Masayoshi Shido was one extra son of a bitch, Kotone couldn’t help but think.
Stuck on a giant boat, then stuck again in a ballroom of Shadows, having just been separated from the rest of the team. And here she thought cruises were meant for relaxing vacations.
The denizens of Shido’s cognitive world milled about, and the two thieves could feel their hidden eyes watching them. The exit sat on the opposite end of the large, heavily decorated room. But reaching the other side with the gauntlet of Shadows that lay before them would prove to be quite a challenge.
Joker radioed in. “Oracle, you out there?”
“Loud and clear, leader.”
“Any idea on how we get out of here?”
“Looks like there’s just that door on the other side… If you’re asking for a secret route to get around all those Shadows, I got nothing. Doesn’t look like there’s anything of the sort in the layout for this area.”
He sighed. “Great. Well, there doesn’t seem to be any other option. Lancer and I will do our best to get out of here. We’ll regroup beyond those doors.”
“Got it. Oh, and Joker?”
“I can’t get a good reading right now but… There seems to be something off about that room.”
“Hm? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Not too sure but… Something about the way those Shadows are behaving seems a bit different. Call it a hunch, but there might be some sort of gimmick to that whacky ballroom. I’ll try to collect more data and let you know.”
The connection dropped. Joker joined Lancer’s side as she carefully surveyed the scene before her. Indeed, despite their presence within the room, the Shadows didn’t seem to mind much beyond acknowledging them. They simply wandered the room, never in one direction, never making an effort to leave.
“Oracle’s right. There’s definitely something up,” she noted. “They’re not just cognitions, but no one here looks to be important like the last few.”
“She did say something about there being a gimmick about this place. Maybe it’s something we could use to get out?”
“Like those cage match type things you did in the casino? I don’t know how I feel about having to fight all these guys…”
“Well, standing around won’t get us anywhere. We should try and get a move on.”
Just as they were about to take their first step, music from nowhere started filtering into the large room. Like activated machines, the Shadows stood at attention. Guided by some invisible force, they flocked together into pairs, and the two were shocked to see the masked beings dance in rhythm with the music.
“Man, what century is Shido’s head in?” the navigator chimed. “Do people really dance like this these days? First mice, now this?”
“It’s probably because he likes getting people to dance to his own tune,” Lancer guessed. “He sees people as just puppets to be strung along, after all.”
“Well whatever it is, it’s a good distraction for us. Come on, we can make a break for it.”
He leaped forward onto the marble floor. But before he could get too far, the dancing Shadows suddenly stopped what they were doing, turning their focus on him. The duos broke apart, their humanoid forms shifting into the amorphous forms of soon-to-be Shadows as they pounced on the boy. Lancer quickly snatched the end of Joker’s coat and wrenched him back toward her.
Again, as if a switch had gone off, the otherworldly creatures stopped. Their forms reverted back to their human guises, and the waltz resumed, as if the two were never there to begin with. Joker, having fallen onto the ground after his companion released him, dusted himself off and regarded the scene with confusion.
“Looks like as long as we don’t cross past this point we won’t get any unnecessary attention,” Lancer noted, shaking her head. “But there’s the issue of actually crossing the floor…”
Realization dawned on Joker. A grin slowly stretched across his face, something that made Lancer quite nervous.
“I think I know how to get across the room.”
She bristled. “I don’t like where this is going…”
His grin ever growing, Joker bowed, offering a hand to his female companion. “May I have this dance, my lady?”
She stared in disbelief. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“My codename might suggest it, but this isn’t a joke.”
“I don’t… Joker, I can’t dance.”
He flashed her his most reassuring smile. “That’s alright. I can do well enough for the both of us.”
“Well, I don’t… I can’t… Ugh, alright. Fine.”
With great trepidation, she took his hand. Joker pulled her tightly against him, securing his hand on her hip.
“Relax. Just follow my lead.”
With a twirl, he spun them onto the ballroom floor. Lancer tensed, ready for the Shadows to strike like before. Yet not a single attack occurred as Joker maneuvered them between the other dancing pairs. She could only afford to be surprised for a brief moment however, her attention suddenly captured by trying to keep up with the leader’s footwork. He was actually quite a good lead, moving slowly enough that she could keep up. Within a few seconds, she had the steps down. Joker, delighted, picked up the pace little by little, throwing in more spins and complex step sequences. Lancer gladly took on the challenge, mirroring him and matching each move.
They were able to get through part of the way before trouble struck. Though up to that point the Shadows behaved as Joker predicted, it was soon apparent that that was not the case for all of them. From the back several creatures appeared, lunging at the duo.
Not missing a beat, Lancer threw off her mask and summoned a Black Frost. The black doll-like Persona conjured towers of ice, easily dispatching their assailants with a sinister giggle.
Not to be outdone, Joker tackled the pursuers from his side with a summon of his own. Hanuman pranced across the floor with his own sort of grace, cutting down their foes with quick flourishes of his blade.
As more foes appeared, the two added a bit more flair to their attacks. Joker lifted his partner, swinging her around so she could give an oncoming Shadow a solid kick to the face. Lancer latched back onto him and pivoted him around, giving him the opportunity to aim and land a gunshot on another.
“This idea is so...ridiculous!” Lancer laughed as her Lilith razed down a small group.
“Some people would call this wisdom, actually,” he smiled in return.
This was how they danced across the ballroom, an elegant whirl of blazing guns and flashy summons. With each step they grew more and more in sync, even as the tempo to the music changed. The two Wild Cards needed no words between them as they swayed through the mass of Shadows. Even their attacks were beautifully choreographed. Had anyone been watching, there would be no doubt they were the true stars on the floor.
At last, as the song drew to a close, they reached the threshold of the exit door. With the final held note, Joker dipped Lancer backwards, her knee wound around his hip. They stayed like that, catching their breath as the music ended, the Shadows returning to their aimless meandering as the pairs separated.
Slowly she rose from the dip, and their faces drew close together as they continued to hold each other. Both of them were grinning as they breathed, unwilling to break their held gaze.
“Wooooow, you guys. Congrats, you have successfully tango’ed--salsa’ed?--your way through the room. You didn’t even wait for me to give you more data,” the navigator interjected. “Are you going to stop making googly eyes at each other and get out yet? We’re all here on the other side, waiting.”
Joker reluctantly released his grip on her hand and waist as their bodies relaxed. Lancer slowly drew away from him, her hands sliding down his arms and lingering over his fingers.
“For someone who didn’t know how to dance, you did really well,” he complimented.
She smirked. “Only because I had a great partner.”
“Maybe we could do this again sometime. With less Shadows trying to kill us, hopefully.”
“Sounds good. I look forward to it.”
“Hm. Shall we?”
Lancer nodded as he pushed open the door for her. She winked as she walked past him, and Joker couldn’t hold back a chuckle as he followed, the door sliding shut behind them.