On the east of this land exists a strange town. A town of thieves and rogues, nestled in between some of the most wealthy cities in the land. Thieves! A whole town of them! How then, you may wonder, do they evade capture? Surely they must be caught stealing from the wealthy of neighboring cities? Someone must have tried to put a stop to their activities. You would be correct in that thought. For years, many nobles, merchants, and dignitaries have tried to capture the thieves. For years, they have failed. The reason, I have learned, is due to a notorious band of these rogues formed by the Thief King.
Why, yes, the thieves have a king. Though not the type of king you are likely thinking of. These Thief Kings are simply incredibly notorious, talented thieves who utilize special thievery techniques to commit their crimes in ways no common rogue ever could. They move silently, masking their presence just as they mask their faces. One could liken them to phantoms. In fact, the common name for the Kings and their bands of thieves is the Phantom Thieves.
You may be curious by now of how I know so much. Well you see, I am a member of the current king's band. You may call me Fox.
I wasn't born a thief, as most were. Actually, I was raised in one of the wealthy neighboring cities. Not as a noble, though. I was actually a servant and apprentice to Lord Ichiryusai Madarame, a prominent nobleman with an innate skill in art. Lord Madarame had taken me in at a young age after my mother fell ill and passed away. As such, I felt a loyalty and admiration towards this man who would show such kindness to a poor peasant child like myself.
I was not blind, though. There were terrible rumors spreading around the city of my lord's character. The people of the city spoke of such horrible things as plagiarism and abuse. I had honestly wished I could say they were all wrong, but I never was a very good liar. Rather ironic, coming from a thief.
Yes, I was a victim of these horrid acts. But I could have never sold out the man who saved my life. As such I would continue to sacrifice my work for as long as he saw fit.
However, one day a young man with messy hair and eyes the color of charcoal walked up to me, as I was running errands for Lord Madarame. He spoke to me in a low voice that caused my whole being to shiver in fear.
“You are an apprentice to Madarame.”
It was not a question. This strange young man, likely around the same age as myself, knew who I was.
“I am. Is there something you need.”
I struggled to keep my voice even, though if his smirk was anything to go by, I had failed miserably. What a disgrace, I chided internally. I must stand firm in defense of my master.
“Why should you defend this man?”
This time I knew for sure the surprise was clear on my features. It was too difficult to hide my shock as he almost directly responded to my thoughts. Was he a mind reader? Or was he just that perceptive? I tried to gather my thoughts and formulate a response, but the next words out of his mouth caused all coherence to escape me.
“Why, Yusuke Kitagawa, should you defend this sinner of vanity who is responsible for your mother’s death?”
“T-That is...preposterous! Lord Madarame...w-would never…! H-How dare you...s-such slander! You have no proof!”
He chuckled, smirk widening into a grin. “Then why don’t you ask your beloved master, yourself? Since you’re so sure of his innocence.”
The young man made to leave, leaping to the top of a nearby stone fence and atop a nearby roof.
“Kitagawa-san. If, by chance, you change your mind about Madarame once you learn the truth, come back to this place. Call out the word “Joker”, and I will come back. Only once you learn the truth though.”
With that the strange young man disappeared across the many rooftops, like a phantom in the night.
I’m sure just based on what last said, you must already know who this man was. Yes, this was the Thief King himself. And though I may not have known at the time, that would not be the last I met him. He saved me from myself, after all.
I returned to the atelier later than usual due to that person. As a result, I was scolded by my lord and denied dinner, though surely that was a just punishment. I was just a servant, after all.
Though something very odd did happen that night. My master called me to his chamber. I was exceedingly nervous, as this normally meant he wanted to see what progress I had made with my art. Instead, he asked if any strange people approached me that day. I considered whether or not to tell him about the young man. Though in the end, I did mention him briefly. I likely wouldn’t have been able to convincingly lie anyway. The older man looked a bit troubled and angry at that. Suddenly and without warning, the question that had been plaguing my mind all day came out against my will.
“My Lord, is it true that you are responsible for my mother’s death?”
As soon as the question was out, I stuttered out an apology and an excuse, nearly grovelling before him. I’d never meant to ask him that question, let alone so directly.
“Yusuke...you should know better than to listen to the words of slanderers.”
His voice was quiet, but filled with rage. For the first time in a very long time, I feared for my life before my master. Shrinking into myself and closing my eyes, I waited with baited breath for whatever punishment was sure to come. Despite being frozen in fear, words continued to flow from my mouth. I no longer had control of myself.
“You do not deny it though. Is it true? My mother...you told me she died from illness.”
He chuckled as though I’d said something amusing. “That was not a lie. It was her illness that caused her to collapse in front of me. All I did was leave her be. After all, what could a peasant woman need with such a gorgeous painting?”
“...Painting? You don’t mean…”
“The Sayuri. My maiden work. She was worthless scum undeserving of the wealth such a work could bring!”
The fear I had been feeling washed away, replaced with hatred and disgust. This man – this utter bastard – he killed my mother.
I can’t say I remember much more of the exchange, as I blacked out not long after. The next I knew it, I was back in that same place where I’d met that person.
A ruffling sound from a nearby bush caused me to turn my head so quickly I became lightheaded. From the bush, I saw a black and white cat wearing a yellow scarf pop out, jumping up atop the same stone fence from earlier. Startlingly bright, cerulean eyes stared at me, appraising. Once finished with his appraisal, the cat nodded – could cats even nod? – and meowed a few times. Almost immediately, a young man wearing a black jacket, red gloves, and a white and black mask jumped down from a nearby tree. Honestly, sooner or later one of these sudden appearances was going to give me a heart attack.
Though it took a moment, I realized the masked person in front of me was the strange young man from earlier. Was he just...waiting for me all this time?
“I’m sorry you had to learn the truth like this.”
His voice seemed much more subdued and genuine than it had before. It honestly made me more confused than I already was – a rather impressive feat considering the circumstances.
“What...should I do? He had deceived me for so long. I’m honestly not sure how to make things right.”
Even wearing the mask, I could see how his eyes and other features softened in sympathy. I part of me wanted to be furious, to push him away and blame him. Another part, the more dominant of the two, just wanted to cry. I broke down, collapsing to my knees and sobbing quietly in front of this stranger, who could have been dangerous for all I knew. Gentle arms held me, stroking my hair like the head maid at the atelier used to do for me when I’d have nightmares. It was comforting, but painful. Where I’d once felt love, pride, anger, sadness, and fear, there was now an empty void. The lump in my throat felt as though it grew larger, causing my breath to come in forced gasps. A voice spoke to me, trying to calm me. It sounded so worried but I couldn’t understand a word.
For the second time that night, my world faded to black.
“Joker, I think he’s about to come to.”
A young woman’s voice rang muffled in my ears as I regained consciousness, darkness slowly fading to light as my vision returned. Surely enough, as soon as my vision came into focus I was graced with the image of a beautiful young woman with long blonde hair tied in low pigtails. Her eyes were trained on me, expression simultaneously worried and surprised as she noticed me looking back.
“Hey, are you alright? Can you hear me? Joker! He’s awake where are you!?”
The familiar face of the strange young man – Joker, as he was apparently called – ran into the room. Without his mask, I could more clearly see the variety of complex emotions play out on his face. Worry, shock, relief – is that...elation? – all clearly displaying themselves in a visual cacophony. It was strange to me that one person could have so many different faces. Was this truly the same person I met that first time?
“I’m glad to see you’re alright. You worried me a bit when you collapsed back there.” He walked over to me, kneeling next to me with an outstretched hand. “Can you stand?”
I forced a smile, grabbed his outstretched hand and pushed myself to my feet. I felt unsteady, as though I hadn’t used them in a long time. Likely noticing my plight, both he and the young woman placed my arms around their shoulders, steadying me and helping me walk. It was a horrible feeling, being so helpless. I’d been nothing but a burden to them for however long it had been since I collapsed.
“I...apologize for any inconvenience I’ve caused. I truly am a pathetic, worthl–”
"What...?" I stared blankly in shock as I took in the look of unfiltered rage on Joker’s face.
“Don’t ever say you’re worthless. You’re anything but worthless and no one has the right to treat you that way.”
As I tried to stutter out a response at the absurdity of his statement, the blonde girl chose to pitch in her thoughts on the matter.
He’s right, you know. A person’s worth isn’t defined by how much money and power the possess." Our eyes met in a sidelong glance and she smiled. "In fact, I think it’s the opposite. Those who have money and power constantly sit around and look down on those who don’t. But it’s the ones who don’t have that money and power who work the hardest.”
Words couldn’t possibly express the surprise I felt at this. These people were clearly nothing like those I was previously surrounded by. They believed in the value of hard work above all else. Judging by the looks they both gave me, they believed in my own value as well. That knowledge alone was enough to nearly cause my heart to burst from my chest. The surge of new emotions brought on by these two strangers was frankly overwhelming. Suddenly, as if in response to these unknown feelings, tears spilled from my eyes and a gleeful laugh bubbled from within my chest, spilling forward until I collapsed to my knees from the force of it.
“I-I’m sorry. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in my life.”
I tried to settle my breathing, looking up at the two people in front of me with a contented expression. They were both smiling down at me with similar, vaguely fond looks in their eyes. On a normal day, I likely would have questioned that. But so far, my interactions with these people had been anything but the norm.
“You know, now that I think about it, I think we did all of this a little backwards.” The girl spoke, looking at her companion with a slightly red face. Embarrassment. “We never properly introduced ourselves.”
“Ah, you’re right. Maybe we should have done that first.” The young man now wore a sheepish expression, rubbing his neck and looking to the left, not making eye contact with anyone. Just how many different sides did this one person have? “I’ll start then. My name is Akira Kurusu. Most people just call me Akira. Joker is...well, a nickname, of sorts.”
The girl stepped forward, extending a hand to me, which I took as I pushed myself to my feet once again. “My name is Ann Takamaki. Just Ann is fine. I have a similar...nickname. It’s Panther.”
“While I’m sure you’re aware, it’s only proper I introduce myself as well.” I stood straight, offering a small, but polite, bow to my new...acquaintances, I suppose. “My name is Yusuke Kitagawa. I am...or rather was an apprentice and servant to Ichiryusai Madarame. You may refer to me as you wish.”
“Come on, Yusuke! There’s no need to be so stiff and formal. We’re all friends here!”
“Ann...I don’t really know what to say…” Now I was the one left feeling embarrassed. “This is honestly the first time anyone has ever tried to be my friend. Thank you.” It didn't register in my mind how this statement may have been taken by the others.
Fortunately, Akira provided a much needed distraction to prevent further emotional turmoil. “It’s a good thing our other friend Ryuji isn’t here. He’d probably call you a sap for that one.” His cocky smile was back, though it was quickly replaced with a wince as Ann slapped him.
“Geez, Akira. Learn to read the mood…”
As it turned out, the place they brought me was another town over. A notorious town of thieves and rogues known simply as Yongen. As a child, I was told to avoid this town, as there were many dangers lurking around every corner. It was very clear, however, that this was just another lie. The people of this town were kind and friendly, smiling and greeting my companions and welcoming me to town. Everyone seemed to know Akira and Ann quite well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for questions as we swiftly arrived at our destination – a small, quaint cafe called Leblanc.
The owner was a stern looking man named Sojiro Sakura. While intimidating at first, his demeanor softened once he saw Akira, treating him as one would treat their own child. After a few minutes of quiet conversation, the man walked over to introduce himself to me, expression softened and friendly.
“My name is Sojiro Sakura, though most people around here call me Boss. I’m the owner of this place, and also Akira’s guardian. He told me about your situation. Feel free to stay here as long as you need.” Boss placed a hand on my shoulder, squeezing firmly in a sign of affection. “Well,” He said, turning to the others, “I’m gonna head out to buy some stuff for Futaba. You guys need anything?”
“Nah, we’re good. Thanks, Boss.” Akira smiled. “Tell Futaba we said ‘hi’.”
He nodded, asked Akira to lock up, and left.
“Futaba is the chief’s daughter.” Akira answered before I'd had the chance to ask. “You could say she’s like a little sister to me.”
Ann sighed. “Futaba can be a bit...quirky. But she’s really smart and fun to hang out with. Though I recommend trying to stay on her good side. Akira is waaay overprotective.”
“Duly noted. I appreciate the warning.”
It was later that night, when both Ann and Boss had left the cafe, that I began to ask many of the things that had been on my mind. I must admit I had been quite nervous at the time, but I knew it would be better to learn the truth as quickly as possible.
“Akira. Who are you exactly? And how did you know so much about me and the things Madarame had done?”
The look that crossed his countenance was one of hesitation. “I knew this would happen. I just hoped it wouldn’t happen so soon.” He muttered to himself a bit before answering. “I guess the best option is just to come out and say it."
He took in a deep breath before beginning his rather unbelievable tale. "Ann, Ryuji, and myself. We’re thieves. Not normal thieves though. We have little care about valuables or treasure. What we steal is the truth.” He paused, looking at me for a sign of...something. All that showed was likely confusion. Regardless, he continued.
“I know this is going to be hard to understand. We actually find and steal evidence of corruption from those who cannot be punished by normal means. We reveal this evidence to the public, at which point the law can no longer leave them go. No one outside this town knows who we are. Furthermore, we’re often just known as the Phantom Thieves.”
Phantom Thieves. I’d heard that name before. “Pardon, but isn’t that the name of the notorious Thief King’s band?” The stories of the legendary Thief King were something that most people had heard at least once. They were also the reason why Yongen was called dangerous. According to the stories, the Thief King, the most infamous villain in all the land, was born and raised in Yongen. His presence allegedly brought other villains to the town, earning the place its notoriety.
Akira nodded slowly, hesitantly. “You’re right. And because of all the legends, the leader of the most infamous band of thieves in Yongen is always given that title. It’s kind of annoying at times, actually.”
This time, I visibly froze in shock. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Akira wasn’t just a member of the Phantom Thieves, he was… “You’re...the Thief King?...Unbelievable.”My companion was silent for a while, seemingly allowing me to collect my bearings. When I actually looked at him though, he seemed to shrink in on himself, as though expecting me to lash out at him.
It was this reaction that snapped me fully from my daze. I chuckled moving a bit closer to him. “How can a man who acted so full of himself when we first met be so insecure? Honestly, I've known you for less than a day's time and you are already the greatest enigma in my life." He smiled at me. It didn't reach his eyes.
"So..." I said, changing the subject back to our previous topic, "I assume the reason you approached me was because you plan on proving Madarame's guilt."
It wasn't a question, but he nodded all the same. “Yeah. To be honest, Yusuke, the reason I brought you here was as a witness against Madarame. I wish I could say it was some noble cause like wanting to save you, but…”
I would have been lying if I said those words didn’t sting, though a part of me already knew this. Hearing it from his mouth was still...difficult.“That’s fine." I lied. It hurt terribly to hear from my first real friend. "Though, I’m not quite sure where I’ll go once it’s all over…”
“You can stay here! I would never leave you alone with nothing and nowhere to go like that!”
In yet another quick flash of emotion, Akira had turned to me, holding my shoulders in a vice grip and looking at me with wide eyes. Worried, but determined. I was no longer surprised by it at this point, but I was surprised by his forcefulness. It seemed like he genuinely wanted me to stay. That’s what I couldn’t quite understand. Perhaps it was guilt? No, I dismissed the thought, he said, himself, that we were friends. That must be it.
I must have truly been an open book when it comes to my emotions. Akira released his grip, but didn't move away.
"You know I think we really need to work on that self-confidence. We are friends. Get that through your thick skull." He made a show of knocking on the top of my head. Subconsciously, I knocked his arm away, pushing him lightly until he lost balance and fell backwards. We were never allowed this type of rough housing – or any kind, really – back at the atelier. It was a refreshing change of pace, to be sure.
It was only after we'd been messing around for a while, original conversation completely lost, that I realized how fatigued I felt. “You look dead on your feet." I didn't point out the fact that we were sitting. "Let’s sleep for tonight. We'll get back to the serious stuff tomorrow. Ryuji should be back by then, as well.” You wouldn't think, considering I'd only regained consciousness six hours prior, that it was possible I'd feel this level of exhaustion. My head had barely hit the pillow of the makeshift second bed when I felt myself drift off.
As my consciousness faded, I swore I heard a cat meow.