regardless if that was the answer Shido wanted to hear, Akechi still lost his fourth fingernail. He was a blubbering mess at this point. Tears pathetically fell down his eyes.

"The Detective Prince showing this face to the public would surely have his reputation ruined," Shido taunted.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

That was all Akechi could scream at this point of time. Maybe if he apologized enough times, Shido would get these people to stop ripping off his fingernails. He continued to freak out as his thumb was being put under the nail ripper. His apologies sped up, running together in a mantra, as he pleaded for forgiveness. The yakuza snickered at how their victim reacted.

"I'msorryI'msorryI'msorryI'msorry!I'msorry!Pleasestop!I'msorry!"

Shido gave the order to finish up on the last fingernail of Akechi's left hand. He screamed at the huge amount of pain given to that area. It was made worse how they intentionally did not hit hard enough to remove it in one go. Akechi made the mistake to look at his thumb and see the bleeding from the attempted removal. He bellowed when they tried again and removed it successfully. Shido finally noticed a wet stain where Akechi's crotch was. Given the pants he wore, it was very visible. The yakuza noticed and started laughing now.

"Did he actually wet himself? What a pussy."

"He's actually scared like a little boy."

Shido still had that evil smile on his face. Akechi started to lose the color in his eyes as he continued to apologize. The detective didn't seem to hear anything the yakuza said at this point. Shido had a feeling Akechi tried to retreat into the back of his mind to avoid further harm.

"I made sure that your "friend" at school was dealt with personally. He can blame you in hell for his demise."

Akechi didn't react until he felt the contraption being removed from his left hand. The torture was over…or that's what he thought.

"We have to make sure you understand your place."

Shido gave the approval to start working on Akechi's right hand. With all the screaming and shouting, Akechi had lost his voice to protest. He could only cry and accept his terrible fate. The hell wasn't over until Shido finished humiliating him…

Again, Joker watched everything unfold and resisted the urge to throw up. How could Shido do this to his son? Was he even a human? Was he a demon wearing a human disguise? No one could be this heartless!

Again, Joker wanted to help Akechi out of this mess. This time, Arsene wasn't there to calm him down. He tried to punch Shido in the face only for his fists to go through his body. He fell down on the ground and didn't get back up. Joker clenched his fist in frustration before looking toward the ceiling and screaming. He sounded identical to an angry caged animal.

"Wake up…"

Joker wanted to wake up but he couldn't. Shido needed to die. Shido needed to-.

"Akira-kun, please…this is just another memory…"

Akechi's voice! No…it wasn't. It was Cake's voice!

"Akira-kun, please!"


Joker snapped back to reality the moment he heard Cake's voice. Cake really was saving his ass this time around in the palace that it started to get predictable in his head. Still, he shouldn't complain. One terrible memory of Akechi with Shido was bad enough. He didn't need another one reminding him how awful of a human being the politician was.

"He's fine now!"

The first thing Joker heard when he really did return to "realm of sanity" was Cake telling someone that he was okay. Joker should have continued lying down just so he could recuperate. However, the first thing he noticed when he looked at his hands was that they looked different. By different, it meant his nails weren't sharp. If he were to look at his appearance, he would see that he had returned to his original body. Whatever happened while he was lost in Akechi's memory, Devil must have returned him back into his own body.

The other Phantom Thieves were in one piece too. Devil kept his word about letting them out. However, Devil was nowhere to be seen and the Phantom Thieves weren't exactly…

"Glad you're awake, Joker," Mona said. "The real one this time…"

"Real one…"

"You switched places with the cognitive Joker's body. I didn't even notice until he started acting weird…"

"…Ask me a question and I'll tell you I'm the real one."

Mona had the perfect question. However, there was someone in the room that prevented him from doing so.

"Mona-chan, there's no reason to do that. I made sure he's the real one. Joker would never lie to me."

"Still…"

"What of the others?"

Joker didn't need the answer to that question. The tension in the room wasn't the greatest. Hell, the moment Joker noticed Oracle sobbing and Panther comforting her, he knew shit went down while he was stuck in Devil Joker's body.

"…What happened?" Joker had to ask.

No one wanted to answer. Another voice that shouldn't have been in the safe house answered his question.

"I'm sorry about that, Akira-kun…" Cake apologized.

"Huh? How are you in the safe room?"

"…I lied before…" Cake admitted. "But I'm sorry that you had to see another memory of my host. And I'm sorry that Devil put you all through those awful memories…"

So that's what happened. Joker thought grimly to himself. Of course the memory of what Shido did to Akechi was nauseating to watch. The other thieves must have seen something too that made them go quiet. Oracle saw a vision terrible enough to break down in tears. She had to remove her visors so they wouldn't fill up with her tears.

"As long as I'm in the clocktower, those memories will have no hope of resurfacing," Cake continued. "Joker knew that when he lead you all astray. The other path takes you to the church where Daddy is."

"I should have been more insistent on waiting…" Mona lamented. "Oracle would have been able to tell right off the bat we were being led into a trap."

"Mona, it's not just you that should shoulder the blame. It's my fault too…" Queen told him. "I felt something was off with the way Joker was talking but I just assumed he was just upset with letting Devil get away."

"I would," Joker reminded her. "I hate to admit it but Devil is a perfect replica of me."

"You wouldn't throw us under the bus," stated Noire. "You're too kind for that."

Joker shook his head. "Who knows…"

Joker not sounding sure of himself only worried the thieves. Whatever happened when he was in Devil's body must have shaken him. Then again, the Phantom Thieves were filled in by Cake on what occurred during the body switch for them to be kept up to date. Cake left out details of what transpired in his room and what exactly the dark memories entailed. Most of the group was capable of putting two and two together.

"The beings in the clock tower…those were illusions made by Locke…" Cake explained. That had Joker's attention. "I think it's obvious who Locke really is. He can't return to his original form until my host's treasure is stolen."

"…Loki…" Joker called out.

As soon as he said the name, the horse suddenly appeared in a purple smoke next to cake. It let out a grumbled neigh.

"Locke, don't."

The purple horse obeyed and remained still…too still for Cake's liking.

"…Where is Devil?" Joker asked.

"Daddy has some demons on his side too. He ordered them to hunt for Joker seeing as how the angels failed to find him again. These demons have no compassion for Devil despite being a demon himself. If they find him, they'll kill him…" Cake's expression darkened. "If Joker dies…then I don't think a change of heart will help my host that much."

"How come?" Skull asked. "It's not like he's like you."

"He isn't…but…"

Joker understood. Devil represented a part of Akechi like Cake did. Should any part be removed, it would damage his psyche.

"If Devil is killed, a part of Akechi's psyche would be damaged," Fox ended up clarifying for Skull. "Even if we change his heart, he still won't be able to fully recover."

"Yes…that is correct…" Cake muttered.

"What?! Why are things so complicated in this palace?"

"…I'm sorry…" Cake apologized.

"No, it's not you," Joker told the cute shadow. "It's…"

Goro Akechi had too many problems that he couldn't handle on his own. His love for the leader only added to it. Joker needed to address it to Akechi in some shape or form.

"Joker ran toward the other path to bide you all some time," Cake added. "We need to get to him before those demons kill him."

"He's strong…isn't he?" Joker had to ask.

Cake nodded his head. "He is…but he's getting weaker…like everything else in my host. He can't fight them off forever."

It was clear what the group needed to do next. However, Queen still needed to bring up something that Cake probably didn't want to talk about.

"Before we help him, may I ask why Devil thought it would be a good idea to show us those memories?" Her voice tried to remain cool but the group heard the anger in her voice.

"What…did you all see?" Joker had to ask again.

"I believe we all saw something different," Fox responded. "Different memories of what Shido has done to him. It was deplorable to say the least."

"But now that we know that Locke and Devil did it, I must ask why was it necessary," Queen continued.

"…They don't trust you," Cake admitted. "They believe that you will not help my host when all is said and done and you are all doing this as an obligation instead of genuinely wanting to help him. I have brought this up before…my host…struggles to trust others because of Daddy. I understand why everyone here is weary of my host, but if you don't see how badly it is…I feel like you will never truly understand him."

The room fell silent. Queen clenched her fist wanting to address how fucked up that sounded.

"No…I understand why Akechi would want to murder that asshole," Skull said breaking the silence. "My old man was garbage but Shido takes it ten steps further than what my old man ever did…"

"…I can't believe that such a cruel human like Shido existed…" Noire muttered to herself. Joker could tell she was trying to hold back her anger. He made a mental note to not tell her (or the other Phantom Thieves) about what memory he saw in the mansion. Cake probably implied what happened but Joker didn't want to think about the other terrible things Shido had done to his son. Throwing him to those corrupt politicians and sending him into a cold tank filled with electric eels were just the tip of the iceberg.

"Do the Phantom Thieves find me disgusting now?" Cake asked. He asked this before but ended up asking again. It hammered home how the real Akechi suffered from self-esteem issues. "It's okay to admit if you think lowly of me. Me… and Joker and Locke…we all want to show people what our host has suffered. If you don't genuinely care for him, it's best to just leave now. Joker will never give you the key if he thinks you don't care."

"That's a selfish way of looking at it," Noire said. The fact that she said it gave Cake the chills. "We do want to help him but it doesn't mean we forgive him. I think it's cruel to ask some of us to forgive when he has wronged a few of us. Akechi-kun…murdered my father. It's not something that can be swept under the rug." Noire looked Cake straight in the eye, making the shadow look toward the ground. "If you want to invoke pity from us, you have already done so."

"My host doesn't want pity…he just…"

"Wants someone to understand how he truly feels," Joker finished.

"Yes…but…"

"We can't help Akechi-kun unless we talk to him," Queen added to Noire's dialogue. "And Devil should know he can't force an opinion on us whether Akechi has gone through those terrible things or not."

Cake looked up at Queen and glared at her. "You…"

"We cannot leave Akechi-kun with those people," Queen continued ignoring the angry look Cake shot at her. "But we cannot get him help unless he has a change of heart."

"I know that…" Cake grumbled.

"Then you should also know that speaking to Devil to give us the key without a fight is important," Queen said. "You obviously care for Devil so I would imagine he would listen to you."

"He would…" Cake murmured. "He has all the information he needs to come to a conclusion."

"But he ain't going to reach a conclusion if he is killed before then," Fox finished.

"It's obvious what we need to do!" Skull declared. "Let's go find that demon, kick the ass of the demons that are trying to kill him and then kick Devil's ass again until he agrees to talk!"

"I don't think we'll need to fight him again…" Mona muttered.

"We do! I ain't going to let that asshole impersonate my best friend and then walk it off!"

"It's fine Skull…" Joker started to say but Skull had already made up his mind. He pretty much got everyone to agree with him. Joker threw his hands in the air. "I give up."

Oracle forced herself to recover from the shock so she could support the group. Granted, she was still shaken but she needed to pull herself together. She could vent about Devil later when the situation wasn't so dire. "Like Cake said, he took the other route. He's not that far above us. Let's hurry before he gets offed."

Joker couldn't agree with her more. He wanted to continue his conversation with Devil and see the differences between him and shadow to get a better grasp on how Akechi viewed the leader of the Phantom Thieves.


The Phantom Thieves left the safe room and hurried down the other path. Devil Joker might have been a strong shadow but from what Cake implied, he wouldn't last much longer.

There was one more room before the exit. If the Phantom Thieves were to leave the clock tower, they would be on the streets that lead straight to the church. Devil was in a pickle in said room surrounded by shadows representing lust and desire. Lusty demons included weaker minions like incubus, succubus and slime and stronger demons like Mara and Lilith. One shadow stood out from all the rest. A shadow wrapped around in bandages similar to a mummy. His body wasn't really attached so some body parts remained floating in midair. Compared to the other strong demons, he had an aura that defined his status as the leader of the pack of demons.

Joker felt his body shiver at the demons not because he was worried about them, but what they represented. One just needed to look at Mara to see what it would represent in the real world.

Those bastards that hurt Akechi…I'll make them pay…

"Give it up, Joker," the leader of the demons said. "You're surrounded. You don't have any more energy to fight back."

Devil sighed in defeat. He held his hands in the air as if he was surrendering. "Fine. You got me. I used too much of my powers fighting off those weak minions. You're too strong, Attis the traitor."

The shadow referred to as Attis chortled. "That's how demons roll. We side with the strongest."

"Even if the strongest is a fake god?" Devil asked darkly.

"Fake god or not, he has you beat. He wiped out your entire team."

Devil's expression darkened. He didn't have anything to say to that. He looked behind Attis and saw Cake with the Phantom Thieves. His countenance didn't change even if he acknowledged their presence. It was clear the shadows didn't notice the intruders.

"I just realized I have an appointment I must make," Devil said looking at his wrist. He didn't have a watch but he pretended to have one. "I can't continue playing with you. So sorry."

Attis called Devil out on his bluff. However, what happened next pleasantly surprised the thieves. Devil showed the group why he was so difficult to capture with a powerful almighty spell released on all the demons in the room. Cake summoned a barrier around him and the Phantom Thieves in order to avoid taking damage. The weaker demons didn't stand a chance. They evaporated into nothingness upon being hit by the spell. Even the more powerful demons like Mara and Lilith couldn't handle Devil's might. Cold sweat dripped down Joker's neck. Why was Devil so powerful? Was this what the others felt when he summoned powerful deities?

No, there's something off about Devil. His powers are strong…too strong…like a god. Akechi doesn't view me as one, so why…

Attis took a fatal blow from the attack due to being too close to the incubus. He went down rather quickly. Devil yawned after he unleashed the attack.

"You really think I ran out of energy after that zerg rush?" Devil asked Attis who still tried to register what just happened. "Really, you need to bring stronger opponents. Then again, your sneak attacks during your zerg rush got me real good."

The Phantom Thieves were prepared to help Devil but the fact he just dealt with the enemies before them allowed them to lower their guard. Oracle's visors scanned Devil as if trying to determine what his power level was. She failed to do so when the group battled him in the tree. She needed to see how strong he was in case Devil decided to fight them again and waste more of their precious time.

However Devil had no need to fight the Phantom Thieves for a second time. His attention was to the demon that had betrayed him in favor of Cognitive Shido. Devil leered at Attis as his body lay dying. The shadow had the audacity to glare back at him.

"You picked the wrong side to fight on," Devil hissed as he pointed his pistol at Attis's head. "Be a good pal and disappear."

Attis had no intention of dying without getting the last hit on Devil. Devil was rather slow with pulling the trigger. When Attis's body started burning in a last ditch attempt, something flew through the air and hit the shadow straight in the forehead. The shadow vanished into thin air before it could hurt Devil. The thieves were rather taken back by the sudden attack.

"…Goro, he was my prey," Devil groaned without looking back at Akechi's shadow.

"I'm sorry. I thought you had cold fingers," Cake snarked. The kind tone he had vanished for a moment. "You know I won't let you get hurt because of me."

Devil rolled his eyes at Cake's concern. He put his pistol away before looking toward the Phantom Thieves (more specifically Joker). He already knew that Cake was capable of powerful light magic and now that half of his powers returned, it was easier for him to get quick attacks in like that.

"The route's clear," Devil said casually. "A clean path straight to the old bastard."

That was nice for them to know, but of course Cognitive Shido wasn't the issue here.

"You bastard! You nearly got us all killed!" Skull yelled as he put his fist in front of him. He wanted to punch Devil so badly but he held himself back.

Surprisingly, Devil didn't look Skull straight in the eye. When he sighed, a small white smoke appeared where his breath was.

"Yeah…I apologize for that…"

The Phantom Thieves and Cake (especially Cake) were surprised by his apology. Joker knew if he messed up that much he would be on his knees and apologize to his friends.

I guess Akechi knows how I would act if I were to pull a stunt like this after all.

"…I don't regret doing that," Devil continued. "I did what I had to do."

"Excuse me?!" Skull raised his voice.

"Skull, please!" Panther shouted. "Let's hear him out."

"I know that but it doesn't change how I want to punch this smug jerk in the face!"

"Yeah…my partner Skull Rider would probably do that too," Devil said in a matter-of-fact statement. "I kind of miss his annoying ass."

"What did you say?!"

"He wasn't talking about you…" said Mona but Skull wasn't listening.

"I don't trust you guys," Devil added, pretending that Skull wasn't angry with him. "You judge Goro like the adults judge him. If adults cannot be trusted, why should I trust you?"

Skull would have said "Because we're the Phantom Thieves" but that wouldn't be a good enough excuse.

"If you haven't noticed, I am the part of Goro's psyche that doesn't trust outsiders. One false move and I'll be dead." Devil looked over to Joker specifically when he said this. "My precious Goro may be in charge of this place but he has no power unlike me, as limited as it is. It's why I enlisted the help of a few animals in order to delay that old bastard's plan."

Just mentioning the word "animal" caused Locke to appear from a purple cloud above Devil and land right next to him. Cake wasn't all that pleased.

"Wait, so he's your horse?" Skull asked.

"He belongs to Goro," Devil answered. "He's a good boy."

"I told Locke to obey him no matter what," Cake explained. "The ideas he had were different from mine, but we both wanted to do the same thing just in case…"

"You really didn't trust us…" Panther mumbled.

"I'm sorry," Cake apologized. "My host is incapable of trusting others. You have seen what he has gone through…"

"But why would you even think that showing Akechi's memories would make things better?!" Skull questioned angrily. "We could have died back there and then what? We wouldn't be able to help him!"

"Are you willing to proceed through the palace?" Devil asked Skull with another question. "Despite what you learned, are you going to keep going?"

"Hell yeah! We're in for the long haul."

Joker sighed in relief. At least Skull wasn't going to be one of the people to doubt his judgement…

"The closer you get to open the host's heart, the harder the palace becomes. Even if we know we should trust the Phantom Thieves due to their accomplishments, our host cannot find it within him to allow others to help him. If I had a choice, I would have given you the key a long time ago." Devil frowned thinking about the "what if" scenarios. "Alas, we needed to test how tenacious the Phantom Thieves were before that scenario was even possible."

"Did we pass?" Joker asked sarcastically.

"Satisfactory," Devil answered without missing a beat. "As you know, our host is paranoid. If he doesn't trust anyone then it reflects in the palace. The other versions of your friends are dead because of how he sees them in the real world."

"…So we broke his trust in the real world somehow…" Queen muttered.

"I don't think there was an incident that would make us dead to him in a month," Mona started. "Joker would have died if it pertained to him betraying us…"

"I cannot think of anything at the moment," Fox added.

"We'll think about why later," Joker told the group. "When we find Akechi, I'll try to get him to talk. He still trusts me."

"That's the only reason I'm alive," Cognitive Joker stated. "But even if I'm the last one standing, I'm losing my powers. Soon, that old man is going to find me and kill me and then that will be the end of the palace. I already struggled with that stupid Attis guy. If I had to fight him one on one, he would probably destroy me without breaking a sweat…"

"Why would it be the end?" Mona asked cautiously. "You're not Akechi's shadow."

"Goro may not be dead but him being trapped here is equivalent to death…"

"In the real world, I assume Akechi-kun would just close himself off completely…" Noire mumbled.

"Not only that, but the people after him might drive Akechi-kun to do something reckless…" Queen added. "We cannot allow that to happen."

Devil did believe that the Phantom Thieves wanted to take action because of him. However, the more the Phantom Thieves learned about Akechi, the more they wanted to help him.

"If the Phantom Thieves have the resolve to save my host, then I will give the key without a fight," Devil finished. "As long as you promise to help him even when he receives a change of heart, then I will know things will be okay."

"We can't allow Akechi to be alone again," Joker told him. "It's not right after everything we saw."

"Akira-kun…it's a really bad habit for you to speak for your friends," Cake groaned.

"Actually, saving Akechi is something we can all agree on," Panther interrupted. "I can relate to his troubles…and I refuse to let those rotten adults get away with their treatment."

Devil's expression softened. It did not go unnoticed by Skull who only growled softly in Cognitive Joker's direction.

"Shido has taken away something important to most of us," Noire admitted. "Even if Akechi-kun killed my father…Shido cannot continue treating Akechi-kun like a puppet."

"Akechi-kun killed my mother…" Devil flinched hearing Oracle's voice. He treated her quite badly and he was surprised that she hadn't snapped at him like Skull did. "You're a jerk for making me watch my mother die before my eyes! All those years, I had convinced myself I was the reason mother died. When I found out Akechi-kun killed her by Shido's orders, I was livid! The fact you showed me he didn't know only makes things worse for me. He was the one who pulled the trigger even though I know it was all Shido's fault. You make it very hard for me to want to help but at the same time, I know Akechi-kun is like me. He's crying for help from the bottom of his heart and that's why we as the Phantom Thieves are here. So even if I yell at him later, I still need to help him. It's what Mother would want."

Oracle's speech surprised the two shadows. She had every reason to be furious with them but she kept it together. They truly underestimated her.

"…We're not perfect," Panther said to Devil. "Akechi-kun isn't either. But Joker has been saying to give him another chance. The further into this palace we go, the more I realize that he really does deserve a second chance. But we can't give that chance to him if we can't collect all the keys to the palace."

"…You're too kind…" Devil mumbled to himself.

"Or you're just too paranoid," Cake joked. "After interacting with the Phantom Thieves, I believe that our host can be saved."

Everyone seemed to agree with wanting to help Akechi. Queen still remained weary and reminded the group they still needed to sit down and talk to Akechi in person to get his side of the story. Moving on from the past would prove to be difficult if they didn't speak to him. Joker just hoped that nothing bad would happen from talking it out with the detective.

Skull leered at Cake now instead of Devil. The shadow noticed and tilted his head in confusion.

"Is something wrong?" Cake asked in a puzzled tone.

Before Skull could even answer, the priest suddenly wrapped his arms around his chest. He gasped for air before he found his body losing its balance.

Devil had the fastest reaction to Cake suddenly collapsing. He was by the priest's side before he had a chance to hit the ground. Joker felt his heart stop thinking the worst had happened.

"Cake!" Joker exclaimed. He approached the two without thinking of the consequences. Devil glared at his counterpart the moment he got too close.

"Back off!" Devil hissed.

"Hey, I wanted to check on him!"

Devil reacted as badly as Joker did. He really did reflect what Joker would have done in this situation or at least wanted to do. Devil sighed as he helped Cake stand up. The shadow's legs continued to wobble as if all the strength in his legs left him.

"Cake, you used too much power today," Devil lectured. "You need to rest."

"…There isn't much time…" Cake mumbled. The shadow began coughing. That was already a bad sign. "My host…uh…"

"What about Akechi?!" Joker asked with a hint of panic in his voice.

The other Phantom Thieves had their attention on Cake. The shadow struggled to speak. Devil's expression changed realizing that simply resting wasn't going to be enough for the shadow.

"…I…uh…" Cake began before he was interrupted by the clock's chime. His eyes widened in horror. "No! There is supposed to be more time!"

Oracle's readings of the palace started to change. It began to shake like there was an earthquake going on. The thieves nearly got knocked over from the shaking. However, the shaking was only temporarily and it subsided. Cake ended up falling to his knees. This time, he didn't get up.

"Goro!" Devil shouted. "What is going on?"

"…My host…something terrible is going to happen to him. The clock tower…it's spinning out of control…if you look at the hands…"

Now was the chance to ask about the number on the clock tower.

"Cake, explain why there is a countdown on the clock tower." Queen said in a demanding voice.

Cake's expression darkened. "Daddy…uh…he has men after my host in the real world. The numbers represented how many days are left before they catch him. My host couldn't outrun them forever. They…they must have caught him…or they're close to getting him…I don't know. I feel like I'm losing my connection with my host and I can only feel his pain…"

Joker needed to keep cool. If he lost his composure now then he wouldn't get it back. But being told that those perverted men would catch Akechi didn't help his mindset.

Akechi is going to get caught. Akechi is going to get caught. Akechi is going to get caught if I don't do something. We need to leave the Metaverse now! Joker's mind raced. There was still a logical side of him that reminded him that they haven't secured a path to the treasure yet and leaving now would make it nearly impossible to steal without cutting the time close.

Devil weighed the options in his head. He groaned as he looked toward the Phantom Thieves. "You should all leave now."

The Phantom Thieves stared at Devil with disbelief. Joker wasn't having it but Mona beat him to it.

"Why would we do that? We haven't secured a route to the treasure!" the cat exclaimed. "We're missing two keys and you have one of them."

The incubus was far from amused. "If you want the key, I'll hand it to you tomorrow. I refuse to let this key fall into the wrong hands. With that old bastard getting desperate to find me, he's going to tear through Goro's room again." Devil needed a better argument than just admitting that he would bestow the third key to the Phantom Thieves. "The treasure to the host is in the mansion. It's not like others you have encountered. Because Goro owns this palace, you won't have to worry about Goro fighting to protect his treasure. He has already told you he desires freedom and will give up his treasure if he obtains it."

"…Are you suggesting that we won't need to prepare like the other palaces?" Fox asked suspiciously.

"How would you know?" Oracle asked. "You're a cognitive of Joker. Cake doesn't know everything yet you do?"

Devil rolled his eyes, "I'm just saying that the old bastard has the last key. When you return tomorrow, you just need to defeat him and take his key. That will open up the door to the treasure. Cake will offer no resistance because that is when the handcuffs will be removed and he will be free."

Cake smiled at the thought. "It's true…I won't fight you…if you get rid of Daddy."

The objective of the palace was different from the previous ones. Mona didn't understand why a shadow would happily give up their treasure for something they couldn't possibly obtain. Once the treasure was taken, the palace would collapse and whatever plans Cake had would crumble with it. The shadows and beings of this world must know this so why were they insistent on this fantasy ending?

"Shouldn't you be checking up on the host?" Devil questioned the group. "If what Goro said is true, then taking his treasure won't change a damn thing. It would be hard for me if something terrible happened to him in the outside world. Life is already difficult now with me going solo and that old bastard trying his damn hardest to get me."

Joker agreed with cognitive Joker. They needed to leave now. Still…

"We don't have any leads in the real world…" Mona mumbled. "Even if we leave now…"

"Oracle, do you think you can track him down?" Joker requested immediately.

Oracle didn't give an answer immediately. Joker already had an idea what she was going to bring up. Ever since they thought Akechi died, Oracle hadn't been able to track his cell phone. He still had it. That much was confirmed by their leader. However, the bug that was placed wasn't there now. Either Akechi removed it himself or someone else did. Joker wanted to bet on the latter.

"I can try but I have a lot of ground to cover when we get back," Oracle answered. "And…"

The memories of her mother exhausted her. Everyone could see that. Joker knew he was asking for too much but they didn't have much time left if what Cake said was correct.

"Really, I will take care of Cake," Devil insisted. "Just leave and make sure the host is safe."

"I will…" Joker muttered. He didn't sound as confident as Devil Joker and for good reasons. It's not that he didn't think he would keep his promise to protect Akechi. It was the other thieves. What they said in front of Devil might change when they actually left. Still, Joker needed to believe in his friends and hope they would put up with his selfishness a bit more before they focused on Mementos. "Everyone, let's go. We mustn't waste any more time here. We'll take down the Shido of the palace tomorrow."

Chapter Text

The one thing Akira didn't want to see when he returned to the real world was the police. Besides Sae, the police were never on their side. The worst part was how Makoto had warned him about the cops coming in and arresting them should they take too long with going through Mementos. At the very least Sojiro would prevent the cops from coming in if it meant protecting his surrogate daughter.

"Oh come on! Why the hell are the cops here?" Ryuji had to shout. "I thought Sae-san said we had time!"

Makoto frowned. She tried to remain calm but even she was panicking. "I-I don't know. Cake said that something changed so maybe…"

"But it has to deal with Akechi's situation, not ours," Akira said swiftly. Still, why the hell are the cops here already?

The group had nowhere to go. They could try to play it off like they were a bunch of teenagers hanging out but the cops were onto them or at least the ones that were working with Shido.

"We can't really stay up here," Ann admitted. "Maybe if we pretend to be a late studying group and are about to leave, maybe we can get passed the cop."

Morgana jumped on the idea immediately. There were flaws with this plan but it's not like the group could stay in the attic. Every minute they wasted hurt Akechi according to Cake. Akira had to keep Devil's promise. He will save Akechi! He just had to!

"Lady Ann, there's no need for you to go first," Morgana purred. "You can just leave it to the guys to go down first and if the coast isn't clear, you will be safe."

Ryuji glared at the cat. "Oh, so we're going to be the sacrifices if things don't go well? Come on!"

Akira didn't waste a moment going through with Ann's plan. Even if Makoto ordered Akira to slow down and not be the first one to head down the stairs, Akira already found himself halfway down them. Yusuke followed right behind him without arguing unlike Ryuji. Downstairs, Sojiro stood in front of the doorway blocking the cops from entering the café. This didn't seem like a good idea but once the voice of the cop was heard, the leader of the Phantom Thieves let out a sigh of relief. Was it bad that he felt at ease because the person on the other side sounded like a young adult instead of the corrupt adults he was used to?

"P-Please! Let me talk to Akechi-chan's friend! I was told he would give me the information I need in order to help him! I know he's staying here!"

The detective's friend was clearly Akira. The leader of the Phantom Thieves remained cautious even if it felt odd to hear that.

"For the last time, I don't know who you're talking about. It's late. Go home."

"B-But…"

Akira looked over to the other thieves. He wasn't going to make a decision without their opinion again.

"He's very suspicious," Makoto stated the obvious.

"But he says he wants to help Akechi-kun," Haru added. "It wouldn't hurt to hear him out."

"But it's a cop…" Ryuji whined.

"A rather incompetent one," Yusuke told him. "I do not see the problem in letting him see you Akira. He doesn't sound that threatening."

Akira agreed. The cop's already had the authority to search the entire café. If this kid knew about that, he would have forced his way in already. Sojiro took advantage of the fact that the kid was clueless on the search.

"And what will happen if it's a trap?" Makoto asked.

"It's simple. We knock him out and drag him up into Akira's attic," Futaba proclaimed.

The Phantom Thieves weren't amused. Hopefully, things don't go that poorly. Then again, they needed to find Akechi so they needed all the help they could get.

Akira gulped as he finally approached the entrance. Sojiro was this close to getting the cop to leave but the raven haired teen had to ruin it.

"It's okay Boss. I was expecting him."

Sojiro did not believe him and for good reasons. Akira would have mentioned something as important as this before the group went into the palace.

"O-Oh! Are you Akira Kurusu?" The cop asked.

Akira got a better look at the cop. Cop didn't seem the right way to describe this person. He was more like a detective judging from his odd way of dressing. The young "cop" had short blond hair and red eyes. Upon further inspection of his hair, Akira noticed a few black spots. That gave the impression that his hair was bleached instead of being naturally blond like Ann. That made it difficult to determine if the boy was born in Japan or not. If Akira took a guess, he would think he wasn't from Japan. His British accent stood out (from what little dialogue they heard from upstairs). His outfit consisted of a dark green long-sleeve shirt, black pants that fit tightly around him. Finally, he wore a hat that fit perfectly on his head. The hat even had cute purple bat wings on both sides. What caught Akira's attention was on the waist of the detective's pants where a katana was on one side and a pistol on the other. He may have looked innocent but he was armed. Still, he didn't have his hands on either weapon.

"And what if I am?" Akira asked. "Going to take me back to prison?"

The boy tilted his head in confusion. "Huh?"

Akira didn't give him an inch. Ryuji spoke up instead to his annoyance.

"Don't play dumb! You're one of them!"

"Uhh…"

"He is referring to the police force," the other man spoke.

"Oh…but I was forcibly transferred outside of Tokyo…so I'm locked out of the loop." The boy said chuckling nervously. "I only came back recently due to the elections. The police station is apparently understaffed but I haven't told them I arrived yet."

Akira observed the boy. Was he telling the truth?

"And how do we know you're not spying on us for the police?" Makoto questioned.

"Lord Zane has no reason to inform the police of what he does outside of work. They have treated him with uttermost disrespect despite his hard work."

Now, the person behind the detective chose to speak. Compared to how the detective was the bodyguard intimidated the Phantom Thieves. Perhaps it was because of the bodyguard's large build. Perhaps it was because of the giant sword (that was certainly not a cosplay prop). Or maybe it was the mask the bodyguard had that covered the upper portion of his face. The colors this person had contrasted to the smaller detective. If Akira didn't know any better, this guy was trying to appear knightley while still trying to maintain a professional appearance. The clothes contrasted as a result. Black and purple were a good combination. A black suit with a purple undershirt fit well with the person. Having a black eye mask that covered his face also made him look quite nice. Still with dark colors, the long blond hair stood out…

"Momiji, stand down," the detective ordered. "I don't want them to think we're the enemy."

The bodyguard didn't respond immediately. He kept his hands on the hilt of his sword ready to pull it out if the Phantom Thieves didn't allow the detective to speak.

Ryuji stared at the sword debating whether to open his big mouth or not. As intimidating as the boy's bodyguard was, they didn't need the authorities getting in their way.

"What are you going to do with that plastic sword?" Ryuji asked in a taunting voice.

"Ryuji!" Ann shouted hoping he would keep his mouth shut.

Even though the mask blocked the bodyguard's eyes, the way he stared directly at Ryuji sent shivers down his spine.

"I assure you it is a very real sword. If you push your luck, I will cut you down."

"Momiji!" the boy yelled again. "Stop it. There's no need for violence."

The bodyguard must have rolled his eyes underneath the mask but all that was heard was the disgruntled sound.

"I apologize for the intrusion and my rudeness," the boy apologized. "I…I'm Akechi-chan's co-worker, Xenos Holmes. My bodyguard is Momiji Musashi. I was told from a friend that Akechi needed my assistance and to find his friend."

"If you needed to find him, why are you armed?" Ryuji demanded.

The boy called Xenos groaned. "I can't be too careful…as I said. I wanted to confirm that I wasn't being lead into a trap again…"

"Again?" Haru asked.

"Well…you see…I'm not really…on good terms with Sir Shido-san…" Xenos started. His hat kept him from having to look at anyone when talking but he was still loud enough to hear. "I don't know what I did wrong a few years ago. I was originally Akechi-kun's partner here but once I met Shido-san, I had to transfer out of Tokyo. I wasn't allowed to return until now but I was able to take assignments outside of Japan. It wasn't…all that bad…but I don't know what I could have done to warrant that…"

Akira (and possibly the other thieves) knew from Akechi's memories. At least from what Akira had seen, Shido threatened to kill someone close to Akechi unless he cut all contact with him. If this is the person that Shido referred to, then everything added up so far. Akira examined Xenos carefully. The more the boy talked, the more Akira started to realize that Xenos was harmless to their plight. This detective…wore his heart on his sleeve. He was someone that was easy to manipulate even though he was easy to trust with information. It sort of made sense that the ex-thief befriended Xenos and partnered up with him. If there was one type of person that Akechi appreciated, it was someone that was loyal to him.

"If I were to guess, you were seen as a threat to Shido," Makoto answered.

"But I don't know how…"

"It's because you're friends with Akechi," Akira told him. "We started digging into Shido's organization and learned a few things…"

Akira didn't exactly want to drop that his group were the Phantom Thieves. If the kid was locked out of the loop, it wouldn't be that big of an issue. This kid already dropped signs of knowing anyway.

"Eh…that seems far fetched…" Xenos muttered. "I'm horrible at my job in comparison to Akechi-chan. All I'm good for is doing the paperwork he doesn't want to do."

Akechi-chan? Akira thought to himself. Why the hell would Akechi allow this guy to address him as such?

"Lord Zane, please get back on topic," Momiji spoke. "We do not have all night."

Xenos blinked as if remembering his reason for being in Café Leblanc. His expression changed ever so slightly.

"My apologies. I am here because of my friend. Akechi-chan is in trouble and I need all the information I can get to help him."

"And who is the name of your friend?" Ann asked.

"…I cannot say," Xenos admitted. "He would like to be kept anonymous and I personally think it is better that way. But he's not dangerous, I reassure you. He's really…weird."

"Meddlesome is the better word," Momiji mocked. "You only learned that your friend was in trouble from that idiot meddling."

If Akira were to ask Futaba to do a search on Xenos and those he is associated with on the web, they would figure out who learned of Akechi's state.

"If Akechi-chan is in trouble with someone, I can use my connections to help him," Xenos explained. "Someone has to take me to where he is and he has to tell me what is going on if he wants me to do anything."

"Do you have the power to…" Akira started but trailed off.

"Because of my friend and the aftermath of the elections, I am safe. If Akechi-chan is in danger, I feel responsible for him." The detective paused before remembering something else. "Oh, but you don't have to believe me. I could be a corrupt cop like you say and just want to catch Akechi-chan for breaking the law."

Akira wondered if Xenos intentionally dug a deeper hole to make it harder to trust him. Makoto had the questions before he could stop her.

"Are you aware of what Akechi-kun has done?"

"…Only a little," Xenos responded. "Akechi-chan is very vague about what Shido-san has made him do. I put two and two together before but could never do anything about it. Because of what is happening now…there is a chance to finally get him out of it. But after I talk to you, I need to see Sae-san and talk about what to do from there."

So there was a way out for Akechi after the palace was dealt with. Saving Akechi was a short-term goal because afterwards, they would deal with Mementos. After that, the Phantom Thieves wouldn't know what to do with the brunette. He could help them in Mementos. He could stay out of their way if the thieves still didn't trust him after the change of heart. He would most likely turn himself in for all the crimes he committed…and in Akira's mind…that wouldn't benefit anyone but Futaba and Haru who would want him to pay for what he had done…

"My sister has her hands full," Makoto told the blond detective.

"I know she's the only person who is willing to make Shido pay for the terrible things he has done," Xenos began. "I know I shouldn't be nagging her now, but at the moment…it's not really an option. I'm locked out of the loop and if I want to help my friend, I have to force myself to be involved."

"And if someone tries to shoot you, I'll be right here to shield you," Momiji grumbled.

"…You don't have to trust me but I swear I will do all I can to help Akechi-chan. He's my friend…even if he probably doesn't see me as such."

Xenos may have second guessed his friendship but judging from the memory Akira saw where Shido threatened Xenos' life if his son didn't cut communications with him, there had to be something there. Still, the raven haired teen didn't like the idea that Xenos and Akechi might be closer than they first appeared. Why didn't Akechi bother talking about Xenos if they were close? Was he scared into silence or did he not trust the Phantom Thieves enough with this little information?

"We don't have that many options," Morgana spoke. To the normal person, he just meowed but the thieves didn't need to make eye contact with the black cat to agree with him. "If he tries anything funny, we can probably silence him."

"I don't think that would be a good idea…" Haru mumbled. She kept her voice down hoping Xenos and Momiji wouldn't hear her "He's still a detective…"

"But he's still weak looking," Futaba hummed.

Xenos frowned. "I heard that…"

His hearing was something else. Even if the girls were whispering amongst the other thieves, he heard exactly what they said. Morgana sneered at Xenos causing the young detective to flinch.

"W-Why is your cat mad at me?" Xenos asked.

"It's rude to eavesdrop," Futaba reminded him. "Anyway, it won't be a bad idea to believe you for now. I think our leader had the same thing in mind."

Of course Akira knew what he wanted to do. Use this person in front of him and if he is serious about helping Akechi, then it would give the group less to worry about. They still needed to find Akechi but at least they had another ally in the law enforcement with them.

"Don't eff this up," said Ryuji. "You backstab us and you're going to regret it."

"Eek! Why are you thieves so aggressive?" Xenos wondered out loud. "I-I don't lie about this sort of thing!"

"Lord Zane is too honest for his own good," Momiji added. He backed him up but then added this little quip. "He almost died on numerous occasions because he's so trusting."

"Not true! I can handle myself…" Xenos muttered. "B-But…I really am serious. Look, if you can tell me where he is, I'll do my best to work things out."

"Unfortunately, we don't know where Akechi-kun is either," Makoto stated. "We were going to look for him before it got too late."

It was very late. The group had gotten back around 9 PM so they didn't have much time before the cops came around telling students to go back home due to curfew. Xenos could stay up all night searching but without a lead, he was a sitting duck. Sae wouldn't be able to talk to him tonight. Perhaps tomorrow when the group went inside the palace will Xenos be able to show them that he meant what he said.

"Uh…I should give you my number…" Xenos muttered. He searched his pockets for something but at that moment, his hat flew up. Everyone sans Xenos was surprised that the hat had a mind of its own.

"Woah, the hat is alive?!" Ryuji wondered.

On closer inspection, something was underneath the hat. Actually, it made sense given the batwings. Morgana immediately looked ready to pounce at the furry beast underneath the hat.

"A bat?!" Morgana hissed.

A small squeak noise was heard under the bat. A piece of paper fell out of Xenos' hair the moment the hat rested on Xenos' head again. Sojiro wasn't all that impressed.

"S-Sorry, I do have a pet bat with me…he just…likes hiding under my hat…" Xenos muttered. He sounded embarrassed. "Uh…he took the paper with my contact information…I uh…"

Still flustered, Xenos ended up approaching Futaba and shoving his number to her instead of Akira. He didn't look her straight in the eye. Futaba smirked seeing how red his face was just from the mention of a pet bat.

"…This is a no pet zone…" Sojiro groaned. "I made the cat an exception but I don't need a bat flying around in here."

"M-Mori is harmless!" Xenos defended. "I…I'll just take my leave! P-Please contact me if you get in contact with Akechi-chan or Sae-san. T-Thanks for letting me talk!"

Momiji chuckled seeing the young detective bolt out of the café like he was in the wrong. He did nothing wrong but Momiji found it entertaining nonetheless.

"I hope Lord Zane didn't make a bad impression," Momiji spoke. "He means well."

"He needs work on his social skills," Futaba said in an un-ironic way.

"We will contact him if something comes up," Akira told the bodyguard. "Be at ease."

Momiji nodded his head before apologizing to Sojiro. He then took his leave after the blond detective. Futaba looked down at the number that the detective gave her. She continued to smirk looking at the business card.

"I think he gave me his unprofessional card."

Yusuke looked down to see what she was referring to. Detective cards were neatly printed and professional. This card was literally the opposite with fancy colors and talking about a stage name.

"A performer…eh…" Yusuke didn't sound all that impressed.

"It would explain the bat," Haru brought up. "So cute…"

Akira sighed. Now really wasn't the time for that. He looked over at Sojiro who gave him a suspicion glance. Something told the leader of the thieves that Sojiro would make things more difficult for the group tomorrow…


The moment Xenos left the café, Akira wasted no time telling the rest of the thieves what he had in mind for finding Akechi. The group would split into groups and locate Akechi. The moment they found him, they would alert the others to come along. Makoto insisted that if their leader found the detective first, he would immediately speak to them before doing anything. Akira demonstrated that he would act on his own if someone wasn't watching him. For this reason, Makoto assigned Ryuji to keep an eye on Akira. Out of everyone in the group, Ryuji was the closest to Akira and could talk some sense into him if he tried anything stupid. The student council president expected Ryuji to not screw this up (and yet Morgana snarked about how Ryuji will find a way to mess up).

Yusuke and Ann would stay with Futaba. She would be in her room searching all of Japan for any clues on Akechi's whereabouts. Even though Akira made it clear that he had Akechi's cell phone number, she still needed to track it. If Shido's associates were on the move like Xenos implied, the group needed to stick together and finish the palace tomorrow. Again, Makoto warned the group about finishing up finals. Really, it was inconvenient that traversing the palace and exams happened at the same time. The group would be dead before Christmas!

It left Makoto and Haru with little to do in comparison. Besides checking up on Sae, all they could do was gather information from outside sources and search for Akechi in the most obscure places while waiting for Futaba to get them a lead. To Akira, it was clear that the upperclassmen wanted to focus on their studies. Still, they wouldn't say that out loud and definitely wouldn't bring it up.

Akira wished that his mind wasn't all over the place. His orders would have been better than just going with what Xenos suggested. They still couldn't trust him but Futaba was willing to spy on him while also searching for Akechi's whereabouts.

"Akira, have a moment?"

Akira didn't realize Ryuji was still talking to him.

"Earth to Akira!"

Akira just nodded his head. Ryuji probably assumed his leader wasn't really listening to him in the first place. Morgana rolled his eyes at how disinterested Akira was acting after everyone dispersed.

The trio went up to the attic where Akira made sure to call Akechi. The first time, he obviously didn't respond. The raven haired teen left a message but felt like that wouldn't be enough. He called the detective a second time and then a third time and still no response. Akira huffed in response to Akechi's lack of response. There was no way it was too late. He would have been annoyed and picked up the phone by now!

"Akira, you know we have to talk about what happened in the palace."

No, they didn't. Ryuji was just upset (as everyone else probably) about the images Devil Joker forced him to witness.

"What's there to talk about?"

"There's a lot to talk about!" Ryuji exclaimed. "What happened while you were in your faker's body? If that jerk controlled you and lead us to a trap, surely you must have been doing something."

Why was Ryuji being observant now?

"Nothing happened at the mansion," Akira said quickly. "There were memories there too but nothing that probably wasn't shown in that one area…"

Ryuji stared at his friend suspiciously. "Was it as bad as the memories of that bastard hurting Akechi?"

Akira's expression gave him away. Yeah, like he could admit that he witnessed Akechi being raped the first time and nearly losing control of himself. A leader wouldn't do that and given what Akira has seen in the past, that said a lot.

"Why do you need to know?"

"I'm asking because if you saw something, you would go out of your way to help Akechi. I mean, yeah we all know that we need to help him. Those memories are proof that if we don't help him, he'll suffer that hell again."

"Yeah…"

"But…I think the others don't want to tell you now…but…you should know that even if we save Akechi, he has to own up to the damage he's done."

Akira visibly flinched. He leered at his best friend causing him to take a step back. He rarely seen Akira this mad…

"Look, Akira. We can only do so much. We can save him from that life but you know he'll probably turn himself in even if we got his detective friend on our side and…"

"I refuse to let that happen…" Akira growled to himself. "When the law is working with Shido, they will just lead Akechi back to those scumbags."

"But you can't hide him without your probation…"

Before Akira had a chance to argue with Ryuji, his phone vibrated. Akira used this opportunity to see who was texting him.

[Goro Akechi: Akira-kun, get out of my heart. You're picking the  worst  times to do it when you know what is going on.]

Akechi seemed to be upset. Instead of texting back, Akira decided to make a call instead. He'd rather hear Akechi's voice anyway. The detective had the choice to not pick up the phone but humored Akira anyway.

"You really are obnoxious."

Akira chuckled. Akechi still had the strength to snark at him.

"Good evening to you too, honey."

Morgana could be heard groaning in the back.

"Seeing as how you want to annoy me and I can't be on the phone for now, I will tell you again. Stop trying to change my heart. You won't get anything from it."

"Not necessary. Your assistance will be vital for us."

Before Akechi could say anything, a loud knock could be heard on his line. Akira noticed that the detective fell silent and started to breathe heavily on the other line.

"Akechi?"

"Akira-kun, I will not ask you again. Stop going into my palace. You are going to get everyone killed!"

"Akechi, what's that noise in the background?"

Akira would ignore Akechi's demands to stop going into his palace. They were almost done. When they encountered Devil again, they would retrieve the third key. Then they would deal with Cognitive Shido and get the final key. If they do that, then Akechi could be able to think clearer than before and understand why he is being given a second chance.

"It's nothing of your concern. Just listen to me and don't go back into my palace!"

"You're very persistent on this issue," Akira started. "There isn't anything in there that I don't know about you."

Akechi paused. Akira would have thought he hung up but the banging on the other side was getting louder. There was some shuffling and shouting on the other line. Akira tensed thinking that something bad was happening.

"Akechi…where are you?"

"…My apartment…" Akechi mumbled. "I really shouldn't be here…but because you Phantom Thieves entered my palace, I feel light-headed…"

Akira looked over to Morgana in confusion. Why was Akechi being affected by their venturing into the palace when no one else did?

"Don't look at me! Akechi shouldn't even have a palace! He's a Persona user!" The cat yelled.

"Is that why…"

Akira heard the sound of something locking. Akechi sighed in defeat as he seemed to sit down somewhere.

"I was doing just fine avoiding Shido's men and then you decide to go into my palace and making me feel like this…" Akechi placed his hand on his forehead. Why did he feel so tired? What were the Phantom Thieves doing that affected his health in the real world? "I need to avoid them for a little while longer…so don't do anything in my palace until then."

"Akechi…"

Akira's eyes widened when he heard Akechi let out a surprised scream on the other side. Someone must have busted through his door. Something along the lines of "COME OUT WHEREVER YOU ARE?!" echoed in the background. Then the banging on another door happened.

"Akechi! Where are you? What's going on?! Akechi?!"

Akechi took a deep breath trying to calm himself down. He murmured something but whatever he said didn't change the situation outside.

"…I locked myself in the bathroom." Akechi mumbled. "They found me…"

"What?!"

"Actually, that's my fault. I got careless and came back for something last night. I already signed that contract…so they came to pick me up."

Akira squeezed his phone, "…What…"

"This is the last time we will be speaking. Don't call me. Don't go into my palace. Just forget about me and go on with your life."

The banging got louder. Akechi made a quiet whine seeing that the lock was going to be become undone in few more minutes if they didn't decide to destroy the door entirely.

"…So I guess this is goodbye…" Akechi said into the phone. He was about to hang up had Akira not been persistent.

"Don't fuck with me Akechi!" Akira suddenly cursed. That caught not only Akechi by surprise but Ryuji and Morgana as well. "Are you really going to give up after running away from those guys for so long? Don't give up!"

Ryuji opened his mouth but closed it. He has never seen his friend curse. Akira kept his cool no matter what. Whatever Akechi said must have finally set him off.

"Akira-kun, it's already too late. I cannot do anything now that the contract is signed…"

"It was against your will, right? You can take it back from them! Just don't let yourself be treated like some puppet!"

"I already am…" Akechi sounded so defeated. "Akira-kun…just give it up. My future has already been decided…"

"Nothing has been decided! You survived Shido's Palace! Are you going to continue letting that man control you?"

Akechi jumped again seeing the knob get pushed out. A sinister laughter ran through the detective's ear. His body trembled and Akechi was certain he would drop his phone at any moment.

"Akechi, what was that noise? Akechi?!"

The door creaked opened. They were here for him. Akechi had nowhere else to go and Akira was screaming at him from the other line.

"It's time to go little prince." The man said. "Or should I say little princess?"

Akira was losing Akechi. He could hear what the men were saying on the other line. What was Akechi doing?

"Akechi! Can you hear me?! Akechi?!"

"…Save me…"

Did he hear him right? "What?"

"Shinjuku…"

"Stop talking to your boyfriend. It's time to go. You have wasted enough time as it is."

Akechi held his head down. He seemed to have submitted to his fate. However…

"Hmm, what's wrong princess? Need to take a piss?"

"Save me…" Akechi mumbled into the phone. "Please…save me Akira-kun!"

At that moment, the phone cut off. Akira could call Akechi's name repeatedly but he would not answer. Shido's associates have finally gotten to Akechi and were going to take him away.

"Dammit!" Akira cursed as he pulled his phone away from his ear. "Dammit…why did I let this happen?!"

"Akira, what happened?" Morgana asked even though he had an idea what happened on the other line.

The adrenaline started to take over the leader of the Phantom Thieves. Morgana and Ryuji wanted to be filled in one what was said on the other line. Akira's actions spoke volumes. He was already searching for his jacket and preparing to leave the attic.

"Earth to Akira!" Morgan shouted. "Fill us in!"

"We have no time!" Akira announced. "Those bastards have Akechi! If we don't get to Shinjuku now, we'll lose all traces of him by tonight!"

Oh, did Ryuji want to punch his friend in the face. Akira ran down the stairs before the blond could even prepare himself. He looked over to Morgana with a huge frown on his face.

"Go find Futaba-chan and see if she can get us back-up. Something tells me our leader is going to do something foolish."

"He better not!" Morgana hissed. "If he gets in trouble again, that's it for him!"

Ryuji knew that. All the Phantom Thieves knew that…yet, when Akira put other people over himself it was admirable and stupid.

"I'll take care of our stupid leader," Ryuji reassured the black cat. "Just make sure Futaba-chan knows where we are and how to find us."

Morgana didn't need to argue with Ryuji to know what needed to be done. Ryuji zoomed down the stairs and chased after Akira. Akira didn't even bother explaining to Sojiro what happened even if it has to do with the missing detective. Morgana waited for the two teens to rush out the door before he snuck out.


In the back of Akechi's mind, he thought he would be able to stall for as long as he needed until he found an opening to escape. He wanted to give up but knew Akira wouldn't accept him giving up without a fight. Shido's associates had forced their way into his apartment and escorted him out. They even shoved him into an expensive car.

"We're keeping our customer waiting." "You struggled way too much. You will be punished later." "We'll be taking your phone."

Akechi couldn't match the voices of these men. They were all the same to him. Just some perverted old men who wanted to exploit his relationship with his father. The worst part was how his father approved of this. They had tied his arms behind his back and promised to remove the binding when they arrived at their destination in Shinjuku. They did not want Akechi to move around in the car. While the detective couldn't move, these men had no problem rubbing their grubby hands on him. There were three men. One was driving, one was the muscular man who broke the door and the third was clearly the leader of the bunch with the black glasses to hide his eyes. The sadistic four-eyes slipped his hand underneath Akechi's attire. Red eyes shut as Akechi refused to give them the satisfaction.

"It's cute how you asked your boyfriend to save you but you know damn well that will never happen." He mocked. "Your body is more honest than your words."

Akechi allowed the teasing to continue. It would have to end when they arrive. There was no way this taunting would get to him. Maybe someone would notice him in Shinjuku and help him out. It would be odd if three older men and the detective prince were walking to their destination alone.

Alas, Shinjuku was not that type of place. The car parked in an isolated location where no one would dare to look if they did not want to cause trouble. Akechi didn't know the streets of Shinjuku well to be able to use the place to his advantage. Sighing in frustration, he forced himself out of the car and walked with the three perverted men. They were pleased that Akechi was no longer resisting them and lead them through the backstreets and to the love hotel. Akechi noted it was the same one he and Akira went into in order to hide not too long ago. Maybe the clerk would understand and help him…

"The room is 95E to your right."

Akechi wondered why the hell the clerk would allow something like this to pass. Doesn't the clerk realize that a crime was going to be committed on his watch and he was just going to let Shido's associates drag him up the stairs to another room?!

There were five floors to the love hotel. Of course, the client was on the fifth floor. Akechi dragged his feet up the stairs to the annoyance of his father's associates. They needed him in good condition but they were not pleased that Akechi would waste time just to hold out for someone to come get him. They had taken his phone and placed it in a black bag. This same bag had the contract stashed away to wave in his face if he forgot about it. There were also the pictures being used as blackmail to get him to move faster.

"You little bitch, get moving," one of the men ordered. "You wasted too much time as it is."

Akechi yelped feeling his hair being gripped on while walking up the stairs. He whined pathetically knowing he had no choice but to pick up his feet. He weakly glared at the man but shut his eyes immediately when the venomous stare fell back on him.

Five staircases later, they would arrive at their destination. Akechi looked around to see if he could escape. Could he run back down the stairs with the black bag? What about the elevator? Was that too risky? Maybe the emergency door could save him…

"We have arrived."

There went his chance. The door opened and revealed who had purchased him for the night. For a moment, Akechi thought he would have to serve a pig but the man only reminded him of one. He was a middle-age man that was clearly overweight. Overweight was generous and so was calling the man fat. Obese might have been the best term but the problem was that his belly wasn't that big. His eyes squinted as if he couldn't see without glasses on. His shirt was too tight around his belly and his pants weren't any better. The worst part was probably the odor. They say the otaku life wasn't the most sanitary life but this took the cake. Akechi pretended he wasn't disgusted but he couldn't hide how upset he was at Shido's men picking a deplorable customer to be his first in a while.

"What took you so long? I thought you were lying!" The customer slurred.

"No of course not. Patience is a virtue. We needed to…prepare our escort."

Liar. Akechi thought darkly to himself. He looked everywhere but the person he was supposed to serve.

"Oh, is she the one?"

She? Did those bastards…

The kidnappers only chuckled at his question. One of them kept his hands on Akechi's shoulder. He leaned close to his ear. "You will play along. It is what the customer wants."

"…But he'll find out…"

"You will have pleased him by that point."

Akechi was suddenly pushed forward. The two men reminded Akechi of what would happen if he tried to leave and shut the door behind them leaving Akechi in the room alone with the customer. His body trembled hearing the pig like snort from the customer.

"Finally, my toy is here."


Ryuji wasn't the type to question Akira. He was the cool, collected leader of the group that always knew what to say at the right time and managed to keep the group together with his wise decisions. He had made some questionable decisions every now and then but it often worked out. Whenever the topic came to a certain detective though, Akira's entire demeanor changed. Sometimes he would agree with what Akechi said. Other times, he acted rash when it concerned the detective. Despite the situation the Phantom Thieves were in, Akira felt that getting through Akechi's palace was more important.

This was something that Ryuji couldn't turn a blind eye to. Whatever Akira thought of Akechi was all on him. Whatever happened between the two stayed between the two. It's when the others got dragged in did it become a problem. No one said anything though. They all felt the same thing about the decision but no one dared to speak up. Makoto tried before they even searched for the terms into Akechi's palace. Akira seemed to know what would get Makoto to listen to him. Morgana probably snarked about the entire situation but hasn't voiced his concern. Ryuji didn't want to be that guy in the group to tell Akira how everyone really felt. He also wasn't the type of guy to come up with good plans. Yet, the reason he and Akira were on a late train to Shinjuku was because of Akira's aggressiveness.

One of the thieves had to talk to Akira about how he was acting. They were almost done with the palace but at the same time, he wasn't following through with his own words. He normally told the group to pace themselves. Even if a deadline to steal a target's heart drew closer, Akira moved at his own pace and it always worked out. This wasn't the case. He knew they didn't have that much time that was why he was on edge. The raven haired teen might have not been aware of it.

That was where Ryuji would come in. He would spend the night with Akira and talk to him. He might not be able to convince Akira to change his mind but their leader needed to know he was acting out of line. Morgana would back Ryuji up if he messed up. The reason Ryuji was chosen was because he was Akira's best friend. Always had. Always will…even if Akechi seemed to have taken up much of Akira's time…

And yet, Ryuji couldn't find the words until after they got off the train to Shinjuku. Saving Akechi from his fate was important. Despite the clock saying one thing in the Metaverse, Akechi really did not have that much time in the real world. Ryuji had urged Morgana to get Futaba and have her come up with a back-up plan. Things were going to get ugly and Ryuji wondered if he would stop his friend from doing something foolish.

Akira had a good idea where he wanted to go. He would make his way through the crowd of Shinjuku and head straight to the love hotel. Ryuji finally had enough and grabbed at Akira's arm and yanked him off the streets and into a smaller area. Red eyes found its way at Ryuji and leered at him. Ryuji forgot that Akira was strong and almost got shoved away. The blond let go before that happened.

"What are you doing Ryuji?!" Akira questioned. He tried to remain calm but the situation made it difficult to keep his cool. "We don't have time to talk."

"…You need to cool your head." Ryuji finally said. The words came out smoother than anticipated.

Akira was confused. "What?"

Ryuji scratched the back of his head. How was he going to do this without making the situation worse? Ryuji sighed. Why couldn't he just punch him and be done with?

"I'm telling you to chill out!" Ryuji shouted. "You are rushing into this situation without a plan!"

"Excuse me…"

Anger seethed through Akira's lungs as he looked in the direction of the love hotel. Ryuji refused to move from his spot.

"Hear me out man-"

"Ryuji, not now…" Akira growled. "If we don't hurry up, Akechi will…"

Ryuji stopped himself from snapping at his best friend but it was hard. "…Akechi this. Akechi that. That guy really has you wrapped around his finger."

"What?!"

"Look Akira. It's obvious what's going on here. We all knew that you have a savior complex. You're really good at hiding it but you put yourself in danger for us because you care. I get it. You care for us. You care for Akechi, but you're putting all of our lives on the line!"

Akira opened his mouth to protest but Ryuji put his foot down thus stopping Akira from speaking.

"I'm not done talking!" Ryuji stated. "Let me finish before you say something, dammit!"

Akira curled his fists into a ball. Ryuji might eat a fist to the face if he continued to ramble. Ryuji was the type of person to get straight to the point though so that wouldn't be an issue.

"…We saw how you reacted when you thought Akechi died back there in Shido's Palace. We know how bad you felt about not being able to save someone who needed to be saved. We know from both Cake and that cognitive version of you that you want to make amends with Akechi, but what you're doing now is out of character even for you! You want us all to forget about Mementos and the risk of our lives being ruined just for someone who had no problem selling us out!"

"Akechi didn't have a choice!" Akira interrupted. "And he will atone-"

"I'm not going to pretend like you are. He's a victim like the rest of us but that doesn't give you the right to nearly get us all killed. Don't you remember when we first started the Phantom Thieves that we must all agree on the target?"

"Yes…"

"We did agree on Akechi but you begged just to go inside. The palace is big and we thought we had three days to go through it. We have less time now because of Akechi getting his ass caught by those scum. But…what you're doing now is putting yourself and the rest of us at unnecessary risks. You think you're just going to storm the hotel and get him out of the room without a fight? I know I'm stupid but even I'm not that stupid!"

Akira's eyes widened. He wanted to say something. Anything to shut Ryuji up. A retort couldn't be found.

"We're not in the Metaverse. We can't use our Personas here. We can't just walk in and expect everything to go smoothly. You're still on probation. You mess up here and all that hard work you did will be for nothing. And for what? A guy that might not want to be saved?"

"He does." Akira insisted. "You heard it too. Don't treat him like a villain now…"

Ryuji didn't argue on that one. Ryuji had seen the ugly side of Akechi in Shido's Palace. Shadow Akechi gave him another interpretation of the detective. He was capable of being kind and considerate had he been able to open up to the group. Over the phone, a new side of Akechi reached him. The detective sounded so broken that Ryuji could see why Akira was acting like this. Ryuji hated tears as much as anyone. Yet, they were still dealing with Shido and his men who put them in this terrible situation to begin with. Akira could ruin everything if he acted purely on his emotions.

"I'm not…" Ryuji finally said. "I just don't want my best friend getting himself killed because he fell head over heels for a complicated dickhead like Akechi."

That caught Akira off guard. Ryuji didn't notice how much Akira was affected by that sentence.

"…Huh…"

"…It was kind of obvious." Ryuji finally said. "We can all speculate all we want but it would be kind of lame if your best friend didn't know when your bro was in love."

Akira was lost. How did Ryuji of all people figure it out? In the back of Akira's mind, he could deny that it wasn't love but Shadow Akechi and Devil Joker made his feelings clearer to him.

"Look, I'm not the one to judge your preference. I just wanted to get through to you that you shouldn't let your emotions get the best of you. You're our leader and you only have one life. Don't waste it!"

Akira had nothing to say. He was blinded by his need to save Akechi and get him out of the hell he was in. A good idea that could have potentially got the Phantom Thieves in bigger trouble…and saving Akechi did not benefit the group like Makoto said. Akechi at best would add extra power when they got to the bottom of Mementos. At worse, he would be baggage that would only drag them down because of the fallout.

"I…I'm sorry…I didn't know…"

Ryuji folded his arms. He observed his friend's expression to see if he was genuine. Of course Akira was genuine. Should his composure finally cracked it was surprisingly easy to read him…as his best friend of course.

"Don't apologize. That's why I'm here."

"Huh…"

"It's dangerous to go alone." Ryuji said with a smirk. "At least bring someone who can back you up on whatever stupid thing you plan on doing. I told you that if you wanted help that I would be here for you. That's what friends are for…even if we're probably going to get our asses kicked while saving Akechi…"

Akira was at a loss of words. Not only was Ryuji saying something smart but he was still going to follow him despite his huge complaints. It made him feel better that he had Ryuji to back him up even if he had no plan.

"Ryuji…I…" Akira found it difficult to convey the words out of his mouth. Eventually he found the right thing. "…Thank you."

"Don't mention it. Just tell me how you intend on getting in."

The Trickster paused. Ryuji would not let him leave unless he had a good idea in mind. A sinister smile appeared on Akira's lips. It was the cocky grin that Joker wore. This wouldn't be good.

"I hope you know what a B&E is. We're both delinquents. We do what we want."

Ryuji chuckled nervously. He was going to let lose his anger on the evil adults very soon. "And what do you want?"

"My distressed prince and the look of terror that his kidnappers will have when we're done with them."


Akechi was at his limit. He could only delay the inevitable for so long before he was forced into the act. The contract was signed so he had to abide by it. He tried every non-sexual act to entertain the customer before the man got bored and forced him to do what he was supposed to do. The normal Akechi would have obeyed without a second thought and got things done quickly. Due to the Phantom Thieves meddling with his heart, he resisted with what little strength he had.

And despite the struggling, Akechi still ended up on the bed. The perverted customer had decided that he had enough of Akechi's defiance and had slapped handcuffs on his wrists and forced his hands behind his back. He would have slapped them on his ankles had he had other plans down there. Akechi was forced to lie on his stomach and wait for instructions.

"Despite what I was told about you, you sure are a feisty one." The overweight man mocked. "Now you can stop trying to be the perfect detective prince and be the slut you signed up for."

Akechi refused to speak. A glare was all he needed to get his point across. A strip tease and a lap dance weren't enough for this sick bastard. He was deprived enough to go all the way.

"Since you lied to me about your gender and what you enjoyed doing in bed, I'm going to do my own investigation with you."

Good luck. You won't find anything. Akechi thought bitterly to himself.

A brave front was what Akechi needed to keep on while waiting for help to arrive. The chances of being rescued were low but because of that darn shadow, he had hope that perhaps Akira would come for him. Hope was a dangerous thing and Akechi knew that as the older man got on top of him. He shivered expecting the worse to happen right away. A sigh of relief escaped his lips when the man did intend to explore his body before sticking his dick inside of him.

"You seem happy? Did I already figure out what you like?"

Akechi shut his eyes tightly. He needed to pretend that his mind wasn't in the hotel room at the moment. He needed to withdraw to the back of his mind and let this man have his way. It was difficult than what Akechi could remember. The customer's hands played rough with him. The man pinched his nipples in a way that felt like a clam was clamping onto its prey and not letting go. A slimy tongue trailed the back of his neck. Akechi's body trembled at the unwanted attention. The man was trying to get Akechi to turn his head so he could force his tongue into his mouth. That was the last thing he wanted.

Licks became small bites that started on the side of his neck and made its way to his shoulders. The older man bit so hard that he almost drew blood. Akechi gritted his teeth trying to contain his cries. Cold hands made its way down his nipples and toward his stomach. Said hand created a circle motion that caused Akechi to snap his eyes open.

"I'm feeling your belly now so I know how much I need to pour into you. I'm going to fill that belly up until you're bloated." The perverted customer whispered in his ear.

Akechi did in fact react to that gross kink. He tried to move his legs to at least kick the man but the man's weight prevented his legs from being used as a weapon.

"Keep your disgusting kinks to yourself…" Akechi hissed.

"Oh? You're still complaining? I guess I still need to teach you a lesson."

Akechi felt the cold hands remove itself from his belly and reach toward his rear. He didn't know what was worse. The detective let out a surprised yelp feeling something smack his rear.

"Naughty children get spanked and you have been very naughty tonight!"

One smack wasn't enough. The older man smacked him across the rear again. And again…and again…and again…and again…

Akechi lost count after the third smack. His rear was on fire and it was only getting worse. Frustrated tears threaten to fall down his eyes if this filthy man continued to make a mockery of him.

"Aren't you going to beg for forgiveness?"

Akechi shook his head weakly. He groaned at another smack against the rear.

"Stubborn slut. You're leaking just from this."

The detective refused to believe he would be turned on by something like this. Nothing in his past implied he enjoyed this. Shido and his associates always had to inject some sort of drug in him to even make him play along with the idea he was enjoying being used as a sex toy. Without that drug, Akechi was rather resilient. Still, it took another smack for him to cry out in pain.

"Come on. Beg for forgiveness. You have done that before. There's proof of that."

Akechi's eyes widened. "That can't be…that video should have…"

"Did you really think that they would delete the video as promised?"

Akechi should have known. He was desperate for some control of the situation that he needed to make sure one of the incidents that occurred in the past was deleted. Alas, he couldn't erase his past. That was why he was right here. The customer hummed as he stopped smacking the detective.

"That's why you need to be a good little boy and do what I tell you to do. What would happen if that precious boyfriend of yours found out if the video got leaked on the Internet?"

Akechi shook his head. "No please…"

There really was no hope in getting the upper hand in this situation. He really was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He closed his eyes in frustration as the overweight bastard laughed at his victory.

"You will tell me what I want to hear if you wish for me not to tell your caretakers that you disobeyed my wish as a customer. Do I make myself clear?"

The next time Akechi opened his eyes again, the color from his eyes all but vanished.

"Do I make myself clear?"

"…Yes." Akechi's voice was almost robotic. "What would you like me to do?"

"I'm glad you asked." The man finally sat on the bed and patted his legs issuing Akechi to come over to him. "Pretend it's your first time and give me a big, sloppy kiss."

Akechi had no choice. He crawled over to the man's lap and sat down without any hesitation. He puckered his lips and opened his mouth just enough to where the customer could shove their tongue into his mouth. Akechi desperately tried not to feel anything. If he just let the man do what he wanted, it would all be over. The lack of a reaction only annoyed the man.

"You're not even trying. I guess you really don't care about this." The man taunted as he pulled away. "You and your boyfriend are history. It's you and me now."

"Akira-kun is not…mmm!"

The detective was baited into speaking so he could sneak in another deep kiss. The perverted man enjoyed this expression better. Akechi's eyes may have lost their color but the continued mention of the person Akechi treasured deeply caused him to react whether he wanted to or not. The noises muffled in the kiss aroused the older man.

At this point, Akechi didn't want to be here. He wanted to retreat into the back of his mind where it was safe. He couldn't stand the taunting and the threats this man was giving him. Akechi didn't want to be reminded how he had let his guard down and got caught and was stuck in this situation…possibly forever.

Akira-kun will come. Akechi thought to himself. He shut his eyes as the older man pulled away giving Akechi time to gasp for air. No. I can't get my hopes up! Akira-kun won't…

And yet, Akechi couldn't retreat to the back of his mind. The man was too intimidating. The second plan he had was to imagine that it was Akira that was doing these things to him. Akechi attempted to imagine the younger teen before him. Akira would have his trademark smirk as he gave him passionate kisses. They would be filled with lust with a hint of gentleness. Akechi would wrap his arms around Akira's neck as the younger male would rub the back of his head. Akira would continue to tease Akechi to his annoyance. Blowing on his ear, biting on his lower lip, marking his territory by planting a hickey on his neck too high to be covered by his turtleneck…

Akechi didn't know when he was pushed down on the bed. The heavy weight nearly snapped him out of his fantasy. The tongue was shoved back into his mouth for a third time. This time, Akechi moaned into the kiss. The detective convinced himself he was with someone who might give a damn. Unfortunately, the evil chuckles were threatening to return him to reality. Akechi snapped his eyes opened feeling something being shoved up his ass.

"A-Ahh!"

"That got your attention you stupid slut." The older man growled. "I paid good money for this. If you aren't going to satisfy me with foreplay, I'll go straight to fucking you."

Akechi bit his lip. The further the finger was forced into him, the more he held back from moaning. He did his best to deny the pain that zapped his entire body. This man cared not about preparation and shoved a second finger into him.

"Keep your eyes open." The man ordered. "You need to make sure I am a satisfied customer."

Akechi had no choice. He wasn't allowed to close his eyes and witness this man penetrate him with his fingers. The scissors motions were too much. The pathetic yelp of pain only made the older man move faster.

Eventually, the customer would get bored with just fingering the detective. He removed his fingers giving Akechi some relief before Akechi found himself on his stomach again and the older man positioned himself behind him.

"Now, for the main course."

This man spoke as if he was prepared to dine on his prey. Akechi's lack of emotion annoyed him. He suddenly grabbed at Akechi's hair forcing him to react.

"Tell me what you want." He ordered.

The detective tried to move away but it was futile. He had no choice but to speak.

"Save me…"

"Hmm? What was that? I can't hear you."

What was Akechi saying? He needed to tell this perverted man that he needed his cock. Instead his desperate pleas were what this guy heard instead.

"Akira-kun…help me…please…" Akechi choked. He didn't realize the tears finally rolled down his eyes. "I can't do this anymore…"

"Oh, you're calling for your boyfriend to help you? Fat chance. Your ass is mine." He snarled as he let go of Akechi's hair only to throw him down on the bed. "I will report this to your boss how you are making me do the work. I will make sure they make you work overtime!"

Having a glimpse of hope was a mistake. Expecting someone to save him was naïve. Akechi's pitiable cry escaped his lips as he tried to wiggle away from the man's grip. He had no strength. No allies. No hope of escaping. He just needed to accept that this would be his life from now on.

Akechi waited for the customer to thrust inside of him. The pain never came. There was a reason for that. At that moment, Akira and Ryuji barged into the room. Despite the screaming coming from the clerk and another adult male, the two members of the Phantom Thieves forced their way through the love hotel. The customer wasn't expecting any sort of reaction and immediately froze up being caught trying to handle a student.

"Akechi!" Akira called out.

Akechi couldn't believe his eyes. "A-Akira…"

Something inside of Akira snapped. Maybe the stress caught up to Akira. Maybe it was the adults who took advantage of a vulnerable teenager for their own sick pleasures. Maybe it's because Akira had never seen Akechi cry and seeing the detective naked and with tears in his eyes caused something within him to stir. Despite the warning of not causing a commotion, Akira did just that. The probation period was so close to ending soon too…but Akira had no problem charging ahead and punching the man right in the face. The man was knocked back against the wall where his head collided. The perverted man was seeing stars but he would also find himself with a black eye, a bloody tooth and bruises all over his body.

Ryuji had never seen Akira angry before. Akira kept his emotions in check and remained level headed. Ever since Akechi had "died", Akira changed. Akechi returning only made things worse. Now, he remembered why he didn't want to be on his leader's bad side. Akira had no problem letting loose.

"Geez…" Ryuji mumbled before prioritizing Akechi who was on the bed shivering. "Akechi, we're getting out of here."

The problem stemmed from the two adults blocking the door. All the screaming accumulated to nothing when Ryuji turned around and punched Shido's associate in the jaw. If Akira was going to get in trouble, he would too. The clerk was horrified at the violent display. He wanted to leave the scene but Ryuji wasn't going to let him.

"Hey, don't think you can just slip away and tell the authorities right? Screw you guys! I'm gonna take that contract and fuck you up!"

Akechi wondered how long they were fighting. He might have begged Akira to stop trying to murder the perverted man but he didn't know. What he did remember was someone lifting his body into their arms and carrying him out of the room. He was told to hold on tightly and Akechi did not hesitate to do so. Eventually, he would realize that Akira carried him out of the love hotel.

"You're safe now." He recalled Akira telling him.

"Akira…" Akechi mumbled before he closed his eyes. "This is a dream…nothing good ever comes my way."

"It's real. I won't let you be taken by them."

"Hey, you can get all lovey-dovey later! How the hell are we getting away from here! Those assholes are going to show up with their guns and eff us up!"

Ryuji brought them back to reality. Akechi should have been glad to know this was real. Ryuji would never be in his dreams because he never said anything intelligent.

Before Akira could answer, the two heard a loud honk that caused the people in the area to panic especially when the car was driving their way. Akira and Ryuji were deer in the headlights as the light shined on both of them. Akechi kept his eyes closed.

"What are you three doing here?! It's way past your curfew!"

Akira was thrilled to hear Sojiro's voice. The man would lecture him later but he was in a car and chaos was all around them and this was their chance!

"Uhh…it's hard to explain…" Ryuji started.

Sojiro had an idea what occurred. Both Akira and Ryuji had bruises on their face. He had questions on why the hell Akira had his attempted murderer in his arms. The poor kid had more bruises than the other two and it didn't look like he got into a fight like they did. Hell, he was on the verge of passing out.

"We'll explain later! Can we get in?" Akira asked. He didn't mean to sound desperate but he and Ryuji needed to get out of here.

Sojiro didn't have much of a choice. These kids always had danger following close behind and he was instigating it even more.

"Get in before I leave you here!"

Akira and Ryuji were so quick to jump into the car with Akechi that it didn't matter if Akira had hit his head against the window or that Ryuji barely had time to close the door. Sojiiro didn't flinch in the slightest hearing something hit his car but grumbled how he would have to repair it. He wasted no time driving off and forcing other people to jump out of the way. Shido's men wouldn't be able to catch up with him until he was gone. Granted, they could find him later but that wasn't something to think about now.

The car started to slow once they were out of Shinjuku. The chaotic area allowed Sojiro to speed but he wouldn't be able to get away with it outside of Shinjuku. The last thing he wanted was to be stopped by the police. If what Xenos said was true, it was best to avoid them like the plague and Sojiro knew that from how roughly they handled him. Now, the ride was going to be slow and quiet except the heavy breathing from Akechi.

"Akira, make sure you take care of him." Sojiro growled. "If he catches a cold and infects all of us, it will be on you."

Akira only nodded his head in agreement. His attention was to Akechi. Akira thanked his lucky stars there was a coat in the back of the car. He grabbed the coat and wrapped it around Akechi's body. Ryuji watched silently as Akira carefully rested Akechi in the seat. Unfortunately, they didn't have a first aid kit so they would have to treat Akechi's wounds when they arrived at Le Blanc. Akira debated calling Takemi and seeing if she could help treat his wounds. Alas, it was too late at night and Akira didn't want to put her life in danger just because he was being impatient (and there was no way Sojiro would do a detour like that this late at night). Hopefully, the injuries weren't life threatening…

It's going to be okay, Akechi. Akira told himself. Just rest…


The two Phantom Thieves wasted no time once Sojiro arrived back at Café Leblanc. While he had to park the car close to his house, the walk to the café didn't take long. Akechi was also incredibly light. Going into the Sakura's residence was out of the question. Futaba would be able to help them but Akira didn't want the place targeted if one of Shido's spies were nearby (which was unlikely but better safe than sorry).

They needed to inform the other Phantom Thieves that Akechi had been found. Given how late it was, they wouldn't be able to gather until tomorrow. The exams were still an issue. Makoto and Haru couldn't afford to skip but Akira would find an excuse to do it. Knowing Ryuji, he would skip with the opportunity opened but Ann would beat his ass if he actually did it.

At the end of the day, Akira had this nagging feeling that Makoto wouldn't allow him to skip either despite Akechi's condition. Leaving Akechi's care to Yusuke until the group got back might be the best thing. Hopefully, the detective wouldn't do anything stupid for the few hours they were in school.

Akechi was just waking up when the two thieves got into Café Leblanc. The door was locked for the sake of precaution. Sojiro warned them that he would talk to them tomorrow about what was going on since it was too late to do anything about it during exams week. Again, Akira wished everything didn't happen this particular week.

"Uhh…" Akechi groaned. Akira didn't realize he woke up until he reached the top staircase. Ryuji noticed him stirring but decided not to say anything until Akira did.

"You're awake," was all Akira said even though he had so much more to say than just that.

"…This is…"

"My room."

That only meant one thing and it was enough for Akechi's eyes to shoot open. He immediately tried to push Akira away unaware of the position he was in. Fortunately, he didn't have his strength back and all it did was make Akira smirk at how flustered the older male got.

"You're safe now. We got you out of Shinjuku."

"…We?"

And that was when Akechi caught a familiar blond hair in the background and frowned. "Oh…"

Ryuji groaned. "Is that all you're going to say to someone who saved your ass?"

"Ryuji!" Akira hissed.

That was the wrong thing to say and Ryuji caught himself. It was too late to take it back. Akechi didn't have a good comeback. He was still able to piece together what happened and how he ended up here.

"So…you two saved me…"

"It wasn't easy," Ryuji told him. "Shinjuku is crazy. If Boss didn't drive us back, we might have had bullets in our chest."

If Akechi wasn't pale before, he was now. He shook his head in disbelief. Akira took this opportunity to place the detective on his bed. The raven haired teen had no problem sleeping on the couch tonight if he needed to.

"You two…are idiots…" Akechi grumbled. "You shouldn't have-"

"You asked me to save you and like the dashing knight I was, I couldn't resist."

Akira needed to lighten the mood no matter how inappropriate his comments were. If Akechi could just relax or smile or show signs of not looking so damn broken, he wouldn't have to kick himself constantly for how he was acting.

"You misheard me over the phone…" Akechi groaned. "Akira-kun, you truly are an idiot."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

Ryuji let out a huge sigh. "Are you really doing this now?"

Akira didn't mean to glare at his best friend but Ryuji caught on that Akira wanted to be alone with the older teen. All Ryuji could do was make a call to the others.

"Don't worry, I'll get the extra futon out," Akira told him. "So don't think I'm kicking you out."

"The trains stopped anyway," Ryuji reminded him. "It was either that or sleeping in the café…and I don't think Boss would appreciate that."

Of course not! Sojiro wouldn't be pleased if his seats had any drool on them.

Ryuji did not trust his leader alone with Akechi. Then again, Akechi had no strength to fight. It was strange to see the arrogant ace detective in such a broken state. They had managed to get him out before anything extreme had happened but the trauma remained.

"…You know I'll be telling everyone, right?" Ryuji asked his best friend.

"I know. And I will take responsibility." Akira paused before he continued. "We will be going to the palace again tomorrow. We will finish up. And…"

"I know. I know. I'll talk to Yusuke and see if he can whip something up quickly."

With that, Ryuji walked down the stairs with his phone in hand. Akira needed this time alone. The problem was Akechi who retreated to the back of his mind. Akira knew leaving him to wonder about the events that occurred would only spell trouble in trying to help him.

"Akechi…"

No response.

"Akechi."

Still no response. Akira frowned and approached the detective. He spoke softly again and that got his attention.

"Oh, Akira-kun…were you saying something? I wasn't…"

"It's okay."

"I…just had a lot on my mind…" Akechi says as he avoids looking at the raven haired teen. "…I still can't believe it."

"We got you out of there," Akira told him confidently. "It's not a dream. I could kiss your cheek as proof."

Akira kicked himself mentally for that. Of all the things he could say, he just had to flirt…even though the detective barely reacted.

"You know why I can't believe it…"

"I'm here Akechi."

"…I was almost…again…" Akechi started but snapped his mouth shut immediately. "It wouldn't have been an issue. I'm always in that situation…but because you stupid thieves messing with my heart…I…"

His voice started cracking. The mask was crumbling. Akechi took a deep breathe telling himself he had to keep it together.

"Akechi, it's okay," Akira attempted to reassure his friend. Unfortunately, Akechi didn't hear him. The leader was taken aback by the sudden broken laughter coming from the detective.

"Everything is okay you say? Sure, keep believing that. They know where I am. They're going to take me back and punish me like they always do. I can't escape."

"Stop it…"

"You only relieved the pain for a few hours. They're going to be coming in here with guns and you're all going to die because of me…"

"Stop…"

"Are you happy that you got to play hero again Akira-kun? Are you getting off of this?"

"ENOUGH!"

"NO, I HAD ENOUGH WITH YOU!"

Ryuji had started walking back up the stairs when he finally heard Akechi's outburst. It was terrible to eavesdrop but he couldn't help hide his head before it became visible in the attic. He could still see that the detective had flung himself into Akira's arm. He as well as Akira was surprised by that action. It was made worse that the former thief started sobbing into Akira's chest.

"I was so scared!" The detective cried out. "Because of you, I can't think straight! I kept thinking that you would come! But I had to endure that fat bastard for so long! I couldn't even do that right!"

"Akechi…"

"What if I failed? What if they come back while I'm sleeping? What if I'm still dreaming? I can't take it anymore!"

Akira needed to calm Akechi down. Yet, he couldn't find the will to do so. The raven haired teen hated seeing the color in Akechi's eyes gone. It was like he was holding a broken china doll that continued to repeat the same thing over and over again.

"Akechi…I'm here."

"How do I know that?!" Akechi questioned. "What if my mind is playing tricks on me! What if it's just me wishing to be away from that place? What if…"

Akira's grip on Akechi only tightened.

"They're going to find me…" Akechi muttered darkly. "And then they'll drag you and the rest of the Phantom Thieves down with me…"

"I'm aware."

"If you're aware, then stop housing me. I can leave and go-"

"No."

Akira refused to abandon the boy in front of him. Akechi had a death wish to go back outside. Akira could just imagine Shido's men waiting for Akechi to let his guard down again and kidnap him. If it happened again, there would be no way to find Akechi. And Akira wasn't going to let Akechi disappear on him again.

"I won't leave you." Akira continued. If his grip wasn't already tight around Akechi, it was now. "Not now…not ever…"