Everything was going according to plan, or at least they hoped it was.
The pounding of footsteps echoed throughout the ominous pitch-black corridor, the ringing of alarm bells drowning out the sound of their movements. The team was making their grand escape from the ill-fated casino. However, they had not expected the entire police force of the Tokyo precinct to have been waiting for them at the entrance.
How fitting for an organized group of thieves.
Maybe they should have expected it. After all, they did hold the #1 spot on the wanted list of the authorities. Whoever got the bragging rights of arresting the Phantom Thieves of Hearts would surely become the most powerful force in Japan.
Ronin withheld some doubt on whether this would actually work, but he had to keep faith. The team’s morale was already high enough, and he didn’t want to hamper their resolve in any way, shape, or form. He was getting slightly annoyed by the lack of adequate lighting, which was likely caused by the intruders awaiting them outside to slow the group down and increase the possibility of their capture.
“Oracle, isn’t there a way to bring the power back online?” He yelled to a short girl wearing a ridiculous binocular-like mask.
“They’ve restricted remote access to the main console. There’s nothing I can do, even with the best of my abilities.” She replied, nearly gasping for breath while doing so.
“Don’t overexert yourself Oracle. Our top priority at the moment is getting out of here in one piece.” An older girl shouted, her coal-black scarf fluttering behind her as she ran.
“How’s our decoy doing?” A tall boy with a crimson mask queried as the party reached an intersection and made a sharp right towards a staircase heading downward, pausing momentarily near the steps to catch their breath.
Oracle nodded and pulled up a holographic live-feed showcasing the commotion in the main hall of the casino from the decoy’s point of view. The team halted their getaway to marvel at the scene unfolding before them.
The black silhouette of a young man could be seen gliding across the ceiling of the casino, soaring from platform to platform.
“Th-There’s something here!” An alarmed man exclaimed with his mouth agape, frowning at the chandeliers and lights hoisted above the crowd.
He was pushed out of the way by a man wearing a matching black sunglasses and a black suit, his two associates, who were dressed in a similar fashion, walking behind him. They spotted the silhouette resting atop a bright neon light sign that read “WINNER TAKES ALL” with his back turned towards them. Slowly, the silhouette turned around and stood to face them, a smug look spread across his face. He held a silver briefcase tucked between his chest and left arm. An avian-themed mask protruded from his face and beckoned the men-in-black to try their luck and apprehend him. A full moon shone through the skylight above him, bathing the grandiose thief in brisk moonlight.
“He’s here. Move in immediately.” One of the men, clearly the leader, spoke into his radio as they moved forward towards the emergency exit staircase.
The dapper young man gazed at the muddled heap of men and women below him with a confident smirk before jumping towards a hexagonal platform.
The rest of the group cooed in awe. They were impressed. Shocked at how calm the decoy was being based on their current predicament, but nonetheless impressed. The group was thrust back into reality by the ringing of the decoy’s voice through the comms.
“Okay, the briefcase is at the selected drop-off point. I’ll see what I can do to get our little friends here off our tail.”
A dwarfish, animalistic creature was the first to react. “Good, now get running!” He commanded.
“This is our only chance!”
“Stay calm, you can get away now!”
“We’ll retrieve the briefcase on our end.”
The barking of orders from the rest of the group to their decoy was interrupted by an incoming transmission from an unknown contact.
“Hm? What was that?” Oracle questioned.
“Don’t worry about us. Just concentrate on getting away!” the aforementioned creature snapped, his cat ears twitching with a flair of seriousness.
Ronin beckoned the rest of his team with his gloved hand, which glowed a bright orange amongst the dark gloom engulfing them.“We should split up. One group retrieves the briefcase, the other secures the exit.”
“In that case, how ‘bout me, Queen, Oracle, Noir, and Panther go for the briefcase, and the rest of you guys continue on?” a blonde-haired boy with a skull mask asked while fidgeting with his scarlet ascot. “That should leave Ronin, Crow, Fox, and Mona to secure the exit route for us.”
“Sounds like a plan to me! Let’s go guys!” a similarly blonde-haired girl in a cat burglar outfit concurred.
Ronin shot a worried look to the older girl with the black scarf. “Will you be alright?” He asked.
She gave a small nod in response, a reassuring smile on her face. “We’ll be fine. Worry about yourself first.”
Oracle suddenly perked up, interrupting the brief solace. “Shit! There’s more of them nearing Joker’s position. Just RUN! Get out of there!” She cried into her microphone as she started to panic.
“He’s playing his part perfectly. The enemy’s focus is on him, so it looks like the rest of us can slip away. We can’t let his efforts go to waste. Let’s go everyone!” the cat-like beast shouted.
The team acknowledged him in unison.
The group assigned to secure the exit rounded the corner and sprinted towards a terrace overlooking a plaza. The four boys grunted in annoyance at the sight of multiple riot control officers stationed beneath them, blocking their path to the exit.
“How are we supposed to get past them?” Fox huffed.
“We’ll have to engage in combat. This route is our only means of escaping.” Mona replied.
“How are we supposed to defeat them? They have guns! We wouldn’t last a minute against them. Besides, we’re outnumbered to begin with!” Crow interrupted with apparent shock in his voice.
Mona sighed. “This isn’t reality, remember? If we can catch them by surprise, they’ll lose their physical form and transmute into shadows. In that state, they shouldn’t be a problem for us.”
Ronin nodded, turning his attention towards the guards below them. “Now, how do we get down there without being noticed?”
A sequence of metallic sounds akin to screws hitting the floor occurred behind the group, causing Ronin to turn around. Fox pointed towards an open ventilation shaft with a small blue screwdriver clutched in his hand, the detached grate lying against the wall.
“This should do, yes?”
A female voice through their comms broke the silence. “Everyone remember where we’re meeting up?”
“No worries. I can guide you all.” Oracle’s poised voice answered. “Everyone, head to positions. Use Route B!”
“Um, ‘Route B’ isn’t exactly secure yet. We’re working on it.” Ronin anxiously whispered through the comms, peering at the armed soldiers standing guard from behind one of the various marble pillars stationed throughout the open space. A lone chandelier hung above the center, radiating light throughout the room. Spotting a pair of guards approaching his position, he swiftly realigned his body so that he was enveloped in the pillar’s shadow. The two soldiers marched past him towards a pair of elevator doors, unaware that their high-priority targets lay in the shadows amongst them.
“No sir, there’s been no sign of the remaining Phantom Thieves. Division A has been tracking the main target throughout the staff passageways.” There was a slight pause. “Of course sir, we’ll move in immediately.” Ronin lost sight of them as the elevator doors closed shut.
“Perfect. Mona’s training has definitely paid off.” He muttered under his breath with a tone bordering arrogance. He turned his attention to the center of the plaza, observing the pair of revolving doors at the other end. All that stood between the team and their escape were four rotten cops. The bullets on his bandolier jingled as he slinked from behind the pillar to the corner of an obsidian structure, placing himself behind one of the unknowing officers.
“Is everyone in position?” Fox’s voice cut through the static of the comms.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Ronin mumbled, making sure to avoid prematurely alerting their target.
“We’ve got one shot at this. Let’s not screw this up.” Mona uttered.
“You can count on me. Just give the signal when you are ready, Mona.” Crow replied. Ronin braced himself for the upcoming engagement.
“OK, on three. One…two…three!” Mona exclaimed.
The four thieves pounced from behind their respective hiding places onto the unaware sentries. Ronin wrapped his left arm around the guard’s neck, whose face had begun to transmute into that of a heart-shaped mask. He grabbed the guard’s mask with his right hand and, using all of his strength, ripped it off. A mixture of red and black liquid spewed from the guard’s face as he cried in agony.
“Show me who you really are!” He roared as he snatched the soldier’s riot shield and swung it into the soldier’s chest, propelling him backwards. Ronin glanced upward to see that the other guards had been disarmed as well, and that a heap of bodies now lay before them. They rose one by one, twitching and growling intensively as they each erupted into a mass of red and black sludge. The pile of viscous liquid began to swirl together before manifesting into a gargantuan elephant-like creature wielding a curved sword. It bellowed with rage as it prepared to attack.
Fox grimaced. “This shadow again? Let us defeat it quickly.”
Ronin had begun to unsheathe his serrated sword as he heard a familiar voice above him.
“Don’t bother! Physical attacks won’t do much good to this one!”
Ronin glanced upward at the terrace and flashed a fleeting grin when he saw Queen, holding the briefcase, with the rest of the team standing next to her.
“Guns should work though!” Oracle chimed in.
Ronin’s grin turned into a fierce frown as he returned his attention to the shadow, raising his rifle at the shadow. Without warning, it lifted its sword and charged towards him, bringing it down in his direction. Ronin hastily raised a nearby riot shield over himself in defense as the sword made contact, cracking the glass and pushing him to the ground.
“Ronin!” Queen yelped.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine!” He grunted as he tossed aside the smashed riot shield. He winced in pain, clutching his left arm. The shadow advanced towards him, ready to deliver the finishing blow. Ronin mustered all of his strength and aimed his wobbly gun at the brute with his other arm. However, its stride was quickly interrupted by the sound of gunfire reverberating throughout the plaza. Bullets whizzed past, most of them piercing the shadow’s skin. It cried in agony as the remaining Phantom Thieves unloaded their ammunition into the enemy, crimson liquid gushing out of its lacerations. The Thieves ceased fire as the shadow fell to its knees and succumbed to its wounds, howling as it disintegrated into a red mist.
Queen holstered her revolver and hopped the barrier of the terrace, falling to the ground-level, the others not far behind. She rushed towards Ronin, grabbing his right hand and pulling him upward. She grabbed his rifle and urged him forward. He was about to protest, but decided to leave it be in favor of more pressing matters.
“The gunfire must have attracted a lot of attention. We need to leave, now!” Crow announced.
The team nodded in unison and ran towards the revolving doors, practically pushing past each other as they escaped into the darkness of the night. Ronin took in a deep breath of fresh air as they made their way outside the casino, the street before them illuminated only by moonlight. Sirens wailed in the distance and the piercing sound of helicopter blades cutting into the open air sounded in the distance.
“There’s an alleyway near here. We should be able to get out from there!” Oracle said.
They retreated into the safety of a pitch-black alley a few blocks from the casino, stopping to catch their breath.
“Is everyone alright?” Noir questioned anxiously in between hard breaths.
The Phantom Thieves glanced at each other and nodded, each of them panting. Queen handed Ronin’s rifle back to him and leaned against the brick wall, wiping the sweat from her brow. Suddenly, she felt Ronin wrap his hand beneath her shoulder and pull her closer to him. She looked up at him in surprise, stumbling for words.
“I’m glad you’re okay.” He whispered with a gentle smile on his face. Queen felt his hand trembling against her skintight suit.
“I…I should be the one saying that.” She replied, a light flush developing in her cheeks. She gazed down at the pavement. “How’s your arm?”
“I’ll survive.” He answered cheekily, attempting to mask the pain as he strained his sprained arm.
“You really are something else.” She retorted, closing her eyes with an audible sigh of relief.
Their conversation was interrupted by a loud gasp. Everyone turned to look at the source of the sound.
“A-An ambush?!” Oracle blurted, looking like she was about to break down into tears. “Guys…Joker’s been cornered…”
“What?!” Skull exclaimed.
“Joker, can you handle it?” Mona asked.
“Joker!” Panther cried.
“Oh no!” Noir muttered as she clasped her hands around her mouth.
Oracle rerouted everyone’s communication devices so that they could hear through Joker’s earpiece.
“Capture him!” An authoritative voice yelled as the clamoring of male voices could be heard growing louder.
Joker’s rushed breathing could faintly be heard among the clamoring of adult voices as he attempted to escape his pursuers. He yelped in pain as something slammed into his face and knocked him back to the ground, sending momentary static throughout everyone’s headsets. The tumult of voices around him grew louder until they were right on top of him.
“Suspect secure!” Shouted an authoritative voice.
The rest of the Phantom Thieves looked at each other in disbelief, not saying a word. The assortment of voices on Joker’s end slowly quieted down until a single one spoke.
“Huh. Didn’t expect to find some kid.” He said in a clearly amused voice as Joker could be heard groaning in pain. The next words the man spoke sent a shockwave of fear throughout the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, crippling their resolve instantaneously.
“You have your teammate to thank for this. You were sold out.”