“The time has come.”
The other wildcards nodded.
“None of our teams are strong enough to face this by themselves. We need to bring them all together.”
There was another nod. The expression on each of the wildcards’ faces was as grim as the darkness that filled the room around them.
“Hm. It’s risky, but we have to try.”
The tone in their voices was so grave that anyone would’ve thought they were at a funeral. And, in a way, they were.
“I’ll contact Mitsuru-senpai. You guys know what to do.”
When the Investigation Team arrived to Leblanc, the Phantom Thieves and the SEES were already there. It was no surprise, considering that they had to come all the way from Inaba while the rest practically lived next door. Regardless, this meeting defied the very laws of time and space, so it was hard to believe that the Investigation Team was late due to transport when the SEES literally travelled in time to the future to join the others. But whatever. No use going into the specifics of that logic.
In any case, all of the Persona-users, minus their respective leaders, were waiting in Leblanc. They made small talk, but, underneath their smiles and politeness, they were all afraid of what was coming. The wildcards had called them here with urgency, after all, but they hadn’t given any details as to what this meeting was about, so of course their teammates were all on edge.
Finally, after what seemed like months of waiting, Minato, Hamuko, Yu, and Ren showed up. However, it wasn’t a relief. All it did was confirm everyone’s concerns. Their leaders’ expressions were even more serious than usual, if that was possible, and, though the Persona-users looked at them expectantly, none of them talked. In fact, they refused to make any eye contact at all. They only stood in front of their audience, side by side, making the atmosphere heavy.
The silence was killing Yosuke, so he was the first one to speak up. “P-Partner? … Is everything okay?”
“No. Not at all.” Yu casted his gaze downwards and squeezed his eyes shut. “We called you here because we’re facing the biggest threat we’ve encountered so far.”
“Yeah. It’s nothing like what we’ve gone through before.” Minato said.
Ren agreed. “It’s way more dangerous than Yaldabaoth or Izanami or Nyx.”
“Yup!” Hamuko nodded aggressively. “It could change the world as we know it!”
“That bad, huh?” Junpei said, as he leaned back on his seat and took another bite of Sojiro’s curry. “Well, it has to be bad if they brought our fearless leaders back to life for this!”
Yukari, from the seat opposite him, shot him a death glare.
“So, what is this about?” Makoto asked.
Yu breathed in deeply, as if it pained him to talk about it. There was a pressing silence as he carefully thought about the right words to say it, but he didn’t look any more confident when he finally said,
“The death of Youtube.”
The Persona-users gasped and began talking over each other at the same time, frantically looking for answers. Any sign of composure in the group of teenagers immediately disappeared. Most of those who were sitting jumped out of their seats, and their excitement even sent some servings of curry flying through the air.
“What?! The hell?!”
“No! My fatty tuna videos!”
“W-What?! That would be unfortunate…”
“No way! Partner, please tell me this is some kind of joke!”
“How could this be...?!”
“Not Youtube! What a buncha boomers...”
“Nooooo! Senpaiii, we have to do something!”
“What do you think we called you guys here for?”
“I was prepared for the worst, but I didn’t think it would be this drastic…”
“Let’s beat the shit out of whoever is causing this!”
“Just give me the order and I will comply, Minato-san.”
“Yeah! We’ll karate chop their heads off and save Youtube!”
“But Youtube has died like ten goddamn times already.” Ryuji said. “This time it’s for real?”
Ren frowned at him and pushed up his glasses. “It will be for real if we sit on our asses and do nothing.”
Yu clapped a few times to get his peers’ attention. “Okay, okay, settle down, everyone. It’s very important for us to step in and do something, but, before we act, we need to understand what’s going on and strategize. Don’t worry, we’ll explain what’s going on exactly.”
Naoto shyly raised her hand. “I have a question, if I may.”
“... What is a Youtube?”
Everyone blinked at Naoto in complete and utter disbelief.
There was a highly uncomfortable beat of silence.
Nobody knew what to do. Thankfully, Yu broke the ice.
“Naoto, out.” He said, his voice as quiet, plain, and emotionless as it was humanly possible.
“Didn’t I make myself clear? We don’t need you for our plan. Sorry, but someone like you is just going to rat us out to the FTC.”
Naoto let out a sigh, picked up her things, and walked out of Leblanc with the judging stares of the other Persona-users haunting her until she was out of view.
Minato shook his head. “What else could you expect from someone who can’t turn off caps lock?”
Yu looked over everyone who remained. “Anyone else?”
“Nah.” After the initial shock, Futaba was back on one of the stools, squatting. “Even Inari knows what Youtube is.”
Yusuke squeaked. “Even?! Was I not supposed to know something as basic as that?”
“Well, let’s go then.” Ren said. “Follow us and we’ll catch you up.”
The wildcards turned around and went up the stairs, ready for another meeting.
“I… don’t see what’s so wrong with this.” Yukiko said. “I mean, if creators rate their videos, then maybe parents will know what their kids can watch and what they shouldn’t watch.”
“In theory, yes.” Ren said. “But it’s not just about rating the videos.”
“Yeah.” Yu continued. “The measures applied to kid-friendly videos are ridiculous, and their idea of what makes something kid-friendly is even crazier.”
“Have a look for yourself.” Ren pointed at the documents that were laying on the table in the center of the group, which was huddled up in Leblanc’s attic.
The room was too small for so many people, but everyone was too involved in what the wildcards were saying to notice how cramped they were. Yukiko leaned in towards the papers and her eyes scoured their content quietly.
“What do you mean by measures?” Makoto asked.
“Well, comments will be disabled on kids’ videos.” Hamuko was smiling, like always, but her eyes had a sad glint to them. “Personalized ads will be turned off, so their creators will lose about 90% of their revenue… Their income will rely on contextualized ads, Patreon, and merch, which, of course, isn’t really reliable because they aren’t enough to sustain most creators... And kids’ videos won’t be recommended, so, ironically, kids won’t be able to find new, age-appropriate content to watch! They won’t even be searchable! Creators of kid-friendly content will be doomed!”
Shinji grumbled. “And that’s supposed to protect the kids... how?”
“I have no idea… The people who made this deal don’t know how the Internet works…”
“Not only that.” Haru said. “They don’t seem to know how the economy works either. If they don’t get enough revenue, content creators will lose motivation to make better videos or make videos at all. And so, the quality of family-friendly content will drop drastically, which won’t be good for the creators who make a living out of Youtube and for the audiences who watch their content.”
“And then both kids and adults will be stuck either watching crappy family-friendly videos or watching super edgy and mature content that the FTC decided wasn’t family-friendly.” Ken said.
“Yeah, he’s totally right.” Junpei gestured towards the ten-year-old. “Children aren’t gonna stop watching Youtube anytime soon, so hiding family-friendly content is just gonna expose them to more explicit stuff. I mean, damn!” He smiled from ear to ear. “Lying about your age on the Internet is about as easy was getting Yuka-tan to roll her eyes at me!”
Yukari rolled her eyes at Junpei. “Don’t get me involved, Stupei.”
“See? She literally proved my point!”
“Not to play devil’s advocate, but I can see why they would want to remove personalized ads.” Akechi said. “You see, Youtube collects information on all of their viewers to be able to personalize the ads that are shown to them.”
“I know that much.” With his elbows on his lap, Yu propped his chin up. “The guys at Blazblue have started sending in complaints because Adachi-san screams everytime he gets an ad about cabbages…”
“Well, yes, it’s something that happens to all of us. I get ads for IHOP all the time.” Akechi said. “But COPPA prohibits websites from collecting identifiable data about children under thirteen without verifiable parental consent. That includes names, home addresses, birth dates, IP addresses, their Internet activity… So, indeed, cookies also violate COPPA when applied to minors.”
Ken raised a brow. “My birthdate, full name, and address are all in the Megami Tensei Wiki and I don’t see anyone complaining.”
“You’re thirteen in Arena Ultimax, so I don’t see the problem.” Minato shrugged.
“But Nana-chan’s info is also on the Wiki and she’s six!” Teddie said.
Akechi cleared his throat to interrupt the discussion. “Back to the topic at hand. COPPA is a law that has existed since 1998 and Youtube has been in direct violation of it for a long time, so this lawsuit shouldn’t come as a surprise. Shutting off ads on videos for kids only seems like a continuation of what was done with Youtube Kids, which nobody uses anyways.”
“I see where you’re coming from, but it’s not Youtube’s fault if kids lie about their age online.” Yu said. “Much less it is the content creators’ fault.”
“And, hell, the creators ain’t the ones collectin’ info!” Ryuji said. “That’s on Youtube!”
“Exactly!” Hamuko said. “If parents were more careful and took the time to monitor their child’s use of the Internet, this wouldn’t be a problem. But most of them don’t bother to make their children watch Youtube Kids. Instead of spending quality time with their family, parents prefer to unleash their children on normal Youtube with autoplay on, at the complete mercy of weird Spiderman and pregnant Elsa videos!”
“Yeah.” Ren nodded pensively. “Akechi is partly right, because I think we can all agree that we need to protect children’s privacy. But, still. Punishing the content creators for it is insane. We should encourage good content, not disencourage it just because children might watch.”
“So… Can’t content creators just mark their content as not family-friendly?” Chie asked. “Then their comments wouldn’t get blocked and the ads wouldn’t get removed.”
“No.” Minato said. “Life’s never that simple.”
"If you don’t mark your content ‘appropriately’,” Ren made air quotes. “Then you, as a content creator, could face a fine of up to 40,000 dollars. That is, 4,345,660 yen per video.”
Ryuji started. “Holy shit!”
“Holy guacamole!” Chie said. “That’s insane!”
“That’s fucked up!” Kanji said.
“It could ruin someone’s entire career.” Yusuke said.
“Especially if it’s a small content creator.” Fuuka added. “They simply don’t have that kind of money.”
“Tch.” Shinji shook his head. “Greedy assholes. Why do content creators need to make up for Youtube’s own goddamn fine?”
“I was precisely reading up on that.” Yukiko said, lifting the documents she had been scanning. “They have guidelines to determine what’s kid-friendly and what isn’t.”
“If that can even be called a guideline…” Ren hissed.
“This is what it says.” Yukiko began reading out loud. “‘The Rule sets out additional factors the FTC will consider in determining whether your content is child-directed: the subject matter, visual content, the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives…’”
“Wait, wait, wait, what?!” Futaba said. “Are they saying what I think they’re saying?!”
Yu crossed his arms. “Anime is for children? Pretty much.”
“But! But!” Futaba said. “What about Corpse Party, or Another, or Berserk, or, or, or Blood-C?! Heck, there are so many anime I could mention that aren’t kid-friendly, like, at all!”
Teddie giggled. “Yosuke watches some anime that are pretty… hot, if you get what I mean, tee hee hee.”
“Shut up, bear!” Yosuke snapped. His expression then softened. “But I do wanna see those corporates’ faces when a five-year-old ends up accidentally watching hentai on Youtube Kids.”
“Not only that. Western animation could be affected too.” Ren stretched himself. “Think Family Guy, The Simpsons, American Dad… Freaking South Park!”
“And freelance animators who promote their work through Youtube would be thrown in that sack as well.” Yusuke said.
“You don’t even hafta talk about mature anime with effed up shit in it.” Ryuji said. “Hell, a lot of teens and adults love shows that are meant for kids!”
“Yeah, just look at how My Little Pony exploded…” Ren hung his head back. “There are a lot of shows that are extremely popular among people of all ages, like Miraculous Ladybug.”
Yu sighed. “The way this act is written, it makes it seem as if the FTC is extremely out of touch with reality.”
“What else does it say?” Chie asked.
“Right.” Yukiko cleared her throat and kept reading. “‘the kind of music or other audio content, the age of models, the presence of child celebrities or celebrities who appeal to children, language or other characteristics of the site, whether advertising that promotes or appears on the site is directed to children, and competent and reliable empirical evidence about the age of the audience.’”
“So, basically, anything that kids can understand and be attracted to is clearly made for children.” Akihiko said.
Mitsuru nodded. “Apparently.”
“Uh… Do we need to spell out why that logic is so faulty?” Hamuko said. “Kids don’t fit into a mold! Not all of them like the same things, so you don’t know what videos they would click on! Sure, some content is made for kids, but that doesn’t mean kids actually watch it, and vice versa… Some kids could be into politics, so you would still be collecting information on them and violating COPPA without knowing it. And kids could not even be interested in the content that you’re marking as kid-friendly!”
“When I was ten, I wasn’t into animation or kid’s shows.” Ren said. “I was into crime shows and guns.”
“When I was ten, I was into My Chemical Romance.” Minato admitted between clenched teeth. “Not that I’m still into them, of course.”
“When I was ten, I was already into kung fu movies.” Chie said.
“And I enjoyed watching documentaries of all kinds.” Makoto said.
Aigis decided to chime in. “Shinya-san is interested in FPS games, Nanako-san is interested in idols and Junes, Ken-san is interested in Featherman, and Maiko-san is interested in Minato-san.”
“You just can’t tell!” Futaba said. “A bunch of boomers can’t sit around in a office and decide what kids like to watch!”
“Hey, I’m not into Feather--!”
Yu interrupted Ken before he could act like a tsundere. “If you think about it…” He paused. “...by this criteria, the Persona series could be considered kid-friendly.”
The room fell silent again for a few whole minutes, as each of the Persona-users processed the weight of what Yu had just suggested. Futaba fidgeted in her seat, Yukari tugged at her sweater nervously, Rise played with her pigtails, Kanji scratched his head, Morgana gaped, and Mitsuru tapped her fingers on her other arm. Yosuke glanced at his partner, waiting for him to elaborate, but Yu suddenly seemed to go into mourning.
Finally, Minato deadpanned. “What.”
“He has a point…” Akihiko said. “Persona has animated cutscenes after all.”
“Koromaru-san says that he can see why some of our designs would be appealing to children.”
“But wouldn’t anyone with a brain know that Persona’s not for kids?” Yukari asked.
At that question, Yu woke up from his reverie. “Well, if you think about the themes and the plot, yes. But take Golden’s intro, for example. Some guy at the FTC could check it out and see the bright colors, hear the cheery music, notice there’s an anime boy smiling and dancing inside a trash can, and think… Oh, this is obviously for children!”
“Nevermind that there’s a dead corpse hanging on the telephone lines like ten seconds after that…” Ren said.
“But what about the SEES shooting themselves in the head? Or the half-naked Shadow selves of Rise-chan and Kanji-kun? Or the sexual harassment of Kamoshida and Shiho-chan’s attempt?” Haru said. “Surely the FTC must see that.”
“There are too many videos in Youtube--” Yu began, but he was cut off by Futaba.
“More than 500 hours of content are uploaded every minute, to be exact.”
“Yeah.” Yu continued. “The FTC doesn’t have enough time or employees to check every video one by one, so, in most cases, the Youtube algorithm would be the one to sort and flag videos instead. But even if a human being were to evaluate videos, we can assume that they’d only take enough time to check the thumbnail, the title, and, if anything, the beginning of the video. And even if they were to watch the entire video, they have already made lots of mistakes evaluating videos in the past and they will keep making mistakes.”
“The Youtube algorithm…” Fuuka said. “But... it has plenty of flaws.”
“You hit the nail on the head, Fuuka!” Hamuko flashed a thumbs up. “That is also a huge part of why this is so problematic!”
“Basically, it’s problematic because of four things.” Ren said. “One, Youtube must be liable for what Youtube does. But it doesn’t need to be liable for what parents let their kids do.”
“Two,” Hamuko picked up Ren’s line of thought. “the FTC is pointing fingers at content creators and threatening them with a fine for something that they can’t control. You know, they can’t stop kids from watching their videos. They aren’t even the ones collecting data anyways!”
Yu nodded. “Three, the measures taken against family-friendly videos will disencourage creators from producing them, which will cause not only a drop in quality in that content, but which will expose both kids and adults to more gritty videos. It will also put a lot of Youtubers out of business and it will make it incredibly hard to break into the industry.”
“Gaming channels, speedrunners, collectors…” Futaba said, wistfully.
“Educational channels, music videos, reviewers of family-friendly movies, shows, and media…” Rise said.
“Art channels, crafts channels, and animators…” Yusuke said. “All possibly wiped off the face of the Earth. How dreadful…”
“Four, the guidelines to decide what constitutes kid-friendly content are broken.” Ren continued. “According to this, the Youtube algorithm and the FTC goons will flag most stuff involving animation, light-hearted themes, happy music, bright colors, young actors, mild language, or anything that appeals to their stereotypical image of a child.”
“But I still don’t understand.” Yukiko said. “Here, it says that creators are not going to get affected just for producing content that a kid might watch. So maybe the FTC’s judgement will be reasonable… Perhaps we are overreacting.”
“We don’t know that.” Ren said. “We have to assume the worst if we want to prevent that from happening.”
“What worries me is that guidelines are extremely vague.” Makoto said. “Prosecutors thrive on vague laws.”
Ren cracked his knuckles. “Yeah. Not to mention that Google and the FTC have gross amounts of money and power that they can use to prosecute content creators that they just don’t like.”
“And they would legally be allowed to prosecute and censor them.” Yu said. “All they need is a good excuse that’s backed up by the existing regulations.”
“Besides,” Minato gestured towards Ren. “This guy is living proof of how many holes there are in legal procedures and how exploitable they are.”
“If this were to pass, all creators would be taking a huge risk just by uploading a video…” Ann said.
“Yup! Which is why we have to take matters into our own hands!” Hamuko fisted the air. “Come on, I know we can do it, but we need everyone’s help!”
Ren smiled. “Well, if that’s all… You’re dismissed for today.”
The Persona-users started, one by one, to stand up from their seats (or at least those who were sitting), stretch themselves, and head downstairs. Slowly, but surely, they got divided into the smaller groups that continued debating the issue and their new mission. Only their leaders were left behind.
Ren turned towards his fellow wildcards. “We’ll infiltrate tomorrow. Don’t be late.”
The raid was going well. The Phantom Thieves, the Investigation Team, and the SEES had managed to sneak in, fight off any guards who attempted to get in their way, and arrived to what was, essentially, the heart of the building. They were now resting in a safe room, taking a breather and giving each other motivation for the actual fight ahead. Thankfully, none of them had lost any HP yet, and only the SEES members had wasted a minimal fraction of their SP because they were the only ones who could summon their Personas in the real world.
Yu seemed especially pleased about the swiftness of the operation. “I thought this was gonna end like the Area 51 thing, but the raid’s actually going pretty well.”
Ren frowned. “... Did you really just repeat what the narrator said just to reference a dead meme?”
“Hey, guys!” Hamuko hopped towards the two of them. “This is going great! It seems like the PUUAC’s first mission is gonna be a total success!”
Ren raised a brow. “PUUAC?”
“Persona-Users United Against COPPA.” Hamuko winked. “It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”
“Sure it does.” Ren said, trying to hide the sarcasm in his voice. “Props to you for coming up with a name for the whole team.”
“Hey. What’s the hold up?” Minato said, approaching the three other wildcards. “We should keep going if we want this to be done by today.”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” Ren stood up and raised his tone of voice. “Are you all ready?”
The Persona-users quieted down and looked at Ren. The majority of them nodded and confirmed that they were feeling up to the challenge.
Chie jumped in place. “Yeah! Let’s go!”
“I’m ready whenever!” Morgana said.
“Ready as I’ll ever be…” Shinji grumbled.
“Let’s get this shit over with!” Kanji said.
“Lead the way, Ren-kun!” Haru said.
“Very well. Follow me.” Ren, with decided steps, a resolute expression, and a confident stance, walked towards the door of the safe room, and led his team out towards the site of the boss fight. They geared up for an epic confrontation, one where the fate of humanity would be decided, one where everything around them would be at stake, one that could make or break this whole movement. But they didn’t need to worry, because they were prepared to face the toughest of enemies, the dirtiest, the evilest, the most corrupt. Whatever it was, they’d be able to take it down.
They found a wimp.
A tall, slim, grey-haired, old-looking, and glasses-wearing wimp was standing in the middle of the room that was reserved for the boss fight.
Well, he was probably a learned wimp at that, one that knew enough about lobbying, about law-making, or about dinosaur computers that he had been appointed Chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission. But compared to Adachi, Shido’s Shadow, or Takaya, Joe Simons was nothing more than an annoyance to the Persona-users. As far as they knew, after all, he didn’t have a Persona. Or a knife, for that matter.
“Hear me out! … Hear me out.” Simons said, with a neutral expression on his face. Even though he was under threat and he was clearly scared, his voice remained monotonous and his posture didn’t change in the least. “I know you are angry. I have heard the complaints. Please, calm down and let us talk this out like reasonable people.”
“Oh. You know what we’re here for?” Ren didn’t put his dagger away just yet.
“Yes. I am quite overwhelmed by the unexpected response we have received in the last few days to the agreement we imposed, I-I mean, we settled on with Youtube. I know you viewers and chANnEL OwnERs are very concerned about what that means for the platform.”
“Uh huh.” Minato deadpanned. “So what’re you gonna do about it?”
Simons moved for the first time as his hand reached out to scratch his chin. He carefully thought about what he was going to answer. “Uh…” Almost imperceptibly, he shrugged. “Nothing.”
“What?!” Ryuji said. “But you just said yourself that nobody likes that goddamn agreement!”
“I am aware of that.” Simons said. “But here at the FTC, we believe that this is the best course of action we can take to protect our children. After all, we imposed it after careful consideration. We have faith on this plan’s ability to enforce COPPA and set an example for any other companies like Youtube which steal information from children.”
“Bullshit.” Shinji said. “Don’t you see innocents are paying for parents’ carelessness?!”
“Hey, don’t be too hard on him.” Rise placed a hand on Shinji’s shoulder. “It’s not his fault Youtube didn’t exist back when he got his bachelor’s degree.”
“But it is his fault that he’s letting content creators be affected because of his ignorance.” Ren said. “If he’s so important for an organization like the FTC, at least he could take the time to learn how the Internet works nowadays and how this agreement affects content creators.”
“I am pleased to announce, with absolute certainty, that you are wrong.” Simons said. “The FTC is not at fault. cHAnnEL oWNeRs are responsible for this mess because they produce kids’ content, they know children watch it regularly, and they still collect those minors’ data. Everyone who claims this is the FTC or Youtube’s fault is objectively wrong. This is why you should not believe everything you read on the Internet and why you probably should not use the Internet at all.”
“This guy’s living a lie.” Yu informed his peers. “I doubt he’ll be willing to listen to sound arguments.”
“Yeah.” Ren said. “We should reason with him the only way we know how.”
“By beating some sense into him?!” Hamuko peeped happily. “Leave it to me!”
Hamuko’s excitement was a bit scary, but the others couldn’t blame her because she and Minato had had a terrible experience with
Chairmans? Chairmen? Help me I can’t English a certain Chairman in the past. The girl ran towards Simons, who seemed shocked, but only momentarily, took out her Evoker, and did her thing before anyone could object.
A small ball of fire crashed against Simons, lighting up his clothes, and finally making him lose his overly professional composure. The poor man started dancing around the room, shouting and yelping hopelessly, until he collapsed and fell face first on the ground, whimpering. Unfortunately, his glasses were beyond repair, but Simons himself didn’t seem to have sustained an important amount of damage. With a business-like expression on her face, Hamuko approached him, patted him on the back a few times until she put out the fire, and sat down next to him.
“Ohh, thank youuu, that feels much, much better…” Simons whispered, not making any move to get up from the floor.
“That’s it? You’re giving up just like that?” Hamuko asked, pouting. “That was pretty disappointing… And there was so much buildup…”
“I’m sorry to say, but you went too far, Hamuko.” Yu said, walking towards the pair. “You should’ve gone easy on him.”
“Whaaaaat?!” Hamuko squealed. “I only used Agi! I couldn’t have gone any easier!”
“You lighted him on fire. He’s a normal person, remember? It could’ve ended very badly. Next time, use your Naginata to test the waters first.”
“Ugh, if you insist…” She poked Simons’s shoulder with her finger a few times. “What about you? Are you gonna do something about COPPA?”
At that moment, Simons started weeping bitterly. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I admit I know nothing about how cHannEl OwNerS operate! But nobody ever pays attention to the FTC… Some people are only finding out about COPPA now, thanks to this controversy... We have to take drastic measures to get people to listen to us, because no one ever takes us seriously! COPPA has existed since 1998 and all kinds of websites keep violating it! If we fined Youtube and imposed stricter measures, then everyone would notice us. Everyone would start fearing us. Everyone would finally want to comply with COPPA! But you wouldn’t understand… Nobody ever understands…” He wiped his tears off with the sleeve of his shirt.
“There, there.” This time, it was Hamuko the one who deadpanned. “Maybe, you know… fix this situation so that people will respect you for listening to criticism and doing your job right?”
“That seems like a reasonable solution.” Yusuke intervened.
“Okay… I will fix my mistakes…” Simons said. “Thank you for helping me realize that this agreement wasn’t truly about protecting children, but about instilling fear on content creators…”
Yu smiled. “It’s what we do. We help people see the error in their ways.”
“It would seem like our job here is done.” Aigis said.
Ren nodded in agreement. All of the Persona-users cheered and began getting ready to celebrate, when, suddenly, the door slammed open and a shorter, broad-shouldered, Donald Trump-looking man came in. He was Andrew Smith, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
He stopped in his tracks when he saw Simons on the floor. “What’s this? What happened to the Chairman?”
Ren groaned. “I had feeling this fight wasn’t over yet…”
“You!” Smith pointed at the group of Persona-users, looking pretty pissed. “What did you do to the Chairman?!”
“We had a civil discussion with him, is all.” Yu said. “He may have sustained some injuries, though.”
“Injuries? This can’t be good.” Smith squinted. “What are you deviants doing at a governmental facility like this anyways? Do you have a permit?”
“No. I’m afraid that we’re here on our own account.” Akihiko said, teasingly. “We convinced the Chairman to reevaluate his opinion in regards to the Youtube regulations. Is that a problem?”
“Yes, that’s a huge problem.” Smith spat out. “Why don’t you SJWs go pester another governmental organization already?! We aren’t going to budge, no matter how hard you try to make us change our minds. Our decision is made, whether you like it or not. So scram! You cursed millenials… You always ruin everything...”
“For your information, not all of us are millennials. Only the whole IT, minus Teddie, and the older members of SEES are millennials.” Ren said. “And even then, you can’t just keep pushing the blame onto them for everything. We’re all here because we just want our voices to be heard.”
Minato frowned. “Who even cares about what year we were born in?”
“Yeah!” Ken said. “This clearly affects anyone who uses Youtube, no matter how old they are. We’re only standing up for the content creators who could lose years of work, their main source of income, or the activity they are passionate about because of some poorly written laws!”
“Exactly. This has nothing to do with what generation we belong to.” Yu said, before glancing at Futaba. “By the way, no more comments about boomers, please, unless you want them to backfire.”
Futaba smiled and gave Yu a thumbs up. “Ok, millennial.”
Yu almost wished he had an Evoker on him.
“Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!” Smith shook his head violently, destroying his perfectly neat hairstyle. “I don’t know what generation do you belong to, but I KNOW that you’re getting on our way and you’re annoying and you’re Youtube apologists and I hate you and you obviously don’t give a shit about the children! So you MUST be terminated! I WILL fine you into submission myself if THAT’S what it takes!” Smith started to growl, pant, and show his canines like a wild wolf, with his mouth watering as if he had just spotted his prey.
If that wasn’t a red flag, then Hamuko didn’t know what it was. She got on her feet and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Minato! SEES! Brace yourselves!”
“You know nothing about the Internet!” Ann shouted. “Those kids you talk about so much? They aren’t gonna stop watching Youtube and they aren’t gonna stop watching videos for adults just because you ask them to!”
“You’re lying to yourself if that’s what you think!” Yosuke said.
“Yeah!” Ryuji said. “This ain’t helping nobody, old man!”
“It doesn’t have to be this way.” Akechi said. “We don’t want to do this by force, so if you’d only settle down and listen to us--”
“SHUUUUUUT! UUUUUP!” Smith(?) roared so loudly that the windows, the floors, and Simons, lying on the ground, vibrated. “YOU ‘RE JUST VIEWERS! YOU DON’T HAVE A VOICE! NOBODY CARES ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK BECAUSE IT’S YOUR FAULT THINGS HAVE TO BE THIS WAY! I’M JUST DOING MY JOB AND I’LL DO WHAT IT TAKES, EVEN IF I HAVE TO TERMINATE EVERYTHING THAT STANDS IN MY WAY! IF YOU WON’T COMPLY WITH COPPA ON YOUR OWN, THEN I WILL FORCE YOU TO COMPLY WITH COPPAAAAAA!!!!” He dragged out a deafening scream.
During his monologue, Smith’s body began to morph. His shoulders grew wider and wider, while the rest of his thorax also expanded, but at a slower pace, leaving everyone wondering how in the world was he still standing on his two tiny legs. His muscles, especially those on his chest and arms, started to swell to unbelievable proportions, officially making him the buffest boss the Phantom Thieves had ever fought, even buffer than Shadow Shido. His veins were so visible that some of the Persona-users jumped away in disgust. Not only that, but his whole body got, somehow, covered in grease.
Smith’s hair got slightly longer, but it became way crispier and messier, as every strand shot up in a different direction like those of the hair of a classical mad scientist. His head grew very rapidly as well, at nearly the same pace as the shoulder blades, but becoming rounder and rounder by the second. His face got distorted until his brows were only a unibrow, his eyes were perfect spheres, and his mouth was exaggerated like that of a party clown. His canines grew and the watering got way worse, until he was practically bathing in his own saliva. He kinda resembled a buff cyclops, except for the fact that he still had two eyes. Not for long, though, because countless little eyes began sprouting from the skin in his forehead, popping out, blinking separately, and scanning their surroundings without any coordination between them.
(T/N: Well, it isn’t a true boss fight if it doesn’t feature body transformation)
The Persona-users let out exclamations of horror as they stepped away from the monstrosity that had been born in front of their eyes.
“Oh, gods!” Yusuke said. “What an abomination!”
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Kanji said.
Makoto gaped. “How…?!”
“Ohhhhh, crap.” Junpei said. “Oh, crap.”
“We’re in it for a ride.” Chie sighed.
An odd feeling seized Ren, one that he was already very familiar with. A surge of energy went through his body, while a white light flashed in front of his eyes and his clothes got replaced by his black cape, his red gloves, and his tall boots. He could also feel his mask plastered against his nose and the area surrounding his eyes. Shocked, he glanced at the other Phantom Thieves and realized he hadn’t been the only one to change outfits.
“Guys, look at this!” He said.
The other Persona-users turned around and Yukari spoke for all of them. “T-The Metaverse?!”
“His distorted desires are so strong that he transmuted reality into his own Palace!” Morgana said, with pure fear written in his face.
“Wha..?” Futaba quickly snapped out of her surprise. “NECRONOMICON!”
A gunshot. “LUCIA!”
“You know things just got serious when all of your navigators prepare for battle without waiting for an order…” Hamuko said.
“I’LL CRUSH YOU, I’LL CRUSH YOU, I’LL CRUSH YOU!” Smith’s Shadow slammed his oversized fists against the ground three times. “I WILL PROTECT THE CHILDREN EVEN IF THAT MEANS KILLING EVERYONE ELSE IN THE PROCESS!”
“Don’t worry, guys.” Rise said. “It looks strong, but it’s not very powerful on its own!”
Then, the Shadow stood on the tips of his toes, began turning around like a fan, and raised his arms up in the air like some sort of grotesque ballet dancer. Everyone was dumbfounded.
“Uh…” Futaba mumbled. “It’s using… Invocation! I wonder what this attack does...”
“It’s calling for backup!” Fuuka said. “Ah, this looks dangerous!”
Through an open window, came a little creature flying in. It looked like a three-dimensional incarnation of Youtube’s logo, but it had long and thin arms and legs and two cartoonish eyes. It looked pretty harmless actually, because it was no bigger than Akechi’s portfolio, it was blinking at the Persona-users curiously, and it was floating gracefully towards the demon in the middle of the room.
“Aww!” Hamuko squeezed her own cheeks. “It doesn’t look dangerous at all!”
The little Youtube logo-looking creature landed on Smith’s right shoulder and it immediately started to melt. As it did, its remains got absorbed by Smith’s skin, which progressively turned red all over, until a shiny, white triangle appeared on his chest.
“Gah! He’s fusing with the Youtube algorithm!” Futaba said.
Rise gasped. “His power levels are off the charts!”
“AAAARRRGGHHH!” Smith’s Shadow shouted. “WE WILL PROTECT THE CHILDREN FROM THE HORRORS OF PERSONALIZED ADS!”
“Minato!” Yu said. “You should’ve attacked him when you had the chance!”
Minato didn’t look pleased. “Do you wanna lead instead?!”
“You got it!” With his sword in hand, Yu ran towards a spot that wasn’t too close, nor too far away from the freak of nature. “Yosuke, Crow, and Junpei, with me!”
The three Persona-users prepared their weapons and joined Yu. The rest stayed in the back for support, ready to step in when needed.
“Magarula!” Yosuke said. But it was soon followed by a “What the hell? It’s not working?”
“Agilao!” Junpei casted. But it didn’t work either. “Damn it!”
“Taste my wrath!” Akechi said, casting Kougaon. But it barely made a scratch.
Yu growled under his breath. Only Akechi’s attack had connected and, even then, it had barely made any damage. He had to keep trying different elemental abilities, but attacking blindly like this was essentially a gamble. He was torn in between taking a risk trying out a electrical skill or going the safe route and attacking it with Bless. What was the best choice? What would help him defeat it faster? On the one hand, if he ruled out electricity now, then he would be able to confirm its effectiveness soon, but, on the other h--
“Senpai! Watch out!”
Smith’s Shadow snapped his fingers, produced a piece of paper out of thin air, pointed it towards the Persona-users, and he sweeped it across, leaving horrifying paper cuts on the active teammates. Junpei, Akechi, and Yosuke fell to their knees in undescribable pain, wailing and pleading for mercy. Only the latter managed to stand up after a while. Paper cuts were cruel, after all. Yu had to muster up all of his inner strength only to maintain his balance, but he still gripped his stomach helplessly.
“Narukami!” Minato said, his voice full of salt. “You should’ve attacked him when you had the chance, dumbass!”
“Hey, I didn’t call you a dumbass!”
“Focus, Narukami, focus!” Ren said.
Ren was right, he wouldn’t get anywhere if he didn’t act fast. Yu turned back towards the Shadow, put his hand out, and crushed another tarot card. “Ziodyne!” Another miss. “Dammit.”
“HAHAHA! I’M THE LAW! YOU CAN’T DEFEAT ME!” Smith’s Shadow geared up for another attack before anyone else could react. Now Yu was cursing himself for using his opportunity to attack instead of healing his impaired teammates.
“Oh no!” Fuuka cried out. “It’s gonna use The Ends Justify the Means!”
“... That’s an attack?” Shinji said.
Smith’s Shadow waved his hand over Yosuke’s head, creating a rain of glitter that honestly seemed pretty harmless. But Futaba soon confirmed that wasn’t the case. “Yosuke’s been brainwashed! He can’t tell friend from foe!”
“Fuck, there goes my healer…” Yu said.
While Akechi tested out Curse, only to find out that the Shadow absorbed Curse attacks, Yosuke looked at Yu with compassion. “Hey, Partner. You know? I was thinking, maybe COPPA’s not that bad. I mean, they are only trying to protect the children. Don’t you want to protect the children?”
“Yes, but… The way they’re doing it…” Yu winced from the paper cut. “Shit, we need to get Yosuke to snap out of it!”
“What do you mean, Partner? It makes me sad me to hear you say that...” Yosuke flashed a wicked smile. “I’ve never seen the truth so clearly in my life.”
Junpei digged into his pockets and managed to find a Patra Gem, which he threw towards Yosuke. “Here you go!”
But it didn’t do anything. It was not the right item, not the right ailment, not the right game. Yukari rolled her eyes. “Ugh… Stupei.”
“HAHAHAH NEOPHYTES!” The Shadow said. “FOR HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN ON YOUTUBE, AGAIN? I HAVE BEEN HERE SINCE YOU WERE BORN!”
Yu faced the Shadow, with the objective of hitting him with a Light attack, but Yosuke stepped in, right in front of him, so that if he attacked now, Yosuke would get hurt instead. Dammit, he couldn’t do anything like this.
“Yosuke! Move!” Yu shouted.
Yosuke didn’t stop smiling for a single moment. “Over my dead body… Partner.”
“I said, MOVE! I don’t want to hurt you!”
“Sorry, Partner, but, if you won’t agree with me, I can’t let you go on. I need to do what’s right, no matter what. Isn’t that what we came here to do? So, please, don’t hold any hard feelings against me for what I’m about to do. It’s for the children, you know. IT’S FOR NANAKOOOO!”
Yu hissed, tightening his grip around his sword. “Don’t you dare use Nanako against--!”
Yosuke hit Yu, Junpei, and Akechi with the strongest gust of wind he had to offer, causing tons of damage. Thankfully, Yu had equipped Trumpeter, because if he was sure that, if he had equipped Izanagi, he would be dead by now.
Still, Yu fell to the ground, panting and sweating, which seemed to make Smith’s Shadow proud. The leader wheezed, feeling as weak as he had never felt before. “Minato…? Switch with Junpei… And Panther… Ngh... Switch with Crow…?
“Okay, let’s do this!” Ann said. “Hey, are you okay? Don’t you want to swap out too?”
“No… I can still keep going...”
“Is that so, Partner?” Yosuke taunted. “Aww, it’s so like you to keep fighting back when you know there’s nothing you can do.”
“SO YOU WON’T GIVE UP, HUH?!” Smith’s Shadow roared with laughter. “BWAHAHAH! SEEMS LIKE IT’S TIME TO FINISH THIS OFF, THEN!” The Shadow posed as if he about to perform a Kamehameha and powered up. “COPYRIIIIIIIIIIIGHT… STRIKE!”
A ray of light shot out of the Shadow’s hands and hit Yu with so much force that he was blasted away and his back crashed against the wall. The impact sounded like it hurt so much that all of the Persona-users in the room literally felt a portion of their HP disappearing with Yu’s hopes and dreams.
“No!” Rise squealed. “No, no! Senpai’s dead! Senpai’s dead! Waahhhh! Senpaaiiiiii!”
That’s when Yosuke decided to go back to normal. “NO! Partner, no! Please don’t leave me!” He began crying desperately. “This is all my fault, I should’ve fought back harder! I never wanted to make things easy for him! Please, Partner, it’s not fair that you have to suffer for my incompetence! Please!”
“Wait!” Futaba said. “I’m receiving signals of life!”
“Huh?” Yosuke placed his hand over Yu’s chest and, indeed, he felt his heart beating. He only started crying even more harshly, and whether it was out of happiness or out of panic, nobody knows to this day.
Yu’s eyes fluttered open and he looked at Yosuke wearily. “Sorry…” He muttered. And then he closed his eyes and his heart stopped beating again.
“W-What?!” Yosuke stuttered. “You absolute moron! Don’t come back to life just to apologize!”
He was so upset that he grabbed Yu’s corpse by the collar and shook him, but then he gave up. And then he kept crying.
Fuuka gasped. “Yosuke has inflicted Fear, Rage, Despair, and Self-Loathing on himself all at once!”
“Is that… Is that even possible?” Rise asked.
“It doesn’t matter.” Futaba said. “The real question is, why is Yosuke getting affected by Persona 5 ailments?”
“Who cares?” Minato said. “I’m taking over for Narukami. Damn, we should’ve brought Naoto, but of course we just had to be a bunch of dicks to her. Whatever. Ken, replace Yosuke!”
“... Really?” Smith’s Shadow spoke in a mocking tone of voice. “After how I beat up your friend, you came back for more?! HAHAHHAH YOU’RE COMPLETELY HOPELESS! DON’T WORRY, YOU UNGRATEFUL PESTS. I’LL MAKE IT QUICKER THIS ROUND! IT’LL GO BY SO QUICKLY, YOU WON’T EVEN NOTICE!”
“Leader!” Fuuka said. “This Shadow absorbs Dark, it nullifies everything except for Light, and it’s still resistant to that! Most attacks are useless!”
“Panther, I need you to heal us every chance you get.” Minato said.
“Alright!” She replied. “Just stay out of danger!”
“Ken, you’ll keep hitting it with Light attacks.”
"I won't be holding anything back." He said, joining the front lines.
“Tch, I’m missing one party member. Joker, come and help us out!”
“Roger that.” Ren ran headfirst into the battlefield and ripped his mask off his face, summoning Dionysus. “DEBILITATE!”
“Good one.” Minato said. “My turn. And hey, Joker, if anything happens to me, please take over. Come forth… DECARABIA!”
“What?!” Ren started. “What’re you planning to do with that?! Equipping Decarabia is a death sentence!”
Minato softly shook his head. “Heh. I pity you, Joker. MARAKUKAJA!”
Smith’s Shadow actually recoiled a bit, noticing that he was losing a bit of ground. For a moment, the confident look on his 26 eyes disappeared, which greatly impressed Ren, who had never had much luck with Decarabias.
“Great job, Minato-senpai!” Rise said. “You might actually have a chance to defeat it now!”
At the leader’s signal, Ken shot himself with his Evoker and casted Hamaon. But like every time you try to use an Insta-kill skill on a boss, it missed. “What the—?”
Minato gave him a small smile. “Don’t worry, Ken. We’re doing just fine.”
“MWEHEHEH. YOU’RE GOOD.” Smith’s Shadow said. All of his eyes settled on Minato, except for two, one that was glaring at Yosuke and another that was still staring at Yu’s corpse, as if it was afraid it’d come out of the grave any time soon. “YOU DO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING, DON’T YOU? WELL, THERE’S NO NEED TO FRET. ONCE I’M DONE WITH YOU, YOU WON’T EVEN REMEMBER HOW OLD YOU ARE!”
“Aah!” Fuuka yelped. “It’s going to attack you, leader!”
Minato dodged, but the attack connected anyways. He couldn’t have avoided it, even if he had reacted sooner, because the white triangles that the Shadow fired from his fingers would’ve followed him through hell and back until they hit their target. There was no way to escape from his fate.
(T/N: Orpheus wasn’t amused by the comment about Minato going “through hell and back”, so this text will be edited in future editions to take his criticisms into account. Enjoy the current edition before it becomes a forbidden book)
When the triangular bullets went right through Minato’s body, seemingly with the goal of attacking him from the inside out, a cloud of white smoke engulfed him entirely, but it soon poofed out of existence like a bubble being popped. To everyone’s surprise, Minato’s hair and irises had been turned a screaming light blue that looked like it’d probably glow in the dark. His outfit was now the most vibrant and llamative school uniform to ever exist, since it was a messy collage made out of all the colors of the rainbow, all of them in their loudest, most disruptive variants and with no law or order. There was everything from lime green to bright yellow, to strong fuschia, to neon pink, so the poor guy had been splashed with all of the most horrendous colors that the human eye is capable of telling apart. To make matters worse, they were all accentuated with sequins and glitter, each color was present in disproportionate quantities, and no shape resembled another.
It physically hurt everyone else’s eyes to merely glance in Minato’s direction, so the majority of the Persona-users had to look away or cover their faces to avoid getting their eyes irritated. I mean, it honestly seemed like a unicorn had thrown up on him.
Minato, horrified by his own appearance, balled his hands into fists and frowned. “What the fudge?! Gosh dang it! The heck did you do to me, you blasted dastard?!”
As his own words slowly sank in, Minato stepped back and his eyes grew wide. He slammed both of his hands against his mouth as if he had blurted out something unforgivable.
“HA HA! YOU WERE GAINING TOO MUCH TRACTION, SO YOU HAD TO BE SILENCED! YOU PRACTICALLY ASKED FOR IT!”
“Minato has been inflicted with…” Futaba paused for a bit. “Made for Kids!”
“What the hell does that even mean?!” Ren said.
“Well, aside from the flashy clothes…” Rise said. “He can’t say what he’s thinking! Everything he says is being filtered!”
Minato groaned. “Yikes.”
“HAHAHA YES! COPPA LIKES THAT KID-FRIENDLY LANGUAGE HAHA! THAT WILL TEACH YOU NOT TO TALK TOO MUCH!”
“And that’s not all! There’s, um, age-regression!” Fuuka said. “It’s just going to get worse and worse until his body is the one of a five-year old. At that point, he’ll only be able to eat cereal, play Minecraft, and speak in ‘cool’s, ‘duh’s, and ‘whatever’s!”
Minato shrugged. “Well, the ‘whatever’s I can get used to…”
“This kinda reminds me of Nao-chan’s Shadow…” Teddie said.
“Hey, Minato!” Ren called out. “Can you still fight?”
“For now, I think i cAN--” Minato’s voice cracked like one of a guy going through puberty, which seemed to bother him to no end, but he pulled himself together and reached for his Evoker. He instantly dropped it when he realized that it had been replaced by a cheap plastic water gun. “... Nevermind.”
“Huh? What should we do now?” Ken asked.
Minato’s head turned towards Ken violently. “Ask your parents!” Again, he clasped his hands around his mouth.
Ken frowned and scanned Minato from head to toe as if he had seen an alien. “That was not very nice.”
“Forget it, Ken. That’s not Minato speaking.” Futaba said.
“Yeah, Senpai’s being heavily censored!” Rise agreed. “He’s in no condition to lead!”
“Joker, you’re up!” Futaba said.
Ren sighed. “Guess it’s my turn to die, get mentally broken or both.” He pointed his dagger towards Smith’s Shadow and smirked. “Bring it on!”
The Shadow shrugged. “Who am I to refuse a client’s request?”
“No!” Fuuka screeched. “It’s going to attack again!”
Futaba, frustrated, threw a tantrum inside of Necronomicon. “Hey, you jerk! This is supposed to be a turn-based JRPG! It’s not fair if you ignore everyone else’s turn!”
“It’s the same move!” Rise said. “You can’t dodge, so the best thing you can do is guard!”
Ren nodded and held his arms up in front of his face in a defensive position. He closed his eyes, braced for impact, and heard the whooshing sound of
Redditors in the comment section the triangles soaring through the air. He waited for it, but he didn’t feel anything. And then, when he opened his eyes, he saw a slim, curvy figure shielding him.
“NOO! PANTHEEEER!” Morgana screamed.
“Senpai?!” Rise said. “Are you okay?!”
Half of Ren was moved and proud of Ann for sacrificing her own life for him by her own accord, but his other half was worried because, well… To put it simply, Ann was no Wildcard, and… He didn’t want to brag, but there was no telling if a normal Persona-user like her would survive the attack… You know, just saying. She was strong, but no as strong as Ren… Objectively speaking, of course.
Thankfully, Ann seemed unscathed. But much like Minato, her outfit, looks, and demeanor had changed greatly. Her hair seemed to have lost all of its original color, it was now painted a dull grey, and it was up in a high bun instead of in her usual pigtails. When she turned around, Ren noticed that her mask was gone and she was dressed in a plain Western Business Attire™, which was entirely beige except for her white shirt. Oddly enough, even though she looked very professional, the first three buttons were open, in a mildly suggestive manner. What worried Ren the most was that she was moving very slowly, her steps were carefully calculated, and her expression was so neutral that she would’ve put any of the Persona protagonists to shame. Yes, even Tatsuya. She was so emotionless that looking at her sent shivers up Ren’s spine.
“She’s been inflicted with the exact opposite ailment!” Futaba said. “Not Made For Kids!”
“She’ll be forced to speak in sophisticated terms that children may not understand.” Fuuka said. “But she’ll be allowed… actually encouraged! To swear. And there’s no body changes in this case because she’s already old enough to be considered an adult under COPPA.”
“Great!” Ren turned towards Ann. “Only your speech will be altered. Does that mean you can still fight?”
Ann mechanically looked at one side, then he looked at Ren as if she was staring right into his very soul (i’m original rite), blinked a few times, or, rather, she slowly blinked what seemed like a thousand times through her new rectangular glasses, cleared her throat elegantly, and spoke in a plain tone of voice.
“ Dear Mr. Ren Amamiya, ”
“Oh! Oh, this is the perfect time!” Futaba chirped “... Can I say it now that Narukami’s dead and can’t scold me? Ok…!”
“Notwithstanding the fact that I thoroughly hold you in high regards and that, to a certain extent, I wholly relish the adrenaline rush that I invariably attain from contemplating blood, scrutinizing vicious skirmishes, and engaging in several distinctly adult undertakings, the full extent of the hues and vividness of this room is causing utter discomfort to my eyesight. Whence, I have opted for the resolution of renouncing to my duties and my occupation as an affiliate of the association of miscreant pariahs formally known as the ‘Phantom Thieves of Hearts’, PTHs, henceforth; thus resigning to the conglomerate baptized as the ‘Persona-Users United Against COPPA’, PUUAC, as well. Perchance, if I may counsel you, Mr. Amamiya, I dare say that, if you find yourself experiencing concern about your future, you should fucking quit already and stop being such a goddamn criminal and putting your and your teammates’ shitty life on the line with every fucking mistake you make ‘cause at this pace you’re going to hell and shit Satanael ain’t gonna be such a kiss ass towards you once you’re there you bastard and also stop making us wear those fucking stupid DLC outfits in the Metaverse and, seriously, this isn’t the Youtube algorithm speaking now, I actually don’t enjoy wearing those damn costumes but I respect you too much to criticize your choices, you cheating manwhore, attain a reputable, high-earning, and noteworthy job, reach maturity, and forgo this... quite childish ‘Persona’ métier. I sympathetically remind you that you are seventeen years old now and, thus, must assimilate how to thrive in today’s highly competitive society on your very own means.
Ms. Ann Takamaki.”
“Don’t.” Shinji said.
At that moment, Ren suddenly shook his head, snorting, opened his eyes, and wiped off the drool on his chin. “... You done?” He groggily said.
“She…” Morgana’s jaw dropped. “She called Personas childish!”
“I’m more concerned with what she said in the middle…” Hamuko said.
Ryuji scratched his head. “What?”
“You know, that part about the costumes and all that…”
“She never mentioned any costumes.” Yusuke said.
“What? She did! When she was talking about Satanael and all that! Didn’t you hear that?!”
“Eh…” Kanji thought about it for a bit. “Not really.”
“Arisato, are you alright?” Mitsuru asked.
“Yeah, I am, but I swear she really said--!”
“Heh. I think you dreamt that.” A nearly-dead Junpei said.
Akechi nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised. I believe most of us fell asleep during that… uh… dissertation.”
“But she really did say that! Was I the only one who was paying attention or what?!”
“GUYS!” Rise interrupted. “Remember, the Shadow’s messing with Panther’s head! She didn’t mean anything she said.”
“Hm… More importantly,” Futaba said. “We haven’t attacked in, like, forever. Joker, we’re waiting for your signal!”
“Well, do something about this.” Ren gestured towards Ann and Minato, who was already about as tall as Ken. “I can’t work with… um… these...” He gestured more wildly, as if asking someone else to finish the sentence for him.
“I believe that the term you are looking for is ‘outdated stereotypes of how children and adults are supposed to behave’” Aigis said.
“Yeah, that.” Ren said. “Please take them away and watch them closely. Hamuko, can you come here and replace Minato?”
“Oh, sure!” She hopped into the battlefield. “That’s the one thing I was born to do!”
“And… Queen, you’ll be Panther’s replacement.”
Makoto walked forth. “Of course. That is the very essence of our relationship.”
Ren stared at her and blinked, feeling attacked. “Queen... Not now, please.”
“Sheesh!” Hamuko said. “Everyone always talks about cheating like it’s bad or something!”
The Shadow let out a monstrous yawn. “I’M GETTING SOOO BORED OF THIS FIGHT. I HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO, YOU KNOW.”
“Like what?” Ren spat out. “Threatening Youtubers’ careers?”
“FOR EXAMPLE.” Smith’s Shadow scratched the back of his neck. “DAMN, ALL OF YOU SHOULD JUST GIVE IN. YOU CAN’T DEFEAT ME, SO YOU’RE JUST WASTING YOUR TIME. DO YOU HAVE A DEATH WISH OR SOMETHING?”
“Don’t worry, Joker, he’s just trying to scare you!” Rise said. “The effects of Debilitate should still last for another while!”
“Good. It’s now or never, then.” Ren looked at Hamuko. “You want to do the thing?”
“The… The thing?” She asked, tilting her head. “Without Minato?”
Ren frowned, as if he was full of resolution, but as if he didn’t appreciate having such a weight on his shoulders in the first place. It was something similar to a tough man facing the end of the world against his will. Which is exactly what he was, in a way. Again.
“It’s our only option.”
“Alright, let’s do it!” Hamuko cheered, as if she had been waiting fCOUG H COUGH. “Just let me know when you wanna go!”
Ren nodded at her and then he glared at the Shadow as if he could open a hole on it if he frowned hard enough. He cracked his knuckles, cracked his neck, and growled at the beast. “Listen here, buddy. You turned my senpai into a glue-eater, you turned my girlfriend into a decrepit boomer… THIS IS WAR, YA HEAR ME?!”
(T/N: Get prepared to insert epic battle music, preferably ‘Burn My Dread (Final Battle)’, ‘Last Surprise’, or ‘Life Will Change’ in three… two… one…)
Ren paused in the silence, pointed at the beast, in his classic ‘Begone’ posture, and let out a powerful battle cry. “HAMUKOOOOO... AAAAAAAATTACK!”
“Here goes nothing!”
Ren and Hamuko Naruto ran towards the Shadow, with every single bit of energy they had in their bodies, gathered all of their inner strength, quickly shifted through all of the Personas in their minds, and screamed their lungs out…
Ren ripped his mask off as Hamuko pulled the trigger.
Both of them jumped in the air, with enough time to pose and even wink at their audience, and casted their spell.
There was an explosion of light so large that it engulfed the entire room, the entire floor, and probably the entire building. It was so strong that it pushed the whole team of Persona-users back, even when they tried as hard as they could to hold their ground. None of them could see a thing. In fact, the light was so bright that they wouldn’t have been able to see an ambulance’s flashing red lights if it had been inches away from their noses. The numbing beams were thicker than the fog in Inaba in its worst days, but it was somehow welcoming, warm, and embracing, at least to Hamuko’s and Ren’s allies. However, they could sense the raw power in the attack, because, even if it was completely silent, it certainly felt intense, almost to the point of being capable of burning someone’s skin.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” The Shadow wailed helplessly, writhing in pain. “THIS… ISN’T… OVEEEEEEERRRRRR!!!”
The Persona-users started breathing heavily, bathing in neverending light, and lost the track of time. It was only a wild guess, since they couldn’t open their eyes, but it seemed as if the light only expanded more and more until it filled every corner of the facility. Before they knew it, the light started fading away, as if the strongest ray had already passed, and the overwhelming light died completely.
Ren let out a sigh of relief and then he turned around towards his teammates with a confident smirk. “Alright. What’s done is done! Anyone wanna go for ice cream?”
There was silence. For some reason, his teammates didn’t seem as happy as him.
“Uh… uhm…” Rise hesitated. “Joker, uh… You should, err...”
“How to say this…?” Fuuka said.
“Maybe you shouldn’t chant victory so soon.” Futaba said.
Already dreading what he was about to see, Ren slowly turned around. He found that the Shadow was leaning forward, with his elbows on the ground and with his face uncomfortably close to his own. In fact, Ren could smell the nauseating odor of its saliva, see his reflection on the monster’s twenty eyes, and almost taste the filth on the Shadow’s greasy skin.
“Why, hello there.” The Shadow smiled so genuinely that it made him seem friendly. “I love ice cream. And you know who else does? Kids!”
“Oh... My... God.” Ren choked out. He looked towards the navigators in the back of the room, confused, bewildered, baffled, perplexed, puzzled, confounded, mystified, confused, and bemused, all at the same time. He didn’t have the words to say pretty much anything, so he just mumbled out something incoherent at his unfortunate teammates.
“Um, Joker, hate to break it to you, but…” Futaba said.
“The Shadow didn’t die.” Rise said. “But not only that. You know, it… um...”
“It absorbs Almighty attacks.” Fuuka blurted out.
Hamuko and Ren shrieked. “It absorbs WHAT?!”
Ren resisted the urge to punch someone. “Why didn’t you say that before?!”
“We wouldn’t be navigators if we did.” Futaba said, her shrug palpable in her voice.
“Yeah, we’d be more like…” Rise said. “... Tutorial characters!”
“Fuck.” Ren panted, running his fingers through his hair desperately, just now becoming aware of how exhausted he was and how much he was sweating. “Fuck. We fucked up big time, dammit. I fucked up. I mean it. Fuck, can’t we rewind or something like in Three Houses?”
Hamuko was horrified too, scanning the Shadow as if this was her first time fighting one. “Just… Who the hell are you?!”
“HAHAHAHA!” The Shadow rose again on his two miniature legs and his massive chest wobbled as he laughed. “I AM YOUTUBE! I AM GOOGLE! I DO NOT ONLY ABSORB ALMIGHTY, BUT I AM THE ALMIGHTY. WHEN WILL YOU FINALLY UNDERSTAND THAT WHOEVER CONTROLS THE INTERNET CONTROLS THE WORLD?! THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO TO STOP ME!”
“Nonononono NO!” Futaba said. “It’s gonna use your own power against you!”
“Shit, we made a mistake.” Ren said, under his breath. He then continued giving orders. “Queen, Ken! Guard!”
“I AM ALL-POWERFUL! I MONITOR EVERYONE’S LIVES!” The Shadows eyes started spinning around without control. “I KNOW YOUR PERSONAL INFO, I CAN SEE WHAT YOU’RE WATCHING, AND I CAN DECIDE WHAT YOU’RE GONNA WATCH NEXT! FREE WILL IS A LIE! FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS A LIE! I CAN DESTROY YOUR WHOLE CAREER, YOUR WHOLE HOBBY, OR YOUR WHOLE LIFE WITH THE PUSH OF A BUTTON!”
The Shadow’s body puffed up, somehow getting even redder, and, for a moment, Ren was afraid that he would explode.
“Ah! It’s going to use it’s most powerful move!” Fuuka said. “Everyone, to the ground! Cover your heads!”
“BWAHAHAHAH! WORDS ARE ALWAYS STRONGER THAN ACTIONS” He laughed. “BUT MONEY IS WAAAAY STRONGER THAN DUMB WORDS! YOU’LL HAVE TO LEARN THAT THE HARD WAY.” He breathed in deeply. “…… AAAAAAAAAAA…….. ADPOCALYPSE!”
And that was it. Everything went black.
‘This is how I die’, Ren thought.
‘This is how I die and I don’t get revived and I get lectured by Igor and then I die.’
‘Well, this is still better than the 2018 Youtube Rewind.’
‘... But… I don’t wanna die here.’
‘If I don’t get up, millions of Youtube channels and content creators could be at the mercy of this monster.’
‘And I get it. His intentions are good, but… he’s incredibly misguided.’
‘I can’t let it end like this.’
‘Because of him, all of the creators’ freedom of speech could be threatened…’
‘I can feel Arsene calling out to me… I need to rebel against this flawed system.’
Ren’s eyelids were heavy and every inch of his body just screamed at him to go to sleep eternally, but, thanks to his will alone, he managed to force his eyes open. His sight was so blurry that he could barely tell colors apart, his head throbbed, his ears rang, his limbs were trembling, but they were unresponsive, he instinctively knew that his heart was beating slowly, quietly, dangerously weakly, and, oh god, he wasn’t so sure he could pull through, he was going to die, but he couldn’t die, he had to survive for everyone’s sake.
He tried to control himself, but, despite that, Ren wheezed. “You…” He breathed out, a pang of pain shooting through his chest and his back. But he forced himself to keep going. “You… You won’t get away with this…”
“Partner!” Ryuji cried, before backtracking. “I… I mean… Renren! You’re alive!”
Ryuji would’ve given anything to stand up and run to his best bro to check up on him, but he was very busy hanging onto a thin thread of life.
“Yeah… Of course I’m alive…” Ren mumbled. “I equipped Messiah, remember?”
A cloudy silhouette approached Ren, who would’ve gotten defensive if only he didn’t feel like absolute crap.
“Wakey wakey!” Hamuko’s voice seemed to come from the silhouette. “Did you know my Messiah’s more powerful than yours?”
Ren scrunched up his nose with indignation. “You don't say!”
“Heheh. Don’t worry. I’ll heal you guys in a sec.” She patted his head, stood up, and backed away.
“OH, NO, DON’T YOU DARE!” The Shadow roared. “IT’S TIME TO FINISH YOU OFF! FORTY THOUSAND DOLLAR FIIIIIIINEEEEEEE!!!”
There was the sound of an explosion and Ren knew that, now, all of his teammates were down for sure.
“No! She’s been inflicted with Poison!” Futaba said.
“Ow… I’m sorry, that was karma!” Hamuko winced, her voice now coming from the ground near Ren. “I take it back, I take it back! I’m sorry for being such an arrogant jerk!”
“HAHAHAH! THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHAT YOU TRY TO DEFY SOMEONE AS POWERFUL AS ME!”
“No…” Ren groaned. “We haven’t lost… Hundreds of people are talking about this, and they’re not pleased… People are protesting, complaining, spreading the word… And they won’t stop until they do something about your bullshit. They are tired of being controlled by big, powerful companies that don’t listen to criticism, and they will rebel against this order until they get what they want. They… They aren’t gonna give up! You can’t win against the will of the viewers and content creators… You’re gonna hear their voice, whether you want it or not!”
“HAHAHA YEAH RIGHT!” The Shadow didn’t sound fazed. “I CAN JUST CRUSH THEM LIKE COCKROACHES BECAUSE I AM YOUTUBE, I AM GOOGLE, AND WHAT’S HAPPENING IS NOT MY FAULT BECAUSE I’M BEING FORCED TO COMPLY WITH COPPA!!! DON'T YOU SEE I'M THE VICTIM HERE???”
“It goes without saying, but Youtube is taking over Smith’s Shadow!” Futaba said.
“Joker, I’m very sorry, but…” Rise said. “Our chances of doing an unlikely comeback are extremely low… Maybe you should save your energy.”
“Yeah, that attack was so strong even I felt it.” Futaba said. “Ouch… It hurts…”
“And… Our teammates!” Fuuka cried. “Most of them are dead, or incapacitated, or their HP has dropped to one... Wait… What is this?!”
“Ken’s HP is full!” Futaba chirped.
“He hasn’t been hurt?!” Rise said.
“Ooh, that makes sense!” Fuuka said. “He’s only ten, so he’s under COPPA’s protection!”
“The COPPA monster can’t hurt him!” Futaba cheered.
“Ken! Ken!” Rise said. “Can you hear us?! We need you to heal everyone else, okay? You’re our only hope!”
“Wait. Ken, where are you going?” Fuuka said. “Ken?!”
Ken had to take matters into his own hands. He was done with this shit, he was done, and he couldn’t just sit and wait for orders anymore. If COPPA was babying him and, thus, trying not to hurt him, then it would at least have to listen to what he had to say. And, fuck, there was nothing he wanted more right now than to give that jerk a piece of his mind. Without taking his eyes off the Shadow, not even once, he walked past the corpses of all of his teammates, and he shouted as loud as he could.
“Hey! You!” He waved his arms until he caught the Shadow’s attention. “Yes, you! I’m under thirteen! I’m the one you’re trying to protect!”
None of the Shadow’s eyes looked at Ken. They were all fixed on a different Persona-user, so none of them even twitched. Still, he knew the Shadow was listening because it kneeled down and his face bowed towards Ken.
“Stop this! It’s enough!” The boy’s eyes started to water, much to his embarrassment. But he continued. “You’re killing all of my friends, my teammates, all of the people I care about! You’re trying to kill so many content creators, because you know you can do it, but for what?! This isn’t helping anybody! Do you think you can control how people… how channels live or die?! What made Youtube appealing was that it was a place where everyone could have a voice, where they could be creative, where they could find a variety of content that they could enjoy. There’s something for everyone in the there, you know…? And… And…”
By this point, Ken was fuming, with his hands made into fists and his nails digging into his own skin. He couldn’t let the Shadow get away with this. He killed most of SEES. He tried to take them all away from him, without a second thought or a single sign of remorse. Ken’s breathing quickened, his heart was pounding against his chest, and heat was rising to his head. He tried to bottle his feelings up, but it was just too much, way too much. He let out a hellish scream he didn’t know he was capable of.
“YOU NEED TO GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS AND SEE THE CONSEQUENCES OF WHAT YOU’RE DOING!!!”
If Ken hadn’t already awakened to his Persona, it would’ve definitely happened now. In fact, he was so furious, that the Shadow was taken aback and fear flashed through his face. But it soon settled down and remained still. There was no telling what it would do, so Ken remained on edge. It wasn’t long until he started hearing a low, growling sound coming from the Shadow, that was almost imperceptible at first, but that started getting louder, slowly but surely. Its body also began trembling.
“Watch out!” Rise said. “It’s building up power!”
“NO!” Fuuka cried. “KEN, get away from it!”
But Ken didn’t move. He had to stand his ground. If he didn’t face this, then, who would?
The Shadow kept gearing up for an attack.