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Advent of a Phantom

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True Goddess Academy: the pinnacle of strength in education. That's just about all Akira knows about the school, the name and the tagline that covers the top of its homepage, and he's already standing in front of the gates. Granted, it wasn't his idea to be there in the first place, but he berates himself for not learning more about the school he's staying at before being dumped at its doorstep.

Before he can get too lost in his thoughts, however, he hears an air horn behind him, and turns around to see a golf cart driving his way. The driver doesn't look much older than himself, with brown hair and a pair of headphones resting around his neck. “Hey, you lost or something? The closest town's a mile down the road.”

The other three in the cart with him - one guy holding the aforementioned air horn and two girls sitting in the back seat - don’t say anything, but he feels their curious gazes on him, making him self-conscious. “No, I...” He pushes his glasses up and fiddles with his hair a bit, obvious nervous tics that make him feel even more awkward than he had felt moments prior. “I'm a new student here?” He mentally kicks himself for sounding unsure. “I was just dropped off, but I don't know how to get in.”

“Huh, really? You don't look the type.” The brown haired guy seems to think for a moment, before shrugging. “No offence, dude, it’s just that you look kind of...normal.” Nonetheless, he seems to take Akira for face value and waves his arm, motioning for him to join them on the golf cart. “Hey, Chie, move over for new kid, would ya?”

The girl apparently named Chie makes a face at the back of the guy's head but scoots closer to the other girl, leaving room for Akira. He bows slightly before taking a seat, duffel bag held tightly against his chest, and the driver checks to make sure he's situated before pressing a button on the cart; with a shudder, the cast iron gates in front of them begin opening, and the golf cart begins moving again, following the road into the campus of True Goddess Academy- and Akira’s new home.

“So,” the driver begins speaking again, turning to make sure the gates are closing behind them and glancing at Akira in the process. “What's your name, kid?”

He's about to respond, but the silver haired boy next to him speaks up first. “Aren't we supposed to introduce ourselves first, Yosuke?” He turns around fully, giving Akira a smile. “Sorry about that; I'm Souji, and that's Yosuke.” Yosuke gives a small nose of indignation that goes clearly ignored. “Then we have Chie,” the shorter of the two girls, whose name he already knows, waves, “and Yukiko.” Yukiko smiles warmly at him from across Chie. “We're all second years here.”

“Akira,” he finally supplies. “I'm transferring in as a first year. Uh, what did you mean when you said I look normal, Yosuke-senpai?”

They all glance at each other - save for Yosuke, who's still focusing on the road - until Souji speaks up. “The kids who go here are kind of...special. Ourselves included, of course.”

“Well we look normal, too,” Chie interjects. “Maybe he's a Persona user?”

“You've said that about everybody,” Yosuke complains. “And so far, you've only been right, like, zero times because Morgana doesn't count. Oh, hey, look ahead.”

Chie looks ready to fight Yosuke, and Akira is confused as to what a Persona is and how to use it, but everybody's distracted by the sight looming ahead of them. Akira has never seen a building as large as True Goddess Academy before, but he imagines that Hogwarts could possibly come close. “Is that it?” He asks, awe-struck.

“Oh, that's just the high school,” Yukiko explains, at which Akira’s eyes widen comically. “The college campus is further down the road.”

No, Akira’s mind corrects him, there's no way that a fictional wizardry school comes even close to what's real and in front of him. “It has less than a thousand students enrolled at a time though, right?” Another tidbit of information he had managed to find on Google about the academy before arriving. “The facilities really don't need to be this big.”

Yosuke and Souji share a glance. “You'll understand soon,” Souji finally says cryptically. “Speaking of- Yosuke, you missed the turn, office is in Zeta this week- have you been told about government protocol yet?”

“No-” Akira answers with Yosuke’s brief curses as background noise, and the golf cart swerves violently as he attempts a 180 onto the side road they had just passed. Akira takes a moment to gather his bearings, holding on tightly to the side of the cart and breathing in sharply before continuing. “Is there something I should be aware of?”

“Nah, you'll understand,” Yosuke’s reassurance echoes Souji’s from before, as if completely unfazed by his Jackass-esque driving moments before. “Sounds kinda dumb, I know, but it always does until you really get to know the school.”

Akira still has his doubts, but doesn’t voice them and instead remains quiet until the golf cart rolls to a stop in front of a significantly smaller looking building. It’s the size of a two-story house, which is still very large considering Akira’s used to living in a two- bedroom house, and in front of it is a cheery sign that reads Welcome to True Goddess Academy!

The four upperclassmen clamber out of the vehicle, and Akira does the same as well, staring up at the building in a mix of awe and nerves. “You look like you’ve never seen an office before,” Chie jokes, patting him on the shoulder; he winces at the strength she puts into it. “Don’t worry, everything’ll be fine. Don’t listen to the guys too much; they’re just not used to it yet.” She flashes him a grin to accompany her thumbs up, and he smiles back.

“Thanks, Chie-senpai.” Looking back once more, he bids farewell to the others - Chie and Yukiko head around the office building, mentioning something about talking to a staff member, while Yosuke and Souji walk through a side entrance to return the keys to the golf cart - and takes a deep breath. Here goes nothing.

Before he can even grab the handle to open the door, however, it swings outward, startling him and causing him to take a step back. The person on the other side doesn't seem to notice, though, as he steps closer, grinning brightly. “Joker! You’re here, I knew it!”

“Uh, are you talking to...me?” The kid addressing him definitely doesn’t look to be his age, appearing to be in middle school rather than high school. Accompanying his unruly black hair and yellow doe eyes is a raspy voice, the one that had seemed to address him as Joker , for god knows what reason. “I’m sorry, you must have the wrong person.”

The kid - really, absolutely not a student here, not with that disposition - stares at him wide-eyed for a moment before frowning, his eye flicking to the bottom corner as he hides his face in the large kerchief - the same shade of piercing yellow as his eyes - around his neck. “Sorry,” he mutters, his eyebrows twitching in a way that confuses Akira. “Must’ve mistaken you for someone else.” Without another word, he pushes past Akira, leaving the other confused and more hurt than he thinks he should be.

The exchange is all of thirty seconds, and yet Akira feels like he’s messed up somehow; making a kid go from elated to heartbroken like that? He wonders if he should have played along, but the opportunity is long gone, and he can only watch as the boy runs down the road away from all the other buildings, almost tripping over a rock on his way. As soon as he’s out of sight, Akira finally opens the door to the main office, unsure what to expect between his upperclassmen’s confusing messages and that other kid’s sudden mood swings.

What he doesn’t expect, however, is the calm and tranquil scene before him that completely opposes what the others have warned him about. The lobby is almost completely white, save for the silver and gold trimmings and variously-colored furniture, and the only other person present is a beautiful woman sitting behind a desk. She glances up almost immediately when she hears the door close behind Akira, and smile up at him. “Welcome to True Goddess Academy,” her voice is as soothing as her appearance is, her voice a tinge darker than her silver hair. “I assume that you’re the new transfer from Inaba. Kurusu-san, correct?”

He bows slightly. “Yes, ma’am.” She hums thoughtfully and begins typing into the computer in front of her.

“Just give me a moment to print out your schedule, please.”

Akira nods, and his eyes begin to move around the room, taking in more details that he hadn't noticed before. There's a picture on one of the far walls, a beautifully painted portrait of a girl with bubblegum pink hair, and a deep blue lounge set facing a large TV playing a rerun of Doraemon. “Everything's set,” the woman finally says, and he turns his attention back to her, noting the nametag on her shirt- Burroughs. “Would you mind signing this form first?”

He looks down at the paper and realises that it's a paper pertaining to the government protocol that Souji had referenced earlier, if the official seal at the top is any indicator. It's short, though - Akira had expected something longer and more intimidating - and boils down to a very generic Las Vegas rule. What happens at True Goddess stays at True Goddess.

He's still unsure why such secrecy is needed, but signs it nonetheless; after all, if he doesn't, it's not like he can walk back home. He'd just end up homeless in the next city over. With a satisfied nod, Burroughs takes the paper and gives Akira a folder with his name on it. “This is your class schedule, room assignment and copy of the academy guidelines. If you head out that door-” she points at a white door on the opposite end from where Akira had entered, “-you’ll be directed into the main courtyard. The dormitories are to your right and left, and the high school building will be directly ahead of you. You can leave your personal belongings here, and they’ll be delivered to your room. Any questions?” He shakes his head, and she flashes him one last smile. “Well then, Kurusu-san, welcome to True Goddess Academy.”

He bows one last time before walking to the door that she had mentioned before; it doesn't seem as though it connects to any fancy courtyard, not from the outside at least, but maybe he's mistaken.

As he touches the doorknob, however, an odd sensation overtakes him, and suddenly everything is white- not like the white of the office, but rather the white of a blinding light, where no other color seems to exist in the world. He's light as a feather, his feet lifting off of the ground-

-and he panics, letting go of the doorknob, his feet hitting the ground first, followed shortly by his rear end and then his back and head and knees and, once more, his rear end. As he tries to reorient himself after the unintentional backwards somersault, the white light in his vision disappears, instead being replaced by dark colors whose shapes he can't make out; it's thanks to both his dizziness and the glasses that had left his face and were now settled in the grass next to him.

....

Wait a second.

He grabs his glasses and scrambles to his feet as two particular color blobs move closer, one yellow and black and the other purple and blue. “Nice wipeout, dude,” the shorter blob says, and Akira puts his glasses on in order to properly look at the blond addressing him. “That's the worst one I've seen since Futaba accidentally flashed Minato in the middle of the cafeteria!”

“Yes, well,” the taller of the two replies in a more refined voice, “It’s probably for the best that it was Arisato-senpai rather than Iori-senpai. Besides that, however, are you all right?”

“I'm fine?” Once more, Akira’s statement comes out more like a question, and he flinches, adjusting his glasses before correcting himself. “I mean, I'm fine. I think. What just happened?”

“The Terminal just happened,” the blond replies, as if that answers everything; it doesn’t. “Kinda sucks the first few times, but you get used to it. Are you the new kid everybody's talking about?”

He supposes he is, but he doesn’t know whether to be flattered or offended that apparently he’s already the talk of the school. After a moment, he settles on paranoid. “I guess so. Uh, Akira, by the way.”

“Oh, shit, right.” The blond rubs the back of his neck, grinning. “Ryuji, got kicked here for assaultin’ a teacher.” Akira doesn’t have time to process the introduction before he gestures at the other. “And this is Yusuke, my roommate. Uh, art scholarship I think?”

“Indeed,” Yusuke confirms. “With a rather generous stipend, may I add. Between the amount offered by the school and my external income from the recently scheduled gallery, I should be able to-”

“Feed yourself for once? Great,” Ryuji interrupts hastily before turning his attention back to Akira. “What’re you here for, though? You look kinda nerdy, I’m guessing decathlon scholarship?”

“Perhaps modeling, you do give off a very charismatic aura.”

“Nah, dude, it’s probably spelling or some shit.”

“I do believe Kurusu-san is more well-suited for theatre, or a performing art.”

“Mathlete? Quiz bowl geek?”

“An aspiring Shakespeare perhaps, hiding philosophical knowledge behind round lenses.”

“Actually, I punched a guy in the face.” He rubs the back of his neck, still not used to how odd the conversation is but finally berating himself for being too stiff and correcting himself. After all, when someone introduces themselves as a delinquent and their friend as some sort of artistic prodigy, it has nothing on suddenly being teleported into the middle of the quad.

“Woah, really?” Ryuji’s eyes widen, sparkling hopefully, and Akira is torn between relief and apprehension. “Maybe we’re part of the same crew! Y’know, us baddies gotta stick together, right? Not like I can be related to Mr. Art Crisis and Younger Isabeau, after all.”

At first, Akira assumes that the crew Ryuji mentions is his friend group, and he’s almost tempted to take him up on the offer; after all, he has no friends to begin with, it might suit him to stick with the guy who apparently hit a teacher hard enough to get into a prestigious academy instead of juvie. However, his next words confuse him- does he not consider Yusuke a friend? And what the hell is an Isabeau?

He doesn’t have time to ask, however, as Yusuke’s already frowning, pressing a finger to his forehead in the epitome of snobbish thoughtfulness; Akira doesn’t think anything of the snobbish part, considering Yusuke’s already-obvious eccentricities, but the thoughtfulness is unnerving. “Perhaps, yes. However, he does seem more aligned to Makoto-san’s tastes. What do you think, Akira-san?”

“I think you’re both crazy,” is the first thing out of his mouth, and he can’t take them back, no matter how much he wants to, so he continues. “I haven’t been able to follow this conversation since I stopped talking.”

Ryuji and Yusuke glance at each other- or rather, look at each other, given the time they stare is far too long to be considered a glance. It’s as though they’re talking telepathically, and Akira wants to tell them to talk for the sake of filling silence, but Ryuji speaks up before he gets the chance. “They really didn’t tell you nothing about this place, did they?”

Akira’s too relieved at the question to mention anything about Ryuji’s double negative. “Listen, I was just dumped at the doorstep less than an hour ago. I know nothing.

“Oh man, that bites.” Ryuji’s quiet for another moment before speaking up again. “Are you sure, though? Nothing? Not even, like, why you’re here?”

Akira blinks. “I’m here for correction, aren’t I?”

There’s a long moment of silence before Yusuke begins to move away. “I’ll leave this to you, Ryuji. I do believe the gesso on my canvas has finished drying.” Before Ryuji can stop him, Yusuke is already halfway across the yard- impressive, really, since he’s still walking rather than running. Ryuji curses under his breath as he watches him leave before turning back to Akira.

“This is going to be weird, okay? Like, really weird.” Not that things can get much weirder, is Akira’s first thought, but he mentally bites his tongue. “Okay, so you know it’s kind of wild that you got into this fancy place on bad behavior?”

“Mhm?” Akira can already smell a conspiracy theory brewing, and Ryuji’s next words just confirm his thoughts.

“Well, this place isn’t a real school. Like, it’s a school, but not a school school. We’re not here for being good or bad or anything.” He leans in conspiratorially, and Akira leans away. “We’ve actually got powers, dude.”

What. It takes a moment for Akira to realize he hasn’t properly shown his skepticism, and soon rectifies it. “...what.”

“Yeah, dude, like, legit superpowers and stuff.” Ryuji begins to walk, and Akira’s so confused that he doesn’t even realize he’s following the other. “Depends on what group you’re part of, but almost everyone here has some kinda badass ability. We’re, like, reincarnations or something? So we get these cool powers that we used to have, too.”

“Uh.....huh.” He can't help but be more suspicious of the state of Ryuji’s mental health, and he seems absolutely convinced of the fact.

The skepticism must show on Akira’s face, because Ryuji squints at him before continuing. “Seriously, dude, I couldn't make this up if I tried . Oh, I know! I'll take you to meet Flynn! He can clear this all up for you, I swear.”

Ryuji’s pace quickens, and soon they're inside the school building, passing a short row of shoe lockers before making their way down an empty corridor. The building really is bigger on the inside, and Akira wants to take in the sights more, but Ryuji’s still on the move, making a beeline towards the end of the hall.

As they approach their destination, the sound of voices become gradually louder, to the point where Akira can hear the entire conversation even from outside.

“You're being absolutely ridiculous,” says a light voice that doesn't match the anger evident in it. “He's twenty , Isabeau, I don't get why you allow him to continue on like this!”

“And why do you care so much?” It's a deeper voice, also laced with irritation. “Flynn has spoken his mind, and we are meant to follow it.”

“You only say that because you agree with his tomfoolery! If you had any common sense-”

“Boys.” A sharp voice interrupts them just as Ryuji brings a fist up to the door. “Can we save this for later? We have a guest. Come in.”

Ryuji glances at Akira apologetically - for what reason, he's not sure - before pushing the door open. “Uh, hey Isabeau,” he greets one of the people in the room sheepishly before stepping to the side to let Akira through. “Hope I'm not interrupting anything, just looking for Flynn.”

“Oh! Of course not, Ryuji.” Isabeau, or so Akira assumes her to be, smiles at them both from where she's seated at one of the empty desks farthest away from the window covering the entire far wall. Flanking her desk, both still looking irritated but fortunately remaining silent, are the owners of the two male voices he had heard earlier; one has his arms crossed in front of him, while the other has one hand on the desk, leaning threateningly across it.  “Is this the new student?”

“Uh, yeah. This is Akira, the new kid. Akira, these are-”

“The members of the school disciplinary committee, also known as the Samurai,” a fourth voice emanates amusedly from behind Akira, and he jumps and turns to see one of the most intimidating people he has ever met; it’s not that he looks like a delinquent, but rather the aura he gives off is of one who shouldn't be trifled with. “My name is Flynn, and these are Jonathan, Isabeau and Walter; I hear you wanted to see me?”

Akira confirms the question with a nod, still staring at  Flynn. He's wearing a simple gakuran, but it's a solid shade of blue rather than the navy he's used to wearing or the black of the blazer that Ryuji has on, and around his arm is pinned a white strip of cloth, bearing what he assumes is the symbol of the Samurai. However, what troubles Akira the most is neither his clothing nor his aura, but the very obvious, very literal sword sheathed at his side. Upon further inspection, it looks as though the other Samurai also have swords strapped to their sides, and he begins to pale even more than he already has. “Uh, I- that is- are you- powers?”

He inwardly curses his lack of charisma, but Flynn just laughs, a sound that's far more kind than malicious. “We are powers,” he seems to joke before looking at Ryuji. “Thank you for bringing him to me, Ryuji. It would be troublesome if he had run into somebody more...... indelicate .”

“Aye aye, cap’n,” Ryuji salutes cheekily. “Hey, uh, do you mind if I stick around? It's been a while since I've seen a little one-two.”

“Flynn,” Isabeau begins in warning, but he shakes his head at her before continuing.

“Of course I don’t mind, Ryuji.” Ryuji grins widely and settles into a nearby seat, and Akira takes it upon himself to do the same as Flynn continues talking. “Now, you’ve already signed the confidentiality agreement, so none of this is to leave the grounds of the school. That includes your abilities, if they are to manifest, do you understand?”

“I don’t have abilities,” Akira begins to protest, but he’s stopped by the look that Flynn gives him. It’s not necessarily a sharp look, but it’s enough to cause him to freeze nonetheless.

Flynn takes a moment, waiting to see if Akira has anything else to say, before giving the most subtle smile that Akira could still see. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. After all, this is what True Goddess Academy is built on- making sure that those with these abilities learn their powers and purpose before going out into the world.”

Flynn sounds more like a school counselor than a disciplinary committee head, are Akira’s thoughts, but they’re cut off by a rumbling sound that becomes a bit louder as Isabeau looks towards the window. “Flynn, I think-”

“It’s all right, Isabeau, just ignore it.” he opens his mouth to continue his lecture, but the rumbling grows more pronounced, now accompanied by the entire room shaking. “Walter, can you please see what’s going on?”

“Hoy, I know exactly what’s going on.” Walter doesn’t move, but Jonathan does, stepping away from the desk and frowning. Walter seems to find amusement in his actions, and snorts. “Yeah, why don’t you go deal with him? Let’s see how your control will work against him.”

“Walter, will you please-

Jonathan’s words are cut off completely as the glass window shatters under the impact of a body hitting it, and Akira jumps out of his seat as a boy looking no older than themselves rolls into the room from outside, ending up flat on his back and groaning from the impact. “Fuck!”

Before Walter and Jonathan can make any moves, Isabeau is already standing above him, one foot on his bare chest and her sword unsheathed and pointed at his face. When she even had time for the motions, Akira doesn’t know, because it feels as though it’s been barely a second. “Demifiend, ” she says, scowling down at him, but her head shoots up to look at Flynn as soon as he addresses her.

“Isabeau, yield.”

“But Flynn-”

“Yeah, Isabeau, listen to your leader. ” The kid - Demifiend? - snorts derisively, as if he isn’t being threatened with death. Isabeau swivels again to glare at him, but he grabs her leg and shoves her off of him before jumping to his feet; if Akira hadn’t judged him as dangerous, he’d say that his movements are fluid and graceful. “Anyways, I’ve gotta jet, so-”

“Damnit, get back here!” There’s another voice, this one coming from outside the window - or at least, what’s left of it - and a brief second later, a large orange and red figure appears, large enough to block all light from the outside. “Demifiend, you piece of- hey!”

A large flame shoots out of Demifiend’s palm, hitting the monster straight in the chest and sending it reeling back. He takes the opportunity to sneer at Isabeau before running at the monster- and feinting a punch before ducking underneath its arms, running past it. “Catch me if you can, asshole!”

The red and orange monster begins to move away, and from behind him Akira can finally see another man, with bright blond hair and the angriest look on his face. “Yeah, I’m gonna catch ya all right,” he shouts, but a hand on his shoulder stops him. It’s Flynn, and Akira is once again amazed at how fast the Samurai react; he had just been by Isabeau’s side a moment ago.

“Kanji,” he says, soothingly yet intimidatingly at the same time, “let him go. If you keep fighting him, it only provokes him more.”

Kanji seems to hesitate for a moment, but his eyes scan over everybody watching - the Samurai, Ryuji, even Akira - before he snorts and kicks the ground in irritation. “Yeah, whatever.” As his will to fight Demifiend seems to disappear, so does the monster, vanishing in a whisp of red smoke. “Sorry, senpai.”

“It’s all right; I just don’t want you getting in trouble with Souji.” Akira’s surprised; he doesn’t know what the mild-mannered upperclassman has to do with anything, but he had seemed absolutely normal when Akira had met him- then again, that’s also what Yosuke had said about Akira, so maybe normal doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. In the middle of his thoughts, however, Flynn turns to him and smiles, still as unnerving as ever. “Do you understand now, Akira? These are powers that each of us hold; they come in different forms, like you may notice, but none of us are exempt from this rule.....not forever, at least.”

Flynn shoos Kanji away from the area and steps back into the room as Isabeau pulls up her right sleeve, revealing what looks like a white gauntlet with a screen on it. “Burroughs, can you please send somebody to clean up a mess in Alpha?”

“On it,” comes Burroughs’ very distinct voice, and barely a moment after Isabeau cuts the connection, a ray of light blue shines down in front of her, and a tiny creature appears out of it.

For everything that has just happened, the being looks more...... normal. Albeit smaller. And with wings. Aside from that, though, she looks like a generic fairy from a storybook, and he almost laughs as she pouts at Isabeau. Almost, because he's still in shock at everything that's happened thus far. “Isabeau, stop making me clean up after that dummy’s messes!”

Isabeau laughs sheepishly. “I'm sorry, Pixie. I didn't ask for you specifically; Burroughs just assigned you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she whines, but works regardless, glitter floating around the room as she begins picking up pieces of glass and setting them back in place at a breakneck speed.

As Akira watches in awe, Flynn stands next to him, surveying Pixie’s progress with his arms crossed in front of him. “That will also be you someday,” he notes, making Akira jump. “Hopefully not nearly as reckless, but this power will be yours.”

“You mean, like, controlling demons?” That's the only word he can use to describe the.....the thing that Kanji had been controlling, and that Demifiend person had looked like a demon enough that he's not sure he was even human.

Flynn hums at the question.”Perhaps controlling demons, like us. The creature you saw earlier - the one Kanji was using - is a Persona, along the same vein but not entirely identical. There are also students here who are half-beings, like Demifiend, or can turn into demons- but as far as I know, they're already in the university here on campus so you won't see much of them.”

Everything still doesn't make sense, but he nods anyways, trying to sort everything out in his head. “What about you then?” His gaze slides over to Ryuji, who suddenly looks very defensive. “What's your power?”

“I-I’m still working on it!” He stomps his foot angrily, as if daring Akira to say anything against him. “I haven't even gotten my memories back yet, so cut me some slack!”

“Right. And you just...accept it?” Akira’s no longer surprised at the powers - he can’t be, not when they’ve been put on display right in front of him - but the idea that this is an absolutely unquestionable fact in the school still unsettles him. He’s not a reincarnation of anybody , much less a demon user or......whatever. “Do you really know that you’re in the right place? I’m- I’m not meant to be here.” Flynn seems a bit off-put by Akira’s words, ready to stop him should he go too far, but he plows on. “Maybe you're not either. We're delinquents, not- not superheroes.

Everything he says is more to convince himself than anything, but his words seem to strike a vein in Ryuji as he snaps back. “Maybe you're not, but I am. Damnit, this is who we are, and if you're not meant to be here, maybe you should just leave!”

Akira makes to shoot something back, but he's stopped by a hard slap on the top of his head, mirroring the one that Walter also gives Ryuji. “Hoy, calm down you two. Akira’s not going anywhere, and neither are you, Ryuji.” He barely glances at Ryuji, though, as he continues to stare directly at Akira.

It's not Walter but Jonathan who speaks next. “Perhaps you should retire for the day; it's a lot to take in, so the rest would do you well.” Ryuji glares at Jonathan and mutters something under his breath, but eventually relents and turns away.

“I thought you were cool,” Ryuji says, less angry and more upset now. “But whatever, man.” Without waiting for Akira to try and get in another word, he yanks the door open and stalks out, leaving Akira with the Samurai who all look as equally tired as he feels.

Jonathan glances at Akira. “I was referring to you, as well, Akira. I’m assuming you already have your room assignment?” He looks down at the folder in his hands that he had forgotten about and nods. One outburst after another, one surprise too many, and now going to boarding school seems like the least of his worries. “If you wish, I can-”

“I'll do it,” Isabeau interjects, trading glances with Flynn in the process. She’s second in command, from what Akira can tell, which is only proved when Jonathan stands down. “The first year dormitories are in Gamma, correct?” Flynn nods, and Isabeau tilts her head, gesturing for Akira to follow. “This way.”

He follows silently, a mixture of tiredness and indecision. Even if he had wanted to say something, he's not sure what it would be, and so he remains quiet.

It isn't until they're out of the room and a fair distance down the hallway that Isabeau speaks again as well. “I would like to personally apologize for that ruckus. Rest assured that not everybody in the school is as rambunctious as Demifiend. Most days should be relatively peaceful.”

Most days?” He's skeptical, and has every right to be. His first impression of the campus has been nothing short of traumatizing so far, and he can't believe that it's a rare occurrence.

Isabeau only laughs at his skepticism. “Yes, most days. Demifiend is notoriously truant, so he isn't on campus very often, save for picking fights like today. Most other events usually involve demon infestations, but those are few and far between. Ah- do you know how to use the Terminals?”

Akira looks up at the statue that they're standing in front of and shrugs, trying not to think about anything involving the word demon for too long. “Not the specifics.” To be fair, neither Burroughs nor Ryuji explained them to him, and the most he can gather is that they lead to different parts of the school.

Isabeau fiddles with her gauntlet before holding it up to the statue; both the statue and the screen on the gauntlet begin to glow green. “Terminals are our means of transportation around campus, because the area is so large and the buildings shift every so often. They act on physical contact or through the use of the school's Terminal application; the app is the only way to ensure that we both go together, but usually you're able to simple touch the Terminal and think about where you want to go.”

That explains how he had managed to get to the courtyard, but before he can ask any more questions about the nature of the Terminals, he feels himself lift off the ground again. “Don't fight it,” Isabeau says, looking over at him from where she's floating with ease amidst the light of the Terminal. “Trust it to set you down gently, and it will.”

“I have trust issues,” Akira complains, and it shows- as soon as the light dissipates, he lands on his ass again, groaning softly. It's not soft and spongy like grass this time, but hard like marble tile. He looks down to confirm his thoughts- it is marble tile, and the entire lounge area that they’ve arrived in is covered in it. “Maybe it should give me a warning first.” At least his glasses are still intact.

“I give it a seven out of ten,” another voice interrupts them, this time belonging to a black-haired teen draped over a nearby chair. He’s undoubtedly amused, with the way his eyes sparkle as he watches them, but to his credit he also looks apologetic. “At least you got here in one piece. Hi Isabeau, new kid. Are you okay?”

Akira frowns and pushes up his glasses nervously; how many people is he going to make a fool of himself in front of before the day is over? “I'm fine,” he replies. “Er....” He looks over at Isabeau, and she sighs, realising that introductions fall on her.

“Hibiki, this is Akira. Akira, this is Hibiki. He's an.....well, he doesn't remember yet, like you.”

“Nice to meetcha, Akira,” Hibiki grins at him; the reply is a little too fast, and Akira can't help but be suspicious. “You're gonna have a lot of fun here, don't worry.”

“I doubt it.” Akira doesn't realize he's said it out loud until the silence drags on a bit too long, and Isabeau coughs.

“Yes, well, would you mind introducing him to the other first years after I show him to his room, Hibiki?”

“Aye aye, ma’am.” Hibiki gives her a smile before returning his attention back to his phone. Akira wishes he has his own phone on him, but unfortunately it's with his other stuff, supposedly already in his new room. “Oh,” Hibiki looks up again one more time. “Head's up, Goro went to town again, so he won't be back until later.”

Goro. The name sounds familiar, but it's barely an itch in Akira’s mind and he can't even begin to place where he's heard it before. “That's a shame,” Isabeau replies slowly, almost warily, before turning to Akira. “Goro is going to be your roommate, so perhaps you should wait to introduce yourself?”

There's a small sense of dread in the pit of his stomach, once more for reasons unknown, but he pushes the feeling down and instead agrees with Isabeau. “I think I need some time to myself, anyways. It was, uh, nice meeting you, Isabeau-senpai. Hibiki.”

“You as well, Akira.”

“Laters.”

The two of them begin talking in soft whispers as soon as Akira is down the hall and he can hear their murmuring even if the words are intelligible, but he ignores whatever conspiracy they may be plotting in favor of finding his room. His key says 96-B, and judging by the other rooms lining the hallway, it’s a four-person suite; his suspicions are confirmed when he passes 96-A with the names Sakamoto and Kitagawa painted on in yellow and blue. The next room over is his own; his surname is painted on in black, alongside a cheerful, red Akechi.

“Goro Akechi,” he muses aloud, still trying to determine where he’s heard the name before, but he jumps when an unexpected reply emanated from behind him.

“Why yes, that would be me. Are you the enigmatic Kurusu?” Akira turns around, and his heart leaps out of his throat- but not for any good reason. He recognizes Akechi’s face far faster than he does his name, and his face drains of color when he realizes he’s rooming with a nationally renowned teenage detective. Him, a delinquent. A politician-puncher. Public enemy number five. “I do apologize,” Akechi continues, frowning as Akira tries not to gape at him like a fish. He only half fails. “I shouldn’t have snuck up on you like I did.”

“No, it’s....fine.” It’s not, his brain screams at him, but his face doesn’t show it as he smiles. “I just didn’t know I would be living with a celebrity.”

“Nor I,” Akechi responds, and laughs when Akira give him the most confused look he can muster. “Akira Kurusu, correct? You caused quite a stir at the office. The boy who punched Masayoshi Shido - to be frank, I’m almost jealous that you got the chance before I did.”

That is definitely not the turn that Akira had expected this conversation to take, and he fumbles with his room key as they talk, wanting to continue the conversation in private. Even if Akechi knows that he punched the future prime minister in the face, he doesn’t want his dirty deeds put on blast in front of the whole school, or even the other first years. “Don’t you work for him?” He barely even looks at the rest of his room as he finds his suitcase resting against a bed and sits on it, staring at Akechi as he closes the door behind them. “You shouldn’t be bad-mouthing your boss.”

“Oh please, ” is Akechi’s flippant reply. “He hardly cares enough about me as it is; it would be a step up to start insulting him to his face.” He laughs to himself soon after. “Although, I doubt he would appreciate if the press caught wind that I was trying to sabotage my own father.”

Akira doubletakes. “Father?” Not only did he punch a politician, now he’s rooming with his son? He doesn’t know if the day can get any worse.

“Ah- not a legitimate heir, mind you.” Akechi is quick to explain upon seeing the horror plastered on Akira’s face. “I hardly understood it myself, but some newspaper managed to discover a connection between him and my mother. Not too happy about that, I’d wager. Regardless, I’m only here because he wants me out of the picture while his campaign is in progress. I dislike him as much as you do- perhaps even more so.”

“Oh. That’s good.” There’s relief hidden somewhere in the whiplash, and so he runs with it. “I’m.....glad that you approve?” There’s a brief moment of silence before they both laugh, quiet and awkward but genuine nonetheless. “Uh, Hibiki said you weren't here, so I had thought.....”

“Ah- that must have been why you were so surprised.” Akechi smiles apologetically. “I was in town for a case, but it was wrapped up fairly quickly without me. They do that, it seems; call me in for a file that's already been closed. I wonder why.”

He looks absolutely amused, however, and Akira has the feeling he knows exactly why. National teen celebrity, working with the city law enforcement? It’s to attract attention, and grown ups do love reveling in the spotlight- and it seems as though Akechi does, as well. However, a feeling of uncertainty comes with that as well, and he has to wonder how this life, the life at True Goddess, affects his life outside. “If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your....”

He trails off, unsure what to call the phenomenon, but Akechi picks up on his question easily enough. “My power? I don’t have one yet, I’m afraid. It’s fun to speculate, but I don’t want to get my hopes up just to be disappointed later on.”

“You want to be a part of this?” The words are out of Akira’s mouth before he can stop himself, and he doesn’t even try to reel himself back in after. “You have a great life- hell, you have a fanbase, and you’re saying that you’d rather be cooped up in here with god knows what monsters?”

There’s a beat, at which point Akira fears he’s crossed a line, but Akechi doesn’t look upset. Rather, he looks thoughtful, staring at Akira as if trying to understand him. Knowing how detectives are - intimately , considering the thorough interrogation he had received after the incident - he probably is.

After what feels like several agonizing moments of being scrutinized, Akira’s finally granted reprieve as Akechi replies. “Everybody has a reason to want to be here. While I admit, it was a hard pill to swallow at first, I've come to understand more about myself, and why that power is particularly appealing.”

Akira still doesn't understand, but he stays silent this time. Akechi sounds sincere, and that might possibly worse than sounding delusional in this case. Akechi seems to catch onto his hesitation, and smiles. “We all have to face down our demons eventually, Akira. I just want to be stronger than them when that time comes.”

Something strikes a chord in him, or at least attempts to, but Akira pushes it aside. His personal problems are his own, even without resorting to forming contracts with things beyond human rationality. “Agree to disagree,” he finally says, staring back at Akechi when he replies with a short hum.

“All right.”

Akechi looks like he's about to say more, but is cut off by a series of knocks on the door. “Akira, you in here?” It's Hibiki’s voice, if he remembers correctly. “It's time for the first floor meeting. Goro, you too- Miyako’s mad at you for skipping last week.”

“She failed to show up for the week before that, so I would say that we're quite even,” Akechi mutters under his breath, earning a small snort from Akira as he opens the door. “...Hibiki, need I remind you, that is not how you tie a tie.”

If Akira has to be honest, he has to agree with Akechi; his school tie, emblazoned with the initials of the school's Latin motto - Salus, Memoriam, Templum. - is wrapped around his wrists, and his hands are raised as if he had knocked with both fists. Hibiki is amused rather than offended, and grins cheekily. “I was bet that I couldn't keep my hands to myself for one meeting. Yamato owes the entire floor tickets to Disneyland if I win.”

“Is that so.” Akechi looks sceptical, and Akira has to wonder just how bad the odds are stacked up against Hibiki. Still, he smiles fairly good-naturedly- something about the smile feels off, but Akira brushes it off as baseless paranoia.”Well, as unlikely as it is, a school trip sounds enjoyable, so try your best, Hibiki.”

“Why, thank you! Maybe I'll bring you a souvenir when I get back.”

Hibiki smiles back at the other, also giving him the same shiver down his spine as Akechi’s had, and suddenly everything makes sense and Akira feels very uncomfortable. Caught in the crossfire of two polite, charismatic assholes , Akira clears his throat. “There's a meeting, right? We should probably get going.”

The two agree without hesitation, much to Akira’s relief; he doesn’t know why such a rivalry exists between the two, but he’s sure he doesn’t want to find out at that exact moment in time. Instead, he follows them back to the lobby that he had landed in before, and realizes shortly that there are far more people than he initially believed.

Most of them are seated in an approximation of a circle, all of them lounging in - or draped over - a piece of furniture in the middle of the lounge. He notices Ryuji and Yusuke sitting together on a chair, but says nothing to them. He’s not sure if Ryuji’s still made at him, but judging by the way Ryuji refuses to so much as make eye contact, he has a sneaking suspicion that he is. Yusuke, on the other hand, looks between the two of them in muted confusion, and it’s a scenario that Akira doesn’t want to explain at the moment so he ignores it.

“Kurusu-san, correct?” He looks over at the girl approaching him, and determines almost immediately that, based on first impressions alone, she’s by far the scariest girl that he’s met so far. While her voice is warm, her facial expressions are cold, and the coat draped loosely around her shoulders does little to conceal the weapon - a whip, why did it have to be a whip - at her side. He’s vaguely aware of Hibiki shuffling away to sit next to somebody else, and Akechi doing the same towards the other side of the room as her focus remains solely on him; for some reason, he feels like a sacrifice. “My name is Miyako Hotsuin; I am this floor’s female representative - I see you have already met Goro, our male representative - and I warmly welcome you to True Goddess Academy. I do hope your first day here hasn’t been too much trouble.”

Akira swallows thickly; her authoritative presence is almost overwhelming, and he feels like a worker being talked to by a boss. “Right, thanks,” he replies weakly. “It’s been....great, so far.”

Fortunately, somebody can sense his trepidation, and another female voice rings out- not to challenge Miyako, but rather to steer the conversation. She seems just as confident, and perhaps just as authoritative, but at least a bit more aware of social cues than Miyako. “Miyako, I believe it would be best if you allowed us all to introduce ourselves to Akira.”

“Ah yes, my apologies, Makoto.” Miyako does look apologetic, surprisingly enough, as she nods at him. “We will be moving through the grades together, so please do try to get along with everyone here.”

There’s a violent cough from one side of the room; Akira doesn’t have to turn to see that it belongs to Ryuji.

Aside from that, however, the introductions seem to go off without a hitch. He recognizes a few people, such as the model Ann Takamaki and Haru Okumura, heiress to a global conglomeration. Then there’s the Hotsuin twins, of course- while he hadn’t recognized Miyako’s name at first, he does recognize her equally cold and stern brother Yamato as the youngest leader of a political powerhouse family. Not present, but described in great detail by Hibiki, are the two girls of the idol unit AiHina, Airi Ban and Hinako Kujou, and Yamato’s secretary Makoto Sako.

Other than that, most of them seem fairly.....average. Jungo Torii and Keita Wakui spend their whole introductions acting like a manzai pair, while Hibiki introduces Daichi Shijima and Io Nitta as his childhood friends. There’s the girl who had stuck up for him before, Makoto Niijima - not to be mistaken for Sako, several people remind him, most likely because of their own unfortunate accidents - and she lives with Futaba Sakura across the hall from him and Akechi, while Alcor and Ronaldo Kuriki live one door down, sharing their suite with Hibiki and Yamato.

Of course, he doesn’t need introductions to Akechi, Hibiki, Ryuji or Yusuke, but they go through the motions anyways. It’s not awkward at least, and passes fairly painlessly....until Ryuji has to talk. “I don’t care,” are his only words on the subject. “‘S not like he’s gonna be here for very long, anyways.”

“Ryuji-” Makoto sounds scandalized, but Akira just shakes his head at her. That had been the plan, he’s not going to lie, but being told as much point blank to his face...well, it hurts. It feels like less of his own choice, now, and the desire for some stranger to kick him out.

And for some reason, that pisses him off more than anything else had before. “Can we talk?” Taking the initiative isn’t something that Akira’s used to, but it doesn’t seem possible to wait for a better chance to pop up. Ryuji is stubborn, if first impressions are anything to go by, and there’s no saying how long it would take for him to put down his defenses long enough for Akira to slip in.

Taking the first step himself is enough to surprise Ryuji, it seems, and he starts a little- however, his surprise is soon replaced by suspicion. “Yeah, I'm doin’ it right now.” The sarcasm is strong, and Akira almost feels deterred; almost, because when somebody pushes, it's in his blood to push back. He’s done it so far, it's only now that he's on the other side of the fence.

“Good, now maybe we can actually get somewhere.” He tries to play it cool, and maybe it helps that Ryuji is the same age as him and - assumedly - not in possession of any supernatural powers, but he’s still nervous. This isn’t something he does very often. “Can you-”

“Whatever.” He’s still getting mixed signals from Ryuji as he stands up from the couch, indecisive as to whether the blond actually wants to talk or if he’s just escaping from the scene, but the tiny head tilt and annoyed glare - are you coming? - convinces Akira to apologetically excuse himself from the small welcome meeting and follow him. Surprisingly enough, it’s not a long distance, and Ryuji actually ends up unlocking the door right next to Akira’s own room. That means he’s either the Kitagawa or Sakamoto listed on the outside of the door, and the RS hanging over one bed leaves no question in his mind. “So,” he finally says after sitting on it, still glaring in irritation at Akira. “You gonna drop out or what?”

“I’m going to apologize, actually.” In all honesty, he feels just as surprised as Ryuji looks. He’s not used to apologizing, and definitely not to such a volatile guy as Ryuji Sakamoto. Still, he’s sucked it up so far, and there’s no way to go but forward. “I....still don’t want to be here,” and he doubts that’s going to change any time soon, “but I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

His mouth moves faster than his brain for once, unfiltered opinions and emotions spilling out as he looks anywhere but directly at Ryuji. “I want to be normal, you know. I’m not some delinquent kid who punched a famous politician for the hell of it. It was.....a misunderstanding, but I was still punished for it. I figured, maybe if I laid low here, spent some time away, then my parents would let me come back home and things would be normal again. I can’t do that with demons here, telling me that my life is some kind of lie. I can’t be a....a freak. I just want to go back.”

He doesn’t realize he’s shaking until he stops talking and he feels his hands clench at his sides. That’s more than he’s told anybody else about his situation, even as vague as he’s speaking about it at the moment, and he doesn’t know why he’s telling it all to a delinquent who probably hates him. Maybe it’s easier when it’s a stranger, somebody you may never see again after you graduate. Or maybe it’s because he wants to be understood by somebody who’s in the same position, deemed a public enemy and transferred to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, a reply. “Damn.” Akira’s eyes snap up to see Ryuji glancing awkwardly to the side, rubbing the back of his neck. “Uh....sorry about your shit, dude. That’s really gotta suck.” He almost wants to laugh; it’s not pity he wants from Ryuji, but understanding. And just when he seems like he’s not going to get it, Ryuji continues. “I.....I kinda expected to end up here, actually. Well, the teacher I slammed was kinda a sick fuck. Ann could tell you more about it, I don’t think I’m the best person for that. Just kinda knocked his lights out ‘cause he called me....a few words.”

There was a mixture of surprise and worry that Ryuji conceded that fact; he remembers Ann mentioning that her and Ryuji had come from the same school, but for such an unassuming model to be caught up in Ryuji’s misconduct, it makes him question how much had happened. How much had been covered up. “So you want to be a demon.....user?”

“Hell no, man,” Ryuji’s quick to deny it, but then backtracks. “I mean, it’s not like I wanna use demons specifically, but....I’ve got people I wanna take down, outside of here. Shitty adults who take advantage of others, y’know? I’m not gonna throw away the power to do that just because it’s weird. Hell, they already think I’m weird as it is.” He rubs the back of his neck more, now looking far more awkward than intimidating. “Uh, I get the whole wantin’ to be normal thing, though. Shit’s tough, right? I still have people come up to me like they wanna spit on my grave.”

“I’m broadcasted as an enemy of the people,” Akira supplies helpfully, earning a snort after a long beat of silence. “....are we cool, though?”

Ryuji still hasn’t looked up at him, but he does in that moment, glancing up nervously. Maybe, Akira realizes, he’s not the only one who’s overshared past his boundaries. “I guess,” is Ryuji’s reply. “But I’m definitely cooler.”

Relief spreads through Akira’s body; maybe they’re not friends yet, but they’re certainly not enemies anymore, and that’s what matters. “You are,” he agrees, smiling teasingly. It’s not a concession, but rather a sarcastic taunt. “But....” he pauses before finishing his sentence; it’s something he’s not sure he wants to say out loud.

“But only until my demons kick your ass.”

 


TEASER


 

Ryuji lights up in a way Akira doesn’t expect, and there’s a small shimmer of happiness in him that he can’t bring himself to squash. He wants to say something else, anything else to make sure that this bond he’s created - bond, his mind echoes, friendship under the most ridiculous goddamn circumstances - but an excited knock on the door breaks them out of their moment, and Hibiki crashes through the door, followed shortly by Yusuke berating him for potentially harming any of the creations on his side of the room.

“Get packed, assholes,” Hibiki shouts happily, hands still tied together as he blatantly ignores Yusuke. “We’re going to Disneyland!”