Actions

Work Header

A Goddess's Arena

Chapter Text

[Marie]

May 3rd, 2012 – Morning

False Yasogami High – Entrance

My surroundings were an endless stream of white for some time, broken up only by black squares that circled around me. It was a little nauseating, if I must admit, what with the rapidly contrasting colors going over my gaze over and over. “Gee, is this normally supposed to be so long?” I asked myself quietly, narrowing my eyes in slight annoyance. And Yu and friends had to go through this every time?

What is this, a loading screen?

Thankfully, the whole sequence came to an end a few seconds after, where I found myself unceremoniously landing on solid ground – not in a graceful manner; just a practical one, on my feet. Eh, it’s good enough.

The foreground before me was much more colorful now – with a surprisingly bright sky, trees with blooming purple flowers, and a giant school building laid out in front of me. “Oh,” I said, looking around. “It’s Yasogami High. Again.”

Technically, I haven’t been here before – technically – but Rei’s Labyrinth copied the appearance of Yasogami High when it was active. As such, I had an… alright idea of what I could expect going in. From the outside looking in, the school looked pretty much the same as it had been in the Labyrinth – minus the school festival thing going on, of course. Instead, there seemed to be an influx of posters and police tape(-ish stuff) plastered all about; not to mention all the cameras watching over the area.

“So, this is the TV World the Investigation Team spoke of,” I muttered. “It’s a lot more spacious than I thought it would be. And a lot more uncreative with its environments.” How come Tartarus couldn’t be as un-claustrophobic as this? I’m feeling more jealous and jealous by the second. I took a closer look at the posters on the wall, too – for some reason, they all held the image of Teddie – clothed in a purple cape and a rather stylish hat – with a rather strange look on his face, accompanied by a logo that proclaimed this was the ‘P-1 Grand Prix’.

“That’s a look I never thought I’d see on Teddie…” I sniggered. “Wonder who blackmailed him into it.” It was pretty bizarre – and hilarious. Teddie, the romantic pun-making teddy bear, being able to bear such a threatening face? Yeah, this was definitely going to be a treat.

“Well, enough dawdling around!” I proclaimed. “I’ve got a whatever’s-happening-here to get into! I have no idea where to go, or really what to do… but I’ll figure something out!” With a smile that would have once been considered uncharacteristic of me, I waltzed in through the front doors and entered the school.


False Yasogami High – Locker Room

Unsurprisingly, there was even more tape and posters and cameras about. If it weren’t for that, this would just be an ordinary locker room. There was also a random soccer ball and pink parasol on the ground, but I disregarded that. Wasn’t really important. “They’re really going all-out on this, aren’t they? I guess Liz wasn’t kidding when she said this was going to be a tournament. But… what type of tournament is this even going to be, anyway?” I suppose it’d be a little too much to think that it would be a kendo tournament or something.

As I was thinking, I heard the sounds of static start up from nearby. A little startled, my eyes looking all about trying to figure out where it was coming from – before my gaze drew toward a conspicuous monitor sitting in the corner, the screen noticeably on and trying to display something. “It’s… a television…?” I observed. Curiously, I let myself stare at the screen, waiting for it to stabilize. What was it going to show? Who was it going to show?

…it better not be Tanaka’s Amazing Commodities.

That theme is so annoying. I imagine it hasn’t changed much these past couple of years, either.

At last, the static went away, and the monitor began to broadcast footage of—

…wait.

What. The. Hell?

“Rivals…” some strange announcer voice was saying. “They are friends… yet powerful foes!” The screen immediately displayed several cut-ins of the Investigation Team members – Yu, Yosuke, Chie, Yukiko, they were all there. “It’s the desperate fighting program amongst high-school students! A new legend is about to start!”

“What. The. Hell?” I repeated my earlier thoughts out loud, just gawking at whatever in the name of Izanami was going on the monitor. You know what? I think I would’ve preferred Tanaka’s Amazing Commodities. At least it wouldn’t be quite as weird as this.

The camera started panning around some strange-looking arena, curtains falling from the center stage as spotlights blared all across the place. Okay, what kind of budget was this place made on!? I thought. And where in the TV World is that?

And then Teddie’s voice. “May the manliest of all men… come on down!” The big bear himself showed up on camera, wearing the exact same hat and cape he had adorned on the poster. He pulled back his cape in a dramatic fashion, and then the video clip started showing me each and every one of the other Investigation Team members.

With subtitles next to their names.

Very… Very specific subtitles.

My confusion promptly changed into absolute hilarity. “Hee… Heheheheh…”

Oh my god. I can’t. I can’t even.

I tried to hold it in for a bit – I really, really tried, honestly – but eventually? I just decided it wasn’t even worth bothering. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” burst from my mouth, me bending over in complete merriment. “Like, what even is this? The Sister-Complex Kingpin of Steel? Captain Ressentiment? The Bloodcurdling Beefcake Emperor? This is comedy GOLD!”

Oh my god, if I encounter the Investigation Team after this, I’m never going to let any of them live this down. Ever.

I’m sure Elizabeth would agree with me.

Ooh, now I want one of those titles for myself.

Like, maybe… the Unsealed Savior of Versatile Verses? That sounds catchy enough! Ha ha!

As I was struggling to get my composure back together, I could faintly hear the announcer continue, “These six will fight and survive toward the one throne awaiting at the end!” If you wanted to ask me what was showing currently on-screen, I wouldn’t have been able to answer you – because I was laughing too hard to see anything. “The P-1 Grand Prix begins… now!”

At this point, I was pretty sure the video had ended – just in time for me to finally come to terms with what I had just witnessed. “So… This is a fighting tournament. Alright. Funny titles aside… how do these guys think they can get the Investigation Team onboard with this?” Last I checked, those guys were as thick as thieves. They wouldn’t just fight each other for the hell of it. That’s not them.

That’s not SEES, either.

As I was thinking, the monitor above me lit back to life, and Rise’s face immediately filled the screen. “Ladies and gentlemen!” the resident idol exclaimed. “Is everyone ready? It’s time to get our program started! I—Risette—will be your commentator today! Please hold your applause!”

“Aaaaaand there’s Rise,” I noticed. She seemed to be wearing some sort of headset today. I… guess it would make a little sense to have her as the commentator, since she’s the Investigation Team’s navigator (much like how Fuuka was ours)… but it’s also extremely out-of-character for her. Then again, it’s also extremely out-of-character for the Investigation Team altogether to participate in this whole tournament thing to begin with, so what do I know?

Suddenly, I heard a crowd of people suddenly start cheering from out of nowhere – but that couldn’t be possible. The only people who can get in here (hopefully) are Persona-users and Velvet Room attendants! I looked around, but… I couldn’t see anybody in the locker room. Maybe… they were outside?

“Oh, you’re too kind, you’re too kind!” Rise was saying next. “Well, with things starting to heat up now—” I wouldn’t say ‘heat up,’ this thing’s barely gotten started. That trailer was nice pre-show entertainment, though. “—General Teddie has a few words for you! The mic’s all yours, sir!” (And since when did Rise call Teddie ‘sir’?)

Rise pulled back from whatever camera was in her face, and in her place was ‘General’ Teddie – with the hat and the cape and that ridiculous cigar. Why does he have a cigar? And don’t tell me he’s actually taking this seriously, too? “Ahem… Well then!” he pompously proclaimed, “I’m proud to announce the opening of our bear-y own P-1 Grand Prix!” He sounds his usual chipper disposition, at least – but maybe he should consider the situation first.

“Thaaaaaat’s right, folks! Our friends will be dueling in the greatest fighting tournament the world has ever seen! And—ooooh, who’s this pretty lady?” Probably-Not-Actually-Teddie’s eyes drifted toward my standing, that familiar perverted gaze looking up and down at me. “My my, I haven’t s-seen you around b-before! H-How unexpected! U-Unexpected! U-Un-Unex-ex-ex…”

His voice was definitely stuttering out at the end there. And that brought me right back around to being confused. “Okay, what? You okay there, buddy?” I probed. He didn’t respond, the live footage immediately went dark with static. I put on a deadpan expression. “…man, the reception here stinks,” I remarked. “Went out before I could even blink! Did you guys waste your budget on just that trailer or what?”

I was staring at increasingly fuzzier static for a little bit before Teddie popped back up – except now, his face was absolutely cold, and his eyes were a startling shade of yellow. “Case 04: Unintended intruders detected,” he mechanically stated, beginning to unsettle my nerves. “Analyzing execution protocols… Intruders are Persona-users. Due to external complications, they will be acknowledged as valid targets.”

I blinked. For a moment there… he sounded like a robot. Like a robot I know, actually. So that means…

“…okay, do I even want to know what’s up with the ASW here?” I questioned quietly. I thought Liz said the ASW reminded her of Aigis? There’s something fishy going on here. Real fishy. I sense some illusion shenanigans going about – and that’s not just because I’m Izanami’s avatar of sorts.

Static briefly filled the TV monitor again before Very-Clearly-Not-Teddie’s face re-popped into view, his smug demeanor back in place. “Well, I suppose I’ve got room in my tournament bracket for you, my gorgeous girl! I—the great General Teddie—had to shuffle about everything else to accommodate you and the other four contestants— Other four contestants? I know Elizabeth’s here, so who’s the other three? Hmm… might be my old teammates. “—but I suppose for you, I can make a few exceptions!” At the very least, I can give General Teddie for being able to imitate the real deal competently.

“Right, whatever. Hey, ‘General Teddie’. What is this whole tournament about, anyway?” I demanded to know. Just knowing it’s a ‘desperate fighting program’ doesn’t exactly tell me anything. Especially when the Investigation Team seems to be involved. “And why are you even hosting it? I’d like to know that, at least.”

“Oh, details, details!” he dismissed me. “That doesn’t matter! Say… What’s your name, anyway? I can’t really continue this tournament unless I know everybody here!” Really? I could’ve sworn Not-Teddie was just fine without that. But I guess I can oblige him a bit.

“Mariko. Mariko Kusumi,” I stated. “That’s all you’re getting.”

“Ooh, you’re quite the feisty one, Emmy-chan! Scoring you will be such a treat!” E-Emmy-chan? I felt my face heat up a bit. T-That’s the nickname Teddie gave me during the Labyrinth… Gee, I guess strange minds think alike, h-huh?

“Well, now that that’s outta the way…” General Teddie continued, “we can get the fighting finally started! So prepare yourself for your first challenger!” Clouds of smoke immediately and suddenly covered the entirety of the locker room, interrupting any response I might have had. “G-Gah, w-what the…!?” I grunted, shielding my eyes from all the smoke. “What are you…!?”

I couldn’t see anything in these conditions. The only thing I could really do is endure it and hope that I wasn’t assaulted by a Shadow or something in the meantime. Sure, the chances of that happening are kind of miniscule, but hey, the possibilities are endless. You never really know.

Luckily, when the plumes of smoke finally dropped, no Shadow was there to attack – instead, it was someone completely different.

A tall, blonde guy with short, slicked-back hair stood before me, wearing his school uniform kind of like a jacket with a black skull shirt underneath. I recognized him from the Labyrinth, of course – it was Kanji Tatsumi. Admittedly, I didn’t see him coming as my first ‘opponent’.

But hey, I’ll take it all the same.

“Uhhhh… Soooo… You’re my next opponent?” Kanji asked of me, looking confused. Normally, I wouldn’t blame him – I mean, this situation is pretty bizarre… but then his next words proceeded to confuse me instead. “Jeez, this dream is pretty weird if I’m coming up with people I’ve never met before. I would’ve thought Chie-senpai would be next…” And I’m sitting here and wondering… Wha? Dream? Is Kanji high right now?

“Your… dream now? Buddy—last I checked, this was reality,” I chided him. “Not some dream for you to sightsee.” I have no idea what type of delusion he’s gotten himself into, but it certainly can’t be healthy right now. “Are you okay? Is this whole tournament thing getting to you?”

“Of—Of course I’m alright! Hmph—you don’t need to ask me that! Besides, I wouldn’t need to be fine to take a weak chick like you down!”

“Ex-cuse me?” Okay, now I’m just insulted! Just ‘cause I’m a girl doesn’t mean—wait. For a moment, I thought… I heard some eerie buzzing noise alongside his words? Hmm… Anyway—“I’m sorry, what about me is weak now?” I demanded to know, a hand moving to clutch my handbag as tightly as I could.

“You heard me right!” Kanji uncharacteristically smirked. “Look at you—you’re so unmanly. You’ve got no muscles at all! Someone like you would never stand a chance in this tournament. Only the manliest of men are allowed here, and you forfeited the right to that position a long time ago – dumb decision if you ask me! You should just go back home and keep writing those terrible poems of yours! It’s better than embarrassing yourself here!”

Now I’m simultaneously angered and creeped out by all of this. How does Kanji know that much about me!? Anything the Investigation Team learned from the Labyrinth should have been retconned from their memories!

Argh, I am so not in the mood for this. I can’t even troll Kanji efficiently like this! Judging by the fact that I can hear a buttload of audio weirdness behind his voice, his words are probably an illusion, or something – but how would the illusion-crafter, then…!

Ugh… I need to calm down a bit. I’m the wielder of the Universe, I can’t get too worked up over juvenile insults like this. Come on, Marie – if you can handle Liz with nary a problem, then you should have no issue handling this type of stuff, too.

Deep breath… Deep breath… I closed my eyes and let my breathing die down a bit, though I made sure to keep a steady hand on my handbag. Alright. Alright. I can do this. Just keep calm. And remember to troll. Troll hard. Trolling’s good.

“Hey! What’re you all quiet for!? You hear a single word I say? Answer me already!” Kanji’s illusionary voice shouted. Fortunately, this time I had a response ready for him.

“Sorry, I was too busy going over how many wrong things were in your statements,” I proclaimed. Heh, this’ll get him talking. “I mean, ‘manliest of men’ is such a very specific term. You sure you didn’t misspeak, or anything? Maybe it was ‘girliest of girls’ you were aiming for?”

“W-Wha—!? Of course I meant ‘manliest of men!’” Gee, this illusion-crafter really has everyone’s character wrapped down nicely. They’d probably make a good fanfiction writer. Or a terrible one; the pendulum often swings both ways. “Come on, didn’t you hear what Ted said!?”

“I didn’t really pay too much attention,” I blatantly lied, letting my Gadfly-ness take over. “I’ve got other things to worry about. You seem a little too hung up over this—hey, maybe you want to qualify for both categories!” A shit-eating grin entered my expression. “I’ve got plenty of pathos to give for that department, I assure you! I’ll even let you borrow some!” Heh, still got it.

“Grrrrrrrrrrr! Enough playing around!” Kanji declared. “You wanna fight, I’ll give you a fight… and I’ll show you just how outmatched you are! Go, Takeji Zaiten!” At the same time the ‘audio discrepancies’ vanished (how convenient), Kanji crushed that increasingly familiar tarot card and summoned his Persona – a rather intimidating white-and-red titan with a fairly long red cutlass. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it if it weren’t for the fact that Kanji’s Ultimate Persona in the Labyrinth was completely different. I barely remember it, but I’m certain of that fact.

Ah whatever, I dismissed. I can question Yu’s overpowered Social Linkage later. I’ve got a battle to win – and I’ll do it in style! A determined smile on my face, I held out my hand and summoned my own preferred Persona. “Kaguya, let’s go!”

I’m wondering if Liz has gotten into any fights yet. Heh, I wonder which one of us gets into the most trouble around here?

Time to dance!


Mariko Kusumi vs. Kanji Tatsumi
The Unsealed Savior of Versatile Verses // The Bloodcurdling Beefcake Emperor


P-1 Grand Prix – First Match
FIGHT!

Kanji took action first – befitting his status as a brute – whipping out a folding chair from… somewhere. Hammerspace at its finest, I guess! Before I knew it, the sitting device slammed into me and sent me reeling back – because jeez, this guy’s physique is not just for show! (In the background, I could hear Rise doing her usual thing, sort of—“And it looks like the battle’s begun! Who’ll take the victory here? Our beefcake Kanji, or the mysterious Mariko? I’ll be here to commentate, folks!”—but I could safely ignore that.) Another swing and I instinctively hopped back, this time grabbing my handbag and retaliating in force.

It really is a good thing Izanami made this thing as sturdy as Liz’s Compendium (and also as elastic as… elastic-y stuff), because it turns out it could clash really well against Kanji’s folding chair. Go, unorthodox weapons! I even dare say this works just as well as my old swords.

“It’ll take a lot more than brute strength to get to me!” I taunted, letting myself fly back from a clash. “Here, let me show you!” With Kaguya behind me, I sent a barrage of Shining Arrows at him, raining down from the sky as always – but somehow, he managed to block quite a few with just his folding chair.

He really knows how to use that well, huh? I’m almost jealous.

I followed up with a jump and a slam, taking advantage of his distraction to thoroughly bring down the house on him. Another sideways swing and he was sent flying across the locker room, too. How’s that for ‘unmanly,’ huh? I internally grinned. I know he didn’t actually say that; shut up and let me have my vindication.

“So you’re more than look!” Kanji said. “Ha—that’s no problem for me!” He promptly countered my combo with a prickly Ziodyne strike, and damn, that hit just as hard as his physical force. Actually, it hit harder than I expected it to. I grit my teeth – I’m lucky Kaguya’s weakness wasn’t Elec – and went about with my own surprise, rushing up to Kanji and opening my bag. As a consequence of my handbag’s hammerspace capabilities, I, uhh—very much took advantage of it, so…

…don’t look at me like that, it’s perfectly normal to have a jack-in-the-box of Igor’s head in my bag. That banana nose is almost as iconic as his voice! How could I not carry that around wherever I went???

Liz and Igor certainly got a laugh out of it, so it’s alright!

And also my Igor-in-the-box took a whiff on Kanji, so that was good.

Whatever the case, Kanji was once again blown back. “W-What the h-hell!?” he exclaimed, clearly not having expected my epic strategy. (Again, it’s totally legit.) “W-What is—t-that!?”

I grinned. “Just a friend,” I gave a non-answer. “What, you don’t like him?” Don’t worry; I’m sure Igor would take it in stride. You know, now that I think about it, I haven’t seen him in a while. Huh. Maybe I should talk to Margaret, see where he’s been… and hope she hasn’t taken a vacation, either.

“Ooh, Mariko-chan’s got plenty of surprises on her hands!” Rise chimed in, interrupting my thoughts. “This battle is really heating up now!” Right, I’ve got a battle to complete. Newly refocused, I prepared for another strike – but Kanji was back on his feet too, and was just as ready. As soon as I went in with a swipe, he charged in and—inexplicably yelled “You want some!?” and knocked me down.

Yes, you heard that right. His very voice somehow knocked me down.

His voice.

What kind of Persona skill is that!?

And where can I get it?

Acting quickly, Kanji followed up by swiping me into the air and summoning his Persona to slam me away – ugh, I am still so out of practice – and the minute Takeji Zaiten dissipated and left me falling, he once again rushed in. Thinking fast, I summoned Kaguya to do a few slices, keeping him away long enough for me to fall gracefully… and uncomfortably hit the floor. I feel undignified now.

“This isn’t over yet!” I stated. Getting back on my feet, I put the powers I got from Izanami to use and ‘changed the weather’, kind of. (Please don’t ask.) Opening my bag again, several clouds came out, bolts of thunder coming down from them, which charged for Kanji. I’m well aware Kanji has a bit of a resistance to Electric attacks – but I’m a bullshit goddess, so hopefully that should make up the difference.

And make up the difference it did. Kanji was being pestered by what could best be described as annoying tingling all over. It didn’t help that it sapped a little of his health away, either. “Oh come on! How is this any fair!?” he complained. Summoning his Persona again, he quickly cast Matarukaja and then a Maziodyne, breaking up the clouds through superior lightning power. (I’m well aware that barely makes any sense, just trust me on this.)

Takeji Zaiten didn’t fade though – and expecting him to charge with another Primal Force, I summoned Kaguya to combat it with a rather sparkly divekick. The two clashed and held in place for a while… but in the end, the earlier Tarukaja won out, and Kaguya was sent off. That also had the side-effect of stunning me. “Y-Yowch!” I yelped. “T-That smarts…!”

Shaking himself off, Kanji rushed forward while I was down and threw his chair at me. The chair hit hard and bounced into the sky, leaving me rather dazed. “Anybody… catch the number… of that bus?” I deliriously mumbled. I was promptly knocked out of that by a devastating kick to the face, courtesy of Kanji’s boot, and finally he smashed me into the ground with a hard punch. H-Hell of an ass whoopin’ there, buddy!

“Yeah! Not so tough now, huh!?” he taunted, pumping a fist into the air.

“That’s our Kanji-kun!” Rise gave her two cents. “Looks like Mariko-chan’s in trouble! Can she recover from that devastating blow?”

Of course I can – my saving the world didn’t mean nothing, after all. Right… I think I’ve spent enough time on this nonsense. Let’s finish this!

I grabbed another present box and threw it at Kanji – and lucky for me, he instinctively caught it. “Wha?” He looked at the box in confusion. “What’re you handing me this for—” The top unlatched itself and blew smoke into his face, blinding him effortlessly (much like how the smoke from before this fight blinded me). “Agh! Not this damn shit again!”

Taking advantage, I threw myself forward—using my momentum to make sure my bag hit him first—following it up with a horizontal spin (that deliciously hit his face several times. How’s it feel now!?), and then a strong sweep for good measure. Plus a Kougaon; that’s always nice.

The tables had turned now – I was the one standing, and Kanji was the one dazed. He looked pretty tired, too, which meant it was prime time for a finishing attack. I waltzed in, sealed the distance, and grabbed him with my two hands. Emerald eyes stared (kind of) into steel-blue ones, and I stated—“Valiant efforts make up a good fight… Be glad you had enough to greet my sight.” (Heh, still got that pathos going!)

With that, I charged myself full of electricity (don’t worry, it’s safe) and let it loose on Kanji. “Glrathlbltblath!” he nonsensically exclaimed. I let go and watched him spin around, very clearly out of it. “Don’t worry, mom… I’ve… I’ve got evvvvvvvverything covered!” With those nonsensical words, he fell onto the floor, utterly defeated. The match was mine.

K.O.!

I took off my hat and held it close to my chest. “Hee hee…” I giggled. “That was more fun than I thought it would be.” So this is why Liz wanted to come here. I can certainly can see the appeal in this. “This is going to be pretty awesome.”

“And Mariko-chan takes the crown from Inaba’s Emperor!” Rise declared. “That was quite the exciting battle – and there’s only more to come, folks!”

And the winner is… Marie!


With the battle concluded, I let myself fall back into a non-combat stature. Idly, I noticed that I was actually sweating. Like, a few bucketloads. “Phew!” I wiped the sweat away from my forehead. “I didn’t think I’d be so… pumped up for that!”

Kanji groaned, slowly sitting up from where I had bashed him in. “Ughhhhhhh… I feel as if… the Reaper personally came… to renovate my ass…” he muttered, a hand trying to soothe his aching head.

As he did, I heard the telltale sounds of the TV in the corner turning on, and I drew my attention back toward it. General Teddie’s face showed up for the first time in a few minutes, looking as painfully smug as always. “Oh-ho, this little cutie’s packing quite the punch to her!” he praised me. “I’m impressed, Emmy-chan! I knew I was on the right track with putting you in this tournament!”

His words are just empty gratitudes, I knew that. “Yeah, yeah, talk all you want,” I replied, crossing my arms. “Tell me this – what are you trying to accomplish with this tournament?” Fun as this may be, I can’t go forgetting the most important things now. Liz can shrug things off, that’s the way she is; but I’m a more proactive person myself.

“Don’t be so hung up over unimportant matters such as that!” General Teddie dismissed. Something tells me he’s not going to spill the beans so easily. “Now come on—you’ve got another arena to get to! Chop chop! I expect another good show in your next bout, too!” Just as soon as he entered, General Teddie exited the scene, the TV screen going dark once more. Well… at least he kept things short and sweet.

I walked over to Kanji – who, in his state, seems to have ignored whatever Teddie was saying – and offered a hand to him. “Hey, don’t just lie on the ground,” I told him. “Come on, I’ll help you up.”

“Ugh… This is kind of embarrassing…” Kanji admitted, “…but a loss’s a loss. Can’t argue with that.” As he took my hand and got back onto his feet, he stated, “Man, though… You hit pretty damn hard! You remind me Yukiko-senpai with the way you swing that purse of yours…”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, thanks,” I happily voiced. “Since we were interrupted by the whole fighting thing and all… lemme introduce myself. I’m Mariko Kusumi.”

“Kanji. Kanji Tatsumi,” he properly introduced himself. “You can just call me Kanji, though. Being called ‘Tatsumi-san’ just makes me feel old, y’know?”

“Heh, I can tell. That trailer called you the ‘Bloodcurdling Beefcake Emperor,’ right?”

“Oh, don’t remind me!” Kanji put a hand to his forehead. “That thing was just so wrong in so many ways! Like, what the hell is even a ‘beefcake’? That doesn’t sound like anything you’d call a person at all! And, uhh… not to mention… You’re acting a lot different than you were five minutes ago.”

I blinked a bit in surprise. “Oh? Different? How so?”

“Like, uhh… You were saying all these things about me and my manliness and all these other weird topics! Like, how I was too much of a baby to hit you, and stuff like that! It was really weird! It was almost as if you knew me and everything.” Well, uhh… That last part is technically true, but I don’t want to tell him that now. He and the rest of the Investigation Team would be weirded out if they knew I knew a lot about them that I shouldn’t know. I mean, I’d feel the same way in their position.

Anyway, back on topic… “Funny, ‘cause I can say the same thing about you,” I replied. “Only, you know—with the reverse type of topic. ‘Twas pretty awkward. Also kind of hurt my ears a bit.” You never know how much you appreciate the lack of static until you’re forced to hear it for extended periods of time. Seriously.

Kanji’s eyes widened a bit. “Really? Now that’s even stranger! What’s going on here? T-This is just a weird dream I’m having… right!?” He’s sounding kind of panicked now. Don’t tell me he actually believed he was dreaming? How is that even possible? “I mean, the last thing I remember before today was going to sleep, and then I just woke up inside school! Does… Does that mean I’m inside the TV World? How the hell did I end up here!?”

“Well, I don’t know what happened to you,” nor do I want to, really, “but I don’t think that really matters now. Whatever we thought we heard ourselves saying to each other… it must’ve been an illusion crafted by whoever’s behind this tournament. That… ‘General Teddie’ fellow.”

“Now that I think about it… Ted was acting odd this whole time. Odder than he normally does, too. Man… I don’t understand what’s going on! What should I do about this?”

“That’s kind of obvious,” I said. “We go find your friend—or whoever’s probably impersonating your friend—and get answers outta him. Whaddya say?”

“…you know what? That sounds great!” Kanji pumped a fist into an open palm. “I dunno much about you, but you’re pretty good with that bag, so that’s fine enough for me! So… I think we should head down that hallway.” He pointed a thumb behind him toward said aforementioned hallway, and I nodded my head in agreement.

"Sure, if that’s what you want!" Now normally this would be where the chapter ends – what with the two of us going off on further adventures or something like that – had Kanji not slammed face first into literally nothing and fallen onto his back.

I froze, having gotten not too far ahead, and looked back at my one-time opponent. “Uhh… Kanji?” I probed. “You alright there?”

Kanji glared at the open air he couldn't pass. “What the hell is this?” He banged a fist against the empty air only to recoil as if he had hit a brick wall. “There’s nothin’ here, but I can't get through!”

The more I see, the stranger this ‘tournament’ only gets. We have freaking invisible walls—selective ones at that—to deal with now? What is this, a cruddy video game? The only reason I can think for Kanji to be unable to pass is because he lost against me. I relayed my assumptions toward him, and he slumped in disappointment.

“Aw man, really? That’s just not fair! What am I supposed to do in here, then, twiddle my thumbs!?” Yeah, he looks frustrated now. Hopefully he brought a book or something to read – I remember Yu had a crazy amount of books while he was in the Labyrinth.

Anyway, this was a bit of a bummer. “Looks like I'm gonna have to go on ahead,” I said. “Nothing I can do about this wall thing now.”

“Guess I’ll have to leave it to you, then,” he reluctantly conceded. “Oh—hey, by the way… I, uhh, kind of beat up some of my friends while I was here…” Right, he thought that all this was a dream. Now he must be feeling pretty embarrassed. “…so if you see any of them, tell them I’m… sorry for thrashing them, alright?”

I jokingly saluted. “Can do!” I replied. “Well, I best be off!” With that, I marched off toward… wherever my next destination was.

Now that I’ve gotten a taste for what this whole ‘P-1 Grand Prix’ thing is for myself, I’m feeling pretty excited for what's to come! I wonder who else I’ll be pitted against? The possibilities are endless, they say! Ooh, maybe I'll even run into Liz – and won’t that be pretty entertaining on its own?

Well, enough dawdling around. Let’s see where this place’ll take me next, hmm?