“Oh, I almost forgot, I just have a quick errand to run. I’ll be there in a moment.”
The investigation team is hesitant to leave Souji behind. They’d proposed a celebratory dinner at Aiya’s for passing their exams (barely, in Yosuke's case) and the sky had slowly begun its transition to orange as the sun set on the horizon.
“Senpai, are you sure? We could come with you!” Rise looks a little sad that Souji’s leaving, but he reassures them all that it’ll only be a moment. Naoto decides that they’ll order for Souji, so when he comes they’ll all be able to eat together. With that settled, the group heads down the road, and Souji ducks into the bookstore, waiting for them to leave.
When he’s sure they’re out of sight, he exits the store. He’s purchased a book that caught his eye, one about the various mascots throughout Japan. Nanako will love it. He looks around, then opens the door to the Velvet Room.
Entering the Velvet Room always feels disorientating. Like when you go down the stairs and expect one more step but there’s not, and you stumble even though you know you shouldn’t. The transition from solid ground to a moving vehicle sometimes takes Souji off guard. But it isn’t there today, instead there's… another door?
This one is thin paper, almost a shōji but not quite. It has some tacky design on it, a dragon with googly eyes stuck to it. Souji makes to walk around it, but hands come at him from behind and he tumbles through the paper.
He regains his balance and looks behind him. The fake shōji is entirely repaired, save for the dragon art, which has somehow now split and scattered over the paper surface. He’s on a stage, and it looks out into what appears to be a television studio. Nobody occupies the seats, and it’s dark. The stage however, is lighted heavily, and Souji notes that the temperature is unusually high for the shadow world. Souji tries to summon Izanagi, maybe this is some kind of dungeon? Is Igor in trouble?
But Izanagi doesn't come.
Then his ears register the sound of the music that usually fills his mind when he enters the limousine. He looks towards the source and finds an orchestra band, all making very aggressive eye contact.
“What..?” Souji walks towards them and the singer, preoccupied until now with singing the aria that he’s come to expect. However, when he approaches, the old man begins to howl. One haunting, long note. It’s musical, sure, but not at all pleasant. “Hey! What’s wrong!?” Souji yells, over the man’s piercing shriek. As the note progresses, Souji backs away, and when he reaches about five feet from the stage, the song resumes.
He turns around, and he notices a small armchair next to a desk. The desk is an old-style reporters desk. It’s made of thick wood, and it’s kind of grimy. The armchair looks worn but more or less still usable, and he sits down.
Souji jumps up, letting out a yelp. There’s a man standing behind the chair now, but he’s sure he wasn’t there a moment ago. “H-hi?” Souji offers, confused. The man just nods sagely. “He’s always late, man. Gotta get this shit under control.”
Souji narrows his eyes, but before he can ask the man what he means, he hears steadily approaching footsteps. And yelling.
The source of the noise is getting closer, fast. Souji whips his head to see where the noise is coming from, and another man leaps out from behind the curtains and throws himself onto a swivel chair which then slides over and stops when he’s sitting behind the desk. He’s still screaming.
“I-I’m sorry but what- what’s happening?”
The man stops his scream and smiles at Souji, resting his head on his right arm, while gesturing wildly around him. “Welcome to the uh, Velvet Room, or whatever.” he begins to spin his free arm around towards the seating area. “These motherfuckers just don’t hold good company, you know? Like, what am I supposed to do. I’ve only got so much time, am I right? It’s just like-”
“I’m sorry,” Souji interrupts, “What’s going on? Look, I’m sorry about your shōji, even though it’s. Fixed. Somehow? I don’t know, I just want to know where I am. This isn't the Velvet Room.”
The bigger man beside him speaks, and when Souji looks over, he’s got a whole head of cabbage and it has several bite marks taken out of it. He’s speaking loudly into a phone model that Souji doesn’t recognize. “Yeah,” he says, apparently not paying attention to any of the goings-on around him. “Yeah I know. I’m in the middle of this stupid ass show. Eric’s interviewing some dumb teen with superpowers.”
Souji looks over, confused, at the other man (Eric, he supposes). He just shrugs, eyes rolling, dopey smile on his face. “What can ya do?” Eric says, like this is just something people do. “Well. What’s up with the whole Persona! thing, eh?” He mimics Souji’s summoning pose, and when he stands up the plant on his desk falls over. Eric looks unconcerned. The other man comes over and begins spreading the dirt over his body. Souji scoots away. He feels a bit like he’s trapped in this chair. Eric just keeps talking.
“Like. I think you could crush like- like a wine glass or something. Tarot cards are so 2010. We’re all about avocado this and avocado that. Here. Take this.” Eric hands Souji a small green ball. When it’s dropped into his hand, he realizes that he’s been handed a peeled avocado. He lets out a startled “What the-!” before dropping it. Eric kicks it over towards the man who’s spreading dirt on himself. “Hannibal. Dude, can you clean this shit up? Somebody doesn’t know how to accept gifts.” Hannibal stops rubbing dirt into his pants and winds up before kicking the avocado so hard it explodes, sending green mash everywhere. Souji shields his face, desperately looking over to Eric. Eric grabs his coffee mug off the desk and flings it at the backdrop, where it shatters. “Souji! What the fuck, man? I worked so fucking hard!” He begins to cry as he screams at Souji more. “You just can’t ever be happy for me man! It’s always ‘Oh Eric, I got a new persona! I’m the wild card! Blah blah blaughgh!’ How can you? You knew that was my dream, dude!”
Souji rakes his hands through his hair, wide eyed. He’s trying to distance himself equally from Hannibal, who’s now lying prone on the ground, and a screaming Eric.
“I just wanted to fuse a persona!” Souji yells. He’s not usually loud, but this whole scene is overwhelming. Eric doubles over, and when he opens his mouth a small blue butterfly flutters out. “Oh man, why didn’t you tell us? What’re you feeling? Dis? Setana? Maybe Shiisa. Those dogs man, they go wild.” Eric then makes a noise that Souji thinks is an impression of a dog growling.
“I wanted to fuse Angel, Ukobach, and Pixie for Anubis. Judgement was supposed to be good today.”
Eric scoffs. “Hear that everybody? Judgement’s supposed to be good today!” A canned laugh track plays from the audience seats. “I- is it not?” Souji asks, tilting his head. “Margaret said-”
“Oh who’s Margaret? Your mommy?” Eric laughs, and begins to mime sucking his thumb.
“No, she’s- ugh, forget it!” Souji stands up and Hannibal, still on the floor, lets out a howl. He’s halfway to the door when Eric calls out “Souji, wait!”
When Souji turns around, The Anubis card is dancing on the tip of Eric’s finger. “Aren’t you forgetting something? Come and get it, bud.”
Souji speed walks across the room and goes to snatch the card from Eric, but Eric flips him over and puts him in a headlock. He runs his knuckles over Souji’s head, ruffling his hair. “Hey Hannibal. Catch!”
Eric flings the card towards Hannibal and it hits him in the eye. He bends down to get the card with a quick “Fuck you, man.”
Souji struggles free or Eric’s grasp and Hannibal throws the card to him. He can’t take any more of this. The band begins to play him out as Souji snatches the card out of the air and walks straight through the shōji, politeness be damned. The laughter of the two men follow him out.
A week later, when he goes to fuse Hell Biker, Souji takes a closer look at the Anubis card. There’s a crudely drawn penis across the god’s face. When Igor takes it from him, he just smiles.
“I see you’ve met my associate. An interesting man, is he not?”