‘The universe has a beginning, but no end – infinity.
Stars, too, have their own beginnings, but their power results in their destruction – finite.
It is those who possess wisdom who are the greatest fools. History has shown us this.
You could say that this is the final warning from God to those who resist.’
Dying because of some petty revenge by Shido’s men would have been better.
No mourners, no regrets, no sappy farewell speeches and weepy protests from former betrayed allies. Only the pleasure of watching the man he despised the most falling from the Olympus they’ve created with dirt and blood.
The Thieves’ voices are a muffled scratch in his ears.
“Let’s make a deal. You won’t say no, will you?”, Goro asks.
And Joker promises. At least, his will, his goal, the only thing Goro worked so hard to achieve in his life is left in capable hands. No doubt Shido’s heart will be changed nonetheless, and his empire will crumble.
He faces his shadow-self. The thing is charming but subdued, has only honey-sweet words and admiring thoughts for Shido. It knows its role and its purpose: gladly serving Shido and more than gladly dying for him. Tangible proof of the image Goro has been crafting for years to cover up his real plans. It brings him no satisfaction.
“So, my final enemy is a puppet version of myself,” he spits.
His stomach twists and there isn’t a part of his body that doesn’t ache. He glares at the shadow and points his gun, one last bullet ready to be shot. The shadow mimics the movement, and it has a far-west-cliché feeling. They will kill each other at the same time, and this is how his pathetic life is going to end.
His own words replay in his head, if only we had met sooner. How many times had he thought that? How many times had he whispered it over a fine cup of coffee at Leblanc while Kurusu wasn’t looking?
Maybe dying because of some petty revenge by Shido’s men would have felt nicer, but it would have been the lesser-evil death. And as he can’t erase the horrible choices he made, better live in jail his whole life than dying in a way so stupid, so miserable.
Goro’s finger reaches the trigger. Anger burns in his chest, so strong it might as well devour him; it consumes the air in his lungs and leaves him breathless. The spark born from fury and willpower lights up the flame of rebellion, which transmutes into a blaze. Adrenaline rushes trough his body and it’s familiar, as though he’s awakening a Persona for the third time.
He sprints against the shadow. A shrill chuckle echoes in his head and reverberates in his heart, I see fire in those eyes it says.
The shadow starts and recovers. But Goro aims. Shoots. And the thing vanishes in a scream.
The room blurs and doubles; his head so light it makes him stumble. He takes a sharp breath and adjusts his movements to fight the two remaining shadows. But everything around him is still, and the enemies are gone. His heartbeat is a deafening drum in his ears, takes over every other sense and overwhelms that light voice in his head. He turns and there are no emergency shutters, no Phantom Thieves in the engine room. There’s nothing.
The spark is over and pain stings in his wounded side as if he’d been shot again. Goro breathes for air, but his chest protests and his eyes prickles, sending him kneeling on the ground. He’ll die in any case if he doesn’t hurry out of this hellish ship.
He holds tight his hip, right below the injury, and clenches both fists. The world around him is spinning and he focuses on the floor, on his gloved hands, on the far wall of the room that invades his peripheral vision. There are still no shutters in the room, but booths and legs take shape in the distance. Other people. The Thieves. And a shadow wearing his own clothes.
He looks up and fights the impulse to retch. Before his blurry eyes, his double-self opens fire against Joker, strikes right to the chest with perfect aim. Goro’s gaze locks on him, on the life flowing away from his body, on the fall of his limbs.
Everybody screams and Goro can’t connect. He searches for his gun, points, fires a second time.
The shadow-body collapses. “You, little piece of shit…” it slurs, and disappears.
“Fox, the weaklings!”, Queen commends. Two little explosions and they follow their master’s fate. Goro clings to his gun and wonders why it’s still loaded. Why the magazine isn’t empty. Why his damned puppet-copy was still alive. Why Joker is dead.
“No,” he mutters. This is so wrong. He killed that shadow himself, didn’t he? It was only moments ago. He was ready to die but didn’t want to. He was close, but he survived. He won against that thing. So why, why?
“Mona, cast a healing spell on Crow. I don’t think he’s in the state of doing anything by his own,” Queen says, voice cracked.
“We can’t leave him here and run. Mona, please.”
“Well,” Skull kicks in with a snarl, “he sure tried to kill us you know.”
“Fine!”, Panther exhales, her pitch higher than usual, “I’m healing him.”
High heels clatter in his direction, and the refreshing blessing of a Diaharan spell soothes his body. A pink-gloved hand stretches before him.
“Are you all right?”, she asks. Her eyebrows are furrowed, her eyes glassy, and her lips pressed thin with both concern and caution. Her hand slides back on her side.
Goro stands up, and everyone’s gazes are upon him. Should he be sorry? Should he be resenting them for not reacting in time? But why should he care?
“I’m all right,” he answers, voice forced steady, “more or less. Thank you.”
Skull takes a step closer, but Queen grabs him by the jacket. “We need to exit this Palace. Now.”
The boy grunts. “Fine.” He leans down beside Joker’s body – corpse. “Don’t you dare touch him or do anything or I swear I’ll make you regret you survived. Help me out, Yusuke.”
Fox reaches Joker’s face and unmask him, closes his eyes with a sharp twist of his mouth. He assists Skull in carrying him on his back. Navi scans the map for the shortest escape route in nervous silence, her look shooting to the other boys from time to time.
“I think I’ve found something,” she states, “it should be large enough for the Mona-bus. So that, you know, we don’t have to – there’s no need to bring him –”
Noir strangles a sob. “Thank you, Navi,” she whispers, “I think we can go, then.”
The Thieves exchange a look and turn their heads at him. Ground crumbles beneath Goro, and he’s the most miserable person on Earth.
“I can find a way out on my own, now. You don’t have to – I think you can go without me.”
Amazing how fast a person can switch between fighting to survive and wishing to die.
Queen’s icy glare pins him on the spot. “We are not done yet. I hope you aren’t thinking about running away or expose ourselves. Because it won’t be that easy.”
“Not in the slightest,” Goro blurts out. He’s not even figured out what happened, what it’s still happening. He opens his mouth again, wants to give his word. Not that his word could mean much, not anymore. He stays silent and looks away.
The group turns around and exits the engine room in a way that resembles a procession more than a stealthy escape. Goro has never lived the mourning of the ones who were close to his victims, and even though he might not be the exact responsible for this death, it’s impossible not to feel like it. A rasp laughter scratches his throat and turns into a desperate cry. What a mess. What a cruel joke, to fail the two times he wanted to kill Joker with all his heart and mind, and to witness his death once the bloodlust had faded.
Goro considers confronting Shido’s shadow, right now and on solo fighting, short of ammunition and with his energy at low level. As long as his body itches for revenge, it would be a suicide. We are not done yet, Makoto warned him. He sighs and drags himself towards the exit of the room and to the side bridge of the ship.
He searches for his phone and opens the navigation app. The log screen that shows infiltration progress and key-points refreshes and updates the latest actions. Goro’s finger lingers on the screen, near the button. Something in the log is off. His stomach clenches and a hot wave hits his face. The dates don’t correspond.
He scrolls further and further, but the days and the progression are different from the ones he remembers. It appears that he entered Shido’s palace earlier and more often. But that’s impossible. The scrolling continues. He reaches the area of the timeline that sums up the infiltration in Sae’s Casino. It states, without a doubt, that their mission had begun and ended in November.
But this is ridiculous. We started on October 29th.
He’s sure. He planned every detail, every hour of every day.
December air stings his nostrils and makes his nose wrinkle, his breath runs short from panic and cold. He swallows everything down and strides towards the subway. He needs to take the first train to Yongen-Jaya and get to the others, make sure whether or not his mobile phone is playing him some trick. Or perhaps executing people with clear head is finally taking a toll on him and he’s imagining things that never happened. Besides, he was badly injured, and his mind was fogged with the aftermath of the berserk, the fight, the outburst. Makoto commented that he ‘wasn’t in the state of doing anything by his own,’ after all.
But how could Goro have imagined the anger, the adrenaline rush, that voice?
Its words escape him. They’re clear on the tip of his tongue and at the same time a far-off memory. He’s only a step away from grasping them, but the step feels deep like a whole pit.
An angry sigh leaves his mouth. It’s no use to get bogged down by little pieces that don’t fit the puzzle, as if they were of the wrong shape for that specific picture.
Except… they are no little pieces.
The fight, the emergency shutters, Joker’s promise, the burning in his chest, that voice; all is still branded in his memory and his skin. And everything is like anything of that ever happened. Sakamoto’s disdain in his regards was nowhere near the pale form of concern he expressed right before his almost-death. No one of the Thieves had sympathetic words or looks for him, not even Niijima. She left him be only because there was a bigger, enormous problem to focus on, her glare made it clear enough.
In that engine room, he was weak and wounded… but there were no shutters. As if he never tried to sacrifice himself in order to let the Thieves escape alive.
Goro freezes before the staircase that leads to the trains. His memory isn’t wrong. But neither is his infiltration log on the app. There are no little pieces that don’t fit the puzzle. It’s more like the entire picture has shifted with another one.
His phone screen recites Monday, December 12th, a week until elections. The only detail that overlaps.