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Raise Your Voice Against Liars

Chapter Text

Sae leaned back, puzzled by what the prisoner just said, “So the Phantom Thieves only stole the heart of Futaba Sakura…? And Medjed was in turn defeated by her real-world hacking abilities…? Well, this does correlate to the facts as we know them…” 

Sae grew quiet, and her next sentence was mostly to herself, though she said it aloud. “If he’s telling the truth, then Wakaba Isshiki didn’t commit suicide… did a third party target her life with the goal of destroying her research? Wakaba’s death was two years ago… that also coincides with when the incidents started occurring… does this other Metaverse user that Madarame and Kaneshiro mentioned… really exist…?”

With a frown, she shook her head before turning her attention back to the captive, “Earlier I mentioned those psychotic breakdown incidents that have alarmed the public. All of a sudden, people will lose consciousness, or become violent… A situation as incomprehensible as that can’t be explained away as ‘troubled social conditions.’ I suspect that these cases are all connected to a larger, man-made plot. The method involved always muddled the explanation, but your story has virtually confirmed its viability. Although, I wouldn’t have expected a new criminal to come to light from your testimony…” Sae leaned closer to the prisoner, “What did your group think of this other Metaverse user?”

“You mean the true criminal?” he questioned.

Sae scoffed, “How self-centered of you. The Phantom Thieves tamper with people’s hearts without asking consent. How is that different?”

Sighing, Sae then continued to focus on the prisoner. “Well… no matter how you thought of them, there can be no doubting your resolve. Are those incidents because of you or someone else…? Either way, I will get to the bottom of this.”

Sae shook her head, and pulled out her briefcase again, “Now let’s move on to your next crime.” She pulled out a folder, just as she had the last four times and laid it in front of the teenager, “Lila Nikenna Rossi. An Italian student who was studying at Collège Françoise Dupont in Paris, France. This is the first known report of the Phantom Thieves targeting someone outside of Japan. Your testimony regarding this incident will be serious. I’m sure you understand why. Not only is she your first foreign target, but also the youngest target out of all that the Phantom Thieves have changed the heart of. Answer me carefully. Why did you go after her?”

Despite all the grogginess afflicting him, Akira Kurusu managed to faintly grin.

“We owed some good people a favor.”

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you're going to be okay in Hawaii, Marinette?"

"Yes, Luka, I'll be fine," Marinette smiled as she pulled her luggage off the security belt.

"Remember, if you need to talk, at any time, please do it, okay? I don't care if it's 2 AM over here. If you need-"

"Luka, you're treating me like a child," Marinette said bluntly, but no heat was behind it.

The guitarist gasped on the other line, "No, no! That's not what I was implying, I just-"

Marinette giggled. That's one of the things she really liked about Luka. "That overprotective attitude isn't going to change anytime soon, is it?" That said, although there were times where he went a little overboard, he usually knew Marinette's limits. It seemed that he needed a small reminder before she departed for her flight, though.

Ever since Chloe's stunt as Miracle Queen, she and Luka had been dating steadily for several months. After Adrien had made it official with Kagami, Marinette struggled to move on and accept that it was better to simply be friends with the model. She, of course, didn't want to use the older Couffaine as a fallback guy, and she had made that clear to him shortly before they made it official too, but… Luka had been there for her when no one else was. She had been in a dark place, and there seemed to be no way out. But Luka provided the light she needed to find the exit.

As for Chloe herself? Well… once word got out about Hawkmoth's near victory, and Chloe's involvement with it, many citizens and even government officials spoke out against the mayor and other members of his staff for action to be taken. The incident with the metro tunnel was also brought up, as Chloe was never adequately punished for intentionally endangering so many people. Mayor Bourgeois, to appease the masses, was forced to send Chloe away to a boarding school in Sweden, at least until Hawkmoth was finally dealt with. That's where she'd been for the past five months, and Marinette hadn't heard from the blonde since.

She shook her head, ridding herself of such thoughts before they could fester. She was going to Hawaii for crying out loud! And she was going to have a blast! Nothing was going to change that. Not Hawkmoth, not Lila, and her lies, nothing would get in her way of having a fun time.

The thought of Hawkmoth had her hand subconsciously wander to her purse, where Tikki and Kaalki were situated. She was so lucky (heh, that would garner a laugh from Chat) that Kwamis didn't show up on cameras, much less on airport security x-rays machines. She would have had a field day trying to explain that to a security guard.

Luka gave a breathy laugh over the phone, "Sorry, a force of habit. Sorry I couldn't be there to see you or Jules off personally."

Marinette smiled. That had been the original plan, but as luck would have it, Luka got called in for an emergency shift by his boss at the very last minute, and there were no other people who could fill in.

"No problem, sometimes life happens like that. Although, even on vacation, Hawkmoth's Akumas always have the worst timing."

She could see Luka wincing on the other line, "Yeah, considering that Hawaii is practically on the opposite side of the world, it looks like you're in for some long nights. So sorry, babe."

She had the news app on high alert at all times, so the second an Akuma alert went up, she'd teleport back to Paris to deal with the Akuma as quickly as possible. She was grateful that Luka would be on standby with Sass as well, especially when Chat Noir alerted her that he would be out of town for the weekend as well.


"Marinette! We're about to board! Please come and join the class!" Mme. Bustier called from the boarding gate.

"Gotta go, Luka, I'll text you when we land in Tokyo!"

"Okay, be safe! Love you!"

"Love you too!"

There were, fortunately, no accidents or disruptions as Marinette boarded the plane and found her seat. After buckling up, Tikki and Kaalki poked their heads out of her little purse. The bag was small enough that Marinette wasn't required to put it under the seat, so long as it stayed flung over her shoulder. The little red Kwami winked at her holder, and Kaalki nodded. Marinette smiled at her little companions and pretended to listen to the flight attendant give the safety instructions.

It wasn't long before she watched from her window seat the plane take off from the tarmac. Once the pilot said they were at cruising altitude, Marinette pulled out her MP3 player and headphones and leaned back with a smile, the soft melody of Luka's guitar strings lulling her to sleep.


Marinette was awakened by the thump of the plane landing.

As she traversed the airport "with" her classmates (they were all hanging around Lila and leaving her alone), she noticed a pattern in the dress of many passersby, most of which were likely Japanese locals given that they were in Japan at the moment. Black & red seemed to be a common staple at this airport, more than occasionally accompanied by the words "Take Your Heart" and a weird logo of a domino mask and top hat. The words "Phantom Thieves" were sprawled across many of the logos too.

Marinette wanted to ask around as to what it all meant, but she didn't know a lick of Japanese and had places to be, so she moved on. She'd just look it up at the hotel.

She sent a quick text to Luka to let him know she'd arrived safely and was on her way to the hotel they'd be staying at for the night. Then she switched to the web, typing "Phantom Thieves" into the search engine. She found quite a few interesting things in a place called the "Phan-Site." There was apparently a group of vigilantes out there in Japan - Tokyo, specifically - calling themselves "The Phantom Thieves" with the power to "change people's hearts" (which seemed to mean making said people confess their crimes. How that worked, Marinette had no idea). So far, the Phantom Thieves had only taken down four major targets, their names, and information listed on the site. Marinette didn't recognize any of them, but when she typed up the names, she was immediately glad that these people had had "a change of heart."

The first, theorized to be the Thieves' very first target, was a man Suguru Kamoshida. He was apparently an Olympic volleyball medalist that taught at a high school called Shujin Academy. The Thieves targeted him because it was revealed that he was physically abusing and even sexually assaulting several students at the school. One of them even tried to commit suicide right in front of the student body because of it. Thankfully, this student survived their attempt. According to separate reports, the school was well aware of the abuse but didn't do a thing to stop it. Then, about a week after the suicide attempt, Kamoshida confessed to everything! The abuse, the assaults, everything. According to reports, it was like he was a completely different person, almost like his personality had changed entirely. He was now being held on bail and awaiting trial. Marinette hoped he went away forever!

The second person was a former artist named Ichiryusai Madarame. (Now that she thought about it, she could have sworn she saw his name on some art pieces at the Louvre for a limited time Japanese exhibit). He cultivated his own fame and fortune by sacrificing the livelihood of children. He took young artists into his home, a tiny shack, and then stole and plagiarized their work, passing it off as his own. Apparently, one of his victims was his own foster son. Just like with Kamoshida, Madarame, shortly after one of his exhibits closed, confessed to these crimes, his personality having shifted completely. Even though he seemed to show remorse, Marinette hoped he got what he deserved. This man reminded her too much of Bob Roth, especially when he stole Kitty Section's music and her costume designs.

Next was Junya Kaneshiro. This target was apparently what really allowed the Phantom Thieves' popularity to take off. He was a mafia boss that even the local authorities were struggling to arrest, even though his crimes were common knowledge in the Shibuya area. Then suddenly, he one day turned himself into the police. This one didn't have as much information. The police apparently tried to keep the arrest on the down-low due to the circumstances. The only reason the public found out the Phantom Thieves were involved was because of an abundance of calling cards that were scattered all over Shibuya. Kamoshida and Madarame had received similar cards before they confessed as well.

Finally, and this happened about a week ago, a group of international hackers, under the name Medjed, attempted a cyberwar against the Phantom Thieves and Japan itself. They threatened to ruin Japan's economy through a cyber attack unless the Phantom Thieves surrendered and revealed their identities to the public. They had set a deadline and everything. Then, the day before the deadline would have expired, the Phantom Thieves apparently stopped them, as Medjed's website was hacked with the Phantom Thief logo all over the webpage. Whether that was done by the Phantom Thieves themselves, or an avid supporter, no one knew, but Medjed was stopped, and Japan's economy remained stable.

Despite being vigilantes, Marinette genuinely believed the Phantom Thieves were helping the public overall by exposing corruption like this. Who knew what would still be happening if these people were still allowed to roam free? She didn't know how the Thieves convinced these people to confess their crimes and had no clue what "steal your heart" meant, though she had a feeling it wasn't something natural. Their actions seemed to be non-violent, though. None of their victims showed signs of physical injury or torture when they confessed. That was likely another reason the Phantom Thieves were receiving so much public support.

Marinette had learned a lot about destiny from Fu (it still hurt a little bit not referring to him as Master, even in her head), and the fact she was temporarily in the place where something this momentous, something this clearly magical was going on… she needed to look into this. But how? Nobody knew who the Phantom Thieves were, much less what they looked like! You could supposedly communicate with them via a proxy on the Phan-site, but no one has officially met any of them face-to-face. They seemed to be masters of blending into the crowd, not to mention the police weren't getting solid leads either.

What was even more confusing was that Tikki and Kaalki didn't know anything about this whole thing either.

"I've never heard of "changing people's hearts" in the way it's described here," Tikki admitted, referring to the Phan-Site.

"Hmm… maybe Ziggy knows something? She's the kwami of Imagination, so she's the one most connected to the mind," Kaalki suggested.

"Alright, I'll talk to Ziggy when we get back to Paris," Marinette nodded. She hoped the Goat Kwami had a possible answer.

"Hmmm… I wonder if Kagami knows anything about them," Marinette wondered aloud, glancing over at Alix, who was snoring in the bed next to hers. Surprisingly, Alix had volunteered to room with Marinette, which shocked her. She and Alix were friends, but not like how she and Alya used to be. Now that she thought about it, though, Alix may still listen to Lila's stories, but it seemed to be more out of politeness than actual interest now. If anything, for the last month or so, when Alix and Lila interacted, the skater just looked bored with the Italian. Could it be that the skater was catching onto Lie-la's lies?

Deciding to check if her theory had merit, Marinette sent a text to the fencer, asking if she had heard of the Phantom Thieves or not. She got a reply a few minutes later. Kagami had heard of them, but she didn't know much about them either. She and her mother had been living in Paris for about a year and a half, and the Phantom Thieves had only surfaced only a few months ago, so she didn't have much information apart from a few Japanese news articles and some online searches.

Marinette sighed and began to put her phone away when an Akuma alert blew up her screen.

"Perfect timing, Hawkmoth," she muttered sarcastically as she got up and tiptoed to the bathroom. She turned on the light to make it look like she was simply using the toilet before letting the two kwamis slip out of her purse, "Let's deal with this quickly! Tikki, spots on!"

One magical transformation later, Ladybug stood in all her glory in the tiny Tokyo bathroom. She quickly pulled out Kaalki's glasses and slipped them on. "Tikki, Kaalki, unify!"


It was about thirty minutes later that Ladybug (Lady Horseshoe with both Miraculous active) stepped back into the hotel bathroom. By the time that she had gotten to the actual fight, Luka, clothed as his new hero alias Kobra, had managed to corner the Akuma and figure out where the item was. One Lucky Charm later, and two shots of Second Chance, according to the snake hero, the Akuma was purified, and everything returned to normal in Paris.

She was also equally grateful that Kobra seemed calm after the fight ended. There had been fights in the past that had left the hero shaking, eyes wide with barely masked horror. One fight had him clinging to Ladybug afterward for about two minutes before she convinced him to let go of her. Even after that, it had taken the night being alone, lots of tears, and cuddling for Luka to finally calm down and accept that everything was okay.

During these moments was when Marinette was reminded that the Snake Miraculous was sometimes considered the most dangerous of the Miraculous. Not only did it make the holder a problematic opponent in combat, but the mental load it carried for the holder itself could take its toll over time. Luka had seen some things as both Viperion and Kobra, some that took more time to process and work through than others.

It had taken Luka a while to understand that he could talk to someone about what was going on. Due to his own family dynamics, and his selfless nature, Luka wasn't used to talking about his own problems, and usually preferred to work through them on his own. Over time though, this wore the guitarist down, to the point that he couldn't hide it anymore. This was one of the factors that convinced Marinette, as the Guardian, to make Luka a permanent holder. Sass had been an excellent help for Luka to process the many 'bad endings' he was forced to witness as part of his power. However, there were sometimes days where talking to the little kwami wasn't enough, which was why the couple had the rule of calling the other whenever they needed to speak. Even if it was in the middle of the night.

Other factors contributed to this decision too, but Marinette was too exhausted to dwell on them for now as she snuck out of the bathroom. To her relief, Alix was still asleep and seemed oblivious to what had happened.

After grabbing a macaroon for Tikki and a sugar cube for Kaalki (both of which she picked up in Paris), Marinette quickly climbed into her own bed and was asleep within seconds.

Chapter Text

Ann yawned as she trudged towards Makoto and Akira who were waiting by the plane terminal. The blonde had been so excited for the trip today that she had barely gotten any sleep. And now it seemed that was coming back to bite her.

“I’m so sleepy…” she whined to her friends.

Makoto smiled and then said, “It’ll take over six hours to get there, so why not sleep on the plane?”

Ann nodded, “I’ll do that.”

Makoto chuckled and then looked up at the clock on the wall, “Oh, it’s almost time to check-in.”

“Phew, looks like it’s gonna take off on time,” Ann observed, and Akira nodded his head in agreement, “I feel like a lot of flights headed to America tend to run late or get canceled…” she then noticed something pretty important, “Is it just me or is Ryuji not here yet?”

Ann got her answer two seconds later as the teen in question came running over like a rabid dog was on his heels. He stopped in front of them, out of breath with his hands on his knees. A single blue backpack was flung on his back, stuffed to nearly overflowing. 

“I wasn’t… expectin’ to… make a mad dash like this…” he gasped.

Ann sighed, a little annoyed, “Coming late even on a day like this?”

Makoto eyed his single backpack with slight concern, “That’s all you’re bringing?”

Ryuji shrugged, “It’s only four nights, right? Ain’t it enough?”

“Maybe for you,” Akira commented, adjusting his glasses. 

“See?” the blond smirked victoriously.

Makoto winced, “I think that was sarcasm…”

“Hey, guys,” Yuuki Mishima called, walking over, “they want us to gather near the boarding gate soon.”

As Yuuki walked off, Ann suddenly had a great idea, “Why don’t we take a group shot before we take off?”

Ryuji grinned, “Oh, sounds good!” he quickly walked over to stand next to Akira, “You be our cameraman, okay?”

“Lemme join in too!” Ann exclaimed, brushing up next to the bespectacled student's other side, “You too, Makoto!”

“All right…” the student council president nodded, looking a little awkward as Akira held his phone up to try and get everyone in the shot. It was a bit difficult as the four of them had to squeeze together.

“Ugh… can’t get a good angle,” Akira scowled. He looked around, seeing if he could get anyone to take the picture for them. He then spotted a foreign-looking group walking by. They all seemed to be about a year younger than them. An adult about Ms. Kawakami's age was leading them towards the same flight as theirs.

“Um, excuse me!” he walked up to one with a black blazer and pink pants. Her hair was in pig-tails, “Would you mind taking our picture?”

The girl looked at him confused, then pulled out her phone and typed something into it before showing it to him. It said, ‘Can you say that again?’ in Japanese, translated from French.

Akira nodded and took her phone, typing his request onto the screen. When the girl looked, she smiled and nodded as he handed his phone to her. With a couple more adjustments, the girl managed to take a few photos of them before returning the device.

“Thank you,” Ann said with a wave. The girl waved back before running to catch up with her group that was beginning to board the plane.

“That was nice of her,” Makoto smiled. 

“Let me see! Let me see!” Ryuji exclaimed excitedly. Akira’s phone then blew up with a text message. 

Ryuji, you’ve got crap in your eyes… the message read. It was from Futaba.

“What?!” Ryuji gasped, half from the text, and half because how did Futaba see the picture already? Curious, he reached up and rubbed his eyes, then groaned, “Holy shit, she’s right…”

“How could you tell, Futaba?” Ann asked, surprised as well.

A new message popped up. 

F: You surprised?

F: I snuck an app on Akira’s phone.

F: I can see all I want through his camera!

F: You’re looking now, right Akira?

F: Mwehehe... You can’t underestimate the original Medjed.

“Talk about a nasty trick…” Ryuji exclaimed.

“I am so glad she’s not an enemy of ours,” Makoto said, unease and a hint of relief in her tone.

“Guys! We’re boarding!” Yuuki shouted over to them, making the quartet jump. Putting his phone away, Akira and the others raced towards the gate, tickets in hand.

Most of the students were being grouped together, but a couple odd ones had seats elsewhere.

Ann ended up being one of those, though she didn’t mind too much. Looking for her seat, she soon found it and was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar face.

“Hey!” she greeted the pig-tailed girl from earlier, “Long time no see!”

The girl jumped and looked up before smiling a little nervously and waving.

“Hey… do you speak English at all?” Ann asked in the aforementioned language. It was clear she didn’t speak Japanese, but English was reasonably universal. Everyone she knew understood at least a few words and phrases.

“Oh yes, a little,” the girl nodded.

“Oh, great!” Ann smiled as she sat down, “I’m Takamaki, by the way. Ann Takamaki.”

“Nice to meet you,” the girl said, “I’m Marinette!”

“Nice to meet you as well! Where are you from?”

“Oh, I’m from Paris. I’m here on a school trip with my grade.”

“Oh, really?! So am I!” Ann laughed at the coincidence, “Oh, by the way, thanks for taking our photo earlier. We really appreciate it.”

Marinette shrugged, “I’m happy to help however I can… Have you ever been to Hawaii before?”

“No, never,” Ann shook her head, “I’ve been outside Japan a few times, but never Hawaii.”

“Me neither. I’m excited!” Marinette smiled.

“...I’ve never been to Paris before either,” Ann added, “What’s it like living there? Is it really the City of Love? Oh! Or the City of Lights! That’s another name for Paris, France too, right?”

“Oh, yeah…” Marinette trailed off, looking a little conflicted, which puzzled Ann a little. She hadn’t offended her, had she? “Paris is… fine. It’s been a little hectic lately, but you get used to it.”

“Oh, I see…” Ann said a little awkwardly. She mentally raised an eyebrow at the word ‘hectic.’ Was something happening in Paris that they didn’t know about?

Marinette seemed hesitant to talk more about it and was fortunately saved when the flight attendants started going over the safety instructions.

After the plane took off, Ann and Marinette made small talk here and there, though at one point the blonde did doze off to catch some sleep like Makoto suggested.

She was roused from slumber when she heard some loud talking a couple of seats ahead of her. Curiously leaning her head out to the aisle, she spotted Yuuki, making some angry gestures. From the tone of his voice, speaking in broken English, he sounded mad. She cringed. Hopefully, he and whoever he was arguing with didn’t cause too much of a scene.

She missed the grimace that Marinette had on her face as the other voice arguing, a young female one, shouted something, with Yuuki exclaiming something back. 

The argument eventually ended when a flight attendant came over and asked the pair to please quiet down.

The rest of the flight was mostly uneventful, and they soon landed smoothly on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

“It was nice to meet you, Marinette,” Ann smiled as they unbuckled their seat-belts, “Maybe we’ll run into each other at the beach some time!”

“Yeah, that would be awesome!” Marinette nodded with a smile. Ann waved just before she got lost in the crowd of exiting passengers.

Marinette smiled as she got off the plane. She was grateful that she had gotten a friendly face in the seat next to her. Ann seemed like a nice girl, and Marinette really did hope she saw her or one of her friends on the beach later. Maybe this vacation wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Marinette was also relieved that the blonde hadn't pried anymore about Paris. Any questions she asked were mostly general, what any potential tourist would ask. Ms. Bustier had made it clear that the class was discouraged from talking about the Akuma attacks as much as possible. It wasn't that it was secret from the rest of the world, but there was always the danger of the tourist economy going down due to the Akuma attacks happening almost daily. She was so glad her Ladybug Cure fixed all of the damage afterward.

Any other thoughts she had were temporarily halted as she felt something knock into her leg, causing her to lose her balance, and practically fall flat on the floor. She gasped in horror as she looked up to see that most of her things from her carry-on bag were scattered everywhere as well. Though, thankfully, Tikki and Kaalki were not among the debris.

“Oh, Marinette! Even outside of Paris, you’re just too clumsy for your own good, aren’t you?” 

Marinette held back a groan as Lila’s saccharine-sweet laugh followed her jab. She heard many of the other students laughing too. She got to her knees and started grabbing her stuff when to her surprise, several feet ran over to where she was, and some hands started picking her stuff up.

“Hey, are you okay?” Ann’s voice asked as she handed Marinette her sketchbook, which fortunately remained closed.

“Y-yeah,” she nodded, slightly dazed, “Thanks, Ann!”

“Hey! Apologize! That wasn’t cool!” another voice exclaimed. Marinette looked up to see the blond boy from Ann’s group earlier, pointing an accusing finger right at Lila.

“Huh?” Lila exclaimed, “Wh-what are you talking about?”

“Don’t give me that shit! I saw you put your leg out! You tripped her on purpose!”

“What?!” Lila gasped, panic flashed across her face for a split second, “Me?! Tripping Marinette?!”

“Yeah! Lila wouldn’t do that!” Rose exclaimed, “She’s the sweetest person in the world. She wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

“Y-yeah!” Lila said, eyes watering to the brim with crocodile tears, “Why would you accuse me of something like that?!”

The blond - Ryuji if Ann’s description on the flight was right - grit his teeth, and looked about ready to say something else, when Ann spoke for him.

“Are you done?” Ann asked heatedly.

“Huh?” Lila gasped.

“You don’t seriously expect us to take your little show seriously, do you?!” Ann scowled, “If I were you, I’d drop the act and just own up to it. You’re just making yourself look more ridiculous otherwise.”

“I honestly thought the French were more… well-behaved than this,” Ann’s other friend - Makoto, Marinette’s brain supplied - frowned, folding her arms and even shifting slightly in front of Marinette.

“Oh, that explains a lot!” Marinette looked over to see Yuuki, the boy that Alya had been arguing with on the plane stomping over to the group too, “Not only are you a fraud, but you're friends with a bully too?! Why am I not surprised?!”

“Hey! You stay out of this!” Alya snapped back angrily.

“Um, guys?” Adrien said almost timidly, “Can we please stop? We’re making a scene.”

“Butt out, kid!” Ryuji snapped, “We’d apologize, but this brat ain’t!” 

This elicited a collective gasp from the entire Parisian group. Even Marinette’s eyes widened in shock. She had never seen someone insult Adrien to his face before; not even akumas had insulted him, to her memory. The blond model looked quite shocked by the insult too, even taking a step back. 

Lila looked like she was about to say something else when Ms. Bustier walked over. Another woman - likely Ann and her friends’ teacher - rushed over as well.

“What’s going on here?” Ann’s teacher asked.

“Uh-sorry Ms. Kawakami,” Makoto apologized, quickly bowing, “We’re just trying to help a friend.”

“Yeah! That brat tripped this girl here, and she’s not even sorry!” Ryuji exclaimed, pointing at Lila.

“Now, now, calm down everyone,” Ms. Bustier said, trying to soothe the situation, “I’m sure this is just a misunderstanding-”

“You call a student intentionally hurting someone else a misunderstanding?!” Ryuji asked incredulously.

“Enough!” Ms. Kawakami exclaimed. She looked toward Akira, “Kurusu, would you mind telling me what happened here?”

Marinette could see where the teacher was going with this. Akira could easily be seen as a third party here, as he didn’t seem to be actively participating in the argument, so he was likely the best person to provide a non-biased view of the event.

Akira cleared his throat before looking calmly at the teacher, “Well, I personally didn’t see this girl get tripped,” Akira admitted. A triumphant smirk spread across Lila’s face, and Ryuji’s mouth fell open. He looked ready to protest when Akira then added, “However, I also know Ryuji wouldn’t make something like this up. If he says he saw her do it, I believe him, Ms. Kawakami.” 

“Ah-ha! I knew I could count on you, Akira!” Ryuji cheered in relief.

Kawakami nodded, “I see. Alright, thank you,” Kawakami then turned and looked sharply at the Parisian class, particularly Ms. Bustier, eyes narrowed, “Can I expect that you will properly discipline your student for harassing her fellow class member?”

“I apologize for this disruption,” Ms. Bustier said, sounding sincere, “My students are usually better at setting a good example than this.” Bustier’s glancing gaze towards Marinette didn’t go unnoticed by Ms. Kawakami and the other Japanese students.

Yuuki and Ryuji, in particular, looked quite offended by Bustier’s comment. The two looked about two seconds away from punching someone. Ann and Makoto also scowled in distaste. Akira showed the least amount of reaction, but his eyes narrowed slightly, anger simmering beneath them.

Ms. Kawakami looked stunned for a moment, before a scowl of disgust crossed her features as well, “Oh, I see how it is... Can I suppose that this student here,” Kawakami gestured to Marinette, who Makoto was still standing protectively in front of, “is meant to show a good example of how your other students act? Because if that’s the case, your definition and my definition of a good example seem to be completely different. A good example would have been your other students helping this girl pick her things up, but I didn’t see so much as one of them moving to do that!”

Ms. Kawakami’s comment seemed to make at least a couple of Marinette’s classmates look a little ashamed. Marinette noticed that Nathaniel and Juleka looked the most embarrassed.

“So… what exactly does that say about your own teaching methods Miss…” Kawakami glanced at Bustier’s name tag.

“Bustier?” she said, unintentionally sounding out the first part like one would say ‘bust’ instead of ‘boost.’

“It’s Bust ier,” the teacher corrected quickly.

“Whatever,” Kawakami sighed, “If this is how you treat all your students back at your school, I feel bad for them.”

Ms. Bustier looked mortified by Kawakami’s comment, and most of her class started to look nervous and shocked by this as well. Not many people criticized Ms. Bustier like this. Or at least not publicly.

During the commotion, Makoto bit her lip and looked between Marinette and the rest of her class. The student council president didn’t feel comfortable leaving this student alone with people like this. 


“Hey Marinette,” Makoto whispered, “Do you know what hotel you’re staying at?”

“Um, I think it was called the Ilima or something like that?” Marinette answered, hoping she remembered correctly.

“The Ilima Hotel? Oh, what luck, we’re staying there too!” Makoto smiled.

“Oh, really? Cool! Wait, why did you ask?” Marinette inquired.

“Ms. Kawakami, what’s our bus number again?” Makoto asked the teacher in between the pause.

“Oh, um…” Kawakami paused and pulled up their itinerary, “Our class is split between buses 9036 and 4375.”

“Hey, that second one is our bus too, isn’t it?” Kim asked Max.

“Yes, I believe that deduction is correct, Kim.” Max nodded.

“I see…” Ms. Kawakami said. Her eyes then widened when she realized what Makoto was implying. She smiled slightly at the senior student’s initiative, “Speaking of buses, I think we should join everyone else at Customs so we can catch them. Shall we go, then?”

“Yeah, sure,” Akira nodded, gesturing for the rest of them to follow.

“Come on, Marinette!” Ann exclaimed, dragging the Parisian to her feet. She winked at Makoto, catching onto the plan as well.

“Excuse me, but Marinette needs to stay with the group!” Ms. Bustier protested.

“Didn’t you hear Ms. Kawakami? We’ll be on the same bus!” Ryuji reminded her.

“Don’t worry,” Makoto said, eyeing the rest of the class up and down with a look of distrust, “we’ll make sure she gets there.”

Before anyone else could protest, Ann dragged Marinette off, leaving her class behind, all temporarily stunned.

Chapter Text

“Hawaii!” Ann exclaimed with joy. She breathed deeply, feeling the crisp air fill her lungs, “Ah, I love it! The tropical air!”

Marinette smiled and tilted her head towards the sun, feeling the gentle rays on her face. 

“Aloha!” a man greeted to the right, waving at the group then pointing behind him, “You can find your buses that way.”

Marinette didn’t understand the part he said in Japanese, but she could imply what he was saying when she spotted the white buses behind him.

“Damn, you speak Japanese?!” Ryuji shouted in shock from behind them.

“...Is he always this loud?” Marinette asked with a snicker.

Ann giggled back, “On good days.”

“Heh, just like someone else I know,” Marinette chuckled, thinking of a certain feline partner of hers.

She soon found herself being herded onto the first bus. Makoto then suddenly came up directly behind her, clutching her shoulder and directing her inside. 

Marinette barely caught sight of her own class right behind them, and the nasty sneers coming from Lila and Alya.

“Thanks,” she whispered. Makoto smiled and squeezed her shoulder, but her eyes flickered back to the Parisians, flashing in warning.

It was about a fifteen-minute ride to the hotel from the airport, and the Japanese students were certainly making their awe of the scenery clear.

“Whoa! I see it! The diamond thing!” Ryuji shouted from a couple of rows back. Turning her head, Marinette smiled as she spotted the large volcano in the distance. She could only imagine the view of the rest of the island from there, as well as the sunsets.

She gasped as a streak of inspiration struck her and she pulled out her sketchbook. She quickly started jotting down some designs for a sundress, skirt, and even a hat. 

“Oh, man!” Ryuji shouted again, “The ocean is so blue! Ahaha!”

Off to the other side, the crystal clear water of the Hawaiian beach sparkled in the sun. People were sunbathing on the beach, carrying surfboards to and fro, or splashing in the sea. Marinette’s hand started automatically sketching once more. This time a blouse, a pair of sunglasses, and a swimsuit, both one-piece and two-piece, materialized on the paper.

“Yes! We’re here! HAWAIIIIII!!!” Ryuji hollered the moment they stepped off the bus.

“I am so embarrassed,” Ann groaned. Marinette giggled again, Ryuji’s silliness reminding her more and more of Chat Noir.

The blond suddenly sniffed the air, “Is this the smell of Hawaii? Actually, I’ve been wonderin’ since the airport, but what is this smell?”

“Supposedly the lingering scent of carpet cleaner. It’s coconut-scented.” Yuuki informed the group with a small smile, “Plus, I’d say the scent of plumeria for the leis are amplifying the tropical atmosphere here.”

“What are you, the king of random facts?!” Ryuji exclaimed, looking at Yuuki strangely.

Yuuki blushed slightly, “I’m the type that likes to look up stuff beforehand.”

“Then tell me a cheap but good place to eat,” Ryuji requested eagerly.

“Do that after we’ve figured out room assignments. We can’t go out until we get our keys! The same applies to Marinette too you know!” Ann reminded Ryuji harshly. The blonde then turned to look at Marinette, “Speaking of which, are you going to be okay with whoever you’re roomed with?”

Marinette nodded, “I’m rooming with Alix. We’re on… fairly good terms.”

Ann raised a skeptical eyebrow, then pulled out her phone, “Well, just in case, here's my number. If you need anything, just shoot me a text okay?”

“Um, okay sure!” Marinette agreed, pulling her phone out too.

“Oh yeah, here’s mine too while we’re at it!” Ryuji said, holding his phone up. Akira and Yuuki soon followed, adding their information to Marinette’s contact list.

“Anyway, room assignments right?” Ryuji asked, “Well, I want to room with this guy,” he gestured to Akira.

“You belong to a different class, Sakamoto-kun, “ Ms. Kawakami said, walking up behind the group, Makoto right behind her.

“I can’t?” Ryuji whined.

“It complicates roll call.” Makoto explained, “Oh, Marinette, I think your class is waiting over there.”

Marinette followed where Makoto was pointing and spotted Madam Bustier at the front desk, passing out the room keys.

“Okay, thanks!” 

She almost left when Ann called out again, “Hey, shoot us a text when you’re ready! We were serious about the beach later!”

Marinette beamed, “Okay! Thank you, I will!”

Marinette made it to her group just as they began to disperse to find their rooms.

“There you are Marinette,” Alix said, waving.

“Hey Alix!” she greeted, “So what room are we?”

“Room 307,” the skater replied, handing Marinette one of the keycards, “Make sure not to lose that okay?”

“Oh of course!” Marinette laughed, “I won’t lose it!”

“That also means not leaving it in our room when we go out, okay?” Alix reminded with a knowing smirk.

“Not to worry! This card is going in my purse, where it belongs!” Marinette giggled, doing just that, handing the key to Tikki down below, “So… what’s the first thing you’re going to do?”

Alix snorted, “Kim challenged me to a race to the beach. We’ll start once we’re both settled in.”

Marinette guffawed. Even on the other side of the world, some things still never changed. “Well good luck!”

“Thanks! Not that I’ll need it! What about you?”

“Oh, some of the people that I sat on the bus with invited me to hang out later.”

“Oh, the ones from Japan? They seemed pretty cool.”

“Yeah, they are. They’re super nice, and Ryuji is hilarious!”

“Which one is he?”

“The blond.”

“Oh, the one that yelled at Lila at the airport?” Alix asked, quirking an eyebrow, “What the heck was that all about anyway?”

Marinette grew quiet. She still wasn’t a hundred percent sure where Alix currently stood regarding Lila. She didn’t seem to be as engaged in Lila’s tales as she used to, and now that she thought about it, Alix hadn’t been one of the students laughing when Marinette tripped. Sure, she didn’t help Marinette pick her things up, but she seemed more in shock and confused over the situation. However, she wasn’t sure how to respond either. Would Alix believe her if she said that Lila did trip her?

“Oh, look there’s our room there!” Marinette said hurriedly as she spotted room 307. Grabbing the key from her purse, she quickly swiped it and slipped inside the room.

Behind her, Alix still eyed Marinette skeptically but shrugged and followed her inside.

Marinette texted Ann about fifteen minutes later, after finally locating her swimsuit among her clothing and throwing a towel, sunscreen, and change of clothes into a bag. The blonde texted her back saying that they were by the entrance.

“Hey! Over here Marinette!” Ann waved after the Parisian got off the elevator. Marinette waved and quickly rushed over, only to trip over her own feet and almost fall again. This time, however, Ryuji was quick enough to notice and caught her in the nick of time. 

“Whoa! You okay?” he asked. 

“Uh-yeah-I’m fine!” Marinette stuttered as she straightened herself, “Just me and my normal clumsy self!”

“You always tripping over stuff?” Ann asked curiously, but no malice was behind her tone.

“On good days,” Marinette winked.

 Ann blinked, then laughed herself, getting the joke.

“That’s a really pretty beach dress, Marinette,” Makoto complimented.

“Oh, thank you!” Marinette smiled, twirling around. The dress itself was inspired by Ladybug’s water-themed costume. It was mostly red but had spots of black and purple bespeckling it. The tassels at the bottom alternated between red and black as well, tied up with purple string. “I made it myself, just for this trip!”

“You made that?!” Ann gasped.

Marinette nodded, “I make most of my own clothes actually. It’s super fun!”

“You’re very talented, Marinette,” Akira complimented.

“Oh, thank you,” Marinette blushed, “So… beach?”

“Oh yeah, come on, let’s go guys!” Ryuji exclaimed, already racing out the door.

“Ryuji, wait up!” Ann shouted as they scurried after him.

Thankfully, the hotel was only a few blocks away from the Waikiki beach. The group was even lucky enough to find a shady spot to place their stuff down.

“So this is Waikiki!” Ann exclaimed happily after stripping into her bikini.

“There sure are a ton of people here,” Ryuji commented, “And… a lot of tall buildings, like hotels.”

“It’s much cleaner here compared to Paris,” Marinette added.

“Yeah, it almost feels too clean,” Ann agreed, “It feels like an artificial resort.”

“Still, look how clear the ocean is,” Makoto smiled, looking at the water, “That palm trees definitely give off a tropical vibe too.”

“I thought Ann was pretty impressive but compared to the foreign ladies… eh,” Ryuji shrugged.

“Then stop looking!” Ann exclaimed, stopping her foot and red in the face.

“You know Ryuji, you’re never going to snag a girl when you’re thinking dirty thoughts like that,” Marinette teased.

“Dirty? That’s a bit harsh don’t you think?” Ryuji gasped, “Y-You think so, right Akira? Like, these ladies are massive, unlike the girls in Japan!”

“Don’t look at me. Marinette saw right through you and so did I.” Akira said with a smirk, “Besides, to be honest, I’m not really interested.”

Ryuji gawked, then growled, “I’m gonna rip out that tongue of yours!”

“Moving on!” Makoto interjected before any fists could be thrown, “take a look over there. Isn’t that Diamond Head?”

Looking at where Makoto was pointing, the group spotted the volcano quite clearly from where they were on the beach.

“Oh, I saw it from the bus too!” Ryuji agreed. He then frowned, looking confused, “But why’s it called that? Are diamonds a local product?”

Marinette pulled out her phone and looked up the volcano, “Oh, it says here that people long ago mistook volcanic rock for it. You know how when lava will sometimes make crystals depending on how fast it cools down? If it cools down quickly, it makes massive ones!” 

“Huh… weird that they thought the stuff was diamonds though. What the eff?” Ryuji said, scratching his head.

“Well come on,” Ann said, pulling out her own phone, “Let’s look up recommended places in Waikiki! Oh right, I wanted to eat pancakes.”

“I wonder if there are any online recommendations from scenic spots,” Makoto wondered as she scrolled through her phone as well.

“We should check for cheap and popular restaurants then,” Ryuji grinned.

After a couple of seconds, Makoto suddenly put her phone away, “...Hey, we’re on our phones and chatting. This is no different from when we’re in Japan.”

“Even if we’re overseas, we can see all the news in Japan if we got our phones,” Ryuji reasoned.

“Speaking of news in Japan,” Marinette said, suddenly sounding awkward, “what exactly is going on over there? I saw a bunch of black and red merchandise at the airport.”

“Huh?” Ryuji gasped, looking at Marinette in shock, “You mean you haven’t heard about the Phantom Thieves?!”

The rest of the group looked at Marinette in different layers of surprise too. Ever since they, or more specifically Futaba, dealt with Medjed, the Phantom Thieves had received international recognition. By this point, everyone had at least heard the name at one point.

“W-well um…” Marinette thought hard about how to word her next sentence, remembering the rule to not speak of the Akuma attacks, “Let’s just say Paris hasn’t been receiving much news from anything outside of France for a while. That’s all. I-I kind of looked them up when we were staying at our hotel, but I guess I’m still confused…? The web said they were vigilantes, but-”

“Now hold on a second, the Phantom Thieves aren’t vigilantes!” Ryuji protested.

“Ryuji!” Makoto chastised before looking at Marinette again, “Sorry, Ryuji’s a big fan of them. Actually, we all kind of are. The Phantom Thieves have helped us and a couple of our other friends when we were in some tight spots.”

“The police call them vigilantes. But, honestly, if it weren’t for them, some pretty bad people would still be walking the streets. It’s only thanks to the Thieves’ actions that they’re behind bars now,” Akira explained.

“What exactly do they do?” Marinette asked further.

“They steal the hearts of criminals!” Ryuji proclaimed vigorously. Then paused, “I mean, well, that’s what they always say when they go after someone.”

“We’re not exactly sure what they do, but whatever it is they convince their targets to turn themselves in to the police, and confess all of their crimes to them too. According to news reports, it’s almost like the targets have a complete change in personality,” Ann explained.

“They convince people to literally confess their crimes?” Marinette asked incredulously, “Willingly?”

“It sounds hard to believe doesn’t it?” Akira asked, “If you want, our friend Yuuki runs their official site. It’s called the Phan-Site if you want to find more information on them.”

“I think that was the website I looked up originally… but I’ll look again, thanks!” Marinette said. She felt a little disappointed. Ann and her friends basically just told her the same thing that the Phan-site shared online. So much for finding more information.

“Anyway, enough talk about the news,” Ann exclaimed, putting her phone away, “we’re in Hawaii, so let’s do something more… Hawaii-like!”

“Well, what’s… Hawaii-like?” Ryuji asked.

This made the group pause and consider it.

“Hula dancing?” Ann suggested.

 Ryuji immediately shot that idea down, “Uh, uh! I ain’t down for that!”

“How about snorkeling?” Marinette suggested.

“Snorkeling?” Makoto asked.

“Yeah, I think I saw a stand over that way that will rent out some gear,” Marinette said, gesturing a little way down the beach.

“Okay, I’m down!” Ann agreed with a smile.

“Alright, sounds cool!” Ryuji nodded.

“Okay,” Akira said

“Let’s go, then,” Makoto said as the five of them headed over to the rental stand.

Akira found that Yuuki had returned to their room first by the time they had gotten back. They had spent a good half hour snorkeling along the reefs. They managed to see some pretty cool fish like yellow tangs, butterflyfish, and even a pufferfish at one point. But the highlight of that experience was definitely when a sea turtle had swum up next to Marinette! That Parisian had been absolutely thrilled.

After spending a little bit more time on the beach, they all stopped by a local restaurant for some dinner. On the way back to the hotel, Marinette asked them if they were planning to hike Diamond Head at some point, mentioning that that would be the activity for her class tomorrow afternoon.

According to their schedules, Makoto had a meeting with the other chaperones and teachers in the morning, but their afternoon was free and they offered to come with her. Marinette graciously accepted, but felt bad at the same time, as it seemed she was pulling them away from things they wanted to do.

“Don’t stress about it!” Ryuji had said, “It beats walking around the beach all day.”

“Yeah, plus it’ll be a great place for pictures too!” Ann had added.

Akira smiled at the memories before finally sliding his key into the auto-lock and going in. Yuuki was sprawled out on the farther bed but looked up when he heard the door open. 

“You look like you had some fun,” Yuuki smiled, eyeing Akira’s damp hair.

“We went snorkeling,” the bespectacled teen replied.

“Oh cool!” Yuuki commented, "I bet the fish along the reefs are awesome.”

“A sea turtle swam up to Marinette.”

“Wha-no way!” Yuuki exclaimed, “Did you get a picture of that?!”

“No, our phones aren’t water-proof. Why? Don’t believe me?” Akira asked, cocking his head.

“No, no, I do!” Yuuki reassured, “I just thought that’d be a cool memory to look back on, you know?” 

Akira couldn’t help but notice the slight grimace on Yuuki’s face though, “Something wrong?”

“I-it’s nothing you’ve done. Just kind of thinking about how a couple of weeks ago, when I tried to convince you guys to go after that actor, but I didn’t have evidence that proved he was bad, you know?”

“Yeah…?” Akira wasn’t sure where Yuuki was going with this.

“Well,  you know that girl in Marinette’s class, the one with the glasses? Turns out that she does something similar to what I do with the Phan-Site. She runs a blog that follows these superheroes in Paris.”

“...Superheroes?” Akira asked inquisitively.

“Yeah, I know it sounds hard to believe, but there are legit superheroes over there! It’s crazy! Anyway, while we were on the plane, we hit it off at first due to our similar hobbies, but then she showed her most viewed videos on her blog. They were about ‘Ladybug’s best friend.’ You know that Lila girl? She apparently just arrived in Paris the day before she took the video.”


“Yeah, I know. Anyway, when I watched it, I asked her if it was really a good idea for her to have posted that. Because, you know, it’s a superhero’s ‘best friend,’” Yuuki made quotation signs around the words, “I don’t think that should be something that you should post online. I mean, I know you’re a Phantom Thief, but I don’t go broadcasting that I know you all over the Phan-Site. I’d prefer not having the police at my doorstep at three in the morning. Then, I pointed out that if Lila had really come to her school that day, how was it possible that she was best friends with Ladybug?”

“Yeah you’re right,” Akira agreed, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know! Anyway, when I pointed that out to her, a-and I wasn’t trying to offend her or anything, but she suddenly went off on me like, ‘Oh, a good journalist always checks her sources!’ and so I asked ‘Did you?’ and again, I wasn’t trying to be offensive, but apparently she took it that way because she said something like why someone would lie about that or something. And then I tried to tell her that even if this is true it shouldn’t be something she’s posting on the web and if she realized that this could put Lila, or her family, in danger. She just brushed it off saying that that hasn’t happened so far so everything should be fine!”

“...That’s still no excuse,” Akira said, “Someone could just be waiting for the right moment to do it.”

“I know, exactly! And then, some of her posts, especially the more recent ones… I don’t know but if I were in Ladybug’s shoes, I wouldn’t be very comfortable with some of the photos on that blog. Apparently there’s one where she’s kissing her partner, Chat Noir, but according to the situation, the supervillain that they were fighting might have erased their memories or something? I just thought it was weird because some of her other videos said that Ladybug and Chat Noir aren’t a couple, both before and after that photo was taken.”

“So, it was clickbait." Akira stated.

“Basically,” Yuuki said with a frown, “anyway, I guess the reason that it bothered me so much was because it reminded me how I used to be. I was just using the Phantom Thieves for popularity. It’s clear that she and Lila are doing the same thing! I was the same until you finally knocked some sense into me!”

“We didn’t do anything,” Akira stated with a small smile, “You did that yourself.”

“...Yeah, I guess you’re right. Seriously though, there are real superheroes out there! Isn’t that awesome?!”

“But if there are superheroes that must mean that there is a super villain too,” Akira thought aloud.

“Oh, yeah, there is,” Yuuki said, “From what I can understand through that blog, the villain's named Hawkmoth or something, and his power is that he can take people with negative emotions and turn them into his supervillain minions or something.”

“...How does that work?” Akira asked, sounding intrigued.

“Not really sure. It’s something called an ‘Akuma’ according to the blog. Ladybug’s apparently the only one that can turn the person back to normal though.”

“So the villains are victims too then,” Akira said.

“Looks like it,” Yuuki said, “some of the footage of after the attacks seem to point to that too. Ladybug stops the villain and then one of her powers is fixing all of the damage during the attack. From the looks of the footage on the blog and on the Paris local news stations, it’s with a bunch of magic glowing ladybugs!”

“What about the other one you mentioned? Chat Noir?” Akira asked.

“Um, he seems like more of a sidekick. His ability is destroying stuff apparently? There have been other superheroes that show up every now and then too. There was a turtle one, a fox one, a bee one, and a couple others. The one that’s been showing up more recently is this one snake-themed one, Kobra. According to the blog he can reset time or something.”

“Reset time?” Akira asked, sounding shocked, “...Sounds like a dangerous ability.”

“Yeah, totally. He’s definitely a fan favorite though,” Yuuki nodded, and then remembered something else he wanted to talk about, “Oh, speaking of fan favorite stuff, you know how the polls for the Phan-Site ranking’s started, right?”

“Yeah,” Akira nodded.

“It’s been really lively, huh? I’m the one who made the website, but even I’m still surprised. I believe I’m part of such a huge thing! I’m so glad I’ve been rooting for the Phantom Thieves! On the contrary, did you hear about Akechi, that detective against the Thieves? The good-looking one? His popularity plummeted after Medjed was dealt with. Supposedly his official blog’s up in flames. He posed as some hero of justice, but that's what he gets for not seeing eye to eye with them.” Yuuki sighed and stood up, “To be blunt, I can’t focus on this trip. I keep thinking about the Phantom Thieves. And now this news about there being superheroes on the other side of the world! What the heck is our lives right now?!”

“...Why don’t you sleep on it?” Akira finally suggested.

“You sure are calm about all of this. Something this amazing rarely happens, you know?” Yuuki argued, “But then again, I think I’m feeling a bit tired too… You’re right, let’s go to bed. Good night.”

As Yuuki headed to the bathroom to brush his teeth, Akira considered texting the other PTs about some of the things he learned about Paris. At the last moment though, he decided against it. From the sound of it, that blog that Yuuki was talking about didn’t seem like the most reliable thing in the world. Maybe if they tried talking to Marinette again, and convinced her to open up about it, they could find out more.

Decision made, Akira stretched and climbed into his own bed, drifting off within seconds.

M: I had a good first day! I even made some new friends! <image>

Not even two seconds after the message and picture sent did Luka respond with a thumbs up and heart emoji. The picture had been taken shortly after Marinette and the Shujin students finished snorkeling. Akira had taken the photo, Ann had an arm over Marinette’s shoulders with a peace sign, Ryuji off to the side giving two thumbs up and Makoto smiling on Marinette’s other side.

L: I don’t recognize them. Where are they from?

M: They’re from Japan. I sat next to Ann on the plane to Hawaii.

L: Oh cool! Looks like you went swimming.

M: Yeah, we snorkeled along one of the reefs. A sea turtle swam up next to me!

L: What?! :D That’s amazing Marinette! Does Wayzz have some competition?

M: Lol! No, Wayzz will always be my favorite turtle, so he has nothing to worry about… No Akuma attack yet today?

L: No… it’s been surprisingly quiet today and last night when I patrolled. 

M: Well that’s good I guess, but I won’t push my luck and hope that it stays that way the rest of my trip.

L: Guess it’s better not to jinx anything huh? Anyway, it’s probably late where you’re at, get some sleep. If an Akuma comes, I’ll contain it until you can come to cleanse it, okay?

M: Okay, but please be careful!

L: I will ;) Love you! Have fun at Diamond Head tomorrow.

M: <3<3<3

Marinette sighed as she finally plugged her phone in. Alix hadn’t come back to the room yet, so she had a few minutes to let Tikki and Kaalki out of her purse.

“Sorry for keeping you cramped inside so long you two,” Marinette apologized.

“It’s okay Marinette, I’m glad you had fun today! Those people you met seem great as well,” Tikki said with a smile.

“Yeah… but I can’t help but feel like Lila will try something tomorrow because they defended me,” Marinette admitted.

“Well, they’ll be with you on your hike, so I doubt that mongrel will attempt anything stupid,” Kaalki said.

“I don’t know…” Marinette said, “You know how sneaky Lila can be. I mean, she managed to frame me for stealing the mock test answers after all.”

“Everything will work out Marinette! Just stay positive! And if all else fails, you’ll still have Luka!” Tikki reminded her.

“That’s true. Thanks, Tikki,” Marinette smiled and then yawned, “Well, Luka was right about sleep. Good night you too. Make sure Alix doesn’t see you when she comes back.”

“Good night, Madame Marinette,” Kaalki said as she and Tikki flew off towards Marinette’s suitcase, burrowing under some clothes to hide.

“Goodnight, Mari!” Tikki piped up before the three of them drifted off.

Chapter Text

Marinette woke up fairly early the next morning, much to her surprise. Checking her phone, she noticed that no akuma alerts had popped up in her history. That either meant A. Luka had managed to stop and contain the akuma before anyone could initiate the alert or get possessed by the butterfly, B. The akuma had been a more stealth related one that wasn't easy to track like when Sabrina had turned into Vanisher, or C. There had not been an akuma at all.

Marinette honestly hoped it was one of the first two options. The last time Hawkmoth had no akumas for a longer period of time was right before Heroes Day and before the Battle of the Miraculous. It had been several months since that fight, so Hawkmoth could be planning anything now, especially that he now had Master Fu's tablet, which had a translation of the Grimoire! This meant that not only could Hawkmoth gain more powers through the magic Kwami potions, but he could repair the Peacock Miraculous that he still had! This technically was also a good thing, but as long as it remained with Hawkmoth, Marinette knew that its purposes would only be for evil, so it also wasn't good...

When Marinette had first learned about that vital detail, she had freaked out so much that her parents had come rushing into her room, thinking that an akuma was attacking her or she had a nightmare. She couldn't remember the excuse she gave (was it that she fell out of bed?), but ultimately they left it alone, which Marinette was grateful for.

The one thing that she knew the Grimoire didn't contain was that there were other Miraculous out there, besides the ones in the Miracle Box she had. If Hawkmoth learned that, she had no doubt he would have tried to obtain one for himself. Plus, the fact that no further non-akuma super villains showed up was enough of a sign to that.

Marinette wrote a reminder in her phone to text Luka with the akuma question after they got back from the hike, then she could time when to travel back as Ladybug to cleanse it or not.

She quietly got out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. She apparently wasn't quiet enough, though, as Alix groaned.

"Okay, who are you and what have you done with Marinette Dupain-Cheng?" the skater murmured with one eye cracked open, "Because the Marinette I know always sleeps past her alarm."

Marinette giggled nervously, "I-I don't know. Guess my body decided to listen to it today? Or maybe I'm still a bit jet-lagged?"

"Right…" Alix mumbled sitting up herself, her light pink hair poofed out in all directions.

"So anyway… excited about the hike this afternoon?" Marinette asked as she rummaged in her luggage for a change of clothes, opting for a quick shower before she went down for some breakfast.

"Kim and I were going to race to the top of the volcano, but Ms. Bustier caught us when we were talking about it and said that we needed to stick with the group," Alix mumbled still half asleep, "Something about not wanting us to fall and trip or something like that and that some areas were off-limits. Okay, Kim and I get scraped up all the time back home, how would doing it here be any different?"

"Ms. Bustier is just trying to keep you guys safe," Marinette reasoned.

"Sure, if we were porcelain dolls or something!" Alix pouted, folding her arms. Marinette giggled again.

"It'll be fine!" Marinette reassured her, "Besides, it won't just be our class. Those guys I was hanging with yesterday, I invited them to come with us too! Plus, apparently, their teacher gave them a semi-school assignment to practice their English while they're staying here, so we should be able to talk to them alright."

"Hmmm, okay," Alix shrugged, "that Ryuji guy you mentioned sounded interesting at least."

"He is! I'm sure you two would get along great!" Marinette exclaimed before disappearing into the bathroom and turning the shower on.

Marinette found her new Japanese friends in the same spot as yesterday before they headed to the beach. Makoto wasn't there yet, but she had said there was a meeting that morning, so that was likely where she still was.

"I thought we were gonna be gettin' alohas comin' from all directions and stuff!" Ryuji was complaining as Marinette came up behind them.

She then playfully smirked. "Aloha!" she exclaimed loudly, making Ryuji jump.

"Wh-what the hell?!" the blond then calmed down when he saw who it was, while Ann and Akira laughed.

"You wanted an 'aloha' so I gave you one!" Marinette said with a cheeky grin.

"Nice one, Marinette." Akira grinned, high-fiving her.

"Sheesh! Were you this devious yesterday?" Ryuji asked, eyeing her cautiously.

"Oh, you want me to be devious?" Marinette asked back, folding her arms and cocking her head with a sassy grin.

Ryuji paled. For some reason, a voice in his head was screaming that no he did not want to see Marinette when she was devious. "Um, no thanks, I'll pass!"

"Okay, suit yourself!" Marinette shrugged.

"Did I miss something?" Makoto asked, walking up a second later.

"Oh, Marinette's just brightening up the morning," Ann grinned, throwing an arm over the younger girl.

"Heh, could use some of that right about now," Makoto said with a tired sigh.

"What's with the low energy Makoto?" Ryuji inquired in concern.

"I just had to listen to the taxi driver complain for thirty minutes straight." Makoto said, rolling her eyes.

"Oh, that's rough," Marinette says with a wince, "We've got plenty of those in Paris, so I get where you're coming from."

"Yeah," Makoto nodded, "I mean, I'm used to dealing with students' troubles, but I never expected to have to do it overseas as well… I guess some things stay the same no matter where we go."

"That must have sucked," Ann said with a grimace.

"We should be doin' some more excitin' stuff! I mean, I know we're going to Diamond Head later today with Marinette's class, but come on! We're in freakin' Hawaii for god's sake! Isn't our school supposed to plan stuff too?" Ryuji complained.

"It seems there wasn't enough time to come up with any kind of coordinated travel plan," Makoto said, shaking her head, "That lack of coordination is what led them to using students as chaperones as well."

"... And here I thought Paris could get unorganized at times. But at least there are chaperones for this trip, otherwise you would be here!" Marinette said, trying to lighten the situation.

"I guess that's true," Akira agreed, adjusting his glasses.

"Oh, by the way, Akira… you're roomin' with Mishima, right? How is it? Anythin' interestin'?" Ryuji asked, his thumbs in his uniform pockets.

"He talked about the Phan-Site a bit. And then showed me this thing he found called the Ladyblog ," Akira answered.

Marinette blanched when she heard that, and then inwardly groaned. She should have known Alya wouldn't be able to keep her mouth shut about her blog! This was exactly what Ms. Bustier asked them not to do!

"The Ladyblog? What's that?" Makoto asked.

"Apparently it's a blog about superheroes," he then glanced at Marinette, "who are currently in Paris, France."

"Wha-seriously?!" Ryuji gasped, jumping in surprise.

Ann looked at Marinette too, noticing her pale face, "Is that true Marinette? Are there really superheroes in Paris right now?"

"Eh-er, we-we aren't really supposed to talk about it!" Marinette stuttered almost timidly.

"Why not?" Ann asked curiously, "Is this about how you mentioned Paris was being 'hectic' or something on the plane?"

Marinette groaned dramatically, practically wilting.

"Why can't you talk about it?" Ryuji asked, "If it's like the Phantom Thieves, I'm sure people will be talking about it eventually. I mean, w-the Phantom Thieves already made their international debut when they took down Medjed!" Ryuji grinned awkwardly when he realized he nearly slipped up. The warning stares he was getting from the other Thieves by him weren't helping either, "I mean, man! Just talking about them makes me wanna go back to Japan so bad!"

"You really have no chill," Ann groaned, placing her hand on her forehead.

"Okay, let's try and forget about those things for now, okay?" Makoto asked before turning to Marinette, "Sorry we brought it up Marinette. We wouldn't want you to get in trouble."

"Thanks…" Marinette said, rubbing her arm looking embarrassed.

"But come on! Don't you want to know what they're going to do next?!" Ryuji exclaimed, not noticing another young man in a blue school uniform shirt walking up behind him. Marinette assumed that the others knew him from the looks of surprise on Ann, Makoto, and Akira's faces. "People are waitin' for the Phantom Thieves to fix society!"

Ryuji then turned his head, looking at the newcomer, "Ain't that right, Yusu-" the blond then jumped back in shock, seeming to finally register who he was talking to, "Wait, what the hell?!"

"Overseas travel provides a great opportunity for new insight. I'd prefer we stay here a bit longer." the new boy said in a baritone voice.

Marinette could help the slight blush that caressed her cheeks. This guy was cute. She shook her head. No! Bad, Marinette, bad! You. Have. A. Boyfriend!

"What are you doing here?!" Ann exclaimed, eyes still wide.

"Yusuke, wasn't your school supposed to be going to Los Angeles?" Makoto asked.

'Yusuke' looked a little embarrassed, "Apparently they couldn't land the plane due to a terrible storm brewing on the west coast. There were no signs of it letting up, so our destination was changed on the spot to Hawaii."

Ryuji groaned, slumping, "Do you just bring rain wherever you go?!"

"Could it be that what happened at the fireworks festival was his fault as well?" Makoto speculated with a small frown.

"Don't go bringing any storms here, you got that?!" Ann exclaimed, pointing accusingly at him.

Yusuke rubbed his shoulder and cracked his neck, "I'll do my best."

"Uh, who are you?" Marinette finally asked awkwardly.

"Oh!" Ann gasped, "So sorry, Marinette. This is Yusuke. He goes to a different school but we hang out from time to time. Yusuke, this is Marinette. She's from Paris, France."

"Really? Well, pleasure to meet you Marinette," Yusuke said with a smile, and bowed politely, "Although…" he grimaced slightly, "you wouldn't happen to be traveling with a girl who has quite an… aesthetically distasteful hairstyle would you?"

Marinette felt a pit form in her stomach, "...You're going to have to be more specific."

"Is something wrong, Yusuke?" Ann asked.

"No, not really. I just had an… interesting encounter with some girl making claims that she was one of Madarame's former pupils." Yusuke informed them.

Marinette's face blanked before her hand shot up to smack her forehead, "I think I know who you're talking about… what exactly did she say?"

"One of Madarame's pupils?!" Ryuji asked incredulously, as if not being able to fathom why someone would claim that.

Yusuke simply shook his head with a small smile on his face, "Oh, she was going on about how she learned such amazing art from him and said that she was more than happy to 'get me in contact with him.'" The art student rolled his eyes, "She likely overheard from someone that art is what I'm trying to study and make a claim such as that."

"What did you say?" Makoto asked, sounding concerned.

Yusuke suppressed a small mirth, "I simply gave her my condolences for putting up with such a horrible man. I then added how strange it was that I never noticed a girl like her living in my foster father's home."

The second Marinette heard that, she threw her head back and laughed, "Yep!" she nodded with a snicker, "That sounds like something Lila would do," she caught her breath, wiping away a tear, "I mean come on! I don't know where she got that info about Madarame, but if she wants to impress someone, she shouldn't pick an artist that is currently in jail!"

The group shared similar looks of disbelief and incredulousness between each other, because Marinette was right. This girl obviously picked the first Japanese artist that popped up on the web to try and falsely brag about.

Marinette turned back to Yusuke, "Sorry if this sounds mean, but I need to ask… what was the look on her face when you told her that?"

Yusuke's expression turned thoughtful, "If I were to describe it, she looked like she had swallowed a very tart lemon."

Picturing Lila's face in her head only made Marinette nearly double over with giggles this time. Lila, people may fall for your lies in your Parisian empire, but it's way different out here in the real world.

"Not really sure if she said anything else, but I believe I heard a couple other classmates of mine calling her out as well," Yusuke said.

After a couple more giggles, Marinette stopped when Yusuke's words from earlier suddenly registered, "Wait, you said Madarame was your foster father? He was targeted by the Phantom Thieves right, for plagiarism and child abuse?"

"Yep, that's right," Ryuji nodded.

"Oh… sorry about that," Marinette said sadly.

"It's fine," Yusuke said, "I've come to accept it. That man is right where he belongs now."

"Yeah, I guess so…" Marinette said.

"Um… Marinette, I know he just got here, but is it okay if Yusuke joins our group to Diamond Head this afternoon?" Ann asked and then looked back at the artist, "I mean… unless you had anything planned Yusuke."

"Due to the change in location, my school currently doesn't have any set schedule, so if you'll have me, I'd love to join," he said.

"Yeah, that's fine," Marinette nodded with a smile, "the more the merrier."

"Well, the hike is scheduled for about 1:30, so we still have a few hours to kill before then," Makoto said, "so what do you all want to do?"

"Uh… Oh yeah, I still gotta buy souvenirs," Ryuji realized, "My mom asked me to grab some stuff for her."

"I totally forgot about that!" Ann gasped, "We need to pick things up for Futaba and Morgana, too."

"More friends of yours?" Marinette asked.

"Yeah, but they're not in our school," Akira said. His phone then suddenly buzzed. Picking it up, he opened his messages and then smirked, "For you."

"Huh?" Marinette blinked, taking the phone.

F: Bonjour! Nice to meet you, Marinette!

Marinette squeaked and quickly handed the phone back to Akira. He laughed, "Yeah, Futaba's definitely… interesting, let's just say that."

"That's an understatement…" Ryuji groaned, and then shivered.

"Well, I was planning to do some shopping myself," Yusuke said with a nod.

"What about you Marinette. That sound okay to you?" Makoto asked.

"Yeah, I think so. I want to see if I can find some Hawaii exclusive fabric for some of my designs. Oh, and maybe a ukulele for my boyfriend!"

"Your boyfriend plays guitar?" Ann asked, looking intrigued.

Marinette nodded, "Yeah, he's really good too!"

"Great, it's settled then!" Makoto exclaimed, "I wonder what Morgana would want…"

"Man," Ryuji sighed as they walked towards the hotel entrance, "Even with Marinette, our group is totally the same even out of Japan."

The closest store to the hotel was, interestingly, a general tourist store so they decided to check there first for possibly some Hawaiian merchandise or other knickknacks. Upon entering, Marinette smiled at the sight of several ukuleles lined up on the far wall. Most were brown like normal acoustic guitars, but there were others that were different colors like blue, red, pink, and green. Some of the shapes they took were fascinating too. The one that stuck out the most was one named 'Pineapple Ukulele.' It was more round compared to the others hanging up, and looked more like a banjo than a guitar in shape.

'Grr… I don't know which one to choose!" Marinette whined, dramatically slumping again.

"Well, what sort of stuff does your boyfriend like?" Makoto asked.

"Luka's pretty chill, so I can already hear him saying 'it's from you Marinette, that's all that matters to me,'" Marinette argued.

Marinette, however, may have found a solution when she spotted Juleka's unmistakable purple hair near the back of the store.

"Hey Juleka!" Marinette greeted. The goth looked up and awkwardly waved as Marinette approached. Due to the fact that Luka was Juleka's brother, Juleka remained mostly cordial with Marinette if only for her brother's sake. If one looked closely enough, there was certainly some sort of tension between the two girls. Marinette and Luka both had tried subtlety to get Juleka to see through, or at the very least question Lila's stories, but there was one small problem with this approach. Rose. Rose still giddily believed Lila's work in many charities and every time that Lila brought up anything having to do with Prince Ali had the blonde immediately entranced. However, Marinette also noticed some looks that Juleka threw at her every now and then, almost as if she was a puzzle Juleka was trying to figure out.

"Hey Mari," Juleka greeted. Makoto and the others watched warily from behind her, still not sure where exactly Marinette stood with most of her class. They did notice that Marinette wasn't as on edge with this girl.

"Are you bringing back any souvenirs for your mom or Luka?" Marinette asked.

"Um… I saw these cool guitar picks and… well…" Juleka muttered, rubbing her arm. Glancing down at what she was looking at Marinette gasped when she spotted some very beautiful wooden guitar picks. Some were plain and smooth, but others were carved with different shapes and animals. Some had turtles, others had sting rays, and some had tikis and Hawaiian flowers on them.

"Luka would love these! I don't think he owns any wooden ones, does he?" Marinette asked, picking up one with a copy of the Hawaiian islands on them.

Juleka just shook her head.

"Do you need help choosing which one to get?" Marinette asked.

"I was thinking maybe the tiki or the turtle," Juleka admitted.

"Hmmm, that's a tough one. I personally like the turtle design better, but the tiki is making a funny face!" Marinette giggled, "Maybe you can get both? They don't cost a whole lot."

"Mmm…" Juleka frowned, biting the inside of her mouth in thought, "...yeah, maybe I will."

"Okay, cool! I bet it would sound awesome with a ukulele…" Marinette grinned.

Juleka looked at her with a small amused smile and a quirked eyebrow, "Adding something else to clutter up the boat with?"

"Oh, I'm sure your mom won't mind! You guys take pretty good care of your instruments," Marinette said.

Juleka nodded slightly, "True, I guess."

"So, say if I were to get Luka a ukulele, what type do you think he would like?" Marinette finally asked.

A squeal from behind Juleka stopped her from answering. "Juleka look! Isn't this the cutest thing ever?!" Rose exclaimed, pointing to a pair of pink flowery flip-flops in her hands, "And there were some purple ones over this way! Come on! I know that you'll love them!"

Juleka was soon dragged away towards another part of the store, Marinette's attempts at gift advice unintentionally sabotaged.

"Who was that Marinette?" Ann finally asked once the girls were gone.

"That's Juleka. She's Luka's sister," Marinette answered.

"You mean your boyfriend?" Ann asked, looking surprised.

"Huh," Ryuji said, "Doesn't that ever get awkward? I know that sounds cliche, but I have to ask."

"It was at first," Marinette admitted, "but I think she's used to the idea now."

"That's good," the blond replied.

"Anyway, Marinette, I noticed you were doodling a little on the bus. So why don't you get a plain ukulele and then customize it?" Ann suggested, "That way it's a completely original one!"

"It could show him that you really thought about him when getting it for him too," Akira added.

Marinette thought about it for a moment, then nodded, "Yeah, I'll do that! Thanks Ann!"

Grabbing one of the smaller ukuleles, Marinette quickly ran up to the counter to make her purchase. The rest of the group had scattered around the store to look for their own souvenirs, so Marinette decided to wait for them outside on a bench.

Deciding to occupy herself, she slipped her sketchbook out of her bag again and began sketching again. She hoped that she'd be able to find a fabric or craft store somewhere nearby to check out the material that they had to offer. It wasn't everyday that she'd be able to bring back some authentic fabric from out of the country after all.

"Did you draw that?" a male voice questioned to her side. She jumped, nearly smudging one of the shirt ideas on the page. Gathering herself, she saw that Yusuke was curiously looking over her shoulder, but backed off upon seeing that he scared her.

"Oh, um, yes!" Marinette nodded, "This is my sketchbook. All of my designs are in here."

Yusuke nodded and sat next to her, "May I see? As one artist to another?"

Marinette hesitated at first, but then timidly opened up to the page she was working on. The art student's eyes wandered over the page, slowly widening.

"All of these are your own designs?" Yusuke questioned, looking amazed.

"Y-yeah," Marinette nodded, before wincing, "Are they bad?"

"Bad?" Yusuke asked, sounding shocked, "On the contrary, they're quite exceptional! Fashion design isn't my forte, but most of the others majoring in it at my school could take notes from you. You've defined the human anatomy much more accurately than most, that's for certain."

"Oh, thanks!" Marinette blushed, grateful for the praise, "I do want to be a fashion designer someday, so I'm glad that people are liking my designs."

"Have you made any of your creations?" Yusuke asked.

"A few of them. I do have a website where I take commissions too."

"Very impressive," Yusuke nodded, admiration in his eyes, "I do know that Ann has done modelling before, so if you're ever in Japan, I'm sure she'd be more than happy to wear some of these."

"Oh really?" Marinette asked, surprised. Or well, maybe not too surprised. Ann was very pretty, so to hear that she was a model, even if only temporarily, didn't seem like too much of a shock. Her blonde hair, and more foreign looks likely gave her an advantage back in Japan as well.

The rest of the group joined the two shortly afterwards and decided to stop for a quick bite to eat. The Japanese students were pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant called Big Bang Burger close by. It was apparently a fairly popular place in Japan, so Marinette was curious to try it. The burgers were pretty good and it was amusing to watch a couple of other customers attempting to tackle a giant Cosmic Tower Burger.

She then noticed Ryuji wincing as he looked at something on his phone, "Oh! That looked like it hurt!"

"What's up, Ryuji?" Ann asked after swallowing two long french fries.

Instead of answering, Ryuji turned his phone around to show them. It was some fairly recent footage of the Ladyblog of a recent akuma attack. The one scene in particular was showing Chat Noir getting thrown straight through two buildings.

Marinette winced. She remembered that fight. The akuma that time had been Kim's mom, who had apparently gotten upset with Kim because he had snuck out to race or do some other dare with Alix and Max when he was supposed to be studying and helping her prepare some special Vietnamese dishes for his Grandma's birthday that evening. Hawkmoth had akumatized her into Triệu Thị Trinh, after the famous Vietnamese warrior, and she even had a giant white elephant sentimonster to help her. Which was fitting as her akuma self was up to nine feet tall! According to Luka, it had taken a total of twenty resets before they finally found where the akuma and the amok was (one in each of her earrings) but each of the resets had apparently been worse than Chat getting chucked through two of the skyscrapers.

"What on Earth?" Yusuke asked, looking shocked.

"Is this one those akuma attacks in Paris?" Makoto asked, staring at the screen.

"Yeah, from the Ladyblog," Ryuji answered. Moments later, the familiar (at least to Marinette) flood of magic ladybugs flooded across the city, fixing the damage from the akuma, including the two skyscrapers.

Marinette involuntarily cringed. Now that they had actually taken a look at some of the videos on Alya's blog, Marinette knew that they were likely going to ask her questions.

And she was right when Ann looked towards her a moment later.

"Marinette, we understand you can't talk about it, but it's not really your fault if we found out through a different source, right?"

Marinette gulped. Ann did have a point, but she…

She felt a small poke at her side, coming from her purse. Glancing done, she spotted Tikki winking at her. Feeling reassured, Marinette sighed, "Alright, I might not be able to answer everything, but what do you want to know?"

It started out fairly simple. Who were Ladybug and Chat Noir ("Two superheroes that showed up just over a year ago,"), who were they fighting ("Hawkmoth, and about six months ago another person named Mayura showed up.") and why ("No one really knows. All we do know is that Hawkmoth wants the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculouses for some reason."), what their superpowers were ("Ladybug can create anything and fix damage after battles. She's also the only one that can purify the akuma, so it'd be bad if she was taken out of commission for whatever reason. Chat Noir can literally destroy anything just by touching it, it doesn't matter how big or small it is."), and eventually, it changed over to the other temporary heroes.

"Wait, you were given one of these…. 'miraculous' one time?" Ryuji asked incredulously.

"Yep," Marinette nodded, "the Mouse Miraculous. It let me shrink and multiply myself like… like a mouse cluster. I named myself Multimouse!"

"Do you still have this Miraculous?" Akira asked.

Marinette shook her head, "No, after the akuma is defeated, I accidentally revealed my identity in front of Chat Noir. Because of that, I can never use that miraculous again, it's just too dangerous."

"Wait, one the superheroes isn't even allowed to know the identities of someone borrowing a miraculous?" Makoto asked, sounding confused.

"Yeah, it's a little confusing," Marinette admitted, frowning a little, "Ladybug knows the identities of all of the heroes, except for Chat Noir, but Chat Noir barely knows any of them. I was actually quite shocked about that after I revealed my identity. I didn't think they kept anything from each other, but apparently they don't even know their own civilian selves."

"They seem to be being overly cautious about this," Yusuke observed.

"Yeah… apparently the reason for all the secrecy is safety," Marinette agreed, "because of Hawkmoth's ability with his miraculous, if someone knew who either hero was, that could put them all in danger."

"And this Hawkmoth guy has the power to take someone's bad emotions and turn them into super villains with it?" Ryuji clarified.

"And this Mayura person can do something similar, but she makes a… what did you call it, again? A sentitroll?" Ann asked.

"Senti monster," Marinette corrected, "but yeah, that's basically the gist of it."

"That's terrible," Akira said, "I guess people in Paris really have to be careful with how they feel sometimes."

"Yeah, it's annoying," Marinette said with a sigh, "you can't have a good cry if you get a bad grade, or your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you. You can't get angry if you catch your significant other cheating, or something else. You can't even do it when someone's already been akumatized, because Hawkmoth has sometimes sent out more than one butterfly in a single day."

"This trip must be a good stress reliever, then." Ann reasoned.

"It has felt nice to not have to worry about dark purple butterflies sneaking up on you 24/7." Marinette agreed with a tired nod, leaning back in her seat.

"And he's doing all of this just for two pieces of jewelry?" Ryuji asked incredulously.

"Apparently," Marinette shrugged, "and like I said before, no one knows who Hawkmoth is, so no one knows what he wants the Miraculous for."

Varying levels of annoyance or sympathy were shared among the group. They understood how Marinette was feeling. It usually wasn't until they were in the midst of confronting the owner of a Palace that they would fully grasp the reasoning behind their actions.

Makoto had looked up the Ladyblog herself as they talked and scrolled through some of the older fighting clips. Then she noticed something.

"Hey, why is there a different snake hero in this clip?" she asked, showing Marinette the battle with Desperada.

"Oh yeah," Marinette said, "that's Viperion. He was apparently Kobra's predecessor, who Ladybug gave the Snake Miraculous to first."

"Okay… but why is it someone different now?" Makoto asked again, "Did his identity get exposed too?"

"...Yes actually," Marinette eventually said, "but it wasn't because of something he did or said."

"What do you mean?" Akira asked, "Do you know what happened?"

"Sort of… don't know all the details because I wasn't in town that day," she inwardly flinched, knowing that was an outright lie, but these guys didn't know that. Ugh! This was one of the few things she hated having to do as a superhero, even overseas. "But, apparently Hawkmoth got his hands on some of the other Miraculous, and managed to convince one of the temporary heroes to betray Ladybug and Chat Noir."

"What?!" Ryuji exclaimed in shocked outrage.

"Yeah. It was Queen Bee, a.k.a. Chloe Bourgeois. Hawkmoth bribed her with the Bee Miraculous to help him. In exchange for helping him, she'd be able to keep the Miraculous and make her own army of superheroes. She agreed and as a result got akumatized in her hero form, Miracle Queen. She used her powers to expose who the other temporary heroes were. I don't know the details about what happened, but ultimately Ladybug and Chat Noir managed to stop Miracle Queen and Hawkmoth. But yeah, that's why there's a different snake hero now instead of Viperion."

"What happened to Chloe?" Yusuke asked with a frown.

"Nothing at first…" Marinette scoffed, "her father's the mayor, and she's gotten away with a lot of stuff before because of that. But eventually, someone found some video recording of her making the deal with Hawkmoth and immediately leaked it to the rest of the city. Several protests and public rallies later, the mayor was forced to send her to a boarding school somewhere in Sweden. Haven't heard from her since."

"Well, I'm glad something eventually happened to her..." Ryuji said with a scowl.

"Yeah… it kind of helps Ladybug and Chat Noir too. Chloe used to be the cause of a lot of people getting akumatized, especially at my school. There haven't been as many coming from Francois-Dupont anymore." Marinette reasoned.

"I bet that's much less stress on the teachers," Ann added, which Marinette nodded.

Makoto's eyes eventually wandered to the clock on the wall and saw that they had about fifteen minutes until they were supposed to catch the buses to Diamond Head.

"We should get back to the hotel. Don't want Marinette to be late after all!" she said, standing up. After paying for the meal they raced off, catching the class just as they were boarding the transports to the volcano.

It was about a fifteen-minute drive to the volcano. The group passed by the town and the Honolulu zoo along the way. Upon reaching the trail-head of the hike, it was hard to believe at first that this was a volcano at all. It was just so green.

"Diamond Head is a cinder cone volcano." said a shorter kid in glasses with a… was that a flying robot?

"Which means…?" asked the kid next to him, with a more muscular, athletic build.

"Cinder cone volcanoes are the type that spews ash and other debris. Ever heard the saying 'blows it top'? Cinder cone volcanoes are likely where that saying came from," the boy continued.

"To be more precise," Akira's eyes widened as the floating robot started talking, "Diamond Head is a tuff cone volcano that has been officially labeled as extinct. It was primarily responsible for a series of volcanic eruptions known as the Honolulu Volcanic Series. It's the reason that so many other landmarks exist all over the island! It's quite unlikely that Diamond Head will ever officially erupt again, though, since the eruption took place when it was monogenetic."

"What does monogenetic mean?" the buff kid asked once more. He didn't seem to be the smartest banana in the bunch.

"Monogenetic is another type of volcano," the glasses kid explained, "they're the type that are small enough that they'll only erupt once, as opposed to polygenetic volcanoes, that erupt many times."

Akira found these little tidbits of information interesting and was internally grateful that the volcano wouldn't be erupting anytime soon.

"Hey, isn't Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii considered a cinder cone volcano too?" a girl with messy pink hair under a baseball cap questioned the fun-fact duo (both human and robot).

"Not quite," the robot replied, shaking his head, "many mistake it for one due to its shape and the damage it caused to the original city of Pompeii, but it's actually a composite volcano. A stratovolcano to be exact."

"Oh! That's the type that spews ash and lava right?" the girl nodded.

"That's correct," the kid adjusted his glasses, "those volcanoes are technically a combination of cinder cone and shield volcanoes, which spew ash and magma respectively."

"Guess all that time at the museum comes with advantages after all, dudette." a boy with glasses and a baseball cap grinned.

"Hey! I do pay attention when I want to!" the girl argued back.

Akira's eyes soon wandered away from the trivia kids to the landscape. As they climbed higher, the greenery slowly started to become less numerous, but not by much. As they neared the peak of the volcano crater, handrails and small platforms began to dot the path to keep the tourists off the natural greenery.

"Holy crow!" Ryuji exclaimed, "You can practically see anything from up here!"

"The water is gorgeous!" Ann said in awe, looking over the blue sea below.

"It's hard to believe that this used to be a volcano at all huh?" Makoto said.

"Indeed," Yusuke nodded, "as the saying goes, 'destruction lays the foundation for creation.'"

"Is that really how it goes?" Marinette asked, cocking her head to the side in uncertainty.

"I believe it is something along those lines." Yusuke shrugged.

Marinette shrugged and sat down on one of the few benches on the path, sketchbook out. Akira observed as her pencil flew across the page in a flurry. It had been a while since he'd seen someone with as creative of a mind as Marinette.

A movement behind him caught his eye. He turned around, noticing one of the students, the one who tripped Marinette a couple of days ago, Lila, quietly sneaking over to where some of the kids left their hiking backpacks. She was eyeing a bright pink one in particular.

Akira frowned and turned to walk towards the girl. He knew for a fact that that was not her backpack.

"What are you doing?" he asked, just as she was about to unzip one of the pockets of Marinette's backpack. She jumped nearly a foot in the air, obviously not expecting to get caught.

"Oh, um, I'm just getting something from my bag," she said after recovering.

"That's not your bag, it's Marinette's," Akira pointed out, "she's the only one that brought a pink backpack on the hike."

Lila scowled for a moment, before smiling again, "Well, I was just looking for some sunscreen, and I know Marinette always prepared for this sort of stuff, so-"

"Then shouldn't you have asked your teacher for something like that?" Akira countered, "And even if Marinette does have some, you should have asked her before snooping through her bag," he narrowed his eyes at the girl, "One would think that you were up to something."

Lila's 'innocent' smile disappeared, being replaced with a frown, "So what?"

Akira blinked at the sudden shift but quickly recovered.

"Do you have something against Marinette?" he inquired. "As far as I could tell, she hasn't done anything to you."

Akira blinked again, as Lila's face shifted once again. This time tears built up in her eyes, her lip trembling.

"Oh, Marinette is such a bully! Ever since I came to school she's hated me. She's jealous of me and of all of the things I've done in my life! She threatened me on my first day of school back in Paris, you know! She said that I would never make any friends and I would be all alone!"

Now, Akira had only known Marinette for about a day or two, but she seemed like the sweetest person he'd ever met. He may have at one point considered going for her, but she had a boyfriend. Akira had already landed himself into enough trouble over women… nevertheless, Marinette was too kind to have done the things Lila had said she'd done; not to mention the incident Yusuke had mentioned about who he assumed was Lila lying about Madarame. All this led to him doing what Lila might have called "picking a side."

"Try again," he said dryly, unimpressedly staring the Italian girl down. She blinked, apparently not expecting his reaction to be what it was. "A little piece of advice: if you're going to lie about something or someone, make it sound believable, and do your research, too. For example, maybe you shouldn't claim to be the pupil of an artist who's also a known criminal, abuser, & con man."

The girl's face shifted again, her crocodile tears disappearing completely.

"I just tell people what they want to hear. What's so wrong about that?" she asked with a sneer, her victim's display gone.

"It's called lying, and it's a terrible way to get people to like you," Akira shot back.

She shrugged nonchalantly, "Seems to be working for me, doesn't it? And besides, people can't resist when they hear what they like to hear."

Akira unintentionally grimaced. Wasn't that the truth? He'd met so many different rotten folks in this world that it wasn't too much of a surprise to meet a new kind of terrible person.

Lila smirked victoriously upon noticing the grimace, "You think you and your friends are so tough because you decided to play body-guard for this trip? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but once we're back in Paris, you won't be able to do anything. Everyone in our class believes me, and Adrien's too nice to expose me."

That was an interesting piece of information, and Akira filed it away for later.

"You and your friends should be grateful we aren't in the same school. Sure, you seem a little less dumb than the others, but if we were, you'd be all alone. No friends or people who believe you at all. That's exactly what will happen to Marinette, and there will be nothing you can do about it."

Akira's eyes narrowed further, staring deep into this girl's eyes. Her words were disturbing, not just because of their nature, but also because they were coming out of the mouth of someone who wasn't even eighteen yet. This type of sociopathic behavior coming from a minor was something one would be more likely to see in animated television shows or American crime dramas. She wasn't mincing her words either - she sounded confident too. There was no way that this was the first time she's threatened someone. Perhaps she was doing the same to Marinette, hence why she was attacking her like this?

Under normal circumstances, Akira would know that Lila was right. Once this trip was over, there wouldn't be much he and his friends could do. Sure, they could text Marinette, and encourage her from a distance, but that only worked for so long.

However, Akira wasn't a normal person, and he wasn't bound to normal circumstances.

Lifting his hand, he adjusted his glasses, the sunlight ominously reflecting off the lenses. He could practically already see Arsene floating menacingly behind him, black wings extended and chains clanking in the wind.

"We'll see about that," he intoned softly.

Lila involuntarily stepped back. It seemed his words frightened her a little… in his mind, he heard Arsene rumble out a Good.

"Is everything alright over here?" Ms. Bustier asked as she approached the duo, interrupting their stare-down.

Before Lila could say anything, likely a lie, Akira beat her to it, "Your student here was looking for some sunscreen."

Ms. Bustier smiled in understanding before looking at Lila, "Well, Lila, I have some extra sunscreen in my bag I can give you. Come along!"

Ms. Bustier gently took Lila's shoulder, leading her away from the backpacks towards where Bustier had set her things down.

Akira didn't miss the venomous glare the Italian shot at him as she was led off.

He simply lifted an eyebrow and stared back, throwing a carefree smirk back at her.

"Lila Rossi, huh?" he muttered, remembering her last name being called from the roll Ms. Bustier had, as he carefully hefted Marinette's backpack over his own shoulder, and walked back towards where the bluenette was seated. He stored the name away for future usage.

She jumped slightly when Akira dropped her backpack down next to her. She looked up in surprise.

"That girl who tripped you at the airport was attempting to go through it," Akira whispered softly.

With a small gasp, Marinette instinctively pulled her backpack a little closer to her.

"Thank you," she said gratefully.

Akira nodded before gazing back out at the ocean. The sun had just begun to dip lower in the sky, making the water sparkle like diamonds even more.

By the time the sun began to set over the horizon, the group was herded back to the buses to return to the hotel. Marinette and her Japanese friends managed to snap some incredible photos of the sunset, Yusuke commenting on the incredible color palette the Hawaiian sunset provided. They were even able to get one of Marinette's classmates to take a group shot of them at one of the volcano's peaks.

The conversation that he had with Lila wouldn't leave Akira's head though.

"There are even more posts now!" Yuuki exclaimed from behind him, looking at his phone, "Oh, wow! The president of a company called Okumura Foods is rising very quickly up the ranks!"

"We're on a trip, you know," Akira said, looking at him suspiciously.

"Come on, you can't let this chance pass you by!" Yuuki argued, "It's rumored that Okumura Foods exploit their employees. Stuff like underpaying staff to reduce labor costs… that's how they have so many stores."

Before Yuuki could continue, a loud knock came from the door. Alarmed, Yuuki got up to answer it. Akira turned just in time to see Ryuji walk in and sit on his bed.

"Yo," the blond said in greeting.

"What are you doing here?" Yuuki asked.

Ryuji groaned, "Just hear me out! The guy I'm roomin' with went and brought his girlfriend back to the room! I felt totally awkward stayin' in there with them. I'm just gonna sleep here tonight."

Akira didn't really have a problem with Ryuji sleeping over, but there was one small problem.

"Even though there are only two beds?" Yuuki questioned skeptically.

Before they could discuss sleeping arrangements, there was another knock at the door.

"Coming!" Yuuki called as he went to answer again.

The guest waiting on the other side this time was even more shocking.

"Takamaki?!" Yuuki gasped as he let the blonde girl in.

She scowled in annoyance as she sat down on Yuuki's bed, "The girl I was sharing a room with took off to her boyfriend's room!"

"I know that feelin'..." Ryuji commented.

"And she took the key!" Ann added, "I stepped outside for just a second and the auto-lock kicked in! I can't get back in my room!" she groaned into her palms.

"Huh?" Ryuji said, noticing Yuuki looking at his phone, "You're lookin' at stuff online even over here?"

"Ever since the Medjed case, many people from overseas have been accessing the website…" Yuuki told them, "Isn't it crazy? The Phantom Thieves are finally making their worldwide debut! Oh, what should I do with overseas requests?"

Though they were enjoying Yuuki's enthusiasm, Ann stuttered, "I-I don't think we're the ones you should ask about that…"

Ignoring her, Yuuki continued, "They took down Medjed. I wonder who they'll bring justice to next. It's not just Japan anymore. The whole world's waiting to see the Phantom Thieves' next move."

"Everyone except Paris, France." Akira corrected.

Yuuki looked stunned, and then grimaced, "Oh yeah… I guess they're already occupied with all of those weird 'akuma attacks' happening all the time, huh… Hey, do you think the Phantom Thieves could help there too?"

"I don't know…" Ann said honestly, "That would be completely different from criminals in Japan. After all, no one knows who Hawkmoth is. It's hard to take down someone when you don't know who they are."

"I guess you're right… but still!" Yuuki exclaimed, sounding frustrated, "There must be some way the Phantom Thieves can help!"

"Maybe you should do some research, Yuuki." Akira suggested, "The more information the Phantom Thieves have, the faster they can find a solution."

"...Yeah, yeah I'll do that. I'll start tomorrow!" Yuuki promised, nodding his head.

"That reminds me, what time is it?" Ann asked, looking at Ryuji who yawned in response.

"So sleepy…" the blond moaned, "I'm feeling pretty pooped. You think this could be that jet lag thing?"

"It'll be too much hassle for me to go anywhere else," Ann reasoned, "I'll just sleep in here tonight."

The three boys looked a little alarmed. After all, Ann was a girl, about to sleep in a boys' room.

"Wait, what? I dunno if that's a good idea!" Ryuji protested.

"Are you serious?" Akira asked, still shocked.

"I already told you, I can't get back to my room!" Ann reminded them.

Ryuji sighed in defeat, "You heard her."

Yuuki frowned, "There are only two beds…. Even if someone sleeps on the sofa…"

"One of us is going to have to sleep on the floor…" Ryuji finished, "So who's that going to be?"

Before any form of debate could sprout, Ryuji spotted the solution.

"Oh hey, playin' cards! Why don't we use these to decide?" he grinned.

Ultimately, Ryuji lost the game, so he took the floor with Ann and Yuuki in the beds and Akira winning the couch.

M: So…. I meant to ask this morning, but were there any akuma attacks yesterday or this morning?

L: There was AN akuma, but it's currently in a jar under my bed.

M: WHAT?! Why didn't you tell me sooner?!

L: Sorry, I knew that it would be hard to sneak away while you were at Diamond Head, so I was trying to find a time where you'd be alone.

M: Okay, standby, I'll be there in a second!

Marinette grappled with her phone in her panic, before racing to the bathroom to transform. Alix gave her a weird look as she raced past, but shrugged it off.

Five seconds later, she jumped from her hotel room in Hawaii into the familiar bedroom cabin of the Couffaine's boat. Luka was seated on his bed, guitar in hand.

Not asking questions, Luka simply lifted his bed's quilt to reveal the captured akuma underneath. Quickly but carefully unscrewing the jar, Lady Horseshoe was quick to divide the kwamis and then purify the butterfly before it could fly off.

"You don't have to do your cure. I caught it before anyone could get akumatized." Luka said calmly, a hint of pride in his smile. He did visibly relax, though. He may not show it, but it was rather unsettling to have an evil butterfly trapped in a jar right underneath your bed for a day.

"And how exactly did the akuma get close enough for you to do that?" Marinette asked a little accusingly. It was out of worry for his well-being; despite knowing the fact that Luka was now a full-time hero like her, she hated when he was put in unnecessary danger.

"My boss at work…" Luka said with a frown. Though Luka's job as a delivery boy paid alright, she'd quickly learned his boss wasn't always the most pleasant man.

"What got him so worked up this time?" Ladybug asked.

"We were a little backed up on our orders," Luka said, "and one of the newer employees kept mixing up the callers. He was getting a little frustrated."

"Just a little?" Ladybug giggled.

"Just a little." Luka smiled reassuringly, "On the bright side, he did mention a possible bonus for stopping that akuma."

Ladybug giggled, and kissed her boyfriend, "Well, good for you!" She then stood back up and reunified Kaalki and Tikki, "Sorry, I wish I could stay longer, but Alix isn't asleep yet, and she'll start to wonder if something's up in the bathroom."

Luka nodded in understanding, "I'm glad you're enjoying your trip so far. I'll be here waiting for you when you get back."

"Thanks, Luka." she hugged him one more time, "Love you!"

"Love you too!" he called as she opened up a portal and stepped through back into Hawaii.

Akira tossed and turned on the couch. Sure it wasn't the most comfortable thing to sleep on, but it certainly beat the floor.

No, it wasn't an uncomfy couch that was keeping him up. It was a certain Italian.

He couldn't get Lila's threat out of his head. The way that she worded her threat to him, it sounded too… practiced. Like she had done something similar before, and not just once. There was something wrong with that girl, he could feel it in his bones. Plus, the fact that he heard Arsene agree with him in the real world didn't help quell his suspicions either.

Knowing that his instincts never stirred him wrong before, he reached for his phone on the coffee table, careful not to wake Ryuji or Ann. He winced when he heard Yuuki retching in the bathroom. He probably drank some of the sink water earlier.

He opened his phone and pulled up the Nav.

He hesitated for one extra moment before finally whispering, "Lila Rossi, who lives in Paris, France."

There was a beep.

"Candidate Found."

Chapter Text

Seconds after the Nav answered, Akira shook himself from his shocked state and got to work.

"Ryuji! Wake up!" he hissed, lightly nudging the ex-runner with his foot.

"Wh-wha?" the blond responded, his eyes still partially closed.

"Emergency Phantom Thief meeting, now!" Akira replied.

"What?!" Ryuji exclaimed, now fully awake, "Why?!"

"I'll explain once everyone's here," Akira replied shortly before moving to where Ann was asleep on the bed. He gently shook her shoulder.

She groaned in annoyance before finally blinking one eye open, "What?" she asked, annoyed.

"Emergency PT meeting," Akira answered, before quickly scrolling through his phone contacts.

"Wait-what?!" Ann asked, sitting up, the blankets falling off. She glanced nervously at the bathroom, "Wh-what about Yuuki? He could overhear!"

"Don't worry about that," Akira insisted as he waited impatiently for Makoto to pick up, "If he overhears anything he can keep a secret. I trust him." The call went to voicemail. He growled and dialed again.

This time after the fourth ring, a very irritated voice grunted on the other end, "Yes?"

"Sorry, Makoto, but we need to have a meeting with the Thieves. Now."

"Wh-Right now?!" she demanded.

"Yes," Akira insisted, "I'm sorry I woke you up but I promise it won't be for nothing."

Makoto growled on the other end, "What room are you again?"

"539." he answered.

"Okay, I'll be there in two minutes. This had better be good."

"It will trust me," Akira promised before hanging up and dialing Yusuke. The artist had a slightly more mellow reaction to being woken up (Akira wondered if Yusuke was one of those artists that would get struck with inspiration in the middle of the night sometimes), though there was still a layer of irritation in his tone. He said he'd be there in a moment.

Akira then looked directly at his phone, "Futaba, if you can see me right now, grab Morgana and call as soon as you can."

About a minute later, there was a knock at the door. Ryuji ran to open it and welcomed Yusuke and Makoto into the room, both still in pajamas.

"Akira, what's this all about? You better have a good explanation!" Makoto said, folding her arms.

"Not that I mind waking up in the early morning hours, but I must agree with Makoto," Yusuke added.

Before Akira could answer, his phone started ringing with Futaba's contact info on it. He quickly answered and put it on speaker.

"What's up chief?" Futaba's voice greeted, "You looked a little stressed out."

"Okay," Akira put his phone down and massaged his forehead, "in order for this to make sense, I'll need to explain something that happened while we were at Diamond Head earlier. That okay?"

Most of the group looked annoyed but Ann gestured for him to continue.

Akira quickly told them about his confrontation with Lila, how her attitude changed from victim accusing a classmate, Marinette, of bullying her all school year, to a complete Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde turn around where she made the semi-threat to Akira, and how she thought it was cute that they were playing 'bodyguard' for Marinette.

"Whoa, hold up!" Ryuji said, stopping Akira, "This chick first tried to lie so that she could snoop around Marinette's backpack, then said Marinette was bullying her, then basically she turned psycho and tried to threaten you?"

"If you ask me, it sounds like the bullying is more in reverse, with Lila being the one bullying Marinette. She did trip her at the airport after all." Ann added.

"I'm more concerned about what she meant about once this trip is over," Makoto said with a frown, "Do you think Lila's going to turn us hanging out with Marinette against her somehow?"

"She certainly seemed to imply that," Akira nodded, biting his lip.

"Hmm, well, I guess a quick Mementos mission wouldn't hurt anyone, even if you're on vacation right now," Morgana said from the other end of the line, "I may have a way of locating you with Futaba's help, but it will take a while for us to get to you."

"Yeah, I mean, it's not like she's our first bully we've changed in Mementos," Ryuji said with a grin.

Akira grimaced and shook his head, "I'm afraid it's not that simple."

"What? Why?" Ryuji asked.

There was a pause of silence before Yusuke gasped, "Don't tell me…!"

"Yeah… I put Lila's name, Lila Rossi, into the Nav… and I got a hit."

"What?!" Makoto gasped, her expression of shock mirrored on the rest of the Thieves as well.

"How is that possible?" Ann asked, "Last I checked, Lila is Marinette's age, and Marinette's even younger than Futaba. Maybe by about a year, but still."

"That shouldn't matter," Morgana reminded them, "As long as a person has strong distorted desires, it doesn't matter how old they are… Although, I will agree with the fact that someone so young actually having a Palace is disturbing."

"I doubt she has it for the same reason that I did either…" Futaba added.

"From the way that you described Miss Rossi's behavior, I cannot help but wonder if she has some sort of disorder…" Yusuke observed.

Makoto shook her head, "If she had a disorder, she wouldn't have much control of her actions. From what Akira just described, it sounded like she knew exactly what she was doing. No. This sounds more like something a sociopath would do."

"Yeah," Akira nodded, "Plus, when she finished her threat and I stood my ground, I heard Arsene speak to me in my head. So the fact that he reacted so strongly was proof enough for me."

"...Okay, so then what do we do?" Ryuji asked, "I mean, she has a Palace, so something must be going on with her."

"Unfortunately, I don't think there's much we can do right now," Ann said. She then quickly put her hands up in surrender when they looked at the blonde incredulously, "Wh-what I mean is, we don't know anything about Lila, so I doubt we'll be able to guess what the other two keywords are. We still need to figure out the location and distortion. The only things we do know is that she's a liar, and not a very good one if you actually listen to what she says and that she has it out for Marinette for some reason. I'm not saying we shouldn't go after her, but..."

"I believe what Lady Ann is trying to say is that you need to gather some intel first before we decide if we're going to make any moves on this Palace," Morgana guessed, "and I agree. I say tomorrow, you talk to some of the students in Lila's class, particularly this Marinette girl since she seems to be the epicenter of this, and see what you can learn about her. We'll reconvene tomorrow and share what we found. Sounds good?"

The Phantom Thieves all nodded, agreeing that this was a good plan. Marinette had mentioned that her class would be going to the Dole Plantation in the morning and be back around 1:30 or 2:00 depending on traffic. It should still give them plenty of free time to talk to Marinette before dinner.

"Alright, we'll call you two tomorrow then." Akira said, about to end the call.

"Hold on, before that..." Futaba piped up, "would you mind sending me a link to that Ladyblog website you were talking about. I'm going to see if I can scope around what's really going on in Paris."

"Oh, yeah I'll send it to you in a minute." Akira said before hanging up.

"'Kay, so the plan is to grill Marinette about Lila tomorrow?" Ryuji asked.

"'Grill' is putting it a little harshly." Ann chastised. Ryuji shrunk into his shoulders a little bit.

"We will speak with her tomorrow." Yusuke clarified, "but we shouldn't push the subject either. She may grow suspicious about our intentions."

"I agree," Makoto said, "If Lila's really bullying Marinette, we need to approach this carefully. Even though we're strangers, she may be hesitant to talk. That's the case with most bully-victims."

"We'll figure something out," Akira said with confidence, "Worst case scenario, we can have Futaba dig up some intel. Though I doubt her method will be completely legal."

Ann chuckled, "No kidding. Anyway, let's get back to bed. We'll deal with this in the morning."

The rest of the team mumbled in agreement and Yusuke and Makoto made their exit from the room.

"And here I thought this vacation was supposed to be relaxing." Ryuji groaned as he settled back on the floor.

Akira huffed out a laugh before finally drifting off to sleep himself. Supposed to be relaxing, indeed…

Most of the morning was uneventful for the Phantom Thieves. After a casual breakfast at the hotel, there wasn't much else to do until Marinette's class got back.

"Marinette will get to eat some of the pineapples that are likely harvested right from the Dole Plantation!" Ann exclaimed, "I bet it's so sweet and fresh!"

"Is pineapple the only thing that this Dole place is known for?" Ryuji asked.

"Well, the pineapple is Hawaii's main crop. It's said that they grow up to forty different crops at the plantation, not just pineapple. In America, they're more well-known for their bananas than some of their other crops." Yuuki informed them.

"Bananas? Really?" Ryuji asked, looking intrigued.

"Yeah, they're also known for growing coffee, sugarcane, and macadamia nuts," Yuuki continued.

"We'll have to ask her about the details later! And if she took any pictures!" Ann said excitedly, wiping some accidental drool from her face, "Oh… all this talk about bananas and nuts is making me really crave a banana split right now."

"There may be some stalls selling some somewhere," Yusuke reasoned, "it is around lunchtime after all."

"It's also our last day of vacation…" Makoto reminded them, "we might as well make the most of it while we have the time."

"I agree. Let's get some lunch and then see what else there is to do in the meantime," Akira suggested.

To Marinette's pleasant surprise, the Dole Plantation tour went without too much trouble. Sure, she heard Lila spouting some nonsense about knowing the head farmer of the place, but Marinette just rolled her eyes and focused back on the tour. She could feel Adrien's eyes in the back looking at her as well but didn't acknowledge it either.

Honestly, ever since Lila turned up, Adrien had changed. Yes, Adrien liked to see the good in people, but could he not see that Lila's lies were hurting people? And what about the long term consequences? Sure, he was concerned about Lila not getting akumatized, but what about the rest of the class when she eventually was found out? Then they'd have over a dozen akuma to deal with. Luka had actually been the one to bring this up on patrol one night, which was why she had been subtly trying to drop hints here and there, such as, 'Isn't Joe Montana a retired American football player?' or 'I thought Rick Riordian had started writing the Percy Jackson series because his son inspired him.' She noticed Luka doing something similar whenever Kitty Section met for practice. It felt good to have someone at her back. Plus, whenever someone would shoot back saying 'How do you know?' or 'Are you sure about that?' she simply says, 'That's just what I heard.'

The strategy seemed to be working overall, as Lila would usually have an audience when these queries were brought up, and Marinette had always made sure that she was never alone in a room anywhere at school now. Even the bathroom. She also had Lila blocked on most of her social media and her phone, so if the Italian tried any cyber-bullying, she simply wouldn't see it.

As her class finally got off the bus, Marinette scanned the crowd near the hotel, seeing if she could spot Akira, Ann or the other Japanese students. She had a little extra money and decided to bring back some treats from the plantation, some chocolate covered pineapple and macadamia nuts. The fruit had tasted so amazing, and she remembered Ryuji complaining about how their school didn't really schedule any activities for them. This should hopefully brighten up their day.

"Mari! Over here!" a familiar voice shouted from across the way.

Turning she grinned as she spotted Ryuji's familiar blond hair in the crowd. He was waving at Marinette excitedly. So were the others, though not as wildly.

With a grin, she ran over to her new friends, eager to share her experience.

"How was it? You looked like you had fun." Makoto said.

"How was the pineapple, was it good?" Ann eagerly asked.

"Why don't you find out for yourself?" Marinette giggled as she pulled out a box of the chocolate covered pineapple slices.

Ann looked like she had just been presented with a VIP pass to Destinyland and wrapped Marinette in a tight hug, "Mari, you are an angel, have we told you that yet? Because you are!"

"Oh, it's no big deal, really…" Marinette replied as Ann set her down.

"Why don't we head to the beach and we can all snack on them by the ocean?" Akira suggested.

"Sounds good. I bought some chocolate macadamia nuts too!" Marinette informed them.

"Sounds delicious…" Yusuke commented, mentally drooling a little bit.

"Great! I'll go change really quick and then we'll go," Marinette decided.

"Sounds good!" Ryuji grinned, giving Marinette a thumbs up as she scrambled up to her room, Ann still holding the pineapple treats in her hands.

The beach was filled with people by the time they arrived, but they managed to secure a spot close to the water. There wasn't much shade, but this didn't bother the group as towels were laid out and snacks were passed around.

"These are amazing!" Ann exclaimed after popping three pineapple chunks into her mouth. A teeny bit of fruit juice was slowly trailing down her chin.

"Well, I'm glad I got some, then!" Marinette laughed while handing Ann a napkin.

"Thanks for thinking of us, Marinette." Makoto said sincerely, taking a bite from a macadamia nut, "I mean, we barely know each other but you still brought some snacks to share."

Marinette shrugged happily, "I bring extra snacks from my family bakery to school all the time, so it doesn't feel weird to me."

"Your family owns a bakery?" Ryuji asked.

Marinette nodded, "Yep, it's called The Tom & Sabine Boulangerie & Patisserie. I don't like to brag, but we do make some of the best macaroons and croissants in the city."

Ann's mouth started watering again at the mention of the French sweets, and she made a mental note to track the place down should she ever make her way to the City of Love.

"That's really cool, Marinette." Akira commented, "You must be a good baker."

"Yeah, I'm okay, I guess…" Marinette said, scratching the back of her neck, "My papa's taught me everything he knows. He comes from a long line of bakers, so it's kind of in our blood."

"Sounds more like you come from a long line of artists. Depending on how you look at it, baking or cooking can be considered a form of art." Yusuke pointed out.

"I guess that's true…" Marinette nodded in consideration, "My mom's uncle, he's a world-famous chef. Have any of you ever heard of Wang Cheng by chance?"

"Oh yeah, I think I've heard that name before!" Ann exclaimed. Then she stopped, "Wait a second… isn't that one soup of his called Marinette Soup?"

Marinette ducked her head and blushed a little, "Um, yes. Yes, it is called that."

"NO 'EFFIN' WAY!" Ryuji exclaimed. "He named that after you?"

"Yeah, he did." Marinette nodded, "He changed the name after he won this cooking competition in Paris about a year ago."

"That's so sweet!" Ann gushed, "Do you keep in touch with him?"

"He works at one of the hotels back home, so I see him every now and then," Marinette confirmed with a nod.

"That's really cool," Makoto said with a nod.

A small silence followed though the Phantom Thieves stole glances at one another. It was going to be awkward bringing up Lila in this conversation, and that was if Marinette even wanted to talk about her at all.

"What's wrong?" Marinette suddenly asked. She must have noticed the looks they gave one another.

"Nothing, why?" Akira said.

"You guys are looking at each other weird," she observed, "so is something the matter?"

Everyone glanced at each other again. Marinette was quite observant to have noticed their glances.

Akira broke the awkward silence with a sigh.

"Marinette, you don't have to answer us if you don't want to talk about it, but we wanted to ask you something."

Marinette felt a small chill run down her spine as she waited for Akira to continue. She hoped she hadn't offended her new friends in any way.

"It's about… well…" Ryuji hesitated; clearly he was feeling uneasy about the topic.

Makoto then sighed and rolled her eyes, "It's about one of your classmates. Lila Rossi, I believe her name was."

Marinette tensed. Oh, great. What had Lila said to them? What had she done now?

Noticing her reaction, Makoto quickly corrected herself, "Marinette, we know she's a liar. We're just concerned about you."

Marinette blinked. She was half-expecting the teens to start accusing her of something that Lila said she did. So to actually hear someone, besides Luka and Adrien, say that they knew she was lying was quite shocking.

"Remember when I told you yesterday at Diamond Head that she was trying to go through your bag?" Akira asked, "Well when I caught her doing it, she wasn't exactly happy about it."

"I… I honestly don't know what she would've been looking for. I had my sketchbook out already, and that's the only thing I can think of that she'd try to mess with. Either that, or she was going to accuse me of stealing something from her, or someone else… again."

The last part was said quietly enough that the Phantom Thieves almost didn't catch it. Again? How many times had Lila done something like this?

"Sorry if this sounds harsh, but she really seems to have it out for you." Ryuji said with a frown, "Do you know why?"

"Simple," Marinette answered, "because she knows that I know that she's lying. And that I'm not happy about it."

"So… she sees you as a threat?" Ann asked carefully.

"I guess so…?" Marinette guessed, "I mean she did threaten me in the ba-" slamming a hand over her own mouth, Marinette cut herself off before she could say anything else.

"So she did threaten you!" Yusuke confirmed, looking noticeably angry.

"Well - I mean…" Marinette sighed in defeat, "Yes, she did."

"...How exactly did you find out that she was a liar?" Akira asked, "I mean, no offense, but her lies aren't really that good. If you use common sense they don't add up, like that claim she made about Madarame."

Marinette sighed again, "It's a long story, but I do agree! Half of her stories don't make sense, but has anyone else decided to use their head and look them up?! No, they haven't! My best- my classmate, Alya, she wants to be a journalist, and she runs the Ladyblog. She did those interviews of Lila claiming that she's Ladybug's BFF. After I saw them, I asked Alya if Lila was really telling the truth. And you know what she said to me? She said 'A good journalist always checks her sources.' It was obvious, though, that she didn't confirm any of what Lila said. I mean, come on! Who makes the claim of being best friends with a superheroine?! That's basically like painting a giant bullseye on your back saying 'Come and get me!' to Hawkmoth or some other villain who's after Ladybug!"

Marinette panted a little after she finished her rant, and the Phantom Thieves glanced at one another again. It was true. Making a claim that ludicrous & big wasn't just being dishonest, but also dangerous. Publishing it all over the world wide web didn't exactly help either.

"And people believe this bull?!" Ryuji asked incredulously.

"YES! Well, the other kids in my class do anyway..." Marinette ground through her teeth.

"So, other than using your head, how did you find out that Lila was lying about all of the things she's lied about?" Akira asked.

Marinette sighed, "As I said, it's a long story."

"We've got time." Makoto pointed out, wrapping her arms around her knees, looking expectantly at Marinette.

Marinette glanced up at her new friends again. She could tell from the look in their eyes that they were willing to listen. But… would they really believe her?

As if reading her mind, Akira said, "Marinette, we want to help. We'll believe you. You haven't lied to us the entire time we've been here."

Marinette mentally cringed, knowing that that wasn't completely true. But, she didn't have much to lose anyway. It was unlikely she'd ever see these people again face to face after tomorrow.

"Okay…" she finally relented, "I guess I'll start at the beginning then."

She told them about when Lila first came to her school. It had started out fairly normal until she had actually gotten there. She had heard Rose talking about a girl named 'Lila' having been in Prince Ali's private jet, and how amazing that was. Then she heard Chloe complaining about why Jagged Stone wrote a song for that 'peasant' instead of her.

"Whoa, hold the phone!" Ryuji interrupted, "Jagged Stone the singer? That Jagged Stone?"

"Yeah…?" Marinette confirmed, a little confused.

"Oh… why the heck would she claim that he wrote a song for her? Isn't that dude like in his thirties?" Ryuji asked, "If that was actually true, that wouldn't be cool. That'd just be creepy."

"I agree. If a news station or some other media outlet that didn't like Jagged Stone got wind of that, he could be in danger of facing a charge of pedophilia. If he was found guilty he could end being labeled as a pedophile. And that's a hard title to get rid of legally, at least in Japan." Makoto reasoned, her sister's prosecutor skills leaking through, "And even if it turned out to be a false statement, there would still be a huge scandal about it. Lila would be in major trouble from both the law & Jagged! Not to mention the court proceedings would be stressful either way."

Marinette froze. She never thought about that. Had Jagged even seen that interview or any of the other claims Lila had made about him, like running onto an airport tarmac to save his kitten?!

"Well, I know for a fact that Jagged isn't a pedophile," Marinette said, "I've actually done some commissions for him before, and he's never written anything about a teenage girl. Well, okay he wrote that one song about Ladybug, but that's completely different."

"Wait, you've met Jagged Stone and done work for him?!" Ryuji exclaimed.

Marinette blushed, "Um yeah. You know those Eiffel Tower glasses he always wears? I'm the one that designed them."

"Seriously?!" Ryuji shouted in excitement, "That's so 'effing awesome!"

"They do compliment his punk rock look quite well," Yusuke agreed.

"Thanks. Anyway, those were just some of the things I heard when I arrived. Then Alya showed me that interview that she did of Lila claiming she's Ladybug's BFF. That's when alarm bells really started going off in my head, for reasons I've already mentioned. Then I finally noticed her, obviously because I'd never seen her before, and she was talking to Adrien." Marinette blushed and cringed slightly before continuing, "Back then, I had a pretty big crush on Adrien, so I'll admit, some of the actions that followed were because I was a little jealous. But in the end, I don't regret what I did."

"Hey, we're all human," Ann shrugged, "I've done things I'm not really proud of either, whether in the name of love or otherwise."

Ryuji snickered, "Yeah, like that one time that you-"

"Shut up!" Ann hissed, giving Ryuji the stink-eye. Ryuji quickly complied.

"So anyway, I noticed Lila was talking to Adrien and trying to get a little close to him. Then after Alya left, I noticed them going to the library, so I followed them, both out of jealousy, tied with the fact that I was skeptical of all these stories I was hearing. At first it looked like they were going to be doing homework together, but then Adrien pulled out this big, old-looking book. Lila then, without even asking Adrien if she could, snatched it from him and started looking through it, asking him what it was. When he said it was a book about superheroes, she started gushing about how much she loved superheroes. On one of the pages was a picture of an ancient Ladybug hero, and Adrien was telling her how much he admired the current Ladybug. Lila then frowned and said that 'a girl doesn't need to wear a costume to be amazing' as if she hadn't been claiming to love superheroes just two seconds earlier! She then told Adrien the same lie she told Alya about her being friends with Ladybug. Adrien looked interested and she said that they could talk about it later after school in the park. I was hiding behind a book cart during all of this, and I accidentally lost my balance and slipped. The cart went flying into the wall, so I quickly hid under the table so I wouldn't get caught."

"Smooth," Ryuji commented, only for Ann to elbow him. He looked guilty and started to rub his sore ribs.

Marinette looked a little guilty and brushed a strand of hair away from her face, "It's not exactly my proudest moment, and I'm still not happy that I did it at all." The guilt quickly melted away though, "But, I also wouldn't take it back, otherwise, I never would have found out what Lila was really like."

"And what did you find out?" Makoto asked.

"I found out how far Lila was willing to go to make her stories believable, that's for sure. Anyway, after that Adrien had to leave for fencing practice, but agreed to meet up with Lila later. He started to gather up his things but then got startled because Lila was standing right behind him, so he dropped his bag and some of his books fell out, including the superhero one. While Lila was asking to confirm their meeting, she used her foot to move the book behind her without Adrien noticing. After he finally left, Lila picked up the book again, and this time it was on a page with a fox hero, one she looked really interested in. After that, she left the school, even though we technically still had class. She stopped by a jewelry store on the way to the park. After about ten minutes she came out with a bag. Then, she went to the park and sat down on a bench and pulled the contents of the bag out. It was a fox-tailed necklace which she put on. She only admired it for about a minute until Adrien showed up. She still had the book with her, so she hid it behind her back to avoid getting caught with it. Then, to get rid of evidence, she threw in the trash."

"She threw it in the trash?" Makoto asked, sounding horrified.

"Yeah," Marinette, sounding like she was in as much disbelief as Makoto was, "I knew that that book must have been special to Adrien, so I went to go and get it. I didn't want to get caught though, so I had to be careful. Long story short I managed to get it out without either of them seeing me. I managed to pick up parts of their conversation as I was doing that though. Adrien asked Lila if she knew Ladybug for real, and Lila said that not only did Ladybug save her life, but they had something in common. She then claimed to be a descendant of a vixen superheroine named Volpina. Adrien said he might have seen her in his book, but before he could get the book from his bag, Lila stopped him. And then she said that of course, Volpina was in there because she was one of the most important superheroes in the world, even more so than Ladybug. She said that Ladybug didn't even make the top ten. That's when she showed him the necklace she had just bought and showed it to him, claiming her grandmother had given it to her. Adrien then asked if it was a Miraculous."

"Whoa, that is going pretty far!" Ryuji agreed.

"I know," Marinette exclaimed, "I was about to spring up from where I was hiding right there and say that she was lying, but I ended up not needing to because two seconds later, Ladybug herself showed up."

"Ladybug?" Akira asked.

"Yeah, Ladybug. Anyway, when she got there, she wasn't happy. She started yelling at Lila and calling her out as a liar right there, saying that no, she never saved her life, and no, they weren't best friends. Adrien then asked if she wasn't a descendant of a superhero, and Ladybug said that she was more like a super liar."

"No kidding…" Ryuji mumbled.

"Wait, this Adrien kid…" Akira said before Marinette could continue, "does that mean that he knows that Lila's been lying all this time too?"

Marinette hesitated to answer; she didn't want to paint Adrien in a bad light, but she knew she couldn't lie about this either, so she nodded.

"And he's never, like, called her out for it?" Ann asked, utterly flabbergasted.

"Um, no. He hasn't. As far as I know, anyway." Marinette confirmed.

Akira, Ann, Makoto, and Ryuji all shared infuriated looks with one another. Yusuke & Marinette gave them confused looks.

"Why does this situation sound so familiar?" Ryuji asked himself out loud.

Yusuke's eyes widened, catching on to what they were likely thinking of. He grimaced in disgust as well.

Marinette still sat there confused. "What do you mean?"

This seemed to shake the quartet out of their glaring contest and they quickly turned their attention back to Marinette.

"Sorry, Marinette, you were saying?" Akira asked.

"Uh… right," Marinette said, still confused but shook it off and picked the story back up, "Anyway, so Ladybug had called Lila out, in front of Adrien no less, but then Lila shouted back at Ladybug saying 'How dare you!' and then ran off. She was acting like the entire thing was Ladybug's fault. And, I'll admit Ladybug was a bit harsh with her, and probably could've gone about it a little more politely too."

"That doesn't matter," Ryuji protested, "if you ask me, Ladybug made the right call. I mean, if someone was spreading false shit about me, I'd call them out too."

"I agree. And besides, if Lila didn't want to get chewed out like that, she shouldn't have been lying in the first place," Makoto said.

"I believe that she's lucky that she only got chewed out." Yusuke said with a small scowl, "Openly lying about a public figure like that could have led to much bigger consequences than simply getting called out. Had Ladybug been harsher, she could have sued Lila for slander or libel, which once again would get her in trouble with the law. Not to mention that someone could take her claims too far and expect her to follow through one day and if she doesn't… I think you understand where I'm going with this."

Marinette clenched her fists and nodded. "So, anyway, after Lila ran off, I was in too shock to notice Ladybug and Adrien leaving. That's when I finally got the book out of the garbage bin. There was fortunately not too much else in there, but I still took the book home to clean it and go through it to make sure none of the pages were damaged and that nothing gross got shoved between them. I was planning to return it to Adrien the next day. Then, later on, Lila got akumatized into Volpina, a fox-looking akuma that could make illusions, and Ladybug and Chat Noir eventually beat her. Then the next day, I found out that Adrien's dad had pulled him out of school because he had lost something that his dad owned."

"Whoa-wait, what?!" Ryuji exclaimed, "You're telling us that his dad pulled his son out of school as a punishment?!"

"Mr. Agreste is… morally unsound," Marinette said uneasily, "When I heard about this, I knew that the item must have been the book I found, so I planned to text Adrien and tell him I found it. But then his dad ended up getting akumatized into the Collector. He could basically take anything and anyone and trap them in this book he had. His 'Book of Inspiration,' I think he called it? Anyway, as usual, Ladybug and Chat Noir defeated him. After that, I went to the Agreste manor and returned the book, but I didn't tell Mr. Agreste that Lila took. I said that I did."

"What?! Why did you do that?!" Ann asked, "You could have gotten into trouble!"

"I know, and now looking back, I know I should have told the truth. Honestly though, I just kind of felt bad for Lila. I figured that she had gotten into enough trouble with being exposed and then getting akumatized. But if I could go back and do that all over again, I would absolutely have ratted her out!"

"Okay, so you were trying to be nice back then." Makoto nodded, "I can see the logic in that a little."

"Yeah. After that, Adrien showed up at school again, and everything was normal for a while. And Lila… she kind of just disappeared," Marinette said, looking a little unsure, "she didn't show back up to school for months, but she FaceTimed the class a couple of times claiming that she was 'traveling'," she made quote signs for the word, "with her mom to Achu. But it was obvious if you looked close enough that she was just posing in front of a poster."

"Hold up," Makoto said, "she was gone for months? Did she ever ask for an absence slip or leave a parental note explaining it? Or better yet, did the teacher or principal try to call her parents to confirm this?"

"Not as far as I know..." Marinette shook her head.

"Are you kidding me?!" Ryuji asked, looking incredulous, "No offense, Marinette, but your school sounds like it's full of nothing but idiots!"

"Honestly, Ryuji, I have to completely agree with you," Marinette sighed, "and people should have known she was lying that day because of what happened too!"

"What happened that day?" Akira asked.

"That day happened to be Heroes' Day, a national holiday that the mayor declared to honor Ladybug, Chat Noir, and the other superheroes that had been showing up recently," Marinette explained. She then went on to explain that it was Lila as an akuma, again, who had catalyzed the absolute catastrophe that that day had been. She had made an illusion of an akumatized Ladybug killing Chat Noir, causing a city-wide panic that Hawkmoth took advantage of, releasing a bunch of scarlet akumas that turned most of the city into supervillains again. He even managed to akumatize some of the other superheroes, besides Ladybug and Chat Noir."

"The only reason Ladybug and Chat Noir won that day is due to the rest of the citizens rising up to help them fight. I don't know all the details, but they managed to release all of the akumas at once and even managed to corner Hawkmoth. The only reason he got away was because someone, using another Miraculous, rescued him."

"That was when Mayura made her debut?" Akira guessed.

"Yes. So now, Ladybug and Chat Noir have two super-villains to deal with instead of one."

"Damn…" Ryuji whispered.

"Okay, so that happened," Makoto said, "What happened when Lila eventually came back?"

Marinette visibly shrunk inward, but bravely continued anyway, "That day, I went to school as usual, but when I got to the classroom, I noticed that all of the seats had been rearranged. I also noticed that the seat next to where Adrien usually sat was empty. When I asked Alya if she had somehow made this arrangement so that I could sit next to Adrien, Alya said no. I found out a couple of minutes later that it was for Lila because she somehow came back to school claiming to have tinnitus, which she did not have last time. As a result, I was moved to the back of the classroom."

"And your teacher didn't even ask for a doctor's note about this?" Ann asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Nope," Marinette popped the 'p' at the end.

"How did she convince the others that she had tinnitus?" Yusuke asked, curious but also fearing the answer.

Marinette gave them a deadpan look, then said robotically, "She claimed she got it because she had run onto an airport tarmac to rescue Jagged Stone's kitten."

There was a long pause before Ryuji finally broke, "I'm sorry, what?!" he raged, slamming his hands down on the beach towel below him.

"You heard me..." Marinette said in the same robotic tone.

"...And people believed her?" Akira asked, in complete disbelief. He was really starting to question the intelligence level of Marinette's school, for both students and teachers.

Makoto breathed deeply through her nose, bringing her hands up to her face in a praying position. Yusuke massaged the bridge of his nose and Ann aggressively groaned and tugged at her ponytails.

"Yes, everyone believed her…" Marinette parroted back before continuing, "So I was moved to the back and Lila got to sit in the front. Now if the condition was genuine, I wouldn't have cared, but I knew that she was lying. I knew she made up that story so that she could sit next to Adrien, who might I add, didn't look comfortable sitting next to her at all!"

"I'm not even sure I need to ask, but the teacher didn't notice this?" Akira asked, ever-so aggravated.

Marinette shook her head, "No. And when I tried to protest, Ms. Bustier asked me if I had hearing problems too! Lila was making it worse by making a scene and turning on the crocodile tears to make me look bad. After that, I just kept my mouth shut. Everything was fine until lunch. I noticed that people were carrying her lunch trays and carrying her things because she claimed her wrist was sprained! So, I tried to prove that she was lying by chucking a napkin at her, which she caught easily. I then said that her hand must have been feeling better, and it was only after I called her out that she said that I hurt her. And then she made this stupid claim that she saw a guy in India getting his eye gouged out by a napkin once! One of the kids next to her, who might I add wears glasses, then exclaimed that Lila saved his eye!"

"...From a paper napkin?" Ryuji deadpanned, his eye twitching.

"Yeah! And then after that, everyone got mad at me for hurting her more! I ended up going to the bathroom because I was getting so frustrated to try and calm down. But Lila followed after me, and at first tried to play innocent and 'make peace.' She even said she'd help me out with Adrien! But I called her out right there and said that I wasn't going to fall for any of her lies."

"I guess she didn't like that too much..." Ann guessed.

Marinette shook her head, "Once she realized I wasn't going to take any of her crap, she said that she only told people what they wanted to hear."

"That's similar to what she said to me at Diamond Head..." Akira observed.

"Then she said that if I didn't want to be friends with her, that was fine, but then said that I soon wouldn't have any friends at all and that she would make sure I never got close to Adrien, in or out of school. Then she said, and I quote 'You seem a little less dumb than the others, so I'll give you one last chance. You are either with me or against me.' She said she'd give me until the end of the day to make my decision," Marinette could feel tears welling up in her eyes, "after that, I was nearly akumatized! I managed to shoo the moth away, but still…"

"Marinette, if you're not comfortable-" Makoto began, but Marinette cut her off.

"No, I'll finish," Marinette said bravely. "Later on, I tried to call her out again because she made the mistake of saying the tinnitus was in her right ear when earlier she said it was in her left. But before I could call her out, Adrien stopped me. He asked it calling her out was really a good idea, and said that making a bad guy suffer has never turned them into a good guy."

"He doesn't know that!" Ryuji shouted suddenly.

"Ryuji!" Ann exclaiming, grabbing his arm as he had shot up to his feet.

The blond calmed down and muttered an apology as he sat back on the towel.

"He said… he said 'as long as the two of us knew that she was a liar, did it really matter'?"

"Well, of course it matters!" Ryuji exclaimed furiously, though he didn't leap to his feet this time, "Grrr… this is basically Kamoshida all over again! It's because of people like that that things got so bad with that asshole!"

"Kamosh- wait, are you talking about that gym teacher that the Phantom Thieves busted?" Marinette asked, "How do you guys… hold on." she gasped in realization, "You guys said you were from Shujin Academy right? So, you were all basically in the middle of that whole thing!"

"Sure were," Ryuji nodded, "and if someone actually spoke up earlier, maybe had the guts to report the abuse to the police, a lot of shit could have been avoided. But noooo, the school's reputation would have been tarnished, yadda yadda yadda!"

"Technically, it was tarnished anyway because the Phantom Thieves exposed Kamoshida. The school and Principal Kobayakawa got a lot of heat from the public because of that," Makoto said, "If he or another school official had spoken up sooner, then maybe the school's reputation would've still been ruined a little, but it was ruined even more because of people covering it up like that."

"Might I add that if Lila were to be exposed on her own, that would make it worse anyway, just like with that gym teacher," Yusuke pointed out, "and Paris has a supervillain that thrives off of negativity. What's to say that Hawkmoth won't take advantage of such a thing?"

Marinette bit her lip. It was the exact same point that Luka had brought up on that one patrol.

"Anyway, we're not here to discuss the happenings at our school. Marinette," Makoto gestured for the bluenette to continue.

Marinette took a breath and nodded, "So, after that, the seats all went back to how they were before, and after school, I said goodbye to my friends and was about to head home. Then Lila cornered me again and said that we were at war now and that I would lose all my friends and wind up alone…" she finished with a mumble, "after that, she started making good on that threat. She would accuse me of all sorts of things, and no one questioned her. She even got me expelled for a day once!"

"Expelled?!" Ann gasped, eyes wide.

"Yeah! First, she claimed that I stole the answer sheet to a test we took, and the answers were found in my bag, but I know I didn't put it there. Then she accused me of pushing her down the stairs, and then stealing her grandmother's necklace from her locker! The principal expelled me in front of the entire school, and my parents were there too!"

"Wait, your parents were there, but not Lila's?" Akira clarified.

"Yes. Principal Damocles called my parents after the stairs incident."

"But… shouldn't her parents have been called too?" Ann asked.

"I know they should have. But Lila made this excuse that 'Oh, my mom is super busy with important embassy work. I wouldn't want to disturb her!'"

"That shouldn't be an excuse," Makoto protested, "at our school, it's a common procedure for the parents of both kids to be present for something like this!"

"Well, Principal Damocles believed Lila anyway, and then expelled me! He didn't even ask for my side of the story! That day I was almost akumatized again, along with almost the rest of the school! It was only through dumb luck that Hawkmoth suddenly stopped the attack for some reason."

The Phantom Thieves could only stare at Marinette as they processed her story. They had never heard of a school acting so incompetent and unprofessional like this before! It was amazing that no one had gone to the school board to complain.

"Then, the very next day, we got a call from the school again, and Lila and I were back in the office. But Lila was making up this excuse that she had this rare disease that forced her to lie about some things. I have no clue how Principal Damocles bought that excuse… nevermind, I do have a clue, but that's beside the point!"

"Let me guess: your principal is a cowardly weasel that will bend to anyone's whim if they threaten him with something substantial?" Ryuji sarcastically guessed.

As much as Marinette hated to throw shade on anyone, much less her principal, she couldn't disagree, because it was true. When Chloe still went to school, she would always threaten to call 'daddy' to have the school closed down if the principal punished her, or he didn't punish a student because she said so.

"Ever since then though, it hasn't been the same. My friends and I aren't as close anymore, and I don't think even my parents trust me like they used to…" Marinette struggled to hold her tears in, "Lila still lies, sometimes about me, sometimes about something else, and I've mostly given up on directly calling her out because she'll just twist it to make it look like I'm bullying her again!"

"This girl's a real 'effin' piece of work," Ryuji mumbled.

"The only person who still believes me is Luka."

"Your boyfriend, right?" Ann asked.

"Yeah. Even though he doesn't go to our school, he doesn't believe Lila either. I doubt he would even if I didn't tell him Lila was a liar."

"Well… at least someone in Paris seems to have a brain." Akira mumbled.

"Yeah. My friend Kagami doesn't believe her either. She's Adrien's girlfriend, and my friend too." Marinette added.

As Marinette finished, she felt exhausted, like she had just dealt with three akumas and amoks one after another. She sniffled and attempted to hold her tears back, though a couple of them rolled down her face anyway.

"Would you like a hug?" Marinette looked and noticed that Ann had shifted to sit right in front of her, her arms open wide. Before Marinette registered what she was doing, her body moved on its own, collapsing against the pig-tailed blonde. She felt Ann's arms wrap around her, and soon other arms joined, wrapping Marinette in a cocoon of limbs.

"Let it out, Marinette," Makoto said softly. The bluenette gasped softly, but Makoto continued, "You're not in Paris. There aren't any scary moths that can turn you evil. Just let it all out."

Marinette grit her teeth as the tears suddenly spilled from her eyes. Before she knew it, her head was buried in Ann's chest, and soft fingers were smoothly moving through her hair.

For the first time in months, Marinette cried. Finally letting go of all the pain that she had been forced to hold in for Paris', for the world's, sake.

The Phantom Thieves said nothing and simply watched patiently as her tears continued to fall.

Chapter Text

The sun was beginning to set by the time Marinette had calmed down. For a moment,  Ann wondered if Marinette had fallen asleep, but was soon proven wrong when the Parisian pulled herself away, wiping her face, now sticky from all her tears. 

“Sorry...” she muttered, sniffing and rubbing her face.

“You don’t need to apologize, Marinette,” Ann reassured her with a smile.

“I wish there was more we could do…” Akira added with a frown.

“No,” Marinette shook her head, “you’ve all done plenty. So thank you.”

The group smiled in return though Yusuke’s eyes wandered to the sunset.

“Marinette, do me a favor and sit, facing that way.” the artist instructed, his hands forming a square in front of his eyes.

Marinette blinked, a little confused, as did the others in the group, but Marinette complied, sitting towards the setting sun.

“Now extend your right leg out… cross your left leg over, but keep it bent… now just prop your left arm on top… perfect, now hold it,” Yusuke instructed as he pulled out his phone. With a small click, he captured a perfect image of Marinette gazing into the sunset of her final day of vacation.

Yusuke turned the phone around for Marinette to see. Marinette smiled happily when she saw it. It was a touching final memento for the trip.

“Thank you,” she said, gratefully. Yusuke nodded.

“Well, we should probably head back, it’s gettin’ late huh?” Ryuji observed.

“Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I’m pooped.” Ann agreed.

“We’ve all got a long flight back home tomorrow huh?” Makoto said, standing up and stretching, “I’d personally prefer to not look like a walking zombie.”

Marinette giggled, “No kidding.”

The walk back to the hotel was uneventful, and Marinette was quick to grab Yusuke’s number so he could send her the sunset photo, which he obliged immediately.

Upon entering through the lobby, the group spotted two of the boys from Marinette’s class immersed in a conversation. The larger boy was making a bunch of gestures, and the shorter one with the robot next to him was typing something rapidly on his phone.

Ryuji narrowed his eyes, recognizing that this was one of the boys Marinette specifically mentioned. Last he checked, only two guys wore glasses in her class, but the other one was always hanging around that Alya chick. So if his assumption was correct…

Ryuji spotted a stack of napkins at the corner of one of the tables, and a mischievous smirk spread across his face.

“Ryuji, what are you doing?” Ann asked as he approached the stack, grabbed two sheets and crumpled them together in a ball.

“Just testin’ the brain work of a supposed ‘genius,’” Ryuji smirked before he reeled back, and with his strongest baseball throw, chucked the napkin wad right at the shorter boy’s head. 

It hit him right in the middle of his cheek. 

Both boys stopped whatever conversation they were having and looked in shock towards the source of the napkin ball.

“Hey! Did you throw that? And if so, why?” the boy asked, looking astonished.

Shrugged, Ryuji crossed his arms pompously, “Why you so concerned? Did it hurt or somethin’?”

The bespectacled kid sputtered, before replying, looking offended “Of course not! I may not be the most physically adept specimen there is, but why would I think that it would hurt?”

Ryuji snorted, “Funny. Cause, and correct me if I’m wrong… but a little birdy told me and my pals that you were saved from a napkin that apparently was about to gouge your eye out one time? True or false?”

The boy, Max if Ryuji remembered correctly, sputtered again and looked as though his brain was struggling to come up with an explanation.

Turns out he didn’t need to, as the other boy stepped protectively in front of him, balling his fists, “You got a problem or something?”

The blond shrugged again, “No not really. Just checking if that guy behind you actually has a brain in his skull. Because the same birdy told us that you yourself made that flying robot with a working A.I. and yet you believe that a napkin can gorge out an eyeball. Am I wrong?”

This time the bigger boy was also struggling to find a comeback statement, looking back and forth between Ryuji and Max, who had his head down. His eyes were shifting repeatedly as if looking over a complex math problem he couldn’t figure out for the hundredth time.

Before either boy could answer, another voice came in, one that Marinette knew all too well.

“Hey, Max, Kim, what’s going on?” Adrien asked, looking between the duo and Ryuji in confusion.

“Tch, this jerk was picking on Max, Adrien, he threw that napkin ball at his face!” Kim told him with a frown, pointing at the balled-up napkins that had yet to be picked up.

Upon noticing the ball, Adrien’s eyes widened and looked up at Ryuji in alarm. His eyes then wandered behind the blond toward Marinette, who was standing by the other teenagers. Before he could meet her eye though, two of them, the blonde girl, and the tall one with smooth dark hair stepped in front of her, completely blocking Marinette from his view. All five of the older teens' eyes were narrowed, and glaring at him. It was a similar look that Kagami originally gave him after their first fencing match.

“Uh-look guys, I-I’m sure this is just a misunderstanding,” Adrien stuttered, smiling uneasily and backing away slightly, “there’s really no need to fight over something like this.”

Ryuji’s glare morphed into a cruel smirk, “What’s the hurry, dipshit?” Adrien started at the insult and Kim and Max’s faces dropped in amazed horror. Ryuji then made a big show of dramatically looking around at the ceiling and part of the sky that could be seen through the green-space beside them, “I don’t see any evil akuma moths or whatever you call them invading right now, so I don’t really see why we should wrap things up so quick! The kid wants to have a go at me? Let him take it, then!”

The three boys were shocked before, they were completely stunned after hearing the words come out of Ryuji’s mouth. The blond remembered what Marinette told them about how her class wasn’t supposed to talk about Hawkmoth and the akumas out here, but he knew that he already had that covered.

“H-how do you know about the akumas?!” Adrien asked nervously, eyes darting around, likely keeping an eye out for their teacher.

“Uh… the Internet?” Ryuji asked as if the answer should be obvious, leaning forward slightly in emphasis. “It’s a concept that seems to be completely foreign to you snot-nosed idiots.”

That last comment seemed to anger Kim as his face turned red with anger, “What was-”

“That Ladyblog isn’t exactly a private blog, you know.” Ryuji interrupted as if he was talking to a kindergartner. 

At the mention of the Ladyblog, Adrien physically sagged in frustration. He had completely forgotten that the Ladyblog could practically be accessed from anywhere, by anyone! Kim’s face contorted into shock again, and Max face-palmed.

Adrien quickly composed himself though, “L-look, whatever you’re up to-”

Ryuji just huffed before Adrien could finish and shook his head, “Whatever, at least I know a lost cause when I see one. You’re all just wasting my time.”

Adrien watched, still stunned as the blond rejoined Marinette and the other teens by the elevators. The model tried to catch Marinette’s red, blood-shot eyes (Wait, had she been crying?), but she simply looked away with a small frown on her face. Before he could call out to her, the elevator dinged and opened up, and Marinette was herded inside by the other teens.

The last thing Adrien saw before the elevator closed was the tall teen with glasses glaring daggers at him, and he shook his head just as the doors closed.

Adrien gulped as he felt a cold shiver run down his spine. 

“Okay, there’s no way in hell that Marinette’s lying!” Ryuji declared the second the Phantom Thieves had assembled once again, with Futaba and Morgana once again joining them on the phone. They gave a brief summary of the story Marinette told them about her and Lila’s conflict.

“I agree,” Ann said, “It’s detailed but too detailed to make it sound unbelievable.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a case of bullying this bad before,” Akira said, “not even back in my hometown.”

“Honestly, I’m more surprised at the behavior of the adults at her school. How are they even still allowed to work there? I mean, no excused absence notes, no doctors signatures, no nothing?!” Makoto asked in absolute amazement.

“It’s clear that there’s a favoritism problem going on. Didn’t Marinette say something about Lila’s mom working at the embassy or something?” Ann asked.

“The daughter of a diplomat,” Yusuke mused, “so obviously, despite any bad behavior that does get called out, they’ll likely ignore it anyway in order to stay in the embassy’s good graces.”

“Wait, you seriously think the school is simply ignoring all of this?!” Ryuji asked, enraged.

“Well, there’s no way to tell for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that ended up being the case,” Yusuke clarified.

“Grr! So I was right about how this is basically Kamoshida all over again! Dammit!” Ryuji raged, punching the coffee table.

“Calm down team! This case does seem serious," Morgana’s voice rang through the phone’s speaker, “but let’s focus on what we can do right now. Do you think you got enough info to figure out the other keywords?”

“I think so,” Makoto confirmed, “the location has got to be their school. It’s the place where Lila holds the most power after all.”

“I think you’re right,” Akira nodded, pulling up the app, “...what was the school called again?” 

“Wasn’t something like Francis Dupet or something?” Ryuji guessed.

“It’s pronounced ‘Collège Françoise Dupont’,” Yusuke corrected with a slight French accent, “Collège would be equivalent to a middle school in Japan.”

“Candidate found.” the app suddenly beeped.

“It’s a hit,” Makoto confirmed with a nod.

“Okay, so now we need to figure out what it is,” Ryuji said, “So… any ideas?”

“Um… Castle?” Ann guessed.

“No candidates found.”

“You said Marinette mentioned she and Lila were ‘at war’ right?” Futaba asked, “So… maybe an army base, or a barricade. Or maybe a battlefield?”

“No candidates found.”

“No, that’s not it,” Yusuke frowned.

“Lila’s sneaky, like a fox,” Akira deduced, “so I doubt that she would think of the school like that. She doesn’t seem to be one to approach things directly unless she knows she’ll get away with it.”

“I guess that makes her akuma form all the more appropriate,” Makoto agreed.

“Okay… then how about a base? Or a secret hideout?” Ryuji suggested.

“No candidates found.”

“Grr… why does this seem harder than the last few times we’ve done it?” Ryuji complained.

“Marinette did mention that people stopped trusting her after Lila showed up,” Yusuke said, “It’s almost like Lila dethroned her.”

“Huh?” Ryuji cocked his head, “What do you mean?”

“I think Yusuke’s onto something! It makes sense; I don’t think we were too far off with that Castle guess. Let’s try some words similar to that.” Makoto suggested.

“Okay, like a real Palace?” Ann said.

“No candidates found.”

“Um… bastion? Tower? Mansion? Villa? Fort? Fortress?”   Ann continued to throw ideas out.

“No candidates found.”

“...Kingdom?” Akira asked.

“No candidates found.”

“...Or an empire, perhaps?” Yusuke guessed.

“Candidate found.”

“We got it!” Makoto exclaimed.

“Lila Rossi, Collège Françoise Dupont, and Empire …” Akira murmured.

“An Empire…” Ann said, “I honestly wasn’t expecting that exactly. I mean, Kamoshida’s was a Castle, but… an Empire seems even bigger, somehow.”

“Well, are we going to check this out or what?” Ryuji asked, an eager grin beginning to appear on his face.

“Would that really be a good idea?” Yusuke pondered, “We aren’t in Japan, after all. If someone comes looking for us, and we’re nowhere to be found, wouldn’t that draw suspicion?”

“We’re gonna wait?!” Ryuji exclaimed.

“I think that’s a good idea too,” Morgana explained, “besides, even if Futaba and I go in separately, we’d still be separate from you guys, so it would take extra time to locate the five of you.”

Ryuji groaned, “Okay, fine! You have a point!”

“Once we’re back in Japan, we’ll do a quick sweep of the Palace,” Makoto said, “if we find anything else that’s concerning, then we’ll decide on whether to steal her Treasure or not.”

“What do you mean ‘decide’?” Ann asked.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t want to do this, I’m just more concerned about how this could reflect back on us from the public’s point of view.” Makoto tried to explain.

“Ah, I think I understand,” Yusuke nodded, “Besides Futaba,  who asked us directly, might I add, to steal her own heart, Lila is still a minor. If it’s revealed that the Phantom Thieves will target adults and children, I can see this severely damaging the trust that we’ve worked so hard to gain.”

“So? We’ve taken down minors before in Mementos!” Ryuji pointed out.

“But that was Mementos, Ryuji,” Akira reminded his boyfriend, “that was before any Palaces could sprout, so the change of heart is more subtle compared to Kamoshida’s, Madarame’s, and Kaneshiro’s. Plus, all the ‘minors’ from there were high school students. Lila’s still in middle school!”

Ryuji scowled, but backed down, seeming to understand the issue.

“We’ll talk more once we’re all back together.” Morgana said, “Until then, stand by and see if you can gather more intel.”

With this final confirmation, the phone call ended.

Marinette was going through her bag for the tenth time to double- and triple-check that she wasn’t forgetting anything before they left tomorrow morning when her phone buzzed on the bed.

Picking up her phone, the screen lit up to show a new message. Curious she opened it.

Queen: Marinette, it’s Makoto. 

Marinette smiled and quickly texted her back.

M: Oh, hi! Um… why is your username ‘Queen’?

Queen: Oh, it’s the username I use in my friends’ chat. We all use codenames :). Ann is ‘Panther’, Yusuke is ‘Fox’, Ryuji is ‘Skull’, Akira is ‘Joker’, Morgana (who you haven’t met yet) is ‘Mona’, and Futaba is ‘Oracle’. Is it okay if I use it here too?

M: Oh yeah, sure that’s fine. It’s funny that you use codenames like this. You do it for secret plans?

Queen: Lol! You could say that. Anyway, quick question, Mari. You mentioned before that the reason Adrien, the other kid that knows about Lila, doesn’t want to expose Lila is because he doesn’t want her to get possessed, or akumatized, right? And that could happen if she gets upset or angry?

M: Yeah, that’s what he’s told me.

There was a pause in the text, then the word bubbles popped up again until Makoto replied.

Queen: Hmmm, are you sure that’s the only reason?

Marinette blinked, confused, so she quickly texted back.

M: ...What do you mean?

Queen: Don’t take this wrong way, Marinette, but something about that reasoning doesn’t add up. Because if that’s the only thing that’s stopping him from exposing Lila, then why hasn’t he done so now?

This confused Marinette even more, but she quickly replied again.

M: Done it now?

Queen: Yeah. Something Ryuji said earlier caught my attention. You’re not in Paris right now. You’re on the other side of the world. Right now, there is zero chance for Lila, or anyone else, to get akumatized. If you ask me, this is the perfect time and place to expose her. So why hasn’t he done it if akumatization was his only concern?

Marinette gasped in shock. Makoto was right. Why hadn’t she thought of that? Speaking of which…

M: ...I don’t know. Maybe he just hasn’t thought about it?

Queen: You sure? Because early when Ryuji threw that napkin at one of your classmates, Adrien was there, and he seemed to know what ‘incident’ Ryuji was referring to. It looked like he was trying to stop Ryuji from exposing one of Lila’s tall tales even then.

Marinette bit her lip. She had watched the whole scene, so she understood where Makoto was coming from. Still… Adrien had to have a reason, right?

M: ...Well, I know Lila works as a model for his dad now so, maybe that has something to do with it?

Queen: You think he’s playing nice for his dad? You also mentioned that Adrien already has a girlfriend, right?

Marinette nearly dropped her phone at what Makoto was attempting to hint at.

M: Yes! There’s NO way that Adrien’s interested in Lila like that! NO WAY!!

Queen: Okay, good to know…

M: I… I also know that Adrien likes to try to see the good in everyone. Maybe he’s still hoping that Lila will get better and stop on her own.

Queen: ...Okay, I get where he can see how playing the waiting game could work. But Marinette, I don’t think that Adrien understands that as nice of a concept that is, in reality, there are people out there that simply aren’t good people, like Kamoshida and Madarame. Plus, the reason their crimes and schemes go on for so long with no one finding out is because people either covered up for them or because (and Yusuke has given me permission to share this) people, like Yusuke, believed that they could ‘fix’ them. This ‘high road’ concept that Adrien’s so adamant about will only work if the person you’re waiting out wants to change. And from our conversation, it doesn’t sound like Lila is one of those people. Plus, I think Adrien’s view of the ‘high road’ isn’t quite correct either. ‘Taking the high road’ doesn’t mean becoming a doormat and doing nothing. It means doing the right thing. Sticking to your standards. Being ‘nice’ isn’t the same as being a pushover or a doormat. There’s a huge difference. The reason you want to call Lila out is because you value honesty and trust so much, correct? So if you ask me, you’ve been on the high road from the start Marinette. 

Marinette was speechless. All of the points that Makoto brought up made sense. She felt warm inside to see someone praising her actions regarding this for once.

Queen: Also, you have tried to warn your classmates about Lila, right?

M: Yes. I told Alya to really check if Lila’s claims are true. Same with Nino and everyone else in class.

Queen: Okay. Then at least you’ve done that. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, they are the ones that chose not to listen to you. 

M: But… they’re my friends.

Queen: Are you sure? Because they don’t seem to be acting like it right now. What they’re doing to you isn’t okay Marinette. You need to know when to draw the line. And as for Adrien, he’s a completely different story, Marinette. Remember what Ryuji said earlier, it’s because of behavior like that, knowing the truth but not doing anything about it, that got our school into the mess with Kamoshida in the first place. Same with Madarame for Yusuke. 

Marinette stared at Makoto's last message, her fingers trembling with hesitation over her keypad, trying to find a response, an excuse to give her classmates one more chance. But her phone dinged again.

Queen: Marinette, be honest… is Lila hurting you?

Marinette looked away from the screen to gather her thoughts. She couldn’t think of this as Marinette. She had to think like Ladybug. If this was happening to someone else, what would she do? She honestly wouldn’t be surprised if there had been others too.


Queen: Okay. That should be your answer, then.

Though Makoto couldn’t see Marinette, the Parisian nodded, her eyes letting a couple of tears sneak onto the pillow.

Queen: We’re going to help you, Marinette, in any way we can. Okay?

M: …Thank you.

Chapter Text

Marinette was greeted by her Japanese friends again, waiting for her at her room door. It was a pleasant surprise and they said they just wanted to make sure she got out of the hotel in one piece. Marinette was sure they were exaggerating but didn't mind the company either.

"Man, I feel like we didn't even leave Japan on this trip. Even Yusuke showed up!" Ryuji complained as they all descended in the elevator.

"It may not have been the most exciting trip, but we still had a good time," Makoto said with a smile.

"Marinette sure made it a lot more fun!" Ann exclaimed happily.

Marinette blushed, "I-I sure you guys would've enjoyed yourselves even without little old me around!"

"What are you talking about?" Akira asked, raising an eyebrow, "You're practically the one that kept us from dying of boredom this whole trip."

"Honestly, I'm just thankful we didn't have to deal with the storm. They truly are dreadful…" Yusuke commented solemnly.

"It sure went by in a flash," Ann added, "I'm not sure if I want to go home or stay here longer at this point…"

"Vacations are always fun," Marinette smiled as they got off the elevator, "but as the old saying goes, 'There's no place like home!'"

"Oh yeah, the heir to Okumura Foods, I totally have his number!" an unpleasantly familiar voice reached their ears as the group stepped into the lobby, "We text, like, all the time, he's so totally into me!"

"Oh Lila, that's so romantic!" Rose squealed enthusiastically.

"Okumura Foods?" Makoto muttered, "Why have I heard that name somewhere before?"

"Okay, seriously, does this girl only ever tell lies?" Ryuji complained, "This is getting kind of old!"

"Welcome to my world…" Marinette groaned tiredly.

"Um… excuse me," a somewhat-timid, high-toned voice interrupted the Italian in her tirade. Turning to the source, everyone spotted an older teenager, probably in Makoto's grade, with curly light auburn hair and brown eyes, "I'm afraid you may be mistaken. I don't have any brothers, biological or otherwise."

"What are you talking about?" Alya asked with a small annoyed scowl, "Lila wasn't talking about you!"

"Yes, she was," the girl countered more sternly, "she was talking about my father's company? Okumura Foods? Well, I'd like to inform you right now that I, Haru Okumura, am the only child of Kunikazu Okumura, and I would appreciate it if you didn't spread lies about things like that."

At this statement, a couple of the students glanced, wide-eyed between Lila and Haru, and the Italian paled for a moment. But she quickly regained her composure.

"You? Related to Okumura Foods? I'll have you know that I've met the man personally! He even tried to convince his son to take me out. Of course, I had to decline, though, because I already had a meeting with the-"

"Lila… she's telling the truth," Nino interrupted uneasily as the now annoyed Japanese girl pulled out her ID, her name written in bold underneath her photo on her passport.

"Is this proof enough of my identity?" the girl asked with a frown.

Lila sputtered, her face red with mortification. Marinette struggled to keep a straight face as Lila was caught practically red-handed.

"Lila… did you really just lie about that?" Mylene asked timidly.

"N-no! It's not my fault!" Lila protested, scrambling to recover, "Th-the guy that talked to me said he was Okumura Foods' heir!"

"You also claimed just moments ago to have met my father." Haru pointed out sharply.

"W-well, they both must have been in on it!" Lila stuttered, panicked crocodile tears in her eyes, looking at Haru, "Please don't be mad at me! It was an honest mistake!"

"Yeah, don't be mad at Lila!" Alya defended, "The guy that fed her that bullshit is to blame!"

"Even so," the girl said, still frowning, "you shouldn't spread misinformation like that. My father has many enemies, and I would hate for someone like you to get caught in the crossfire."

"Speaking of which," Ryuji suddenly proclaimed loudly, drawing everyone's attention to him and his friends, "we should really be thanking you actually, miss. If it weren't for you and your little Ladyblog interview, I never would have known that Jagged Stone was such a creepy pedophile. So thanks for that, he's officially lost a group of fans today."

Marinette's jaw dropped at Ryuji's words. What the heck was he up to? The rest of his friends looked caught off guard as well.

"Wh-what?!" Kim exclaimed. He wasn't the smartest one in their class, but even he knew what that word meant! "Jagged Stone isn't a pedophile! He's super cool!" Juleka, Ivan, Rose and the others nodded their assent.

"Really?" Ryuji barked out a laugh, "Well if he isn't a creepy pedophile, what exactly do you call a thirty-something-year-old man writing an effing love song for a fifteen-year-old girl? Heh heh… never figured he was into the younger type."

"What?! No, no! Y-you're wrong!" Alya stuttered, but even she looked nervous, "Jagged adores Lila! She's like a niece to him!"

"Yeah! That's right!" Lila agreed, eyes switching between rage and panic non-stop.

"He 'adores' her?" Makoto asked with a scowl, "Depending on who you say that to, it can be taken a number of ways."

"Yeah! What do you think he prefers? French or traditional?" Ann added, leveling a challenging smirk at the Italian.

"Huh? You mean like, food?" Max asked, the situation, and his inexperience with social cues, making him slow on the meaning.

"No, I believe she's referring to kissing," Yusuke pointed out.

This garnered a plethora of reactions from the class, from 'ew's to others looking close to vomiting.

"Stop it!" Alya shouted, looking a little green in the face, "Jagged Stone isn't a pedophile! Where's your proof that he is, anyway?!"

"Oh, I don't know," Akira growled, "Maybe the fact that someone, a teenager, made a claim that he wrote a love song for her? Or did that information go in one ear and out the other?"

Alya sputtered, looking frantically back at Lila, who looked a smidge paler than usual. Several students started to look at her skeptically.

"Lila… you are the one that said that," Nathaniel pointed out.

"W-well, wait!" Lila exclaimed, desperately trying to salvage the situation, "I never said it was a love song, or that it was about me! I said he wrote a song for me!"

"And how is that any different?" This time it was Haru who asked, raising an eyebrow.

"We-well, he wrote a song about Ladybug!" Lila exclaimed hysterically.

"Yes," Makoto nodded in acknowledgment before continuing, "who, last I checked, is a public figure who not only has a statue and even a holiday dedicated to her but does not have a publicly proven age either…"

Amidst all this chaos, Adrien managed to slip past his classmates to Marinette's side.

"Marinette," he hissed in a low tone, "we need to stop this!"

Marinette blinked, eyeing Adrien in confusion. Not long after, a spiteful glint flashed in her eyes as she remembered her conversation with Makoto the previous night, "You want to stop this now? What happened to 'taking the high road'?"

Adrien flinched back as if Marinette had just slapped him.

Before Adrien could say anything else, Lila let out an unceremonious wail. At this point, they had drawn quite the crowd, some students - Yuuki being one of them - even taking out their phones and recording the soap opera.

"You're so mean! It's no wonder Marinette likes hanging out with you!" she sobbed, "You're just a bunch of bullies like her!"

This did not have the desired effect that Lila was going for as several of the Japanese high-schoolers started joining in on the shouting, defending their fellow students with passion.

"Nijima-san's our Class President, you can't talk to her like that!"

"Yeah, Sakamoto-kun can be a dick sometimes, but he's not a bully!"

"Takamaki-san's been through enough already! You have no right to call her a bully!"

"Kurusu has done nothing but help me ever since he moved to our school!" Yuuki shouted as well, "If it weren't for him… well, I likely wouldn't be standing here right now!"

"If you ask me," Yusuke's deep voice cut through the tumultuous crowd, "your disingenuous tears are only pointing towards you being the bully and liar, little girl."

"But-but-" Lila stuttered, her tears vanishing. She hadn't expected these teens to have such a good reputation at their school. This was not what she wanted! This was not how it was supposed to go!

Ryuji then smirked, "Well, if it's true that Jagged's not a pedo, then you'd better prove it."

Alya, seeing this as a challenge, glared at the blond, "How are we supposed to do that?!"

Ryuji shrugged, "You're the journalist. You figure it out! I'd sure hate for the Phantom Thieves to go after Mr. Stone, though. I'd bet you guys good money that they don't exactly take too kindly to child molesters."

"No kidding! Especially after what happened to Kamoshida!" a random student agreed.

"That son of a bitch got what he deserved!" another female student shouted.

A shrill whistle suddenly rang in everyone's ears. Students jumped and even covered their ears as Ms. Kawakami and Bustier made their way through the crowd. Kawakami calmly put down the whistle looped around her neck.

"What on Earth is going on here?!" Kawakami exclaimed angrily.

"Ms. Kawakami!" Makoto greeted.

"Oh, we were just telling these kids how inappropriate it is for a thirty-year-old man to write a song for or about a teenager," Ryuji said bluntly.

Kawakami blinked, "I beg your pardon?" Bustier looked shocked too.

"You heard right Ms. Kawakami," Akria confirmed, a little more calmly, "One of the students made a claim online that Jagged Stone wrote a song about her."

"For her!" Alya corrected aggressively.

"And again, how is that different?!" Akira snapped back with a scowl.

The aghast look on Kawakami's face didn't vanish, before morphing into a scowl. She turned to Ms. Bustier, "Is this true? And if it is, why haven't Child Protective Services, or even the police been informed of this?"

A sheen of distress crossed Ms. Bustier's face, "Police? No, no, you misunderstand, there's no need for police to get involved here!"

Kawakami's face wasn't the only one to morph into one of shocked outrage, as most of the rest of the Japanese students did the same. Before anyone could start shouting more accusations, Kawakami composed herself and loudly cleared her throat, "If everyone could report to the airport buses, the two of us will join you shortly!" she then finished a little more quietly, "I need to have a talk with my fellow educator here…"

This seemed to pacify a majority of the students as everyone slowly disentangled from the crowd with their bags and started trudging to the buses.

Once out of earshot, Marinette shot Ryuji a look of terrified amazement.

"Why did you do that?! You know that that claim is a lie! If someone overheard that-"

"Relax, Mari," Ryuji pshawed, "you said that you have Jagged Stone's number, right? If you're so concerned about the media or fuzz tearing him apart over it, just text the guy and send him a copy of it!"

Marinette nearly tripped after hearing Ryuji's reasoning, and she didn't hesitate to grab her phone and do just that. It was easy to find the video on the Ladyblog.

M: Hey, Jagged! So… I probably should have shown you this a while ago, but I honestly just forgot about it. Nevertheless, you might want to have someone take care of this.

M: <video file>.

Releasing a breath that she didn't realize she was holding, Marinette pocketed her phone, her heart thumping loudly in her chest. While she was glad that Lila was getting called out, she also hoped that this didn't backfire on her or Jagged.

"Now, then… would you kindly explain to me, madam, why you don't think it's necessary for the police to get involved in this?" Kawakami snapped at Bustier, "You realize this could be a potential case of child molestation!"

"I-it's not that I don't realize that, Ms. Kawakami," Ms. Bustier stammered out, "and trust me, if not for Lila's unique condition, I would be calling the police!"

"'Unique condition'?" Kawakami asked dubiously.

"Yes, you see, Lila suffers from a very rare illness," Bustier explained, "it causes her to say things and makeup things that aren't potentially true. We found out about it after Marinette was mistakenly expelled a few months ago."

"...One of your students… claimed to have a disease that forces her to lie?!" Kawakami asked incredulously.

When the French teacher nodded, Kawakami grew confused. "And you didn't check to see if that was a lie as well?"

Ms. Bustier sputtered again, but before she could defend herself, Kawakami continued, "I have no idea what sort of madhouse you are running here or at your school!

"Uh, uh! Don't make the excuse of these akuma attacks happening in your city," Kawakami interrupted when Caline's mouth opened. Bustier's mouth snapped shut, "And I don't work at your school - thank God for that - so I can't exactly make a clear judgment, but from what I've seen so far you're one of the most unprofessional educators I've laid my eyes on! Even if this 'lying disease' truly exists, students who make claims about having an inappropriate relationship with an adult shouldn't be taken as lightly as this!

"I'll admit, I'm far from a perfect educator myself, but cases like this? I don't just take them seriously, ma'am, they're actually quite personal for me," - frustrated tears gathered in Kawakami's eyes - "if I had taken initiative with Takase-" she stopped herself before she could continue.

Bustier attempted to keep her own composure over the criticism being slammed into her, and noticing Kawakami's distress, attempted to comfort her, only for her hand to be smacked away.

"Look, what I'm saying is that you need to take your students and job more seriously. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, y'know?"

With that, Kawakami swiftly turned tail and marched towards the hotel entrance, leaving a distraught Bustier behind.

Marinette received a text back from Jagged just after the plane landed back in Japan.

J: Thanks for the heads up, Marinette! Already got my lawyers looking into it. How was Hawaii? Make some rock-n-roll memories?

M: You can say that. I made some new friends. They're all from Japan.

J: Japan, eh? Rock-n-roll! Been a while since I've set foot there. Penny isn't exactly encouraging a trip there, though, what with all the uproar with those Phantom Thief blokes lurking around recently.

M: Oh yeah, I've heard about them. They don't seem like bad people…

J: I'm sure they aren't. To be honest with you, they remind me of Ladybug a bit.

This comment caught Marinette by surprise.

M: Really? How?

J: Well, from what information I've got, they really care about injustice and seeing it fixed up. Nobody knows what they look like, but I can see them having superhero costumes.

J: Oh, and I'd bet you good money both them and Ladybug are fans!

Marinette laughed to herself at that. At the very least, he was half-right.

M: Is that so?

J: You better rockin' believe it! Anyway, you're probably tired from your trip. I'll let you go and catch some shut-eye.

M: Okay, thanks Jagged! We're meeting Friday to go over that commission, right?

J: You betcha! Fang's been itching to see you again, you know!

M: Haha! Well, tell him I said hi and that I can't wait to see him either!

J: Will do! 'Night, Mari!

M: 'Night, Jagged!

Marinette sighed as she stretched from the long six-hour flight. Ann, Ryuji, and the rest of the Japanese kids were unfortunately on a different flight, but Marinette didn't mind. They managed to say one last goodbye at the airport before leaving and promised to keep in touch.

Jagged was right. She'd made some rock-n-roll memories and some true friends.

Chapter Text

The familiar aroma of coffee immediately filled Akira's nose as he stepped into Le Blanc, freshly off the plane.

"Yo, welcome back," Sojiro greeted with a smile. Futaba was seated at one of the tables, and Morgana perched on one of the bar chairs, "You get tanned a bit?"

"How was Hawaii?" Futaba asked eagerly.

"Aloha!" Akira smirked, making a hang loose sign, a closed lei still hanging around his neck.

Futaba gasped in mock horror, "He's been influenced…"

Sojiro chuckled, "Eh, I can understand why."

"While you guys were off having fun, things here have gotten a bit more problematic," Morgana reported.

Suddenly, the television on the wall switched to a shopping commercial. On the screen was a large pile of Phantom Thief merchandise.

"So, I've heard the surprisingly hot items at the moment are "masks" and "calling cards"?" the host said.

Then the commercial shifted to store sales of the said items displayed, a female voice saying, "Here is a graph of the profits for stores handling these items."

"Double from last year?!" the host gasped, "Phantom Thief goods seem to be in especially high demand."

"I didn't know they sold that kind of stuff," Futaba said, intrigued.

"Should we try too?" Sojiro joked, "I mean, selling Phantom Thief merchandise."

"Like Phantom Thief Curry?" Akira suggested.

Sojiro hummed before chuckling, "Maybe I'll toss some dry ice on the side. Y'know, give it that phantom-y effect." He then quickly grimaced, "Uh, I'm just joking, all right?"

"I wonder how our guests consider this recent phenomenon," the female host wondered.

A familiar face appeared on the screen as the host turned to face him, "What do you think, Akechi-kun?"

"Well…" the detective began.

"There he is, the anti-Thief detective," Futaba muttered, before grinning deviously, "I hope he slips up and self-destructs."

"I can sense some chivalry behind their actions," Akechi admitted, "They are clever to take the silent resentments of the public into account and relieve them. I believe that may be the secret to their popularity."

"Well, this is surprising," the host exclaimed in amazement, "Your stance seems to have softened."

Akechi grimaced in response, "This doesn't change the fact that they are dangerous. However… No, I shouldn't say any more…"

"Come on, you can say it," the host encouraged.

Akechi smiled knowingly, "Oh no, I won't be falling for that. I've learned my lesson after the previous backfire..."

"These thieves are more popular than the police or politicians. What's the world coming to?" Sojiro murmured.

"Rude!" Futaba exclaimed, pointing an accusing finger at her dad.

"What're you so angry about?" Sojiro said, surprised by Futaba's response. He sighed, "Hey, I'm gonna go to the bathroom. Take care of any customers that show up."

Once Sojiro closed the bathroom stall, Futaba stood up, "So… I finished going through that Ladyblog. I'll admit, some of the posts, especially earlier ones are pretty good, but most of the new ones are more about that Lila chick than Ladybug or any of the other heroes…" Futaba then frowned deeply, "I also took a closer look at Lila herself… I may have found something that everyone needs to see."

"What is it?" Akira asked.

"I'll tell you when we meet up," Futaba said, "You want to do it now?"

Akira was about to say something when his eyes accidentally glazed over.

"Seriously? Jet lag?" Futaba exclaimed. She sighed in frustration, "Okay, tomorrow then!"

"Sounds good," Akira sighed, before sluggishly grabbing his bag and heading up the stairs, Morgana trailing behind him.

Before he could faceplant on his bed, Morgana spoke up.

"...Hey, got a minute…? Never mind, you look sleepy. We'll talk in the morning..."

"...Okay," Akira said, still eyeing Morgana suspiciously.

"Don't worry, it's nothing too important," Morgana assured him as Akira sat on his bed.

The bespectacled teen nodded before tipping over and collapsing against his pillow. He was asleep in seconds.

"Hey, Sis." Makoto smiled at her sister as Sae walked into the kitchen. Makoto had a textbook open, finishing up some last-minute schoolwork before school tomorrow.

"You just got back from your trip and you're already studying?" Sae asked in surprise. She then gave a small smile, "How diligent."

"I have souvenirs for you~" Makoto sang happily, "Oh, I even met a new friend. She's from Paris. My friends and I are going to be pen pals with her."

Sae blinked in surprise, "Paris, France?"

"Yep. Her name's Marinette. She's pretty cool," Makoto nodded.

"...I see…" Sae murmured.

"...Oh, yeah, I guess you'd know about what's happening over there right now, huh?" Makoto realized.

Sae sighed in frustration, "I get the whole 'superhero' and 'supervillain' spiel, but I honestly think the police over there should be trying harder to find that terrorist. Say that those heroes never showed up, what would you do then?"

"...Yeah. According to what Marinette's said, the superheroes don't collaborate with the police very often. It is a bit disturbing," Makoto agreed.

"...I feel bad for those people that have to go through that. Really, I do… And the eventual aftermath when it's all over…" Sae continued.

Makoto grimaced. It was clear that most of Paris would likely need to go through some sort of psychic therapy once Ladybug actually defeated Hawkmoth. Especially after spending so much time concealing any sort of negative feelings.

"...Sis, can I ask you something?" Makoto asked, Marinette's tear-streaked face coming to mind.

"What is it?" Sae asked.

"Well… say that you were in school, and one of the girls in your class was a patho- no, sociopathic liar, who was constantly lying to not only get attention, skip school, and fake injuries and illnesses, but also to constantly get another student in trouble because she's the only student in the class that knows she's lying. What do you suggest should happen?"

"...That's an oddly specific question," Sae said, raising an eyebrow.

Makoto sighed, "Marinette's going through the situation I just mentioned. Only she's the girl getting tormented by another student. I want to see if there's any advice I can give her."

"Ah... " Sae nodded, looking thoughtful, "Well… the first thing I'd suggest is that she goes to a teacher. It's their job to know about situations like this."

Makoto grimaced, "That's the thing… Marinette tried that already, and none of the teachers believe her. Neither does her principal."

Sae blinked again, this time shocked, "Even though this other girl is intentionally skipping school?"

"She apparently made the excuse of being out of town," Makoto explained.

Sae stared for a moment, "...And the school never verified that that's where she really was?"

"Apparently not," Makoto said with an eye-roll.

The older sister gasped in bewilderment, "...Okay. You mentioned that she lies about injuries and illness? Then Marinette should probably talk to the school nurse about it. They should have a record of all students' medical histories. That could easily disprove the injuries or illnesses; if that doesn't work, she should likely go talk to whatever their equivalent of the School Board is. If the teachers aren't doing anything, ignorance be damned, the Board would likely be her best bet. She could probably even go to the police too. Truancy isn't usually a felony charge, but it can still be charged as a misdemeanor…"

"Thanks, Sis, that's very helpful," Makoto said with a smile.

"I'm shocked that this is actually happening at a school… none of Marinette's teachers have tried to verify this other girl's claims?" Sae asked.

"Yeah…" Makoto grimaced in disbelief, "One time, apparently, she almost got Marinette expelled too."

Sae's eyes widened in shock. The table was silent for a few moments.

"Yeah, I know…" Makoto muttered, looking exhausted just from thinking about it.

Sae frowned before looking at her little sister, "Well, I'm glad you're trying to help. Although in my opinion, this shouldn't be happening at a school in the first place… it reminds me of what happened at your school a few months ago with Kamoshida."

"Do… do you think the school is covering up Lila's lies?" Makoto asked.


"Oh, that's the other girl's name. The lying one," Makoto quickly explained.

"Well… even in the unusual circumstances surrounding Paris right now, a school shouldn't be that oblivious to misconduct like that," Sae tried to explain. She then sighed.


"Sorry," Sae shook her head, "just… just don't get dragged into unnecessary trouble, okay?"

Makoto watched as her sister left the room. Makoto frowned. She really hoped they, as the Phantom Thieves, were doing the right thing with Lila...

"...You think Marinette made it back to Paris by now?" Ann asked as she lounged against the wall of Akira's bedroom the next evening.

"If the planes were running on time, that should be the case," Yusuke said.

"I'm still concerned about what will happen now that she's back home…" Makoto said, "I talked to my sister last night about what Marinette should do. She was pretty shocked when I told her how her school was handling the situation between Marinette and Lila."

"And what did she say?" Akira asked. It was during times like this that the Phantom Thieves were glad that one of them had a sibling in the police force.

"She said that if the teachers aren't listening to Marinette, then she should take her case to the School Board, or maybe even the police," Makoto answered.

"The police?!" Ryuji exclaimed.

"She suggested it when I mentioned that Lila was apparently skipping school on purpose, and lying to cover it up. It's not a severe enough crime to be a felony, but it would likely be a misdemeanor legally," the class president explained.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she attempted to lie her way out of that as well…" Yusuke murmured.

"Well, considering how often she lied to people's faces in Hawaii, that wouldn't surprise me," Ryuji sighed.

"Yeah… by the way, Futaba, you said you may have found something about Lila?" Akira asked, glancing at the orange-head.

"Oh, yeah," Futaba nodded, typing on her laptop. "After we found out that Lila had a Palace, I did some digging on her… and according to her records, she has no illnesses, nor does she have any hospital records that report physical injuries."

"Okay, so that confirms that Lila was lying about having any diseases and that any injury she's had was likely faked," Morgana pointed out.

"Ugh, makes me sick," Ann grimaced, "the way she's taking advantage of people like that..."

"While that's true, that's not the part that disturbed me," Futaba said, "...I cross-referenced the schools Lila's attended with any sort of incidents that may have happened at the same time… and I found these. They all have one thing in common…"

Futaba turned her laptop around so the rest of the team could see. All over the screen were news articles.

"I took the liberty to translate all of these into Japanese for you all," Futaba added as everyone leaned in to look.

"'Middle School Student Commits Suicide.' 'Bullying Drives Student to Suicide Attempt.' 'Suicide Tragedy in Small Town Community.' What?!" Makoto gasped after reading the titles of only a few of the articles. There were several more.

"Looking at Lila's transcripts, each of these incidents happened shortly after or around the time that she lived in each of these places," Futaba said, looking grim.

"You think Lila was responsible for all of these?!" Ann gasped.

"Well, due to the victims and those involved all being minors, none of their names were mentioned," Futaba scowled in annoyance, "but I wouldn't be surprised if she was involved in some way… either that or it's all one freaky coincidence."

"I doubt that it is…" Yusuke frowned.

"Hold on!" Ryuji exclaimed, "If Lila was either involved or actually pushed these kids to suicide, how come she's still… like… around? Wouldn't they at least trace one of these back to her?"

"It could have something to do with her mom being a diplomat again," Akira reasoned, "either that, or she's better at erasing evidence than we originally thought…"

"Or she has someone else do it for her…" Morgana added.

"Okay, here's a question… how old was she when all this started?" Ann asked, "There's at least six articles, each about a different incident. Isn't Lila only, like, fifteen?"

"If we assume each incident happened a year apart, she would've been only nine when this started," Yusuke said, looking horrified.

"Well, fortunately, she's not that evil. The earliest article came up about four years ago," Futaba pointed out.

"Okay, but that still only makes Lila eleven. That's not much better!" Makoto protested.

"Well, the best way to find answers would likely be to explore her Palace. We'll likely find more information there," Morgana said resolutely.

"I agree," Akira said, pulling out his phone, "Anyone have any objections?"

Everyone shook their heads no, their phones out as well.

"Alright then, let's go," Morgana proclaimed, just as Akira pressed the Nav.

The familiar sense of reality warping them lasts for about five seconds. Once it stopped, they looked around.

"Huh?" Ryuji gasped, confused.

The entire landscape around them was nothing but a barren field. Dead trees and dust in the air were the only things around.

"...This doesn't look like an Empire," Ann said.

"Uh… our clothing hasn't changed," Yusuke exclaimed, looking down at his school uniform.

"...Oh… I think I understand what's happening here," Morgana said, this time in his thief form, "we definitely are in the Metaverse, but I think we're quite far away from the actual Palace part itself. It's similar to when we first entered Futaba's Palace."

"Wait, but… wouldn't that mean-"

"Unlike with Futaba though," Mona interrupted Ryuji, "the reason we're so far out is because of… well… distance."

"...Because we're in Japan, but Lila's in France. " Makoto realized.

"Precisely!" Mona nodded.

"Okay, so, we just gotta… travel there?" Ryuji asked.

"Looks like it," Mona said, before hopping up and transforming into his car form.

"Where do we go, though?" Ann asked, "At least in Futaba's Palace we could still see the pyramid! I don't see anything in any direction!"

"That way!" Mona said, hopping slightly in the direction left of the group.

"Are you sure?" Ryuji asked skeptically.

"Positive! Have my Mona senses ever steered us wrong?" he asked smugly.

"You really want us to answer that?" the blond asked, a tiny smirk on his face.

The Monabus groaned, "Just get in already!"

The rest of the group quickly complied before the Monabus revved its engine and took off, leaving a cloud of dust behind it.

"...You sure we're going the right way?" Ryuji asked for the umpteenth time.

"Ryuji, shut up!" Ann groaned as she leaned back in her seat. The Monabus had been driving for what felt like hours and still the landscape remained the same, just nearly lifeless fields as far as the eye could see. Although, Yusuke swore that he saw some sort of animal skeleton about a half-hour ago.

"If I was in my Phantom Thief outfit, I may be able to help navigate," Futaba complained, "but nope! Without it, I'm not much help right now… doesn't help that our phones have no service here either."

Makoto frowned. She trusted Mona, but not seeing the landscape change even a little was making her a bit nervous.

"...Maybe we should stop for the day…?" Makoto suggested, "it's not like we'll have to start over next time we come in, right?"

Mona sighed, "Yeah. We've been driving for a good four hours… we'll keep going tomorrow."

"You sure it's been four hours?" Akira asked, "It felt like six."

"Either way, we need to stop. Even my bus form has limits," Mona said.

"Yeah… plus, I have a great need to use the restroom, and I don't feel comfortable doing it here," Yusuke informed everyone.

"Please don't!" everyone shouted in unison, Ryuji nearly jumping out of the bus once they stopped.

"Alright," Mona sighed, transforming back into an anthropomorphic cat, "Fortunately, Queen's right too. We should be able to come back to this point tomorrow. It's like Futaba's Palace all over again. If we always came in through the first place we entered, we'd spend a good hour simply driving to and from that spot."

"Kind of like a save point?" Futaba asked.

"I guess you could call it that," Mona shrugged.

"Right… let's get back," Akira said with a sigh. Five hours of progress in, still so much left to go…

"I'm home…" Marinette mumbled in greeting to her parents as she dragged herself and her suitcase to the bakery after the school buses dropped them off at the school.

"Welcome back, sweetie," her maman greeted her from the counter, just finishing up with the last couple of customers before closing time.

"Hey… Maman…" Marinette yawned halfway through her sentence.

Sabine tried hard not to laugh, but she didn't blame her daughter either. She felt very similar whenever she found the time and money to visit her family back in China.

"Your father's already upstairs, why don't you see him really quick and then head to bed?" she suggested.

"Okay…" Marinette's head bobbed as she trudged past her mother and up the stairs.

She nearly crashed into her father's large chest as she miraculously made her way to the top of the steps.

"Marinette! You're finally back!" Tom greeted, crushing her in a large hug.

"Hey, Papa," she smiled through her glazed eyes.

"So, how was the trip?" he immediately asked, "Did you have fun?"

"Tom, leave your daughter alone," Sabine called from downstairs, "she can tell us all about it tomorrow!"

"Oh all right…" Tom groaned in mock sorrow, but he was grinning in amusement.

"It was fun, Papa," Marinette managed to get out, "I brought you and Maman some souvenirs."

"Fantastic!" Tom cheered, "Can't wait to hear all about it!"

"Okay, 'night Papa!"

"Goodnight sweetheart!" Tom said as he let Marinette go up the stairs.

Upon reaching her room, Marinette barely managed to open her purse in time to let Kaalki and Tikki out.

"You okay, Marinette?" Tikki asked, though there was an amused sparkle in her eye.

"Sleep first… talk later," Marinette groaned, all but faceplanting onto her bed.

"Um… you may want to text Luka you made it home safe. You promised him!" Tikki quickly reminded her.

"Ugh…" Marinette groaned as she fumbled for her phone in her pocket.

M: Made it home safe. Sleeping now. See you tomorrow <3.

She almost let the phone slip from her hand after exiting the messaging app when she noticed something else.

The app had a red background, with a strange black eyeball in the middle, a star for its pupil.

Marinette had no idea what it was, but she knew for a fact that she never downloaded this app, on the plane or in Hawaii.

Just before her eyes closed, she slid the app into her phone's trash. It was likely just an error. They happened all the time on smartphones.


Chapter Text

Marinette yawned and stretched, smacking her mouth a couple of times as she opened her eyes.

"Oh my, Marinette!" Tikki gasped, "You actually woke up before your alarm!"

Marinette blinked, "I did?"

Grabbing her phone, she saw that Tikki was correct!

"Oh my gosh, the world must be coming to an end!" Marinette gasped dramatically.

Tikki giggled again, "I guess that's what happens when you travel on a plane for two whole days."

"True," Marinette agreed, joining in the giggles as she checked the messages on her phone. Luka had responded shortly after her text, giving a simple thumbs up. She squealed in excitement, she couldn't wait to give him the ukulele that she had bought him.

After a quick shower and putting on a fresh change of clothes, Marinette snatched the bag containing her souvenirs and cheerfully greeted her parents, already making breakfast in the kitchen.

"Morning, Maman! Morning Papa!"

"Good morning honey!" Tom grinned as he pulled out some cinnamon rolls from the oven.

"You're up early," Sabine smiled, looking up from the banana she was slicing.

"I guess I should get jet lag more often then!" Marinette grinned. She then jiggled her bag in front of her, "Anyway, souvenirs!"

Marinette had gotten her mother some coconut oil lotion and red sea salt, knowing her mom sometimes would use essential oils for meditation sessions. For her papa, it was a Hawaiian cookbook and a big shark tooth necklace, showing off the smaller tooth that she had bought for herself around her own neck.

Breakfast was filled with Marinette telling them excitedly about the fun experiences she had in Hawaii, from snorkeling with a sea turtle to the Dole Plantation tour, and especially about her new friends.

"They're all from Japan? That's quite a ways away," Tom commented.

"True, but they promised to keep in contact, I have all their numbers, and I'm planning to ask Kagami to teach me some Japanese. They all speak English pretty well, but I figured it could help a little," Marinette said as she took a bite of a cinnamon roll.

"How thoughtful of you," Sabine smiled.

Breakfast finished quickly and Marinette quickly scampered back up to her room to grab her schoolbag.

"Oh! Marinette, there's someone waiting for you outside!" Tikki squealed excitedly.

"Who is it?" Marinette asked as she climbed up to her balcony to look.

"Someone you know~" the kwami sang as Marinette spotted a certain blue-haired guitarist waiting outside on the sidewalk. He looked up as if sensing her gaze and waved up to her. Marinette's smile brightened as she waved back before disappearing into her room again to finish up.

Tom tossed Marinette a bag of cookies on her way out the door and Marinette hollered a farewell to her mom as she sprang out the door and into Luka's waiting arms.

"I missed you so much!" Marinette exclaimed as Luka placed a kiss on her forehead.

"I missed you too," Luka smiled, "How was Hawaii? Juleka said she had fun."

"I did too! A lot more than I expected!" Marinette said, breaking from the hug and entwining her hand with Luka's. Sass peaked out from Luka's hoodie and nodded respectfully to Marinette before disappearing back inside it.

"Because of your new friends?" Luka smiled knowingly.

"Well…" Marinette tilted her head in thought, though a smile was still on her face, "...yeah they helped a little."

Luka laughed again as they started walking across the street towards Françoise Dupont.

"Oh, I have a surprise for you after school!" Marinette chirped, remembering the ukulele still waiting in her room, "I really hope you like it!"

Luka smiled, "Anything from you is always wonderful, Marinette, but thank you for thinking of me."

"Did Juleka get you anything?" she asked curiously, "I remember she was looking at some cool guitar pics at one of the shops we visited."

"Yeah, she did. It's wooden, and it had a tiki on it," Luka nodded.

"Aw, so that's the one she picked! She was trying to decide between that one and one with a turtle on it. They were both really cool."

"I honestly can't wait to try them on my guitar. I've never used a wooden pic before… Juleka also mentioned that some 'random Japanese students' were insulting Lila on the last day of the trip," Luka added, a knowing smirk on his face.

Marinette's face flared up in embarrassment, "I-It wasn't my idea! But they were really good at pointing out all the holes in her stories."

"Yeah, like the one I was trying to point out to Juleka for months. The one about Jagged Stone writing a song about Lila?"

"Yeah… honestly, some of the points they brought up were ones that even I never thought of… but I sent Jagged a copy of the video. He said that his lawyers were looking into it."

"Looks like they already have," Luka said, pulling his phone out and pulling up the Ladyblog, "the video's already been taken down."

"Really?!" Marinette gasped, peeking over at the phone. Sure enough, instead of Lila's familiar face greeting her on the page, there was a notice saying: "This video has been removed for claims of slander and libel. We apologize for any inconvenience."

"Wow…" Marinette gasped. Jagged's lawyers sure worked fast. She honestly felt bad for Alya and hoped that she was ultimately let off with a warning to be careful of the content she posted. But considering what exactly Lila was claiming in the recording, she wasn't so sure. She could only pray that they tried to resolve this quietly. She may have been disappointed in Alya, but she didn't want her to be humiliated either.

"I'll admit, it's laughable that it took people from a completely different country to point out the truth to anyone. I don't even go to your school and I know that most of her stories are bullshit," Luka said with a sigh.

"How exactly does her heart song go again?" Marinette smirked.

Luka grimaced, "You don't want to know…"

Marinette giggled, only for Luka to smirk again, "It seems that Lie-la Rossi's Empire of Collège Françoise Dupont is slowly crumbling down at last."

Marinette was full-blown laughing now and Luka smiled contently, happy to see Marinette smile.

They turned the corner, where normally the familiar walls of the Collège would greet them.

They both stopped in their tracks.

In front of them wasn't the familiar steps and double-doors of the Collège. Instead, they looked up in confused shock at the Romanesque gates rising high above their heads.

Looking down, Marinette noticed that they were no longer standing on the pavement, but on thick cobblestone. It reminded her of the streets of Rome when she and her family visited the city back in Èlèmentaire.

"Luka…?" she whispered.

"Yeah, I see it too," he muttered cautiously.

"What's going on…?"

A couple of hours later...

The Phantom Thieves were once again assembled in Leblanc, ready for another round of driving into the Metaverse.

"So… hypothetically speaking," Ryuji said, "if we were to continue at this pace, how long until we actually get to the Palace?"

"Unfortunately, that's hard to say…" Morgana frowned, "Time and distance work differently in the Metaverse, you all already know that."

"Well… unless there's a way to automatically 'jump' to the Palace spot, this is the best we can do right now," Makoto said, though there was annoyance in her tone.

"Come on, the more we talk, the more time we're wasting," Yusuke said.

"Right, let's go-huh?" Akira suddenly gasped.

"What's up?" Futaba asked.

Akira noticed a small notification at the corner of the app. Hesitantly pressing it, a message popped up.

"New area unlocked in Palace," the automated voice said.

"Wait-what? What does that mean?" Ann asked.

"...Did anyone go back into the Palace without permission last night?" Morgana asked non-accusingly.

"What?! No way! That ain't the Phantom Thief code!" Ryuji protested. Everyone else shook their heads.

"What could it mean then?" Yusuke asked.

Akira frowned, feeling an uneasy feeling building in his gut, "Either way, let's check it out!"

"Good idea…" Makoto nodded. Without any more hesitation, they pressed the app and were teleported into the Metaverse.

To their surprise, it wasn't a field that they landed in, and their clothes had appropriately changed to their Phantom Thief guises. Right in front of them was a brick tower gate, which gave off a bit of a Romanic vibe to it.

"...That's new!" Ryuji exclaimed.

Chapter Text

"...Marinette! Marinette, wake up!"

Marinette groaned as her eyes slowly blinked open. She was greeted by Luka's worried expression, but that wasn't what caught her attention. Behind Luka were nothing but walls of thick stone. It was also extremely dark, the only light source being a hole in the roof, with locked bars in the way. Looking down, Marinette saw that she had been laying on an extremely thin blanket, which did nothing to block the cold and rough exterior of the stone beneath her.

"Luka…? Where are we? What happened?" she asked, confused.

"You… don't remember?" Luka asked hesitantly.

Marinette looked down, trying to rack her brain to explain how the two of them got here. She remembered Luka and her transforming, leaping over the fortress wall, and then…

"We...weren't we fighting those weird amoks… akumas… what were those things?"

"I think so…" Luka nodded, a contemplative look on his face, "...but, I'm not so sure that those were amoks or akumas…"

Now that Marinette thought about it, the way that those monsters behaved was unlike any of the amoks that Mayura and Hawkmoth had handed out since the Peafowl's first appearance on Heroes' Day. They acted a lot more sentient… and violent.

"Um… what do you think, Tikki…?" Marinette asked, instinctively looking near her purse.

There was no response.

"...Tikki?" Marinette asked, sounding scared now. Luka gasped.

"Marinette, your earrings are gone!" he then looked down at his wrist, where the Snake Miraculous usually rested. It was missing as well.

"No...nonononono! This is bad!" Marinette started to panic. If they had lost their Miraculous… no.

She remembered now, right before losing consciousness, Kobra's form falling next to her. A voice, a familiar one, but one she couldn't put a name or face to, ordered those monsters to take their jewelry! Whoever was behind this…!

"Shit! Whoever took them knows who we are now! This is a disaster!" Marinette screamed, before rolling into a ball, hugging her legs, trying to keep the overwhelming feeling of despair at bay.

Luka, on the other hand, swiftly moved towards the thick iron bars on the other end of the cell. They looked like classic dungeon bars with a thick iron lock in front. He grunted as he tried to see if anything would give. Though he himself was inwardly panicking too, he knew that getting out would be the first step before anything else. He wanted to get out quickly. The music around him was screaming danger and get out!

He stopped abruptly when he heard the sound of heavy footsteps. Backing away from the door, a large guard wearing heavy metal armor & carrying a large rectangular shield. His face was completely covered by the armored helmet adorning his head. He came up and banged on the bars.

"Feel honored, intruders," a deep, metallic sounding voice came from the figure, "your punishment has been decided upon. It's rare that our Imperatrix provides such accommodations."

"What…?" Luka gasped, confused. Behind him Marinette lifted her head, watching the scene carefully.

"The charge is 'unlawful entry,'" the guard continued, "and thus… you're both sentenced to death."

Luka's eyes widened and stepped back. Marinette cautiously placed her feet back on the floor. Just because they were in this situation, didn't mean that they weren't going down without a fight, Miraculous or not.

"You can't be serious!" Luka protested, fists balled.

"Oh...I'm afraid that is one of the real things around here," a familiar voice cackled from down the hall.

Coming up behind the soldier, surrounded by two more guards was none other than-

"Lila?!" Marinette gasped.

Lila, with a twisted smirk on her face, was now dressed in a purple Roman toga with a dull orange sash, and gold ornaments running down her arms. Her hair and face remained the same, but her eyes were now a bright malicious gold. On her head was an elaborate gold tiara.

"I thought it was just a couple of stupid bandits, but to think," 'Lila' smirked, "you, Marinette, of all people would be foolish enough to enter my empire. Especially when I made it clear that you weren't welcome here. And to think… my two most hated people in the world were actually one and the same this entire time! I should have known you were that annoying insect!"

At the mention of her heroic alias, Marinette narrowed her eyes, "Where's Tikki? What did you do with the Miraculous?!"

"You dare speak to our Imperatrix like that?!" one of the soldiers banged on the bars, making the couple jump.

Lila snickered malignantly, "Oh, I'll let her have her last words. She's going to die soon, anyway. It doesn't matter how much a pig squeals when the slaughterhouse remains their destination."

"What did you say?" Luka exclaimed angrily.

"But anyway," 'Lila' sighed dismissively, "I have more important things to do than deal with these scum. The high priest has been looking for those jewels for a while. Shame he'll only get one of the ones he needs, but I guess the bracelet will do for now."

She turned and smirked at one of the guards, "Execute them," she snarled.

The door to their cell, swung open and the guards swarmed inside, 'Lila' watching just outside in the hall.

"S-stop it!" Marinette exclaimed, as the guards instantly had them swarmed.

Luka attempted to shove his way past the guards, but more simply held him back. He gasped as a large fist collided with his stomach, knowing the air from his lungs.

"Luka!" Marinette cried.

"Hmmm…" 'Lila' suddenly stepped into the cell, her guards holding Luka's arms back, the boy kneeling on the ground. He jumped when he felt a soft hand trace his cheek.

"On second thought," 'Lila' smirked, trailing her palm up Luka's cheek to his chin. The older teen involuntarily shivered, "Maybe I'll keep this one around. He's not as useful or interesting as my Adrien, but his face isn't too bad."

"Stay away from him!" Marinette screamed, trying to claw her way through the guards.

Lila cackled again, "You may have gotten lucky in the real world, little Mari, but here-" 'Lila' was cut off when a painful scream erupted from her throat. Luka had managed to bite down on 'Lila's' hand. The girl immediately cradled the appendage to her chest, looking at Luka with full intent to kill.

The guitarist just savagely smirked back, a small trail of blood dripping from his lip.

"You'll pay for that, plebeium!" she shrieked, before kicking Luka hard in the jaw. Another guard that had previously been holding Marinette back, charged forward and this time held Luka's head against the stone floor.

Marinette raced forward, and attempted to pull the guard off, but without the super-strength of the Miraculous, he didn't so much as budge.

'Lila' looked between Luka and Marinette, another smirk spreading on her face, "Here's a fun little idea. Kill the plebeium first… and make little Marinette watch."

Marinette gasped in horror, before a guard grabbed her again, restraining her arms. Tears in her eyes, Marinette glared at 'Lila', " won't get away with this!"

'Lila' in response simply cackled, "Stupid little Mari, you still don't get it? I can 'get away' with whatever I want here. My word is law in this empire of mine, and there's nothing you can do to stop me. I promised you that you wouldn't have anyone on your side, didn't I? This is simply me keeping that promise. You'll be finished, just like all of the others."

Marinette's head snapped up at the last word, "...Others?"

"Hmm?" 'Lila' hummed, before chortling, "Oh come on now! You don't really think you're the only 'smart one' in the world, do you? There have been plenty of other goody-goodies that have tried to stop me too. I took care of them, though."

She laughed again. "I will admit, however, out of all of my schools, yours is by far the dumbest. I barely had to waste any effort to convince everyone that I was the victim. Ha! What idiots your supposed 'friends' are!

Despite his position on the floor, Luka glared up at the ornately dressed Lila, "Shut up! You can't talk about my sister that way! Once they learn who you really are-"

"'Once they learn'? HA! As if that'll happen so long as I'm at that school, what with my Adrien helping to keep them in line, Marinette."

"...What does Adrien have to do with any of this?!" Marinette shouted. Despite losing her crush on him, she highly doubted that Adrien was purposefully trying to cover up Lila's lies. He just wanted everyone to figure it out themselves… right?

"Oh, are you actually that stupid? My Adrien simply made it even easier by reeling you in himself! 'Take the high road, Marinette. As long as we both know, isn't that enough?'" she held up her hand, miming the words that the blond once said to Marinette, "I didn't even need to blackmail him this time. Stupid, naive little Adrien thought I could change on my own. Ha! As if I'd bother!"

Anger boiled inside of Marinette. She didn't even care if she attracted any akumas right now. Lila nor anyone else had any right to talk about Adrien like that!

"Don't talk about Adrien that way!"

'Lila' fake gasped, eyes shining in glee, "What's this? Don't tell me you still have feelings for my Adrien," she grinned and looked over at Luka, still pinned to the floor, "What is he to you then? A rebound? You had to settle with second-best because my Adrien is out of your league?"

"That's not-that's not true!" Marinette protested, looking desperately between 'Lila' and Luka.

'Lila' simply smirked, unrepentant, "...We'll see… without those annoying little bugs and jewelry, you're both nothing."

Treacherous tears streamed down Marinette's face as 'Lila' gestured to a soldier with a giant sword in his sheath. The weapon was drawn slowly from its holder.

"Stop it! Please, just stop!" Marinette screamed, resisting even harder against her captors.

"Mari…" Luka finally said in a calm voice, "You're not seriously going to believe this liar now, are you?"

"Huh?" she gasped, looking at Luka's bruised face.

"Marinette, I know you. You're too kind and selfless to use me like that. I would've known if you were still attracted to Adrien or something like that!"

"Luka…" Marinette gasped.

"You know what my feelings are for you! Yeah, we make mistakes, but who doesn't?! I asked if you were ready to hear your song, and I believed you when you said 'yes'. I still believe in you now too!"

Marinette choked back a sob, warmth spreading in her chest at her boyfriend's words.

The moment was quickly ruined though as 'Lila' slowly clapped her hands.

"Bravo. A stirring performance," she sneered, "who knew you could pull off the Prince Charming act so well!"

"Who said it was an act?" Luka spat back venomously.

"Tch," 'Lila' hissed, "people like you piss me off!" she glared at her guards again, "What are you waiting for, silence him!"

Panic overtook Marinette again as the guards exposed Luka's neck, the one with the sword slowly approaching.

"I won't let you do this!" she screamed hysterically.

"Oh yeah?" 'Lila' smirked triumphantly, "And who's going to stop me? you?"

Marinette growled. All of her frustration and...and… hatred for the despicable girl in front of her was finally boiling to the surface. She had given Lila multiple chances, for both Adrien's and her own sake. No matter how much she tried to deny it, there was always that tiny part in the back of her mind that kept saying that Lila could change. It was still there, pleading with Marinette to stop once again.

This time, that voice went unheeded.

She looked 'Lila' right in the eye, "You've only beaten me when I admit defeat! And I haven't yet! I will fight you for every moment of the rest of my life if I have to!"

Silly, silly girl…

A voice began to speak in Marinette's head, and suddenly, extreme pain began to sear through her head.

Instead of fighting for what you knew was right, you chose to bow down to others' will and shield yourself, didn't you? If your desire for a long-overdue victory to fall into your hands is still there, let us form a contract…

'There's something on my face,' Marinette realized all of a sudden, her mind barely able to get thoughts out through this unexpected aching.

"Marinette, what's going on?" Luka cried from behind the guards, "Are you okay? Wait, is that a-"

I am thou, thou art I… what has happened is of no matter now - you know your path now; it is one where I shall accompany you until the end!

Marinette grabbed onto the thing on her face - a mask, she was barely aware of - and ripped it off with a horrifying sound. Blood splattered everywhere, and a great bellow of wind blew the guards holding her and Luka back. Great blue flames burst up from the ground around her, engulfing her, consuming her…

She was not hurt by these flames, however. No - she felt empowered by them.

The flames cleared out, then, dissipating as abruptly as they'd come to be, and when the last embers had dissipated, there was a new figure behind Marinette, who herself was dressed differently than the normal clothing she wore.

Marinette's new threads looked similar to a Chinese hanfu, but the dress stopped just below the knees. It was black with a red trim, and a thick gold belt around her waist, and her hair was up in a single, thick bun, a red ribbon holding it in place.

The mysterious being behind Marinette must have been at least ten feet tall. She was dressed in ancient Chinese battle armor, wearing a cracked mask adorned with traditional feminine Chinese makeup. In one hand it (she?) held a war fan held up to shield part of her face, the other holding a Jian sword.

"Ma-Marinette…?" Luka gaped out in awe.

Luka wasn't the only one in a state of shock. 'Lila' was frozen on the ground of the cell, watching Marinette in utter horror.

Good, the voice echoed in her mind. Marinette realized that the voice and the figure were one and the same.

A couple of the guards attempted to rise from the floor but never got the chance to. With a furious cry, Marinette extended her arm, the figure behind her mimicking her actions. Swinging her now-glowing Jian, blasts of light energy barreled into the guards, completely shattering them.

Luka's arms snapped up to shield his face from the debris. Though he was still confused, he spotted 'Lila' attempting to crawl away - like a coward - from the scene. Rising to his feet he charged and tackled 'Lila' to the ground.

"GUARDS!" 'Lila' shrieked, attempting to buck Luka off of her, but he held firm. His eyes then widened when he spotted something else charging their way.

Another small group of soldiers was racing towards the cell. Before Luka could get up, though, Marinette leaped over him and 'Lila,' landing firmly in front of the cell door.

"Let's get out of here, Mulan," Marinette said calmly, as the platoon of soldiers stopped in front of her. The soldiers then burst into some sort of dark matter before materializing again. This time, instead of Roman soldiers, what stood in front of Marinette was a large centaur with a bow and arrow, and two stout dwarves with mischievous grins on their faces, nails sharp like claws.

Marinette grit her teeth, her hand suddenly tightening around the weapon that materialized by her side. Taking it in the same fashion as her yo-yo, she swung the mace flail expertly in a circle before throwing it towards one of the dwarfs. It hit it smack on the head, but it wasn't quite enough to kill it.

The centaur then readied an arrow into his bow, but instinctively Marinette extended her hand out again, the woman bursting alive behind her.

"Kouga!" she shouted, and the same light energy swung from Mulan's Jian just like before. The centaur screamed in agony before disintegrating into the same material from earlier.

With the loss of their 'captain,' the two dwarfs were easily dispatched shortly after, though one managed to get a good scratch in before the two dissolved into shadows.

Marinette panted slightly, a small wave of exhaustion suddenly hitting her. Whatever it was she did, it used up a lot of energy, unlike her Ladybug form.

"Whoa…" was all Luka could say from behind her. He then grunted as 'Lila' took that chance to escape from his hold. She didn't get far before Marinette tripped her on her way out of the cell.

Marinette then spotted something flying out of 'Lila's' dress. The keys!

"Luka!" she shouted.

"Got'em!" he shouted, scooping the keys up from where they had fallen. 'Lila' attempted to get back up, only for Luka to kick her back into the cell. Marinette slammed the door closed, and Luka shoved the key into the lock, turning it as soon as he was sure it was secure.

"Y-YOU!" 'Lila' screamed in fury, rushing up to the bars.

"Marinette… that-that was amazing!" Luka gasped with an incredulous smile on his face.

Marinette felt her cheeks heat up at the compliment, looking down to hide her face.

"Huh… what happened to my clothes?" Marinette finally noticed the outfit she was now adorned in.

Luka barked out a laugh, "Y-you just took down three monsters, and all you can say is 'what happened to my clothes'?"

Marinette chuckled too. It did seem like a bit of a random comment for the situation. She raised her hand to brush her hair back when she brushed against something else, something that she was quite familiar with in her superhero form.

"A mask…?" Marinette murmured, tracing the edges of it. The top part on the left side seemed to sharpen and end in a point, same with the bottom part of the right side.

"It matches your outfit, at least," Luka commented with a smile. From what he could see was that one side, that ended in an upward point, besides a small circle right below the eye, was red, and the side that ended in a lower half, except a small dot just above the eye, was black. The dots were the color of the other side of the mask.

Before Marinette could admire her outfit or mask any more though, a bang came from the cell. They both jumped and saw that 'Lila' had attempted to rush and break down the door.

"You vermin!" she shouted.

Marinette frowned. Now that they weren't in danger, she and Luka should get out, but there was one more matter to deal with first.

"Where's our Miraculous, Lila?"

'Lila' stopped trying to break down the door, only to smirk up knowingly at Marinette, "Your what?"

Luka scowled, "Don't play dumb! My bracelet and Marinette's earrings - where are they?"

'Lila' pouted, flinching back like a kicked puppy, "Wh-what makes you think I have them?"

Marinette growled, she wasn't going to play this game, "We heard you order those-those things to take them from us!"

This time, 'Lila' dropped the act, smirking defiantly at the two, "You really sure it was me?"

Marinette looked like she was about to press further, but Luka caught her arm, "Forget it. Even if she does talk, she could just be lying about where she hid them."

Marinette frowned, but sighed, knowing he was right. She nodded, "Come on, let's find them and get out of here!"

As the two turned and ran down the corridor, 'Lila's' voice shouted after them.

"You can run, but you can't hide! Not in my empire! Not in my world!"

Chapter Text

"Okay, then… I guess we made it?" Skull asked as the group gazed up at the towering gate in front of them.

"I'm more concerned as to how we made it," Queen said, "none of us reentered this Palace yesterday or this morning…"

"You think that someone else came in here?" Panther asked, remembering the criminal that Madarame and Kaneshiro mentioned after defeating them.

"It would make sense if that's the case," Joker murmured, "whether by accident or on purpose. I'm not sure which worries me more…"

"Oracle, is there a way you can check if anyone else is here?" Mona asked.

"If we had a general layout of the Palace, I might be able to, but we don't have that right now," the navigator in question shook her head.

"Okay, then first things first, we need to find a map," Skull said.

"And where exactly would we find a map in a Palace like this?" Fox asked.

"Let's take a look around. Maybe we should pick up some information from the Shadows here," Joker said, looking around the outer wall. Using the main gate would be too obvious and give away their presence. Running along the edge of the wall, Joker eventually found their way in - a small, clearly-dug hole tunneling underneath the wall. It was small, but they should be able to squeeze through.

Crawling on his elbows, Joker eventually made his way under the stone and onto the other side.

"Woah…" he gasped, upon seeing what was on the other side.

As more of the Phantom Thieves crawled through, they were greeted by the sight of an elaborate courtyard containing cobble-stone sidewalks and lush gardens. In the center of the fortress was a large, bedizened castle, surrounded by a second set of walls. Unfortunately, there weren't many places to hide, unless they crawled along the flower beds.

"So…" Skull spoke first, "now what do we do?"

"The Treasure's obviously in the inner castle over there," Mona said softly, "but I do agree that it'll be difficult to sneak over there unless we find another way. A map would be good about now…"

"Isn't that what we're trying to find in the first place?" Panther whispered.

Before anymore discussion could be had, they jumped when they heard the familiar sound of Shadows spawning.

"Crap! They spotted us already ?!" Skull exclaimed.

"Get ready, here they come!" Oracle shouted.

The entering Shadows immediately spotted the Phantom Thieves. Recognizing them as unfamiliar and therefore intruders, it transformed into three of some kind of mix between a fish (it was piscine in the sense that it's lower body was that of a large fish) and a wingless angel. Joker mentally dubbed it the Bewitching Mermaid.

"Intruders!" the head of the bunch sang. Skull stopped for a second, more confused than anything else, but he too prepared for action like his allies.

"They must have used the Rebels' exit!" the second one exclaimed.

"Kill them, before they can get back to that snake!" the last one trilled.

"Rebels? What are they talking about?" Fox wondered, but his hands remained on his katana.

"No time to speculate, they're coming!" Queen shouted her tekko gauntlets up.

Fortunately, the Shadows weren't super strong, and on an even brighter side, they learned they were weak to Ice after a well-placed Mabufu from Goemon.

After knocking the three Bewitching Mermaids down, the Phantom Thieves surrounded them, guns pointed.

"No sudden movements." Fox quietly but sternly commanded.

"What were you talking about earlier? What rebels?" Joker demanded to know.

"Huh? Everyone knows about them. They're few and feeble, though, and won't stand a chance against our glorious Imperatrix!" one of them scoffed.

"Er… well they do have the Serpent with them, and he's pretty strong…" one of the other two piped up.

"The Serpent?" Joker questioned.

"Shut up, you simpleton!" the head of the group shouted.

"I wasn't talking to you," Joker growled, his attention on the one that spoke up; said Bewitching Mermaid promptly shut its trap.

"Well, I mean, if it weren't for him, the Princess would likely be gone right now, right?" the talkative one asked the leader, who only scowled back.

"Princess? Who's the princess?" Mona asked, his slingshot ready to go.

"Oh… well, you see-"

"Tacē!" the leader ordered with a hiss.

Finally, Skull had enough and growled out, "We're not getting anywhere with these chicks. Let's just get this over with!"

Before any of the Bewitching Mermaids could protest, the Thieves charged, cutting them to pieces.

Everyone took a second to catch their breath. Even though those Shadows had been easy, that didn't mean they would all be.

"Okay, so there's a rebel faction in this Palace… that's new," Mona said, bringing up the information they just got from the Shadows.

"They seemed a bit concerned about the one they mentioned. The Serpent, was it?" Panther wondered.

"An interesting title for a rebel," Fox commented.

"We should keep looking around. Maybe some more Shadows know more about him," Queen suggested.

"Right," Joker nodded. Turning to Oracle, he said, "Scan for any more Shadows around the area."

"There are… two Shadows north of here," Oracle reported, "not too strong, either."

"Good," Joker smirked before dashing off in said direction, the rest of his team following behind. The two Shadows in question were two guards patrolling near the gate. Despite the lack of obstacles to hide behind, Joker managed to jump the first guard, ripping off the soldier's helmet.

This time, a Humanoid Half-Ruminant and two Prank-Loving Boogeydwarves appeared from the Shadow. A quick Maragion from Hecate knocked the Prank-Loving Boogeydwarves off their feet and a Zionga from Seiten Taisei dealt with the Humanoid Half-Ruminant.

Once again the Phantom Thieves surrounded the enemies.

"Wait! We know we've been naughty, just hear us out!" one of the Prank-Loving Boogeydwarves begged.

"Tell us about the Serpent, and we'll let you go," Joker ordered, grinning.

"The snake?" the creature scoffed, "Why do you want to know about him? You don't look like the normal rebels the Imperatrix rounds up."

"Let's just say my friends and I have some business with him. Where is he?" Joker half-lied.

"Fah! You really want to find him? Last I heard he was hanging around the hills west of here. I'd be careful how you approach him, though. Rumor has it that he keeps the Princess in his sight at all times. Make any wrong moves on her, and that's the end for you!"

"...Noted," Joker eventually said, putting his gun away.

"Huh? You're letting us live?" the Prank-Loving Boogeydwarf gasped in confusion.

"We said we would if you told us about the Serpent, I'm not one to break my promises," Joker shrugged.

"Oh… on second thought, the Serpent may like you. He likes the honest type - unlike the Imperatrix."

"How interesting," Joker carefully spoke.

"Yeah! You know, talking with you is really… wait a minute. I remember everything now! I'm not a Shadow - I'm a being that resides within humanity's souls! From now on, call me Kobalos! Let's make some mischief, shall we?"

The familiar form of the former Shadow transformed into a mask and merged with Joker. He grinned as he felt the power of Kobalos merge with his own. He also slightly felt an unusual desire to swipe anything that looked even a little shiny… interesting, that.

Once he finished absorbing Kobalos' mask, the Humanoid Half-Ruminant and the other Kobalos ran off, taking advantage of Joker's mercy.

"All right, a new Persona!" Mona cheered.

"And we got more information on this Serpent guy," Panther nodded.

"In the hills to the west, is it? I suggest we head there now," Fox proposed.

"I agree. Whoever this Serpent guy is, he may be able to at least give us some intel on this Palace. Maybe he'll even give us a safer way in," Queen nodded.

"Let's get going, then!" Skull cheered.

After escaping through the same tunnel they entered through, it wasn't too hard to find the hills that Kobalos was referring to. They were, as promised, in the west.

There was no clear path to the precise location of the Serpent and Princess, but after a quick scan from Oracle, she did notice some distinct markings on a couple of the fallen tree's trunks. It was likely a code that the rebels used to find their way around. Deciding the best bet was to follow them, they headed inside, weapons held at the ready.

After exploring for about ten minutes, Mona's ears picked up the sound of singing.

"Hold up, I hear something," he informed the group. As they came closer to the source, the sound of running water joined in.

Placing a finger to his lips, Joker and the others crept slowly around some trees, hiding from whoever might be nearby. Peeking over, they spotted a young girl in a modest light-pink toga, washing some clothes in the stream, and humming a melody.

"Hey… why does she look familiar?" Skull whispered eyes narrowed.

He apparently wasn't quiet enough, as the girl perked up, jumped to her feet, and whipped around.

"Who's there?!" she demanded. The Thieves gasped when they saw her face.

"Marinette?!" Panther instinctively exclaimed, compromising their position.

Marinette, or more accurately Lila's cognitive version of Marinette, gasped again upon hearing her name.

"Who are you?" she demanded to know. The Thieves noticed that she had a small knife at her side.

"Hold on, please," Fox said before conflict could begin, "we mean no harm."

"Yeah! We just want to talk!" Skull said, stepping out with his hands raised.

Before he could take another step forward, a wooden arrow thudded swiftly in the earth right in front of him. Jumping in alarm, the Thieves all followed the trajectory of where the arrow must have been shot from. In the trees, they could barely make out the silhouette of a figure they didn't recognize at all.

"Who are you?" the person demanded aggressively.

"Wait, please! We don't want to fight!" Queen protested, stepping out, her hands raised as well, "W-we're looking for someone called the Serpent, do you know where we can find him?"

"You're looking at him!" coolly replied the Serpent.

"You hate Lila, r-right?" Panther asked appeasingly, "W-Well, so do we! Why don't we team up or something?"

"Team up?" the Serpent scowled, "My melody tried that already with that foolish prince. All he did was nearly destroy her! That scelerāta even has my sister under her spell!"

"...Sister?" Mona asked quietly. Joker slightly shook his head, telling Mona not to push the question.

"W-well, that's fair, but we're not here to hurt her, we promise!" Skull protested, "I-if you could maybe just show us how to get into that castle, that would be great! That's all we're asking - we'll leave ya alone from then on!"

"Look, we're friends with the real Marinette!" Queen tried, "We know what Lila's done to-"

"Do not speak her name here!" the Serpent snarled. The group gulped.

"Okay, okay!" Queen quickly backtracked, seeing the volatility of the Serpent, "...we know of the things the Imperatrix has done. Furthermore, we want to help. So please, if you have a map of the Palace, that would be enough. We can take care of the rest from there."

"What good would simply a map do?" the Serpent asked suspiciously. Mona was reminded of Skull asking that once, but wisely said nothing of it.

"We're here to steal her Treasure," Joker explained calmly, "If we have a map, that will make our mission not only faster but much easier as well. Once the Treasure's ours, everything the Imperatrix has done, it will go away. Y-You just want Marinette to be happy, uh… Luka, right?"

There was silence for a few seconds, Cognitive Marinette glancing between her protector and the Phantom Thieves. Slowly the figure stood from his spot on the tree branch and jumped down to the ground. Now that they had a better look at him, his armor looked like a lighter version of most of the Shadows they spotted. More suited for stealth or assassinations than true battle. Besides the quiver and bows on his back, the only distinguishing feature was that he was also wearing a dark green hood over his head, teal markings adorning it.

Slowly, the figure raised his head and dropped the hood, revealing his face.

"You want the map so bad…" Cognitive Luka said, "then prove to us you have the skill to take on the Imperatrix!"

In a burst of shadows, he and Cognitive Marinette transformed. Marinette became a floating, pregnant-looking woman in a yellow dress & winged sandals - the Agile Mother-To-Be - while Luka became an Elephantine Serpent.

"Okay, now I get why they call him the Serpent!" Skull cried, jumping into his battle stance.

"He must be pretty serious if we have to fight them to gain his trust," Fox exclaimed.

"It makes you wonder what happened for Li- you-know-who to think of him like this," Panther agreed.

"Um, hello! Less talking, more fighting, people!" Oracle shouted from behind.

"Ah! Sorry!" Panther apologized before pulling out her whip.

"Be careful, I don't see a weakness on either of them right now!" Queen warned.

Deciding it was best to keep a distance for the time being, they attempted to first fire at the two monsters with their guns. Though it seemed to jar the cognitions slightly, it wasn't enough to cause any true damage.

The Serpent then lunged aggressively at Fox, striking him hard and knocking him off his feet.

Then Agile Mother-To-Be sang a soft melody, heightening Elephantine Serpent's defense and agility.

"Okay, guns are out," Queen growled, "What next?"

"Still looking for a weakness," Oracle reported, "but I'd highly discourage attacking Marinette first. Luka seems to be constantly guarding her. I'd hate to see what happens if we attack her when he isn't at least stunned."

The fight didn't last very long. Once they were able to knock the Serpent down, they discovered that it was Ice attacks that worked best, and they realized the Agile Mother-To-Be was extremely weak to Curse attacks, in which Joker had plenty of. They continued attacking in this way until Luka and Marinette both dissolved back into their normal forms.

To the Phantom Thieves' relief, it didn't seem like the two had any lasting damage, though Luka was breathing heavily and Marinette had collapsed. They could see that she was breathing though, so she had just fallen unconscious.

"Not… not bad, I will admit," the Serpent eventually said, a small smile on his face.

"We won," Joker said, "so… the map?"

"Yes, you earned the right to it," Luka nodded, pulling a scroll from his armor, "if you want some advice, the best way to enter would be through the North dungeons, guards are scarce there if you wish to avoid detection."

Joker took the scroll from Luka and nodded, "Thank you. We'll stop her. We promise."

Luka smirked, and knelt down next to his sleeping princess, "I look forward to it."

The group waved at the cognitive couple as they headed back into the forest. About halfway in they stopped to look at the map.

"So the Serpent said the best entry point was the North dungeons huh?" Skull asked, "Wonder why that is? In my opinion, wouldn't the dungeons be the more heavily guarded places?"

"Perhaps there are certain prisoners there that don't require as much security, like sick or malnourished," Fox suggested.

"Either way, we have a proper infiltration point. Let's go check it out!" Mona proclaimed.

Chapter Text

True to the Serpent's word, the North dungeon's entrance was a group of loose bars that were hidden behind an abandoned stone waterway. Most of it was hidden by false or dead shrubbery and looked like it hadn't been disturbed in a while.

"...Here we go," Joker said, as he took the plunge into the damp dungeon. It was a bit of a drop of ten feet, but Joker managed to land on his feet, "Careful, it's a bit of a drop!"

Heeding his warning, one by one, the Phantom Thieves jumped down, a couple of still puddles of water being splashed in the process.

"Okay, where do we go from here?" Panther asked.

Taking out the map again, Joker looked closely, "Well, the best thing to do would be to get out of here first. There's a hidden passage a couple of floors up. Let's try there."

"Sounds good," Queen nodded before they all took off.

The group passed several cells in their flight through the dungeon, and just as they suspected, of the few prisoners actually there, most were too sick or weak to put up a big fight. It was no wonder that more guards weren't put here.

"...So who do you think those people are in the cells?" Skull asked, feeling a nauseous sense of deja vu.

"No idea," Oracle said, "I have some guesses, but that's all they are…"

Skull swallowed before he almost ran headfirst into Joker's back. Their leader then forced them against a wall.

"What is it?" Fox asked lowly.

"Shh!" Joker shushed, leaning over further.

"Did you hear, we nearly had them!" Joker heard a guard growl, "Our Imperatrix was nearly victorious at last!"

"Is it true that the Princess used some sort of witchcraft?" the second guard inquired.

"It seems so. The Serpent seemed just as surprised as the others in their cell."

Joker blinked. The Serpent? What were they talking about? They literally just saw him in the woods - how was he 'almost captured?' Then again, this was also the Metaverse. Even if by all accounts something didn't make sense, it was best to just roll with it. However, something Joker's gut was telling him that this wasn't an error or coincidence.

"Now they're loose in the castle. Keep your guard up. If you encounter either of them, kill them!"

"Sir!" the guard saluted before walking off.

Joker looked back at his teammates. They all seemed just as surprised and confused.

"Wait… was he talking about the Serpent, er, Luka?" Skull asked, "But I thought we just saw the guy!"

"Something's not right. We need to look into this before anything else happens," Panther said.

"You have an idea of what's happening?" Fox asked.

"I do… and I really pray that I'm wrong," the blonde grimaced before they continued down the corridor again, now that the guards had left.

They traveled down several more hallways, and took out some more Shadows along the way, before finally making it to what seemed like the main floor. It was decorated fairly similar to Kamoshida's castle, but instead of reds and pinks and other colors one would normally see on a Valentine's Day card, most of the colors were orange, with splashes of blue and purple as well.

Fox scowled, "The color scheme is as aesthetically artistic as her hair."

"I actually have to agree with you," Panther said, "there is way too much of a color clash."

"Over there!" a guard shouted, followed by a crash.

"Let's go!" Joker exclaimed as they raced towards the sound. It seemed to be leading towards the main hall.

Just as they turned a corner.


Joker felt like he just ran into a brick wall as he tumbled along the hall's tile, before finally coming to a halt against the wall.

He heard a pained groan behind him and turned to look at who ran into him.

"Wh-who are you?!" another voice exclaimed.

Looking up, Joker saw a slightly familiar face. But instead of the Roman assassin armor he had been wearing in the forest, this kid was wearing a white shirt under a worn hoodie and ripped black jeans. He was holding what looked like some kind of pipe like one would hold a baseball bat.

"Whoa, put the pipe down, Luka!" Skull cried.

The boy stiffened, before narrowing his eyes, "How do you know my name?!"

Before any more words could be shared, the Shadows that had been chasing the two strangers caught up to them.

"What?! There's more of them?!" the guard shouted, "Call in back-up! All available forces corner them!"

"Okay, how many of these things are there?!" the girl that Joker had run into complained, getting to her feet. Upon hearing her voice, it became clear who she really was.

"No time to explain, Marinette!" Queen exclaimed, "Get ready!"

This time when the guard dissolved, there were two more Kobalos and a new Shadow they hadn't encountered yet. It looked like a hulking man, but it only had one singular eye in the middle of its forehead.

"Mandata Imperatricis Est," the Shadow which Joker mentally dubbed a One-Eyed Oaf, cried, "kill all intruders on sight!"

Despite it being stronger than the Bewitching Mermaids and other monsters they had already encountered, Oracle managed to pinpoint its weakness as Nuclear. A quick nuke from Queen was enough to knock it down. And everyone else was shocked when Marinette summoned her own Persona, killing the Kobalos duo easily with a Bless attack.

With the enemies defeated, Luka stared in shock, "Y-You guys have those things too?!"

"Yeah, but more importantly - Marinette, how did you get here?" Panther exclaimed.

Marinette's eyes widened under her mask, eyes shifting between all the Phantom Thieves, "D-Do I know you or something?"

"It's me, Ann!" Panther said, "Yusuke, Ryuji, Makoto, and Akira are here too!"

Marinette narrowed her eyes, looking them all up and down. They widened and she took a step back, Marinette exclaiming, "Oh my god, it is you!"

"We told you!" Queen smiled, "Although, I'll admit I wasn't expecting to see you again face-to-face so soon."

"Yeah… I guess so," Marinette grinned awkwardly. Seeing that these people weren't enemies, Luka lowered the pipe he'd been carrying around as a weapon.

"So you're the ones who finally knocked a little sense into my sister and her class' heads, huh?" Luka asked, looking at them graciously.

"Yep, they're the ones," Oracle said from behind everyone, "Hi Marinette! I'm Futaba!"

"Oh, nice to meet you!" Marinette said.

"Morgana's here as well," Joker said, gesturing next to Futaba, "He's over there."

"Where?" Marinette asked, looking around, not seeing any more people.

"Down here!" Mona exclaimed, jumping up and waving. Marinette squeaked and jumped back in surprise.

"You're a cat?" Luka asked, quivering an amused eyebrow.

"Am not!" Mona argued with an adorable scowl.

Marinette giggled, "Okay, okay, if you say so… anyway, how did you guys get here? What is this place anyway?"

"We could ask you the same thing!" Joker argued back, "How did you get here?"

"That's the problem. We don't have a clue!" Luka answered, "One second we were walking to Marinette's school, the next we were standing in front of these huge stone gates!"

"You find them?" a voice shouted from down the hall, making the group look in said direction.

"No, look over that way!"

"Crap! We need to get out of here!" Skull exclaimed in a hushed whisper.

"Yeah, security's way too high. We need to get you two to safety too," Queen agreed.

Luka and Marinette looked at each other conflicted.

"W-we can't!" Marinette protested.

"...What do you mean 'you can't'?" Skull demanded.

"Those… Shadows, you called them? They took something from us when we got here," Luka explained, "We need to get them back before we leave."

"...Okay, what was taken?" Mona asked, confused. This was unusual. Shadows usually didn't deliberately take something from intruders. And from the apprehensive looks on Luka and Marinette's faces, they must have been important.

Luka and Marinette glanced at each other again, a silent trade of words passed between them.

"...One of my bracelets and Marinette's earrings. Those were taken," Luka finally told them.

"A bracelet and earrings?" Panther asked, "Um… no offense, but they likely won't be going anywhere. We'll look for them next time we come here-"

"No!" Marinette shouted, catching the Phantom Thieves off guard, "Look, I'm sorry, but Luka and I aren't leaving until we get them back. We can't leave until we get them back!"

"Don't be so foolish! Those Shadows will tear you to pieces!" Fox protested.

Marinette frowned, tenaciously refusing to meet their eyes. Luka was also standing steadfastly by her.

Finally, Joker sighed in defeat, "Okay, fine, we'll help you look," he ignored the incredulous looks the other Thieves gave him as he asked another question, "Do you know where they could have been taken?"

"Um…" Marinette thought for a moment, then remembered what that fake Lila had said when they first woke up, "There was something about a priest wanting them?"

"A priest?" Skull asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Okay, let's start there, then," Joker said, "Let's see if any of these other guards can give us some info."

"Stay close," Panther said, "Especially you, Luka."

The blue-haired boy nodded, before the group carefully snuck down the corridor, trying to avoid the guards as much as possible so that the security would remain lax. They passed by a couple of bedrooms, and what looked like a pantry or kitchen.

"Still no sign of them?" they then heard a Shadow ask impatiently.

"No. I wouldn't be surprised if they had escaped by now."

The head guard sighed, "Well, it doesn't matter. Have you delivered those Miraculous things to the priest yet or not?"

Upon hearing the word 'Miraculous,' the Phantom Thieves froze. Marinette & Luka could only grow pale as the cogs visibly turned in their fellow escapists' heads. Ever so slowly, the Phantom Thieves turned and stared at the couple. Marinette looked on the verge of a panic attack.

Luka quickly pulled her into a hug, pulling her head to his chest, "We can explain later…" was all he said.

"...We'll hold you to that," Joker eventually said.

"Heads up, that guard's coming," Oracle hissed.

Waiting silently, like a predator ready to strike its prey, the moment the guard stepped around the corner, Joker pounced, wrenching the mask off the guard's head with a nasty but clean rip.

There didn't seem to be anything too special about the guard as it dissolved into the same black matter, but that changed when it reanimated into what looked like a large lioness, but instead of the usual tail was a large stinger like that of a scorpion.

Joker barely had any time to nickname it a Hybrid Terror before it charged, swiping at him. Thankfully, he managed to dodge it easily.

"Me should have known you come looking for little trinkets!" it snarled upon spotting Marinette and Luka behind the group.

"Didn't you know that it's rude to take something that's not yours?" Skull taunted.

"Mighty words coming from common thief!" the Hybrid Terror shot back.

"Either way, we'll be taking those 'trinkets' back now!" Queen declared.

It took them a while for them to find the weakness for this Shadow. It ended up being Gun skills, which came when Joker switched to Kobalos and used Snap, causing the Hybrid Terror to roar in pain and collapse.

"You have this power too?!" Marinette exclaimed in shock, proceeding to watch as the Phantom Thieves dealt the finishing blows with an All-Out Attack.

With a flash of light, the Shadow faded, and lying in its place was a set of red and black earrings and a teal green bracelet.

Marinette and Luka quickly rushed forward and swiped them off the floor. The second they put the jewelry on, two orbs of light, one red & the other green, burst from them and then materialized next to them in the usual forms of Tikki & Sass.

"Wh-what the hell?!" Skull exclaimed. The creatures in question spun around, gasping when they laid eyes on the other group of teenagers.

"Marinette…" Tikki said uneasily.

Marinette groaned. This was becoming a bigger disaster by the minute!

"Okay, you got them back. Now let's get out of here!" Oracle shouted. She honestly didn't really care what was happening, she just wanted to get her and the other Thieves to safety. Explanations could come later as far as she was concerned.

"Uh, right!" Panther nodded, remembering the lack of safety they held at the moment.

Fortunately, the entrance hall - their closest exit - was just a floor below them, so the group proceeded to make a run for it.

Before they could reach the heavy wooden doors, though, at least seven more Shadows shot up and surrounded them.

"NO! Dammit!" Skull cursed.

"Tch, it's so hard to find competent soldiers nowadays," an unpleasantly familiar voice scoffed from the staircase.

"They got her out already?!" Luka moaned. It made sense if there was another set of keys, but he really hoped they were long gone before they got Lila, or whoever this could be, out of that cell.

"Okay… that's tacky," Queen commented, eyeing Lila's outfit as she stepped in front of their path.

"Oh, you like it?" 'Lila' asked with a smirk, noticing where Queen was looking, "I asked Donna Karan herself to make it for me. She and I go way back!"

"...Yeah, I don't believe that. That's definitely Lila," Skull deadpanned.

"Lila, stop this! This is crazy!" Marinette shouted.

"Stop Marinette," Mona said sternly, "that Lila isn't going to listen to you nor us."

"What do you mean by 'that Lila'?" Luka asked.

"To summarize, that's not the real Lila Rossi," Fox explained, "It's her cognitive self or her 'Shadow.' This world, this empire, this is how she truly views the world. To her, this is her reality."

As if to confirm this, another familiar face slowly walked out of the adorning hall and stood obediently next to Lila.

"Adrien?!" Marinette gasped in horror. It looked like the blond boy, but his clothes…

Adrien Agreste was barely wearing anything, except for a very small speedo and a golden chain that hung around his throat. Marinette barely squinted and realized he was more muscular than the real Adrien.

The Shadow noticed Marinette's gaze and cruelly smirked as she grabbed hold of the chain and pulled Adrien towards her. The blond barely resisted. If anything, from the small smile on his face, he looked like he enjoyed it!

"What's wrong? Jealous?" Shadow Lila cackled, seductively stroking Adrien's chin.

Marinette grit her teeth and looked ready to charge her, but felt a strong hand on her shoulder. Looking up she saw that Queen was holding her back, and shook her head.

"Marinette, calm down. That may look like Adrien, but he's not real," she explained, "That's nothing more than how Lila sees him."

Panther's face was red with rage. She may not have liked how Adrien actually behaved in regards to Lila, but she knew better than anyone what it felt like to be treated like a romance or sex object. This would not stand!

"How she sees him?" Luka gasped, repeating what Queen said. He looked like he was going to be sick.

"If I were to guess, I wouldn't be surprised if there were versions of your other classmates somewhere around here as well," Joker said, "Not sure what they'd look like, but I doubt it's anything pleasant."

"Man... and here I thought Kamoshida was a sick bastard," Mona said with a frown.

"...So everyone at the school… they're nothing but objects to her?" Luka asked.

"I'm afraid so," Queen nodded, finally letting Marinette go.

"Thisss isss highly disssturbing," Sass finally spoke up.

Tikki shivered. She didn't like the energy of this place. It was too malignant; in fact, it reminded her of Nooroo's birthday when they tried contacting the Moth kwami, and Hawkmoth tried to break through to find them.

"Well, it's like I keep telling you plebeios. This is my empire. I do as I please here," Lila snarled, "It's really your own fault, Marinette. If you had just minded your own business from the start, you probably wouldn't be in this mess."

"And what? So she could let you keep leading people like my sister on?" Luka demanded.

"Eh, why not? She believed it, and people hear what they want to hear - why not just tell them such things? They're putty in my hands! Really, I was really just trying to help them. I mean, a collège band having a member already in lycèe? Who wouldn't find that a little creepy, even if the member was related to them?"

"What?!" Luka exclaimed. He had suspicions that Lila had been involved with getting him kicked out of Kitty Section, but Juleka never confirmed it when he asked.

Joker slowly began walking towards Shadow Lila, unyielding when the guard Shadows moved in his way. When he stopped, he asked a simple question.

"And what would you know of the truth? Do you have any idea what such actions do to people, or do you just not care?"

"Mmm… I'll have to go with answer B there," Lila shrugged nonchalantly, "Who cares what happens to the rest of you? All that matters is that I get what I want."

"...So she just sets the fire and laughs as Rome burns, hm?" Fox asked, poetic as ever, "We will see about that, won't we, Joker?"

"You think you can expose me?" Lila laughed, "Like I told Marinette earlier, plenty have tried already. You likely won't have much luck with the dunderheads running around the school. Why even Marinette's parents believed me over their sweet little daughter when I got her expelled. If only Adrien hadn't interfered with that…"

"Wait, what?!" Marinette asked, head perking up. Where did Adrien fall in that debacle?

"Oh, he never told you? Not that I'm surprised," Lila simmered, tugging Cognitive Adrien's chain again, "Then again, even with his poor excuse of a threat, I never would have gone through with it if his dear old daddy hadn't ordered me to listen."

Marinette blinked. Adrien threatening someone? She had never seen Adrien get angry enough to do that. Yes, there were the extremely rare few times he back talked to Chloe, but that was Chloe.

"He told me that I had to find a way to get you back in school. If I did, he promised to play nice with me," Lila admitted with a shrug. She then chuckled again, "I'm still shocked that M. Damocles bought that lie that saved your school life Marinette."

"...Right. Your 'disease.'" Marinette groaned.

"Disease?" Panther asked incredulously. Then she remembered, "Oh, you mean that bullshit one where some illness forced her to lie all the time?"

"That's the one," Marinette nodded, but her mind was still spinning. So Adrien had been the reason she had been let back in school. While she was glad that the blond helped her, she still felt her blood boil; after all, it was only after she had been kicked out of school that he decided to show at least a little support. Yeah, nice going, Adrien.

Marinette suddenly caught a glimpse of Luka's face. She realized she'd never seen him angrier with the exception of his akumatization into Silencer. Now that she thought about it, she never really told him the full story about how she was expelled. He never really asked, and it wasn't something Marinette liked to talk about, either.

"That's it…" Luka said quietly, catching everyone's attention. "It doesn't matter what Adrien did - you take the shit you said back, or so help me, I'll make you wish I'd forgive you when I'm through with you!"

What a show you've just put on! It seems you've composed what is needed to reach me.

Luka's eyes went bloodshot at the pain ripping through his head, his pupils flashing a golden yellow.

"Don't tell me…!" Mona took a few steps back.

"Luka?" Sass asked, eyes wide as the boy clutched his head in pain.

If you are prepared to face the music, we shall ignore the noise she makes and proceed with a contract posthaste.

"Yes! Enough is enough!"

As flames formed a serpentine mask with eyebrow-esque parts on Luka's face, Joker grinned to himself. He'd never been able to hold back that grin since watching Ann awaken to Carmen. This was getting good!

I am thou, thou art I… let us cut through the ensemble of foes that await us and show this repulsive world the harmony residing within thy heart - it will be your weapon against all of those who would dare hurt your love !

"Let's roll! Take them down…" Luka cried, ripping off the mask.

As with Marinette and the Thieves before them, blood splattered everywhere, and great billowing blue flames erupting from the floor around Luka. When it cleared, there was yet again a new figure behind a redesigned Luka.

The mysterious figure behind Luka was clothed in traditional Greek garb, a lyra in one hand, and a large scroll in the other. Luka himself wore a snake-skin jacket and pants colored in black and dark teal with a slip-on tie, with the end cut off to make it look like a forked snake's tongue. His undershirt had a couple of top buttons undone, and the shirt was untucked as well.

" ...Terpander." the newly garbed Luka hissed.

"You too?!" Shadow Lila shrieked in rage and horror.

"You'd better believe it!" Luka roared.

"And now you're gonna get whupped!" Skull cheered from behind.

"Let's do this, Phantom Thieves!" Joker shouted.

"How dare you! You won't live to speak such blasphemy again!" the guard captain shouted, him and the others dissolving before reforming again. They merged, and a giant bull-like monster, with a giant ax in its human hands rose up, letting out a mighty bellow that caused the ring in its nose to start flapping from the force.

"Okay, we'll guide you two through on how to more properly use your Personas," Mona said, "Just follow our lead!"

"Oracle, any weak points?" Queen asked.

"None yet. Try throwing a couple attacks at it. The more data I have, the better!" came the response.

"Got it! Seiten Taisei!" Skull shouted, ripping off his mask, "Zionga!" The Monkey King spun his staff and multiple lightning bolts came raining down from the sky, striking the Labyrinth Bull. It shrieked, but more in annoyance than pain.

"Welp. That didn't work…" Skull muttered before deftly dodging a swing from its ax.

"Hey, cow face!" Panther shouted, whipping out her SMG, firing a series of bullets.

"Persona! Goemon, strike!" Fox shouted, a Bufula attack freezing the Bull temporarily.

"Panther heads up!" Oracle warned a little too late, as the ax nicked Panther's arm. Thankfully, said limb didn't come off.

Marinette gasped in panic, but Mona leaped forward before she could react too much.

"Zorro! Diarama!" Panther's wound sparkled and closed up, completely healed.

"Thanks, Mona!"

After watching for a couple more minutes from the back, Marinette carefully pulled her mask off, Mulan appearing behind her.

"Kouga!" she shouted instinctively, Mulan's Jian lobbing a light ray which connected with the Shadow right in its chest, destroying the ice keeping it in place. It landed hard on its back and did not get back up, but it did not dissolve, meaning it was knocked down.

"This thing likely won't talk - let's hit it hard!" Mona shouted. He and the others leaped forward with an All-Out Attack. They managed to deal some heavy damage, but the Labyrinth Bull wasn't quite dead.

"Terpander!" Luka shouted, the Persona appearing behind him, "Garula!" Several blades of wind erupted from the strings the Persona played on the lyra, slicing the Labyrinth Bull and finishing it off.

Just before it collapsed into the dark material, it uttered, " Ave… imperium Lilae…"

Despite their exhaustion, the Phantom Thieves didn't waste the opportunity to escape, racing out the doors, scrambling across the yard, and crawling through the hole.

Shadow Lila watched lividly from the entrance as they became a speck in the distance.

"Better watch yourselves, fūrēs - your days are now numbered."

Chapter Text

Marinette wasn't sure whether to scream into a pillow or simply pass out from the influx of information that had practically been shoved into her head. She had a feeling the only reason she wasn't doing either one was due to some combination of Luka's calming presence behind her and the comforting weight of Tikki perched on her head. After all, this was new information for the two of them too, so they were practically in the same boat. Or at least, she was sure that Tikki was hearing this for the first time. Maybe one of the other Kwamis knew more about this…?

On one of the six screens on her computer, Ryuji winced from where he was laying on his bed in his bedroom. It was around 11:00 PM in Japan right now. "It's a lot to process, ain't it?"

Marinette nodded almost robotically, "Yeah… I'm impressed you guys have all of that down so easily!"

Ann laughed sympathetically, "Don't worry, Marinette! You'll get used to it."

"Yeah… guess I'll have to," Marinette muttered, burying her face in her arms with a groan.

Luka chuckled at his melody's dramatic antics, although he himself was reeling from all of this information as well. He was simply better at hiding it, it seemed.

"I guess this is just another thing to add to our list of craziness," Luka said softly, "First Hawkmoth, now this."

Honestly, it was nothing short of a miracle that the day had gone on as well as it did once they escaped the Palace. Upon noticing the time, the two had rushed up to Marinette's school like an akuma was on their tail. They had practically burst into Ms. Bustier's class, effectively disrupting the lesson. On a normal occasion, Marinette would have landed herself a week's worth of detentions, but Luka was faster than her in giving an explanation. Something about running into some thugs on the way, and taking longer than they wanted to shake the gang off.

Somehow, Ms. Bustier bought the excuse. It may have also helped that Luka still had some bruises on his face from getting beaten up and shoved face-first to the ground, which made it more believable. After hastily asking Juleka to take her brother to the nurse, the day went on fairly normally.

However, the entire time, both in class and out of it, Marinette's eyes were almost completely focused on Lila. She vaguely remembered the Phantom Thieves telling her before separating that the real Lila wouldn't know her secret, but her paranoia was simply getting the best of her. She watched for the slight twitch or smirk that showed that Lila knew something or was about to dramatically expose her identity to the entire school (thinking about it again, actually, that sounded more like something Chloe or Alya would do, not Lila), but nothing went on. Lila acted normal, or at least as normal as Lila could act.

Lunch was where she had been on the most pins and needles, but the only thing that she noticed that was different was Alya. She was ranting about 'stupid, unprofessional lawyers' and 'honest mistakes'. Marinette winced; of course, Alya would be salty about her video being taken down!

But other than that, there were no attempts to steal her earrings, or Lila cornering her in the bathroom or otherwise. The Italian was likely on her guard as well, since her friends - the Phantom Thieves, apparently - ripped open the holes in her stories. She was likely trying to see who she still had under her thumb, and who she needed to stir clear from for a while.

After one final, scrutinizing gaze towards Lila when the final bell rang, Marinette finally seemed to accept that the Phantom Thieves were right and that Lila wasn't aware of her identity as Ladybug & Luka's as Kobra, much to her relief.

Luka had met her outside of school, and the two immediately retreated to her home, wanting to contact the PTs as soon as possible.

She never would have expected the explanation or story they got.

"So let me get this straight… whatever we do in these 'Palaces' goes completely unnoticed by the real person?" Marinette clarified, worry completely unhidden from her tone.

"That's usually the case," Morgana, a real black cat in this world, nodded from Akira's shoulder.

"And Palaces, and this Metaverse in general, are created through the world's cognition?" Luka asked.

"The Metaverse is. Palaces are created from the desires of individuals when they get too distorted," Makoto corrected.

"So… does that mean that everyone has a Palace?" Marinette asked.

"No," Yusuke shook his head, "only individuals whose desires have exceeded natural boundaries. Their obsessions become so maddening that it almost literally shapes reality to their own tastes."

"More often than not they're criminals. That hasn't always been the case, but it usually is," Ann explained. Futaba gave a sad look, but it went unnoticed by Marinette & Luka.

"And the… what did you call them again? Personas?" Marinette asked.

"In basic definition, Personas are similar to Shadows, which were those monsters we were fighting," Futaba explained, "Shadows are manifestations of people's negative emotions, and although not everyone has a Palace, it is believed that everyone has a Shadow of some sort inside them."

"The exception is Persona-users, which is what we, and now the two of you, are," Akira continued, "Personas are the true feelings of your heart - coupled with your inner will - that take a physical form when you accept your Shadow. Due to having full control over your emotions, your desires can never get distorted, so you can never develop a Palace."

"Full control over our emotions…" Marinette murmured, a thoughtful look crossing her face. She glanced back at Luka and he seemed to be thinking the same thing.

"Oh, and we use this app on our phones to get in and out of that world!" Ryuji added.

That caught Marinette's attention, "An app? What kind of app? What does it look like?"

"It has a red background with a weird eyeball in the center. Why?" Akira asked.

Pulling out her own phone, Marinette gasped when she saw that the app that she swore she had deleted the other night had reappeared. So that's what that was…

"You have it on your phone now, don't you?" Makoto asked, "It's likely on Luka's phone now too."

Quirking an eyebrow, the guitarist pulled out his own phone and checked his apps. Just as Makoto suspected, the app was there.

"Okay… so we use an app… but how do you use it?" Marinette asked.

"It's actually pretty simple," Akira explained, "You just need three things. A who, a what, and a where."

"Come again?" Luka asked, confused.

"What Akira's trying to say is that to get into a Palace, if a person even has one, you need their full name, their location, and distortion," Futaba elaborated.

"...We're still not following…" Marinette admitted after exchanging a glance with Luka. She blushed a little embarrassed.

"Okay, let's put it this way," Morgana said, "Let's take Lila for example. Obviously, her full name is Lila Rossi. That's the who. Then the location where she thinks she has all that power, or the where, would be your school, Collège Françoise Dupont. Then we need the distortion, which is the what. For Lila, she sees that school as an Empire. Does that make more sense now?"

"I think I get it," Luka nodded along with Marinette, "So… how do you know that those are the words needed to enter a Palace?"

"It kind of depends on the target," Ryuji admitted, "Sometimes we get the name right away, and then it takes a while to figure out the location and distortion. Sometimes we figure out the location first, and so on and so forth. It kind of becomes a bit of a guessing game, but if we know one of the keywords, usually we can eventually figure out the others pretty fast."

"Do you remember if either of you said anything on the way to school today?" Akira asked, remembering the first time he and Ryuji accidentally entered Kamoshida's Palace, "Maybe you said the keywords and the app activated on its own. It's done that a couple of times to us."

Luka and Marinette glanced at each other, but they already knew the answer was Luka's snide comment about Lila's 'Empire' of Collège Françoise Dupont finally coming to an end.

"Well-" before Marinette could finish, an explosion shook the Earth, knocking Marinette and Luka to the floor.

Shocked cries came from the monitor as the two teens shot to their feet. It didn't take a genius to know what was happening.

"Got to go! Talk more later!" Marinette quickly said, switching off the computer before any of the Phantom Thieves could protest.

"Let's go, Marinette!" Luka shouted already perched on the railing, not quite transformed yet.

"Right! Tikki, Spots On!"

"Sass, Scales Slither!"

The two met Chat Noir as they followed the path of chaos through the city. They eventually stopped on top of the Arc de Triomphe where the Black Cat hero appeared moments later.

"Seems this akuma is a bit of a purroblem, M'Lady," Chat exclaimed.

"Notice anything about it?" Kobra asked, "it must have already passed over when we transformed. We were just following the damage."

"Her name's Shattered Glass," Ladybug informed them, looking at her yo-yo with the news pulled up, "I think the akuma is either in her fans or in her belt."

On the screen, Nadja Chamack was attempting to inform the public on live camera, right next to the Eiffel Tower when the akuma barreled through. With a slash of her fans, the monument was hit and within five seconds, shattered into a million pieces… like glass.

From all the way over in Tokyo, the teens gaped as well. This was the power of an akuma?

The three heroes gasped in shock at what just transpired. Nadja and the cameraman quickly ran off to get away from the danger.

"Okay… got any ideas on how to beat this one?" Chat asked with a slightly shaky tone.

"One way to find out," Ladybug said with a frown, before throwing her yo-yo into the air, "Lucky Charm!"

In an ever-familiar swarm of ladybugs, a small object soon dropped into her waiting arms.

"Turtles?" she gasped, looking down at the bag of caramel and pecan chocolates.

"Uh, our akuma friend looks a little more salty than sweet, right?" Chat attempted to joke, but even his voice quivered.

Kobra only shot Chat a slightly annoyed look as Ladybug looked desperately around trying to figure out what to do with said sweets.

She didn't have much time to think as the akuma spotted the heroes from above, and streaked down to dive-bomb them.

It was only the warning coming from Kobra, his bracelet already moving, that warned them of the attack fast enough for them all to leap away, as the arc shattered moments later.

Taking a closer look at the akuma, she was a woman with long black hair and purple shiny dress that looked jagged and torn at the ends. Around her waist was a large golden belt, and bejeweled fans were clasped in each hand.

Taking another look at the turtles, a memory flashed in Ladybug's mind, all the way back to the Hawaii trip, where Ann showed what an incredible sweet tooth she had.

Ann… oh.

Knowing what she had to do now, Ladybug turned to the boys, "Can you stall her?" she cried.

"Go! We can handle it!" Kobra shouted, jumping away from another fan swipe.

"Just be quick if you can!" Chat added, twirling his staff defensively.

Nodding, Ladybug leaped away from the battle, making sure that no one was following her back to the bakery. Upon landing on the roof of her home, she quickly detransformed and slipped back into her room. She first grabbed Wayzz's Miraculous from the Miracle Box and then grabbed her phone.

M: Guys, send me your addresses, now!

Skull: What? Why?

M: I wish I had time to explain! Addresses, pronto!

Ann responded first with her address. How fateful…

Summoning Kaalki, Ladybug unified her with Tikki, and with a call of Voyage, she opened the portal and dashed through it to the address in question.

Ann nearly fell off her bed as a portal opened right in her room. Her eyes further bulged out as Lady Horseshoe skidded through.

"Marinette?!" Ann gasped.

"Hey, Ann!" Lady Horseshoe greeted promptly before extending the box she'd brought with her out towards Ann.

"Wish I had more time to explain, but I need your help," the superheroine continued before Ann could say anything else, "Ann Takamaki, here is the Miraculous of the Turtle, which grants the power of Protection. You'll use it for the greater good, if you're willing, and once the job is done, you will return the Miraculous to me."

Ann was quiet with shock for a few seconds, but when she recovered, her voice was steel.

"G-got it," the model said, only stuttering once given the shock still passing through her, "You can count on me, Marin- actually, what should I call you? Something tells me you aren't called Marinette in costume!"

"Good call," Lady Horseshoe nodded, relieved that she wouldn't have to explain too much, "I'm just Ladybug in the suit. Right now, I'm Lady Horseshoe, but that's something I can explain another time."

"Sounds good," Ann nodded, before finally opening the lid to the box she was given. She barely managed to catch a glimpse of the little turtle shell bracelet inside when a small ball of green light emerged from inside. Squeaking in surprise, Ann nearly dropped the box and jumped back before the light came to a stop in front of her. Now in its place was a small turtle-like creature similar to the ones they saw with Marinette and Luka in the Palace.

"Hello there!" the creature responded in a cheery, helpful voice, "My name is Wayzz, and it seems I'm your kwami!"

Turning to recognize Lady Horseshoe, Wayzz gave her a determined nod and went on, "To transform, say, 'Wayzz, Shell On!' Your power is Shellter, which creates a forcefield for you and your allies. You get five minutes after using it before you automatically lose power. If you wish to detransform manually, however, say, 'Wayzz, Shell Off'!"

"Okay, got it!" Ann said, slipping the bracelet onto her wrist.

"Ready for this?" Lady Horseshoe asked, turning towards the still-open portal.

"Yeah," Ann took a deep breath, "Wayzz, Shell On!"

Wayzz was immediately sucked into the bracelet, and Ann was covered in green light. When the light dissolved, Ann got a good look at her costume.

Unlike the lithe catsuit she wore as Panther, Ann's costume was far better in terms of armor, as she had turtle shell-themed shoulder pads and knee pads, as well as a thick belt that wrapped around her waist also looking like a turtle's shell. Her suit hugged against her body much like that of Ladybug's. The outer part around her arms and legs was a dark green color, and then around her inner thighs and stomach, it was a more greenish-yellow. On her head was a testudine biker's helmet, with her signature pigtails falling out of two holes on the sides. On her face was a traditional-looking domino mask with the upper eyebrow partially dark green like her suit and greenish-yellow under that. A heavy shield rested on her back; unlike that of her predecessor, it had sharp edges circling the ends, and a bigger spike sat in the middle - most like for damaging any foe if she pushed forward.

"Woah…" Ann said, admiring her new duds. That reminded Ladybug - Ann needed a nickname, and they needed to go!

"You can admire yourself later," Lady Horseshoe said, "We have to go, quick!"

"Er-right, right!" Ann (she would need to think of a superheroine name for herself) obediently followed Marinette through the portal.

Luka sighed as he waited impatiently for Sass to finish the hard-boiled egg he had on hand. Due to the early restarting point, he had been forced to find a safe place to detransform and recharge. He wasn't sure what Chat's status was, but at least he hadn't used Cataclysm yet; therefore he assumed the cat hero was still doing fine in fighting the villainess.

"Where are you, Marinette?" he hissed to himself. Luka normally wasn't this impatient, but this akuma was proving to be pretty dangerous - perhaps even deadly. He really didn't want to know what happened if a person got hit by the akuma's glass-shattering ability.

Meanwhile, Chat Noir found his back against the wall as Shattered Glass menacingly stepped closer to him, a familiar lepidopteran outline appearing before her face.

"Yes, of course, Hawkmoth," the akuma smirked, "Hand over your ring, kitten, or else the next place you'll be is-"


The akuma didn't finish her threat as a spiked green shell hurtled into her, smashing hard into her head. Chat Noir took this moment of distraction to uncorner himself, leaping over the akumatized villains and landing on the other side.

"Not on my watch, lady!" the new heroine shouted - in English, Chat Noir barely recognized - standing by Ladybug. Seconds after, the shield flew safely back to her wrist.

"Nice shot!" Ladybug commented with a smile.

"Let's just say that Captain America is my favorite male Avenger for a reason," the new girl grinned.

"And who might this fair dame be, M'Lady?" Chat Noir grinned as he landed next to them, Kobra doing the same moments later.

"Oh, um, this is…" Ladybug glanced at the turtle heroine.

"I-I am…" the girl seemed to search desperately for an answer before eventually blurting out, "Shell… I mean, Bombshell! Yeah, I'm Bombshell!"

"Well then, 'Bombshell'," the akuma spoke up, having recovered from the blows dealt upon her and risen to her feet, "you've just made a big mistake. Face my fury!"

"Scatter!" Ladybug shouted just as the akuma waved her fan again. The quartet managed to get out the way in time before the building beneath them shattered like the ones before them.

"So what's the plan?" Kobra exclaimed, landing by Ladybug. Bombshell and Chat Noir soon joined them, standing back to back with their weapons readied.

"This is insane on so many levels…" Bombshell muttered, holding her shield in front of her like… well, a shield.

Ladybug gritted her teeth before throwing her yo-yo in the air again. "Lucky Charm!" she cried. What landed in her hands not long after was quite the shock.

"Champagne?" Ladybug exclaimed incredulously, "I'm going to have a serious word with my kwami after this…"

"Not that I would mind a celebratory glass, but maybe it could wait until after the battle?" Chat Noir suggested jestingly.

Ladybug looked around frantically, trying to figure out what to do with a bottle of champagne of all things. Nothing was coming to her!

Unable to take it anymore, Bombshell gave a shrill battle cry, snatched the bottle out of Ladybug's hands, and made a beeline for Shattered Glass.

Cackling, the villainess swung her fan once again. Raising her shield with one hand, Bombshell leaped into the air, smacked the fan out of the way, and brought the bottle of champagne down on Shattered Glass' head. The bottle cracked a bit, but it did not shatter.

The akuma wobbled a bit, before dropping to the floor, unconscious. Bombshell checked the akuma for a pulse; finding one, she gave a thumbs up to her allies.

" That actually worked…" Kobra gaped. Chat was cackling with glee, finding the whole thing hilarious.

Ladybug, on the other hand, stared at Bombshell, her mouth dropped in shock.

"What?" Bombshell asked. She jumped moments later when the champagne bottle's cork popped open, and bounced high off the pavement, comically bopping Ladybug in the nose.

"Ow!" Ladybug exclaimed, clutching her nose. This only caused Chat Noir to start laughing even harder, almost ready to start rolling on the ground and clutching his stomach. He only stopped when Kobra jabbed him lightly in his side, having the decency to look a little sheepish.

"Um…" Bombshell quickly cleared her throat before reaching for the akuma's belt, remembering that Ladybug mentioned that it was likely where the akuma was, "You need this, right?"

"Um, yeah," Ladybug nodded awkwardly, taking the belt and tearing it in two. Just as expected the dark moth emerged from the belt's leather and started to fly off.

"No more evil-doing for you, little akuma," Ladybug said as she swiped her yo-yo and spun it around rapidly, "Time to de-evilize!" With a grand swish, the moth disappeared into Ladybug's yo-yo and the heroine pulled back triumphantly.

"Gotcha!" With a small tap the yo-yo opened up and a pure white butterfly flew away, "Bye, bye little butterfly."

Behind Bombshell, the woman was quickly covered in a coat of black energy before it vanished, leaving behind a young woman around her early twenties. She sat up with a groan and looked around, "How did I get here? What happened?"

Bombshell remembered that Ladybug said that the akumas didn't remember any of what they did after getting de-evilized, so she smiled kindly at the woman and kneeled down, "You were akumatized. But don't worry," she said quickly when the woman's face flushed with embarrassment, "everything will be fine now."

"Sure will," Ladybug smiled, walking up next to them, taking the champagne bottle from Bombshell.

"Miraculous Ladybug!" she shouted, hurtling the bottle into the air. One second later, the bottle exploded not in flames but into thousands of Ladybugs that wasted no time repairing all of the shattered buildings and monuments around the city. The Eiffel Tower once again towered proudly over the city of Paris.

Holding their fists out, the heroes looked expectantly at Bombshell. After a second she grinned and nodded, understanding what they wanted. With her own fist, she bumped it against the others in the center. "Pound it!"

"That was awesome, Bombshell!" Chat Noir cheered, "I definitely wasn't expecting that!"

Bombshell blushed, "I-it was nothing, I just kind of… did it."

"Well it worked," Ladybug smiled graciously, "so thanks for your help."

"Look forward to working with you more," Kobra said, giving a thumbs up.

"Ladybug!" Nadja's voice exclaimed from behind. The journalist ran up to the heroes, a cameraman behind her, "It seems a new hero has graced Paris today. What is your name, dear?"

Bombshell jumped back a bit as the microphone was shoved close to her face. Not to say she wasn't used to publicity, what with her parents being famous fashion designers and all the stuff with the Phantom Thieves popping up lately, but even with her job as a model, this was the first time she was actually being put in the spotlight like this.

"Oh, um, I-I'm Bombshell!" she quickly said with a small smile at the camera.

"Can we expect to see you around more often in the future, Miss Bombshell?" Nadja pressed further.

"Oh, uh… maybe? I guess it depends on when Ladybug needs me, right?" she glanced back at the spotted heroine, who nodded.

As if to signal the end of the interview, Ladybug's earrings started beeping.

"Sorry Nadja, but I need to get Bombshell home," she said, grabbing the blonde's hand, "but I do promise that you'll see her again! Bug Out!"

With these departing words, Ladybug darted into the air, Bombshell trailing not far behind her.

Off to the side, no one noticed the pair of bespectacled kids watching as Ladybug dragged the new Turtle hero away. The female of the pair lowered her phone and glanced cautiously at her boyfriend.

Nino didn't say anything. He turned and walked briskly down the sidewalk. After one final glance at the scene, Alya followed after him.

Chapter Text

"Holy cow!" Ann squealed over the video chat the next day, "It was so insane! I was a legit superheroine, fighting a supervillain!"

"You act like that's the first time you've done anything like that," Ryuji pointed out, "We already do that all the time as Phantom Thieves."

"You don't understand, Ryuji - this was different!" Ann protested, "I don't know how, but it just was!"

"I think you looked amazing in your new costume, Lady Ann," Morgana complimented dreamily.

"Of course you do," Akira murmured. Morgana gave him a quick swat with his paws.

"You did great, Ann. Thanks again for your help," Marinette said with a smile.

"No problem," said Ann, "Although… Why did you decide to give me a Miraculous? Was there no one in Paris that you could have gotten? No offense, but wouldn't that have saved you some time?"

Marinette grimaced and Luka paused in the soft strumming of his new ukulele. True, she likely could have found Nino and helped him to make a new hero persona. But…

"...Let's just say the last holder of that Miraculous isn't worthy of it at the moment," she said simply, not wanting to go into any further details.

"...Fair enough," Makoto shrugged, though a pained look crossed her face, "things happen."

"...Right," Marinette said, slightly thrown off at how easily they accepted that explanation, "An-and besides, even if I helped him make a new identity, it's too dangerous for him to have that Miraculous. Hawkmoth could easily still connect the dots."

Yusuke furrowed his eyebrows, "Hold on, and correct me if I'm mistaken, but didn't you say that Luka's original hero guise was Viperion? And yet he still wields the Snake Miraculous… no offense meant, but what is the difference?"

"I got lucky in a way," Luka spoke up, "I wasn't completely conscious when it happened, but apparently I was the only hero that Miracle Queen couldn't identify by name. Ryuuko, who wields the Dragon Miraculous, was also unknown to Miracle Queen, but Hawkmoth seemed to recognize her. Yes, Hawkmoth may know what Viperion looks like, but I don't think he actually knows who I am. That make sense?"

"...I guess it kind of does. But you still decided to change your identity just to be safe, huh?" Futaba guessed.

"Exactly," Luka nodded.

"So… I guess that means that you technically can't use any of the old wielders," Ann realized, "it would be too risky, even with new identities."

"That's right. If Hawkmoth simply knew their faces, I could probably make it work with new identities. But knowing names is a completely different story. It might be too dangerous to give them a Miraculous again at all."

"That's really aggravatin'..." Ryuji frowned, "And all because one of you guys was salty for not being used more often?"

Marinette cringed, "That was also partially my fault… it was Chloe's parents who were akumatized, so it makes sense that she'd expect me to come get her. But…"

"Marinette," Luka interrupted, "You told Chloe point-blank that you couldn't use her again because Hawkmoth knew who she was as Queen Bee. She should have trusted your judgment. Plus, he did just that. He targeted the Bourgeois family because he knew he could get to Chloe that way. You were just trying to protect her."


"Marinette, it's like I told you before regarding your classmates," Makoto said, "You warned them that Lila was lying, and at the end of the day, they are the ones that didn't listen to you. Chloe's in the same boat. As the saying goes: 'She made her bed, now she has to lay in it.'"

Marinette looked down, still feeling guilty. She knew that her actions hadn't been very good either. After all, the reason she had chosen the Dragon over the Bee Miraculous at the time was because she was trying to separate Kagami and Adrien. She had allowed her love, no, her obsession, with Adrien to blind her at that time, and it had nearly cost her everything.

"...Marinette, there's been something else I've been wondering about too. Ever since Hawaii actually," Akira then said, drawing Marinette away from her dark thoughts.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Well… why does Hawkmoth want your earrings and Chat Noir's ring so badly?" he asked bluntly, "He seems to be going through a lot of trouble to get a hold of them."

"Well…" Marinette hesitated because she could see the hidden question that Akira was hinting at.

"We don't know," Luka answered honestly, "We don't know who Hawkmoth is, so until we find out his identity we can't really provide any sort of theories to what he'd want to use the Miraculous for."

"So they can be used for something?" Akira pressed further.

"Akira, what are you getting at?" Ann asked.

"Something just seems strange. Sure, the Miraculous are cool and all, but the one that Hawkmoth has seems more powerful given all the villains he can make with it…"

"Part of that's because Hawkmoth is an adult," Marinette explained, "our powers increase the older we are. If Hawkmoth had the same limits as the rest of us, then his villains would likely only last for five minutes as well."

"Okay, but still… Why is he after the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculous in particular?" Akira pressed further. There was something that Marinette wasn't telling them, and he was going to figure it out. "The rest of the Miraculi just seem like consolation prizes to him."

Marinette bit her lip, silently debating on whether to tell the Phantom Thieves about the Wish. She did trust them, after all, she had lent Ann the Turtle Miraculous yesterday. Wayzz had told her afterward that he saw potential in the blonde, though he did seem sad to have to part with Carapace.

Speaking of Nino, the ex-Turtle Hero didn't necessarily look angry or mad during school. If anything he looked sad and confused, but still had a small flicker of understanding in his eyes. After Miracle Queen, Ladybug had gone around and told the temporary wielders that it would be dangerous to use them with the Miraculous due to Hawkmoth being aware of their identities (she was not going to make the same mistake she made with Chloe). Most of them seemed to take it in stride and were grudgingly accepting of the reasoning.

However, Chloe seemed to do the same after they defeated Miraculer. And yet when Hawkmoth, a criminal and known enemy of not just Ladybug, but all of Paris, offered Chloe the Bee again in exchange for allegiance, she accepted it without question. She was even willingly akumatized, nearly twice. And if Chloe had found out about the Wish… Marinette didn't want to think about it.

Chloe's experience with the Bee Miraculous and Hawkmoth proved that the other heroes did have potential to turn against her if the power of the Miraculous was tempting enough. Their behavior with Lila was only slowly confirming that assumption. Because it looked like Lila had the sources and the power, even those who had known her since maternelle turned to her without question, completely disregarding Marinette's side of the story. It was just so frustrating!

However, she couldn't live the rest of her Guardian life refusing to trust people for one mistake. Master Fu had made mistakes as well, but so far everything was turning out all right. Hawkmoth had come close a few times, but he still didn't have the Miraculous. And to keep it that way, she needed people she could trust to help her.

Marinette looked back at Luka again. He was aware of the Wish and what could happen if someone used it. He shrugged, his eyes saying 'It's your call. You're the Guardian.'

"Akira, she doesn't have to tell us if she's not comfortable," Makoto admonished, "Besides, why are you suddenly so concerned about what they can do? Doesn't knowing that Hawkmoth wants them enough?"

"Well… I'm not saying that I agree with Akira," Yusuke spoke up, "but I can see the merit in his actions. It's possible we could try to guess Hawkmoth's identity if we knew his motives."

"Inari…" Futaba growled. She didn't like how they were pressuring Marinette like this. Sure, they had pushed her to do things, but that was to help her get used to being in society again, so it was necessary.

Marinette sighed once more before turning back to them, "Okay, you're partially right. Besides being the most powerful Miraculous out there, if they are used together, the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculous can do something else as well."

"And what's that?" Morgana asked, cocking his head to the side. Marinette nearly giggled at how cute that was. Mona might claim he wasn't really a cat, but he sure made an adorable one.

Marinette pulled up a folder on her computer labeled 'LGD'. To anyone on the outside, the acronym could mean anything, but what it really stood for was 'Ladybug's Guardian Duties.' Inside, it contained a copy of Master Fu's pictures of the Grimoire, as well as pictures of paintings, statues, and other things that had a Miraculous' symbol adorning it. Pulling up the pages she needed, she dragged them to the chat box at the corner of the screen and clicked send.

As notification noises echoed from everyone's computers or phones, Marinette continued, "If someone had the Ladybug Earrings and Black Cat Ring, they can have the ability to use them conjointly. And, using a special invocation, can obtain something called 'The Ultimate Power.' The power to shape reality itself."

This garnered a number of reactions from the video chat. Most of the group looked quite shocked, though Yusuke and Makoto looked more thoughtful as if something still wasn't adding up.

"Wait, 'shape reality?'" Morgana asked, "What exactly does that mean?"

"Well, in the way Master Fu put it, it can basically make any single wish come true." Marinette said.

"Wha-seriously?!" Ryuji gasped.

"That sounds amazing!" Ann exclaimed.

"Hmmm…" Yusuke hummed, before frowning, "Very well then - what's the catch?"

"Huh? Catch?" Ryuji asked.

"No, I agree," Futaba said, "It's basic video game logic. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. It's sometimes called a monkey's paw."

"Yeah," Makoto nodded, "And besides, if this 'Ultimate Power' was so incredible, then you and Chat Noir would have used it by now to at least defeat Hawkmoth, don't you think?"

"Well, you're right," Marinette nodded, "the universe always relies on balance. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every wish-"

"-a price to pay…" Akira said at the same time, catching on to what Marinette was implying.

"So… basically what you're saying is, if one of us used this wish to… bring someone back to life, for example..." Ann theorized, "then that would mean…"

"...That someone else would have to die in return, most likely by the same fate that befell the person being revived," Luka answered.

"Oh… that's dark, dude." Ryuji said, no longer sounding as excited as before.

"It makes sense though," Morgana said, "Like Futaba said, stuff like this is almost always too good to be true."

"So, Hawkmoth wants the Miraculous to claim the power of this Wish," Yusuke concluded, "Do you think he is aware of the price he'll have to pay?"

"I'm half-believing he doesn't know, and half-believing he doesn't care," Marinette growled, "Chat Noir and I have warned him about the price every time he brings it up, so I'm leaning more towards the latter. Plus, even if his wish would ultimately seem or even be beneficial, that's no excuse for all the damage and chaos he's caused as a supervillain, Miraculous Cure or not!"

"He must be pretty desperate to fulfill his wish if he's willing to risk paying the price for it," Ann commented.

"Well, like Marinette mentioned earlier," Makoto frowned, "no one knows who Hawkmoth really is. If anyone did know, he likely could get help some other way."

"By my guess," Futaba piped up, "he's someone rich and powerful, with the resources to hide his activities from the public."

Marinette snorted, "Yeah, well the list for that is pretty long."

"Hah! Tell us about it! Asshats like him are why we do what we do!" Ryuji grinned.

"Speaking of Phantom Thief business…" Akira spoke up, "Marinette, Luka, do you intend to join us again in taking down Lila's Palace? You don't have to if you don't want to."

"What do you mean 'if we don't want to'?" Marinette asked, looking a little offended, "Lila's hurting people we care about - of course we're helping!"

"It's the only way to get her to stop what she's doing," Luka agreed.

"Okay, great!" Ann exclaimed happily, "The Phantom Thieves' first international members!"

"You know what that means, right?" Morgana asked with a grin, "It means our two new recruits need some codenames!"

"Codenames?" Marinette asked.

"I would think of them as your superhero names for the Metaverse," Makoto clarified.

"We are thieves, after all," Yusuke continued, "it would be a problem if someone identified you even with a mask."

"Either way," Akira smiled, "I'm Joker. Ryuji is Skull, Ann is Panther, Morgana is Mona, Yusuke is Fox, Makoto is Queen, and Futaba is Oracle."

"Useful info… but can't we just use our hero names?" Marinette asked.

"You could..." Futaba said with uncertainty, "but they're a bit long for our purposes. Plus, people would recognize you in the Metaverse as your super-heroic selves. Who knows if that could go wrong?"

"Well, Luka's thief outfit looks like a snake already… so how about Snake?" Ryuji suggested.

"...Isn't that already copyrighted?" Ann wondered, "I could have sworn I've heard of a video game character with that name."

"Oh!" Luka exclaimed, "You're talking about Solid Snake aren't you?"

"Oh yeah! From Metal Gear!" Futaba added.

"...What if it was a type of snake?" Marinette suggested, "His first hero name was 'Viperion'."

"Okay, so how about just Viper?" Akira threw out.

Luka hummed thoughtfully before nodding, "I'll take it."

"All right!" Ryuji cheered, "So Viper, and… I'm drawing a blank."

"Beetle?" Ann suggested.

"Um, besides the red and black, what part of her outfit says 'Beetle'?" Makoto asked.

"The official term for a ladybug is a lady-beetle," Yusuke answered, "Ladybug is merely the colloquial term, if I recall correctly."

"Hmmm…" Ryuji thought it out, before coming up with, "What about something to do with the luck-incarnate part of her? Lucky, maybe?"

"Technically," Tikki piped up from atop Marinette's head, "I'm the one who's good luck incarnate. I see where you're going, though, and I propose Chance for her alias."

"Tikki suggested 'Chance'," Marinette said.

"We heard her, no worries," Ann smiled, "I like it!"

Marinette and Tikki both blinked, "Wait… what do you mean you heard her?"

"Um… because we did?" Futaba asked, "Why?"

"...Huh, interesting," Luka muttered, Sass's head peeking out from his hoodie.

"What? What's interesting?" Ryuji asked.

Gently snatching Tikki from off her head, she held the Kwami up to the camera, "You can see Tikki right now?"

"Yeah, we can see her, again why?" Makoto asked.

"Kwamis can't be seen through cameras or videos," Luka explained, "It's just part of their nature."

"Huh? Wait, how come we can see them?" Ryuji exclaimed, before gasping, "Wait a second, come to think of it, how are we understanding you right now? I could have sworn you didn't know Japanese, Marinette."

"What?" Marinette exclaimed, "What are you talking about, I'm speaking… French…?"

"...So have I," Luka awestruckly added, "And now that I think about it… your French is pretty good too."

"French?" Akira asked, "No, no, we're speaking Japanese."

"...I could have sworn I started this chat speaking English..." Ann trailed off.

"You returned to Japanese when we began talking about the Wish," Yusuke informed her.

"...Interesting," Morgana whispered, sounding intrigued, "Very interesting indeed…"

"Mona?" Ann asked, "Do you know what's happening?"

"I may have an idea," Morgana pondered, "remember how each of you was only able to understand me after being in the Metaverse?"

"What does that have to do with anything?" Ryuji asked, sounding a little spooked.

"Well, this could be related somehow. Luka, Marinette, do you remember what language you were speaking when we first ran into you in Lila's Palace?"

"French, definitely French," Luka said, with Marinette nodding.

"Even after you ran into us?" Morgana pressed.

"Um… I think so?" Marinette guessed. Considering the situation they had been in was life-or-death, knowing what language they were using wasn't exactly on the forefront of everyone's mind at that time.

"And yet in the Metaverse, we still understood you both perfectly," Morgana emphasized, "Despite the fact that you two barely know any Japanese, and we don't know a lick of French."

Yusuke cleared his throat, "I happen to know several French phrases."

"Most of us don't know a lick of French," Morgana countered.

"Can you get to the point, Morgana?" Akira asked in slight annoyance.

Morgana sighed, "What I'm trying to say is that I think these two speaking another language in the Metaverse altered our cognitions slightly as well. That's how we can understand them! Our ears are still hearing the French language, but our cognition is translating it so that we can understand them! It's the same with those two with Japanese!"

"That… actually kind of makes sense!" Makoto exclaimed.

"Huh? I still don't get it!" Ryuji complained.

"So basically, our cognition has become a built-in translator?" Marinette asked, her own brain still whirling.

"That's one way to put it," Morgana confirmed.

"Okay… but how can you see Tikki or-" Luka pulled his hood open more, "Can you see Sass, too?"

"Yeah, I see him," Futaba nodded along with the rest of the PTs.

"...Hold on a second," Marinette said, before getting up from her chair. She quickly headed over to her chest, now filled up with fabric and yarn instead of twenty years' worth of birthday presents. With two tugs from a piece of shiny silver fabric and a turn of a green ball of yarn, a hidden box opened up underneath the fabric, revealing the red and black ball that was now the Miracle Box underneath. Tapping one of the circles, a small black octagonal box popped out. Opening it up, the familiar milky white glow coming from the Horse Miraculous shimmered to life.

"Ah, Miss Guardian, where to today?" Kaalki greeted.

"We aren't going anywhere right now, Kaalki," Marinette told the horse kwami, "I just want to try something."

"Hmm?" Kaalki hummed before noticing the computer monitor on.

"Can you guys see Kaalki over here?" Marinette asked from where she was still kneeled by her chest.

After a few seconds of looking around from their screens, all of the Phantom Thieves shook their heads.

"...I thought so…" Marinette muttered before returning Kaalki to her Miraculous and placing it back in the ball. Grasping a sparkly blue scarf near the front of the chest, Marinette tugged it sharply, and with a snap, the Miracle Box disappeared back inside.

"...Okay, that was actually pretty cool!" Ryuji grinned.

"Who's Kaalki?" Ann asked.

"She's the Horse Kwami," Marinette explained, "I was using both her and Tikki's Miraculous when I got you yesterday, Ann."

"Oh, okay," the blonde nodded.

"So in order to see the Kwami through a monitor or camera, you have to see them in the Metaverse first?" Luka guessed.

"Possibly…?" Marinette said, though she didn't sound a hundred percent certain.

"This Metaverse seems to defy all forms of logic that I'm aware of. And that's saying a lot coming from me!" Tikki commented, looking a little uneasy.

"Yesss indeed," Sass agreed.

"Well, the cognition of the masses is what shapes the Metaverse," Morgana reasoned, "so a lot of things are bound to not make much sense."

"Man, I feel like my brain is about to explode!" Ryuji moaned, rubbing his temples, "What in the 'eff is my life right now?"

"Anyway!" Makoto exclaimed, pulling them away from that tangent, "What were we talking about before all of this?"

"Marinette is Chance, and Luka is Viper whenever we enter a Palace now," Futaba reported.

"Fantastic!" Yusuke spoke, before looking to the side, "Well, it's almost midnight here, so I vote we disperse and discuss more tomorrow."

"Good idea," Akira nodded, "Is there a time we can meet briefly a little earlier than this, Marinette?"

"We can call again during my lunch break," Marinette said, "I usually come home for that anyway."

"Sounds good to me," Luka agreed.

"Great! So we'll contact you then!" Ann confirmed.

"Okay, see you!" Marinette waved Luka doing the same behind her before the screens shut off one by one.

Once the monitor was off, Marinette looked wide-eyed at her boyfriend.

"Lu, what in the world have we gotten ourselves into?"

"I have no idea…"

Chapter Text

"We need to get used to meeting at later times," Ann observed as the Phantom Thieves patiently waited for Marinette and Luka to call in. Fortunately, the two of them shared a lunch time, which was around 12:30 PM. For the Phantom Thieves in Japan, that was about 7:30 PM.

Marinette had texted them that morning, or evening for Paris time, that she was fine if they wanted to do this in the late evenings for Paris, as she sometimes snuck out to patrol as Ladybug anyway, so she was used to pulling all-nighters. However, the Phantom Thieves all still needed to attend school in the mornings, otherwise the authorities would start to get suspicious, even if Kawakami was to cover them for a few days.

At last, Akira's phone started ringing. Upon answering it, they were greeted by the faces of their two newest members.

"Nice of you to finally join us," Makoto greeted.

"Sorry about that," Marinette apologized, "So how do we do this?"

"We have a main entry point into the Palace now, so we should automatically appear there when we activate the Nav," Morgana said.

"All right, we'll see you there then," Luka said before the screen went black.

"Well, let's go," Akira grinned grandiosely. With determined nods done by all in the meeting, Akira clicked the Nav.

Moments later, Joker felt the familiar weight of his mask fall across his face.

"Nice of you to join us!" Mari- no, Chance teasingly greeted them with a grin next to Viper, who was twirling a brand-new scimitar in his hand.

"Nice one," Makoto smiled fondly, "If it wasn't already obvious, you'll fit in just fine."

"I feel like some sort of pirate carrying this around," Viper murmured with a smirk.

"I think it's fitting," Chance chuckled, "Your mom would be proud of you!"

"That explains it even more," Mona spoke, a grin on his feline face, "Our outfits in the Metaverse are based on our perceptions of what a rebel looks like. It's clear your mom had an influence on you here, if what Chance says is true."

"Oh, just wait until you meet her!" Chance laughed, already picturing Anarka's hilarious pirate greeting.

"Uh, what is Joker doing?" Viper piped up, looking at Joker, who had somewhat separated from the rest of the group. He seemed to be staring into space, although his look was deeply focused.

"Joker does that sometimes," Fox answered, "but we don't question it, as when he finishes, he often carries new Personas with him that are often more powerful than their predecessors."

"New Personas?" Chance asked, sounding intrigued, "How does that work?"

"We ain't got a clue. Apparently, it's something only Joker can do, so…" Skull shrugged.

"What exsssactly isss the plan going forward?" Sass asked, appearing behind Viper.

"You brought the Kwamis?" Ann asked, sounding surprised.

"You'd be surprised how useful these guys can be in a tight spot," Chance grinned, glancing at Tikki floating next to her, who winked, "even when we aren't transformed. For example, if a door is locked, they can fly into the lock and undo it. They can even go through walls and other solid objects, so it's impossible for them to be 'caught,' so to speak."

"Wow! I think we can definitely put that to use," Oracle grinned.

"Right, first things first, we need to secure an infiltration route," Mona said.

"So that we know where the Treasure is right?" Viper asked.

"Exactly," Mona nodded, "Plus, the more we look around the Palace, the more we can learn about our target as well. It's best to explore every place we can."

"Sounds good," Chance nodded. She noticed that Joker had raised his head, "All done with… whatever you were doing?"

"Sure am. Let's go!" he grinned.

"You heard the guy!" Panther cheered, "Let's go, Phantom Thieves!"

True to the veterans' word, Joker astounded Viper & Chance when he whipped out a brand-new Persona during a battle with some guards. With a cry of Orcus, a mighty ogre appeared, blasting two One-Eyed Oafs with Maeiga. Queen needed to do little from there, following up with Mafreila to finish the duo off.

"Well done, team!" Chance grinned.

"Thanks." Queen nodded appreciatively.

"Hmm…?" Fox noted, catching everyone's attention while pointing to a bronze door, "I wonder what might be this way?"

Walking up to the door, Joker jiggled the knob, "Locked. Damn!"

"No problem. Tikki, if you don't mind?" Chance smiled down at her kwami. With a happy giggle, the little goddess vanished into the keyhole and a moment later a loud click was heard. The door opened soon after.

"I don't think we'll be needing lock-picks anymore…" Mona said quietly.

It would have been comical to anyone that heard him mention lock-picks, as there was a treasure chest in the room they just opened, as well as an even more ornate door on the other side. Unfortunately, a strong-looking guard seemed to be guarding it, though it didn't notice them until Joker swooped in and ripped its mask off.

The Shadow resulting from the guard was on its lonesome. It seemed somewhat similar to the One-Eyed Oafs they'd encountered previously, but it had six arms instead of the two a One-Eyed Oaf possessed. Furthermore, their opponent (one Joker dubbed a Six-Armed Simpleton) had two clubs in the top hands of each side - twice the other Shadow's amount of clubs. Plus, the club was spiked with brown points speckled with sanguine reds here and there - the One-Eyed Oafs basically carried heavy sticks.

"Be careful, this one's strong!" Queen warned.

"I don't see a weakness, either," Oracle called, "watch out!"

Viper was the first to attack, swinging his scimitar, leaving quite the nasty gash in the monster's chest.

"Nice hit, Viper!" Skull exclaimed. Joker took the opportunity to summon another new Persona.

"Mohini!" he declared as he ripped off his mask, calling forth a seductive beauty holding an elixir in both hands. He slammed the Six-Armed Simpleton with a Psio, making it fall on its knees in pain.

"Hands in the air!" Chance shouted as the team surrounded the Shadow.

"Geez Louise…" the Shadow muttered in a cranky elder's voice, "show some respect fer yer elders, will yeh?"

"What's behind this door?" Joker inquired, his tone demanding answers but not seeming too brash, "It must be this detailed for a reason."

"Easy, sonny," the Shadow snarked, "show me mercy and I'll let yeh off."

"Very well, so long as you leave peacefully and don't tell anyone about us being here," Joker replied.

"...clever an' honorable, ain't yeh? I can respect that… hold up. I remember it all now! I'm not just some run-of-the-mill Shadow - I'm one of many residing in the sea of humanity's souls. Call me Gegenees from now on, yeah? No need for honorifics, sonny." the Persona said as it formed into a mask, flying to merge with Joker's own.

"The more the merrier," Viper smirked. He then had Sass unlock the treasure chest, which, like the door, opened without a fuss. Inside was a purple engraved gemstone, one Mona recognized as a Sugilite.

"Oh, that's pretty!" Tikki exclaimed.

"What are you going to do with that?" Chance asked as Joker snatched it.

"Either sell it or use it in some equipment," the Phantom Thieves' leader replied, "I know a pawn shop owner that's pretty reasonable with his prices and willingness to take."

With that said and done, the team turned to look towards the bronze door in question.

"So… what do you think is behind this door?" Panther asked, "A pretty strong Shadow was guarding it, after all."

Taking charge, Mona said, "We're about to find out." as he jumped up and latched onto the door handle, opening it.

"What in the fresh heck is this!" Skull gawked.

Upon entering through the doors, the group found themselves in a courtyard, flowers, and golden walkways crisscrossing everywhere. What really caught their attention, however, was the dull, crumbled statue at one of the crossroads.

Walking over to it, there was a barely noticeable name plate at the statue's feet, and surrounding the pedestal it was on was a patch of assorted, wilted flowers, all plucked from the roots.

"'Naira González'," Panther read aloud.

"...Do you know anyone by this name, Chance?" Fox asked, a sinking feeling forming in his stomach. He was pretty sure it wasn't hunger, too.

Chance shook her head, glancing at Viper, who shook his head in assent.

"Lila must know them from somewhere else, then," Mona concluded.

"Lila?" Chance asked, stepping back a little.

"Remember, this is Lila's Palace. Everything and everyone in here is significant to her in some way," Joker reminded the two of them.

"...Anyone else noticed how unusually quiet it is out here too?" Oracle asked, "it's almost eerily so."

"Should we expect a trap, then?" Fox asked his hand on his katana.

"I don't sense any Shadow activity, so that's a no, thankfully," Oracle responded.

"Let's keep looking around," Mona suggested, "we're bound to find more clues by doing so."

"Good idea," Queen nodded as they all stepped away from the statue.

Cautiously continuing through the Garden, as they decided to call it, more crumbled statues greeted them along the way. Names like Lina Blanco, Ander Holzknecht, Yasmin Ortega, Rybář Beránek & Catalina López shifted to names like Erika Varga, Lorant Szabó, & Zsuska Molnár.

"I don't recognize any of these people…" Chance said uneasily as they turned another corner.

Chance stopped.

"Wait a minute… I recognize this one!" she exclaimed. This girl wasn't in Miss Bustier's class, but she did recognize her from Miss Mendeleiev's class. The nameplate read: 'Fleur Moreau'. Unlike the other statues, this one looked a little more taken care of. It seemed to be plated in some kind of metal, and there were fresh, blossoming flowers blooming around the pedestal.

"Does she go to your school or something?" Panther asked.

"Yeah, but she's not in my class. I don't really know her that well, either…" Chance admitted.

"...I got a bad feeling about this," Skull murmured as they kept walking. They passed by a couple other statues, some more familiar to Chance such as Wayhem and Marc, then others like Arturo Benavides before they reached the end of the halls.

Unlike the other statues, the first of the last set of statues they came across looked almost brand-new. It was shiny, plated with gold, and fresh flowers lay at its feet, both plucked and still planted.

Sass looked rather unnerved. Viper nearly dropped his scimitar.

"Juleka…?" Viper gasped.

"Wait, ain't that your sister?" Skull asked incredulously, looking at the nameplate. Sure enough, it read 'Juleka Couffaine.'

Kneeling to get a better look at the flowers, Queen noticed something about them. In gaudy golden writing, the words "Music & Cosmetics" were etched upon the stems.

"Why is there a statue of Juleka here?!" Chance exclaimed.

"Chance, isn't that one also in your class?" Fox asked, pointing down the path a little. Looking where he was pointing, she gasped when she recognized a statue of Nathaniel, also shiny and plated in gold, but he didn't seem to shimmer as brightly as Juleka's did. His flowers' stems read "Art & Comics."

Walking towards it, more and more familiar visages appeared, each varying in their luminosity. Kim, Ivan, Rose, Max, Mylene, Sabrina, Nino, Alix…

"...Why are there statues of my class here?" Chance asked, her voice trembling a bit.

"Not all of you, it seems," Panther piped up, "You're not here, nor are Adrien or… Alya, was it?"

True to the pyrokinetic Persona wielder's word, there were no statues of Adrien, Marinette, or Alya to be seen.

"Oh, I get what this is!" Skull spoke up, pounding his fist in his hand, "These are the victims of that brat's manipulation! She's got 'em propped up as the sources of her popularity like they're 'effin trophies or something!"

"Of course!" Queen agreed, "My guess is that the ones that were old-looking and crumbling were from her old schools. Once she either got bored of them or moved away, she tossed them out like trash!"

"Some of them also seem more well taken care of than others," Fox continued, "that must represent how useful they are to her in her manipulations."

"Wait… hold on. That still doesn't make sense," Chance argued, "if we're going by how well she's won people over, then Alya should be her brightest and shiniest trophy. She's always defending Lila!"

"Perhaps she's the priest that Lila's Shadow was talking about…" Viper piped up.

"Wouldn't she have called her a priestess, then?" Chance wondered.

"Argh, that just raises more questions, then! Who in the hell is this priest, then?" Skull groaned frustratedly.

"I wish I knew… you don't think it's Principal Damocles, do you?" Chance asked, looking at Viper.

Viper's eyes widened, "That's a possibility… but then again, threaten him with the right… well, threat, and that lagachadh will cave into anyone's request."

Chance snorted humorlessly, "Yeah. Two words. Chloe. Bourgeois. Hey, come to think of it, Chloe isn't here either."

"Didn't you say that Chloe was pulled out of your class and sent to a boarding school?" Joker asked.

"Yeah… oh! She's not in our class anymore, so Chloe's useless… but shouldn't a statue of her still be here?"

"Haughty as she may be," Viper realized, "Chloe's crafty and intelligent. What do you think the odds are she knew Lila was lying?"

"Whether she knew Lila was lying or not, Chloe never liked her. I think it was mostly because she took all of the attention when she came back to school," Chance said.

"...Maybe she just doesn't see Chloe as worth it, then?" Panther threw out, "Like, everyone at school already didn't like Chloe, right? So there was no point trying to get the 'Queen Bee' - pun not intended - on her side!"

"Ugh, don't remind me," Chance grumbled.

"Perhaps Alya has a different role," Joker said quietly, catching everyone's attention, "it may be one we don't know of yet, but she may have a special role nevertheless."

"What, like an assistant or… what are they called? Lady-in-waiting? Did the Roman Empire have those?" Skull asked.

"Well, we already know what that Adrien kid's role is," Oracle pointed out, "he's not a trophy. He's a full-blown slave to her."

"This reminds me somewhat of Sens- Madarame's Palace…" Fox uneasily spoke, "Plus, both were extremely horrendous fashion-wise."

This elicited a collection of chuckles or snorts from the group that helped to dispel the feeling of foreboding they were all feeling.

"Everyone! Hide, quick!" Tikki suddenly shouted, zipping over with Sass. They both looked frightened. Without question, each Phantom Thief jumped behind one of the statues as the sound of footsteps approached.

"Who left the doors open…?" one distorted voice spoke; another replied, "Perhaps the Serpent and his Princess are invading us again?"

A mighty-looking Shadow, flanked by two more normal-looking ones, entered the Phantom Thieves' fields of vision.

"Impossible, meus dux, no rebels have been seen approaching the inner grounds."

"Either way, it would be disgraceful for an intruder to defile our Imperatrix's prized garden," the mighty Shadow snapped. He looked towards Juleka's flower bed, "It would seem it's nearly time to harvest again."

"Harvest?" Chance asked, barely a whisper.

"We will inform the Imperatrix immediately," the second flanking guard bowed.

"Very well," the large guard grunted as the smaller two then walked away.

"We're jumping him, right?" Viper whispered to Joker.

"With pleasure," Joker grinned. The guard barely noticed the shadow of him before he'd plunged onto its back, ripping its mask off in one languid motion.

As usual, the Shadow guard dissolved, reforming into a humongous, puissant-looking group of serpents looking like they belonged on Medusa's head; instead, there was a pair of legs they all were connected to.

"Okay, I like snakes as much as the next Snake Miraculous wielder, but that's just gross," Viper commented. Sass hissed distastefully at the monster as if he were highly offended by its mere existence.

"Prepare for a world of pain, thievesssss…" the Multi-Headed Lernean bellowed.

"Keep dreaming, hissyfit!" Skull shot back. He nearly ate a Swift Strike for his insult, but the skeleton-masked battle blond dodged the attack.

"Heads up!" Oracle shouted just in time for Chance to dodge another Swift Strike. In retaliation, Panther ripped off her mask and commanded Hecate to fire - pun not intended - an Agidyne at the Multi-Headed Lernean. The Shadow in question loudly hissed in pain, staggering several steps back.

The team tore into the Multi-Headed Lernean with an All-Out Attack, forcing it to dissolve into the usual dark matter.

"Let's get out of this place before more guards show up," Mona said, "I sense a Safe Room not too far from here, we'll rest there."

"Roger," Joker nodded before leading the group out of another set of double doors - which were fortunately unlocked - and down a hallway. True to Mona's word, a Safe Room was right around the corner.

"Okay, Shadows likely won't bother us in here," Joker informed the new recruits.

Suddenly, reality around them shifted slightly, and Chance jumped.

"Wait… is this the Chemistry Lab?" she exclaimed.

"Some parts of the Palace are less distorted than others," Oracle explained, "Lila likely doesn't have as firm of a grip on this area of the school than others. Places like these we call Safe Rooms."

"...That, oddly enough, makes sense. Ms. Mendeleiev has never taken anyone's crap unless they have a really good, and provable excuse." Chance thought out loud.

"Which - let me guess - Lila never does?" Queen asked, quirking an eyebrow.

"Yeah… she tried to talk her way out of taking the chemistry final last year and Ms. Mendeleiev threatened to hold her back a year for her science classes if she didn't stop with the excuses and turn in all of the homework that was missing from her 'travels'," Chance recalled, a slightly amused smile on her face.

"For real?" Skull exclaimed, "What the hell kinda excuses did she give?"

"First she claimed that her wrist was sprained, so she couldn't write it. So, Ms. Mendeleiev said that Lila needed to make arrangements with the principal beforehand to take the exam digitally. Then, Lila tried to say that her arm was cramped so bad that she couldn't type anything, when literally seconds ago she was typing just fine on her tablet, which Ms. Mendeleiev pointed out right there and then. Then she tried to say that she had an important charity event the same day as the test, but Ms. Mendeleiev didn't even let her finish that one. That was when she made the threat of holding her back a year. When Lila said that she never received the homework assignments though, Ms. Mendeleiev called her out again saying that she remembers emailing them to her. Twice. And she knows she got them because she sent them to Lila's school email, which all the teachers have access to as well. So she knows that Lila never even opened the emails."

Joker whistled, sounding impressed.

"Not bad. I'd ask you to give her my kudos, but you know…"

"Right." Chance nodded with a giggle, "I'm pretty sure the only reason Ms. Mendeleiev hasn't reported Lila about her behavior is because she's not her homeroom teacher. School procedures and all that…"

"Yeah, that makes sense, I guess," Panther said with a frown, "at least she's done that much from her position though."

"True," Chance said with a shrug.

"So… what do you all think?" Mona asked, "You want to keep going, or do you want to stop for the day?"

"We've made excellent progress, so far, and security hasn't risen too highly," Fox stated.

"...I want to know what that guard meant by 'harvesting' earlier," Viper then said with a frown.

"Hmm, yeah, I'm curious about that too," Queen said, "whatever it is, it likely has to do with the flowers that are already plucked."

"Okay, we'll head back to the Garden then, and see if this 'harvesting' thing is happening. But, let's try to avoid fighting as much as possible," Joker decided.

"Sounds like a plan," Chance agreed as she got up from her chair.

After taking a couple more minutes to recharge, the Phantom Thieves cautiously exited the Safe Room and made their way back to the Garden, using the same door they used to exit it.

Tikki and Sass scouted ahead to ensure that they wouldn't run into any Shadows, and gave the all clear until they made it back to the inner circle of the Garden.

Hiding behind some shrubbery this time, the group peaked through the leaves and watched as Shadow Lila gracefully stepped down the path.

"Well, well, what have you to offer today?" she giggled sickeningly, making Chance gag.

Shadow Lila stopped in front of the first statue, Kim's, and like a kid trying to pick a candy from the sugar bowl, hovered a finger around the bed before, like a python, her hand lunged at a flower, grasped it by the root, and wrenched it free.

"I just won first place in my latest swimming meet. I almost beat the record for the fastest lap this time!" Kim's voice suddenly rang out. Jumping slightly, the Phantom Thieves searched with their eyes where the voice was coming from. It was only then they realized that the voice was coming from the flower.

"Oh, how cute of you Kim, I could totally get you in contact with Mark Spitz. I bet he could get you to swim twice as fast if I can convince him to train you," the Shadow snickered mockingly, a cruel sneer spreading over her face, "...Nah… as if he'd ever consider training a stupid, brainless oaf like you ." Then with a poisonous giggle, she carelessly flicked the blossom away from her where it descended to the floor, next to the other wilting, plucked flowers.

"...It's literally a harvest," Joker breathed, "A harvest of these kids' goals and dreams. Lila's using them as fuel for her lies."

They watched as Lila made her way down the line, plucking a flower from each statue, listening to the achievement or dream before countering it with a two-faced lie and flicking the flower away as if it were an annoying bug.

Chance had to force herself to stay quiet as she listened to every insult Lila threw back at the flower. The fact that Lila was playing with the futures of her class so aloofly made her want to vomit.

Viper wasn't faring much better either, shaking in rage when he heard the comments she threw at Juleka's flower. Especially when he even heard a very rude and homophobic remark about Jules' sexuality, how lesbian models would never make it in the traditional fashion world.

Once Lila and the other Shadows finally left, everyone practically collapsed. That had been painful to quietly watch, and each Thief was currently thinking of an excruciating way to tear Lila apart right there.

"...I think we've seen enough for today. Viper and Chance look a bit spent," Mona observed.

"Yeah, let's get out of here," Joker said, rising up from the shrubs.

"...Go on ahead," Chance said after a moment, making the other Thieves pause, "Viper and I still need a few minutes…"

"Why do you-oh! Oh, yeah, of course!" Queen exclaimed in sudden understanding. It was more than clear that the two Parisians were furious. If they returned to the real world now in their current state, what was to stop Hawkmoth from sending an akuma their way?

"We'll...we'll hide in the Safe Room," Viper continued, "we'll be fine."

"...Okay, but if you need to talk to us, please do it, all right?" Joker told them.

"We will," Chance nodded with a small smile, "Thanks."

With quick nods, the two groups parted ways, minds reeling from the revelations they just encountered.

Chapter Text

"Seriously?! Seriously?!" Ann shrieked the second they exited the Palace, "'Lesbians can't make it in the fashion world' my ass!"

"I know plenty of people who would like to get their hands on people like hers' necks," Yusuke growled. He was aro-ace, and despite his fatigue from the Metaverse, his hands itched to grip a katana that was not there.

"Yeah, well, I'm calling first in line!" Ryuji snarled.

"Is she seriously that close-minded that she would assume that LGBTQ+ people can't be successful?" Makoto wondered aloud, "There are tons of celebrities that have publicly identified with some LGBTQ+ identity, and that has barely affected their careers whatsoever. If anything, even if they said they simply support LGBTQ+ that actually improves their careers, not ruins them."

"Wait, Lady Ann… are you a lesbian? Not that I have a problem with that inherently, but…" Morgana spoke up. He'd been quiet since that first statement from her post-leaving the Metaverse.

"Did I never mention this to you, Morgana? Weird… anyways, I'm homoromantic gray-asexual."

"O-oh… sorry for flirting with you all this time, then," Mona awkwardly stammered out his answer, "I had no idea…"

"What, did'cha think Ann caring as much for Shiho as she does was just really strong friendship?" Ryuji snarked. Morgana did not reply, instead looking down as his ears flattened.

"...ouch, dude. Sorry…"

"You seem to be quite knowledgeable on LGBTQ+ things, Makoto," Yusuke spoke up, "I apologize if I straight-coded you in advance, but… are you LGBTQ+?"

Makoto looked somewhat shamefully at the rest of them. Sae wasn't any kind of hateful towards any group of people other than the enemies in the courtroom, to her knowledge, but she didn't have any proof to be sure, so she'd kept quiet.

"...Panromantic, and maybe asexual. I-I'm not entirely sure yet…"

Ann just smiled acceptingly.

"We would never hate you for being you, Makoto. Even if the rest of us were straight-"

"Gods forbid," Akira jested.

"-we wouldn't hate you for something like that, you know?"

"Thank you, guys," Makoto said quietly, willing tears away, "I needed that."

"Oh, and in case it wasn't clear," Ryuji piped up, "me and Akira are both bi!"

"And I'm pansexual!" Futaba grinned, "Sojiro knows and accepts me, so don't worry about needing to hide it or something."

With happy smiles on their faces, the group prepared to disperse, only for their text messages to suddenly blow up.

Chance: Good news and bad news. Bad news is that we have another akuma; good news is that it isn't me or Luka. Can any of you guys help today?

Ryuji got there first.

Skull: I gotcha, Marinette. Us Phantom Thieves gotta stick out for each other, yeah?

Chance: On my way, then! Where are you right now?

Panther: We're all near the Shibuya train station.

Literally seconds after Ann sent the text, a techno-styled portal appeared right behind Ryuji. Before he could shout due to surprise, Lady Horseshoe pulled him through to the other side. Thankfully, nobody noticed them, as it was a quiet evening.

"Borrowing him! Thanks!" she shouted as the portal closed.

The group stood there, blinking.

"Okay… that just happened," Futaba commented.

"Now what?" Akira inquired.

Ryuji let out a small shout of surprise as Mar- Ladybug carried him bridal-style (man, she's strong) over the rooftops and across the city. As the wind swept through his hair, he looked down and noticed the streets had an innumerable amount of hoofprints on them.

"So… mind filling me in a little, Ladybug?" Ryuji ventured to ask.

"The akuma's named Rodeo Clown," she explained expeditiously, "he apparently has the ability to turn people into these steers when his bullwhip touches them. They, in turn, can turn more people into steers when said cows… well, give them the horns."

"Yikes…" Ryuji whistled as they finally came to a stop on one of the roofs. Off in the distance, they could hear the sound of the stampeding bulls sweeping across the city. "I know I said I would help in any way I can, but how can I do anything here?"

"You may be right that you can't do much," Lady Horseshoe smiled as she pulled out a box, "but the right superhero can!"

Extending said box to him, Lady Horseshoe divided Kaalki from Tikki and turned to the blond, saying, "Ryuji Sakamoto, here is the Miraculous of the Monkey, which grants the power of Jubilation. You will use it for the greater good if you are willing, and when you are done, you will rescind the Miraculous to me. Do you accept?"

"Hell yeah!" Ryuji grinned, taking the box immediately.

Opening the box, Ryuji's grin stopped temporarily when a bright light shot out, reforming into a small, floating primatoid.

"Wait, you're not my previous boss! Where's the nitwit?" the creature squeaked, hands on his tiny little hips.

"Xuppu, we don't have time for that!" Ladybug chastised, "Explain his powers quickly - we have work to do!"

"Fine… your power is Uproar, first of all - land the item summoned on a target and their powers are disrupted, though you get a 5-minute timer afterward. To transform, say 'Xuppu, showtime!' and to manually detransform, say "Xuppu, Naptime!"

"Uproar, Showtime, and Naptime, huh…" Ryuji repeated, careful not to actually say the full transformation phrase as he slipped on the circlet, "I got it. Let's do this!"

"Then say it already!" Xuppu shouted though it was not mean-spirited - merely a tad impatient.

"Xuppu, Showtime!" Ryuji cracked another signature grin, letting the magic overtake him and filling his body with strength. Flipping backward, gold light surrounded him, and when it faded, over his face was a dark brown mask with two beige spots near where his eyebrows would be and a skin-tight brown and beige bodysuit. On each of his wrists were what looked like thick bronze wrist cuffs which extended into brown leather gloves, and instead of a rope that represented his tail like Kim's had, Ryuji had a long golden-brown kung fu sash that was longer around the back ends. The Miraculous itself sat proudly on Ryuji's head, nearly camouflaged among the blond's spiky hair. Finally, the familiar weapon of the Monkey user - a thick staff known as Ruyi Jingu Bang - appeared with a twirl in Ryuji's hands.

"So, what is your alias gonna be?" Ladybug

"Oh! Um… Well 'Saru' means 'Monkey' in Japanese, but that sounds too plain…" the blond mumbled, scratching his head, then his face brightened and he snapped his fingers, "How about Saruchame? It means mischief monkey!"

"Xuppu would love it, that's for sure," Ladybug smiled, "Now come on, let's go!"

Ryuji - now Saruchame - guffawed as he leaped after Ladybug across the rooftops. He even twirled his staff like helicopter blades to give him more landing time, and it worked! Ann was right! Sure they took on plenty of monsters and Shadows in the Metaverse, but this was way different! And he loved it!

The sound of angry cows drew closer and closer until the duo finally made it to the Louvre, most of the cattle seemed to be wrangled around the glass pyramid.

"I'm guessing that that's our guy?" Saruchame pointed at a man dressed in a Western cowboy outfit with evil clown makeup splashed across his face. He was riding on one of the bigger steers and cracked his whip several times against the ground.

"Yup!" Kobra exclaimed as he and Chat Noir landing next to the pair, "Whatever you do, don't get hit by that whip or you become one of the cattle!"

"Have you had to use Second Chance already, Kobra?" Ladybug asked.

"A couple of times after you left," he said, "Don't worry, I already recharged."

"Sorry M'lady, it was my fault," Chat Noir said, "I thought I saw an opening to grab the hat. Scales saved my bacon!"

"Well, hopefully our new teammate can level the playing field a bit. What do you say, Saruchame?"

"Let's make some mischief!" he cheered, immediately catching every bull's attention.


"Yah! After those varmints!" Rodeo Clown shouted, cracking his whip again, and this time the cows all reared like horses and charged right towards them, breaking through the glass pyramid as they went.

All the way back in Japan, Yusuke dropped his phone and nearly latched onto the ceiling, his face white. He had never seen anything so ghastly in the real world! Did they know how many priceless works were kept in that art lovers' holy grail?!

"Bro, you okay?" his roommate asked, "You see a ghost or something?"

"...Or something," Yusuke eventually squeaked out, terror still in his tone.

Most of the rest of Paris had wisely retreated inside to avoid the stampede and getting impaled by any of the steers.

"Oh, dear! By my calculations, the heroes' rate of success is dwindling with each new steer created!" Markov cried from Max's bedroom, where said boy and Kim had been playing a video game when the chaos started.

"Hey, don't worry, Markov! If push comes to shove, I'll protect you and Max!" Kim boasted.

"By my calculations, if you go out there, you'll either be a steer or a splat on the concrete after they run you over!" Max argued back.

"Not if I strike the big baddie first!" Kim countered, looking out of Max's window at the stampede.

Then, as if in slow motion, a blur of brown and beige ricocheted off the window's ledge and to the roof on the other side. In mid-air, the figure wearing the Monkey Miraculous flipped around and swung his staff, countering a strike from Rodeo Clown's whip. Wind whipped past Kim's face as the hero sprinted to rejoin the other heroes ahead.

"...My brain just provided about twenty-eight possibilities of what that just was," Max reported.

"...Well, don't bother," the athlete said, head bowed, "not like I didn't see this coming eventually…"

"Ain't this supposed to be the other way around?" Chat Noir squawked, barely missing getting gored by one of the steers before he leaped back to the roofs, "I thought that the big cats chased the meat!"

"We're-we're getting nowhere just running from them like this," Kobra panted, "sooner or later, one of us is going to bite the bullet!"

Ladybug groaned as she finally threw her yo-yo up in the air. "Lucky Charm!"

With a swirl of Ladybug's yo-yo, a lasso appeared in her hands.

"Sticking to the western theme, huh?" Ladybug said, but looking around nothing was lighting up.

"Well, stick to your saddle and we'll make our way through… or something like that," Saruchame joked, "Let me try something - Uproar!"

A squeaky toy in the shape of a banana materialized in his hand. He tossed it up and swung for the fences.

"Now, where are those-" Rodeo Clown never got to finish his sentence as he felt something hit him in the back of his head. Looking down, he spotted the toy banana at his feet. Looking up, realizing that one of the heroes had thrown this piece of plastic at him.

He laughed loudly, "What in blue blazes was that supposed to do, you-"

"You fool!" Hawkmoth's voice echoed in his mind, although he was far too late. Rodeo Clown vaguely had a sense of foreboding; suddenly noticing the attention of all his beloved bulls were now trained on him. He barely had any time to react before he was swamped, not noticing the lasso that tightened around his hat.

Once Ladybug had yanked his hat off of his head, the bulls attacked him ferociously, and when they were through, they calmly walked away from his barely-conscious form and sat down in straight rows on their hind legs.

"Well, that's one way to wrangle the cattle!" Chat cheered.

"Kitty, you do the honors?" Ladybug grinned, tossing the hat to her partner.

"With pleasure! Cataclysm!" the Cat hero shouted, catching the ten-gallon hat in midair. In seconds, it disintegrated into a pile of ash and the familiar dark moth emerged from it.

"No more evil-doing for you, little akuma," Ladybug proclaimed, swiping her yo-yo and spinning it around, "Time to de-evilize!" With a swift swipe, the akuma was captured and sealed shut inside, "Gotcha!" At last, in a practiced motion, Ladybug lightly tapped the top of the yo-yo, opening it up and setting the moth free, "Bye, bye, little butterfly."

Then gripping the lasso, she tossed it into the air, "Miraculous Ladybug!"

In a swirl of pink, the Ladybug's swamped the highways of Paris, repairing the trampled roads and cars and restoring the majestic glass pyramid entrance of the Louvre.

If it wouldn't have gathered attention, Yusuke would have cried.

Most importantly though, each steer was fully restored to the normal form of a Parisian citizen. They all looked confused and disoriented, but none were hurt.

Finally, the akuma in question groaned as Hawkmoth's black miasma faded, revealing an American tourist, sitting up and rubbing his forehead.

"...What happened?" he groaned, in a thick Southern American accent, "Did I black out or something…? I could have sworn my drink tasted funny!"

"Everything's okay now, sir," Ladybug said kindly as she and her team leaped down to the ground. Already people were cheering happily, slowly surrounding the group.

The heroine grinned and held out her fist, and the three boys quickly followed with resounding cries of, "Pound it!"

"That was so cool!" Saruchame cheered with a jump.

"Not bad for a newbie," Chat Noir smirked, "that was a pretty good aim you had there."

"I try my best," Saruchame shrugged before twin beeping sounds interrupted them. Eyes widening slightly, Saruchame's eyes glanced back, "Uh… does that mean…?"

"That you're about to transform back? Yes," Ladybug nodded, hand hovering over her earrings too, "So am I. Let's get out of here."

"Wait!" Nadja Chamack exclaimed, running over, making the heroes pause slightly, "May we at least get your name, young man?"

"Oh! It's Saruchame!" the Monkey Hero puffed his chest out proudly, "Can't wait to keep working with these guys!"

"Wish we could stay for more questions, but we really got to go," Ladybug hastily said as she leaped away, yo-yo swinging into the skyline, "Bug out!"

Saruchame followed close behind her and the two quickly found an alleyway free of civilians and cameras. Moments later, the circlet beeped for the last time, and in a flash of golden light, Ryuji Sakamoto returned to his former glory.

"Yeah! That was fun!" Xuppu exclaimed gleefully, "You ain't too shabby, kid!"

"I'll take that as a compliment?" Ryuji asked hopefully.

"You were great out there, Ryuji!" Marinette said as her own transformation dropped. She reached into her purse and tossed her Kwami a macaroon, and the Monkey Kwami a piece of banana bread. "The Monkey Miraculous really suits you."

"Thanks… by the way, what made you think to come and get us for help?" Ryuji asked.

"Oh, it's always my Lucky Charm that tells me whether our team needs more help, and my Lucky Charm this time gave me a…" she giggled, "a sock monkey."

Ryuji laughed boisterously, "Your Lucky Charm seems to have quite the sense of humor at times… so you needed the Monkey Miraculous, but… why did you pick me? Something tells me that you were waiting for me to say that I was available to help."

This time, Marinette's smile wasn't quite so wide, "...I learned the hard way to always follow my instincts. I'm never ignoring them again."

"...You've noticed as well, right sir?"

"...Yes, it seems Ladybug is getting bolder in bringing out the other Miraculous again. It was annoying enough when she found a new Snake Holder. However… this could also work to our advantage."

"Should I send instructions to Miss Rossi again?" Nathalie asked Gabriel Agreste.

"No, not yet," the man instructed, "first we must determine where Ladybug is finding her new allies. They certainly aren't the same children that go to Adrien's school, but we should continue to keep an eye on them nonetheless. You never know when Ladybug will get desperate enough to reuse an exposed hero, like Miss Tsurugi."

"Do you think any of them can be coaxed into your cause like Miss Bourgeois?" Natalie pressed.

"I don't think so," Gabriel admitted, "Unlike Chloe's entitlement, the other heroes seem content enough in the roles they currently play."

"I wouldn't be so sure sir," Natalie countered, "Miss Rossi's schemes seem to be proof of that."

"...Perhaps… we still have much to think about. Ladybug has found herself new heroes. We must double our efforts to obtain the Miraculous."

"Of course, sir," Natalie nodded before leaving the room silently.

Chapter Text

The first thing that Luka noticed next time he met up with Marinette for lunch was the look of sheer annoyance across his girlfriend’s face. That could only mean one thing…

“...What did Lila say this time?” he sighed tiredly as the two chose a table at the corner of the cafeteria. 

“Grrr… Alya was curious to get more details about the two new heroes that popped up, and since she can’t talk to Ladybug, she of course went with the ‘next best thing’,” Marinette made quotation signs, “Lila. Ladybug’s B.F.F!”

“What did Lila say?” Luka asked cautiously yet curiously.

Marinette growled, “She was going on about how Ladybug apparently had been planning this all along, how she was gonna replace most of the heroes from the start or something because of how much they all sucked, and Miracle Queen happening was simply a stroke of luck on Ladybug’s part. You should have seen the look on Nino’s face; he was devastated! Kim and Max didn’t look much better, either… and Alya… she looked furious! I’m shocked an akuma didn’t show up in the middle of class!”

Luka winced and squeezed Marinette’s shoulder in comfort. He was quite shocked… okay, never mind, not quite that shocked that people were still turning to Lila as a source for information regarding Ladybug and the other heroes. After what happened in Hawaii, he was hoping for at least a bit more skepticism to pop up about such claims. After all, Lila had basically implied that Jagged Stone was a creepy, pedophilic goon. Guess he had hoped for too much.

“Wanna burn off that steam with the Tokies?” - Tokies being their nickname for the rest of the Phantom Thieves; it was created so they could refer to them without raising suspicion, and if anyone overheard them and asked, they could easily make the excuse that it was a video game guild - “To be honest, it feels really good every time we go in there and beat up Shadows.”

“Yeah, I agree,” Marinette nodded, “Plus, we have a ‘safe space’ to go to if we’re feeling any type of negative emotions… though the Shadows being around to beat up helps too,” she finished with a giggle.

Luka chuckled in agreement, “So… want to check to see if they’re up for it?” he asked after they finished their meals and headed for the park, as it usually didn’t have many people out during this time.

As it turned out, the Tokies had been planning to ask them if they were up for it. There was quite the laugh over that, but once they’d settled down, they entered the Palace.

Just as before the group found themselves sneaking through the garish walls of the inner empirical castle. Unfortunately, according to Mona, the only way to get to the Treasure was going through the Trophy Garden, so they tried to find a way around. That didn’t work out - the other ways were either too heavily guarded or required extra maneuvering so as to not fall to a painful demise. As they ran down the golden paths, Chance forced herself to not look up at the statues of any of her classmates.

Eventually, they came to the end of the garden, and after traversing through another room and a few more hallways, they came across another large and decorated door. However, instead of bronze, this one was silver.

“From bronze to silver, huh?” Queen murmured, “I’m sensing a bit of a pattern here…”

“Why does this remind me of the Olympics a little?” Panther piped up.

“How much money would you bet a gold door holds the Treasure?” Skull whispered to Viper, who answered, “Ha… I don’t have as much money as I’d like to bet on that.”

“So if the Treasure is theoretically behind a gold door… what’s behind these silver-”

A blood-curdling scream interrupted Fox. The Phantom Thieves whipped around but saw no one in sight.

“What was that?!” Mona wondered alarmedly.

“...Oh, shit!” Oracle cursed, before turning to Viper and Chance, “I think you guys were followed in!”

“Wh-what?!” Chance gasped before another loud scream echoed down the hall. 

“If that’s the case, this isn’t a trap or something from the Metaverse,” Joker grimaced, “Let’s go!”

“Er-right!” Chance nodded along with Viper as the group sprinted towards the source of the noise.

Tikki and Sass flew on ahead, the advantage of phasing through walls coming in handy. They returned back just as the group made their way out of the Trophy Garden, again. Both of the kwamis looked panicked.

“Chance, it’s Nino!” 

The last time Nino could remember running for his life like this was not before all the craziness with Ladybug and the Miraculous became a part of daily life; it was probably around the time that Stoneheart first appeared.

Nothing too unusual had been happening at school that day, though it was hard to hear Lila giving the ulterior reasons for Carapace’s - and the other heroes’ -  retirement. He didn’t understand what he did wrong. Ladybug praised him every time he was out on the field. Sure… he may have missed a target when he threw his shield a few times and been a little slow to block some akuma attacks, but overall, Ladybug seemed happy to have him on her team. So what changed? He couldn’t figure it out. Besides the obvious Miracle Queen incident, he didn’t understand what made Ladybug consider replacing him before that… something wasn’t right.

He’d gone to the park near the school to clear his mind - and hopefully, avoid akumatization - and the next thing he knew, he was skedaddling with armored monsters on his heels.


He collided with the wall and fell to the floor. Dead end.

The armored figure stood above his sitting figure. All he could do was attempt to shield himself with his arms and await, what was likely certain death.

“No, no!” he cried, feeling tears gather in his eyes.


A flail collided into the back of the armored being’s head. Both craned their heads to see a bunch of masked folks running over, including… Marinette?

You stay away from my friend, you son of a bitch!” Marinette - clad in a red and black costume herself - snarled.

“Huh?” was all Nino could say as his brain tried to process what he was seeing.

“Freila!” some sort of nuclear attack slammed into the guard, forcing them to break down, the armor dissolving and reforming into three feminine figures.

One was bigger than the other two; she had a headband and ebony-black wings. The other two were identical; they were similar to will-o’-the-wisps, but they were coal-black instead of some other… more “spiritual” color like purple, pink, or something else.

The leader of this odd group - a young man in a black trenchcoat, wearing a white mask - dashed forward and stabbed one of the Strife’s Children with a dagger gripped tightly in his hand. It dissolved into a plume of shadow that quickly dissipated.

“Joker! Get back!” the one with a skeletal mask shouted. With a quick nod, the leader backflipped to his allies and the blond rushed forward, ripping said mask off.

“Persona!” he shouted and a large, simian figure riding on a storm cloud appeared behind the guy, “Seiten Taisei!”

With a twirl of his giant baton, a bolt of lightning flew from out of nowhere, zapping the other Strife’s Child and the Discord Deity. They jerked and shook in place, but didn’t seem able to move.

“Go, Fox!” the girl with a futuristic outfit shouted, and another man with an intricate fox mask & wielding a katana rushed forward.

“Goemon, strike with Mabufula!” the man exclaimed, a kabuki-esque figure appearing behind him as well, carrying a long pipe of some sort. The figure waved its extended hand swiftly, and the two women were soon encased in ice before they both shattered, leaving nothing but a ghostly scream behind.

The group looked around, possibly seeing if any more monsters were going to spring up before they relaxed and put their weapons away.

“Nino, what are you doing here?” Marinette - or at least he thought it was Marinette - asked him, extending her hand to help him up.

“Your guess is as good as mine, dudette… it is you, right Marinette?”

“...the one and only,” she said with a shrug.

“So… who are these dudes, then?” he asked, looking at the rest of the group.

“What? You don’t recognize us?” the skull-masked guy said challengingly, “We’ve met before.”

“...We have?” Nino asked dumbly.

“They were defending my girlfriend from the rest of your class, Nino,” the snake-masked guy said bluntly.

The DJ blinked, “Huh, Luka? That you, dude?” his head then shot up as everything finally clicked, “Wait a min- You! You guys were the ones accusing Jagged Stone of being a pedo!”

“Technically,” the girl in the punkish biker outfit said, “it was your ‘friend’ Lila who said that… or she was at least strongly implying it. We just made the most logical conclusion based on the information we received.”

Nino unintentionally flinched back, eyes flickering between Marinette and the rest of the group.

“...where are we, anyways? I am so confused.” he changed the topic.

Marinette sighed, “Nino, we’re inside Lila’s heart right now.”

It took a couple of seconds for Nino to process what the red and black-clad girl said, “...’Inside Lila’s heart’?” he laughed nervously, “Uh, sorry, Mari, but are you sure you’re feeling okay?”

“She ain’t lying, kid,” skull-guy said, this time in a more serious tone, “this is how that brat really feels. Your school is nothing but a popularity-building empire for her.”

Nino looked caught between wanting to yell at the group and having a nervous breakdown.

“ it true?”

“Nino, please take a second to think,” Marinette asked - no, begged, “Hasn’t it ever crossed your mind even once that something isn’t right about Lila? Like today in class! You know Ladybug! Do you honestly believe she would really think of you like that?!”

“I…” he hesitated, biting his lip.

“Nino,” Luka grabbed his attention, “Ladybug has never lied when it comes to superhero business. If she says the reason she had to retire you was because of Miracle Queen, then that was the reason. If she had any issues with your hero status besides that, she would have told you. If she was really as… two-faced as Lila seems to be making her out to be, then she shouldn’t be a hero in the first place!”

“...W-well…” Nino stuttered, trying to think of a counter-argument.

“Listen, Nino, you may not want to believe it, but right now, we’re in another reality as viewed through Lila’s eyes,” the girl with the red cat-suit said solemnly, “...This is her true nature.”

Nino slowly turned his head, gazing at his surroundings. If what these people, what Marinette, was saying was true then that meant…

“...Who are all of you guys anyway?” Nino demanded.

“Guess you can say we’re a group of people that changes the hearts of criminals and brats like Lila,” the techno girl said with a shrug.

“Then… so Lila really was… lying?” the last word came out as barely a whisper.

“I know it’s painful,” the fox-masked man said, a sympathetic look in his eyes, “but this is the truth. The sooner you accept it, the better.”

“I...I…” Nino breathed, feeling his chest tighten. 

There was then a scoff and the sound of footsteps, “You still don’t believe us? Fine,” he felt someone grip his arm firmly, but not painfully. Looking up, the punkish woman was staring down at him, “Then why don’t we show you?”

Marinette gasped, “Wait… you want to take him there?!”

“If it means he finally snaps out of it, then yes.”

“You sure that’s safe? He doesn’t have a way to defend himself here,” Luka pointed out.

“Well, then we’ll just have to avoid fighting until then,” another guy, the one with the sharp silver domino mask, spoke up. Everyone turned to him in attention. 

“...It’s risky,” another voice spoke. Nino looked around to find the source, “but luckily security hasn’t blown through the roof yet. I think it’s okay.” Nino finally found the source, coming from a strange, bipedal cat creature. If he already wasn’t familiar with the Miraculous and other crazy things of Paris, he likely would have freaked out again.

“Wait, where are we going?” Nino asked, looking back at Marinette, “Mari-”

“Oh- please don’t call me that!” Marinette exclaimed suddenly, then blushed, “I-I mean, we don’t use our real names here is all. I’m Chance here, and Luka’s Viper.”

Nino blinked. If this situation couldn’t get any weirder.

“I’m Queen,” the woman introduced herself, “The rest of us are Skull, Panther, Oracle, Mona, Fox, and Joker.”

“...Okay, but again, where are we going, Ma-I mean, Chance?” he quickly corrected.

“...You’ll see,” Chance grimaced.

“Come on, we need to do this quickly,” Queen insisted, tugging Nino along as the group moved back down the hall. 

The group stealthily led him down the corridor until they came to two sets of bronze double doors, which they easily opened. 

Nino had to shield his eyes slightly as they stepped out into a bright garden area. As they walked through, Nino grew increasingly confused and unnerved, peaking upon them reaching the newest of the statues.

“...Why does Lila have statues of our classmates here?” Nino demanded.

“Technically, these aren’t just statues of your classmates… these are your classmates,” Mona corrected.

“...What?” Nino whispered.

“At least they are in Miss Rossi’s eyes,” Fox explained, “She sees your class not as people but as trophies to be won over with her silver tongue. So that’s exactly what they are here.”

“And before you get your hopes up, kid,” Queen gripped Nino’s head and spun it to look to the right, “You’re here too.”

Nino’s expression was one of utter shock when he spotted himself standing next to Alix and Mylene’s statues. Glancing around again, he then, “...Then where’s Alya or Adrien… or even you , Mar-Chance?”

“Well, it’s easy to explain why I’m not here,” Chance said with a frown, as they all started to exit the garden, “In case you forgot, I never believed Lila. In her head, I haven’t been ‘won over’ yet. As for Alya… we don’t know. She should be here somewhere, but we don’t know where. And Adrien… he’s here, but...”

“Lila views him as her slave,” Skull deadpanned.

“What?! What, do you think my bro’s some sort of pushover?”  Nino angrily accused as they snuck down some more hallways. Sure, he knew his bro wasn't one to rock the boat (particularly if any of those situations involved Chloe), but he knew when to stand up for the right things!

“Given what we know, yeah,” Skull riposted as they reached the silver door, “We’d love to catch you up, but it would be much easier to just show you.”

With that, they opened the doors and the scene before them… oh, dear.

Chapter Text

Skull had almost been the first through the door, only to leap back out with a gasp of "Oh, 'eff me sideways!"

"What's wrong?" Joker asked, wide-eyed, "What is it?"

"Is there a Shadow behind there?" Viper asked.

"...I wish it was a Shadow," Skull gasped after taking several deep breaths.

"Well? What was it?!" Panther demanded to know.

"...You sure we have to go through here?" Skull asked nervously.

"...I don't see any other routes we can take," Oracle reported.

"For Skull to be this shaken up…" Mona murmured, "What the hell did you see in there?"


"What?!" Chance exclaimed.

"Heads…?" Nino asked, "What do you mean, heads?"

Queen was tense, but she bravely stepped up to the door and pushed it open, bracing for what may lay beyond them.

Nothing prepared the Phantom Thieves for what they saw.

There were heads all right… mounted on pikes, in front of the bodies that they assumed they used to belong to, which were nailed to crosses.

"Christ above…" Viper whispered in horror.

"One… two… three… four… there's four of them!" Panther counted. Out of all of them, it was Nino & Chance who were most sickened at the sight of this. At least it wasn't too bloody… although there were splatters of black here and there.

Suddenly the door slammed shut behind them.

"Me and my predecessors do good work, huh? It's all in the name of our Imperatrix!"

Chance and Nino froze at the sound of that voice. They would have recognized it anywhere.

"Seems the Imperatrix was right again, as usual," Alya Cesaire smirked, clothed in thick leather, and a large executioner's ax hoisted on her back, "she figured you jealous thieves would wander in here eventually. I just had to wait for you to turn up."

"A-Alya?!" Nino gasped, "What are you doing here?"

"I'm not Alya!" the one who looked very much like her in every phenotypical way (well, except for the golden eyes this version of her wore in comparison to the usual hazel) snarled, "I am the Carnifex!"

"That's not the real Alya, anyways," Queen said, her eyes narrowed in utter contempt, "That's Lila's cognition of her!"

"Her what?" Nino asked, looking at the punk-styled woman.

"Simply put," Joker explained, "this is how Lila views Alya, just like how she views you and your friends as trophies in that garden."

"I guess Skull was partially right too," Panther observed, "Just like in the real world, she's Lila's number-one supporter. But she's no lady-in-waiting either."

"I will say, however," Carnifex grinned sadistically, "waiting had its uses. You brought the next one right to me!"

"Next one?" Mona spoke, utterly confused. A few blissfully ignorant seconds of silence passed before Skull's eyes widened first, the queasiness formerly spread across his face replaced with more unbridled fury than anyone had ever seen on said face in a long time. The last time Joker saw him this angry, he'd awakened to Captain Kidd.


"EXCUSE ME?!" Viper roared, eyes widening. From inside his suit, he could feel Sass wriggling anxiously.

"Of course not," Carnifex nonchalantly rolled her eyes, "that would be blood on the hands of our Imperatrix!"

"In that case, would you care to explain the decapitated heads here?" Fox boomed.

"Even when she left the places she traveled to," the tone of the Carnifex grew somber, "the effects she had on the rebels lasted. They weren't murdered by her - they killed themselves out of jealousy."

"...WHAT?!" the Phantom Thieves & Nino bellowed in unison - although Nino's was more out of shock than the rest of them, they were all horrified and extremely livid.

"I doubt it was jealousy," Oracle growled, "I bet these kids continued to be bullied even after Lila left, eventually committing… suicide…"

"Oh, my… that explains the articles you found, Oracle," Queen realized, bringing a hand to her mouth.

"Wait, what articles?" Viper asked.

"...we'll explain later," Oracle said awkwardly, looking sheepishly to the side.

"So Lila expects Marinette will continue to be bullied if she has to leave," Fox narrowed his eyes at Carnifex, "and that she will eventually kill herself?"

"Yeah, whatever, however you wanna see it. It doesn't matter," Carnifex shrugged, "she took a stand against the Imperatrix - she doesn't deserve to live for committing such a horrible sin!"


"It's not my problem they were all so jealous of me," another all too familiar voice countered. As if materializing from the shadows, the Imperatrix herself strutted up next to Carnifex, tugging her slave along with her.

"Wha-Adrien?! Bro?!" Nino exclaimed in mortification.

"It's like we told you, kid," Skull reminded him, "Lila sees Adrien as a slave here."

"And what a good little slave he is~" Shadow Lila purred as Cognitive Adrien amorously wrapped his hands around her shoulders, burying his face in her neck.

"I-I don't get it!" Nino protested, "Why are you doing this, Lila?"

"Why not?" Shadow Lila groaned; clearly she was sick of getting questioned so much, "It works, doesn't it?"

"W-Works?" Nino asked incredulously.

"You fell for it, didn't you? You, who I'm told has known little Mari since you could walk. You, stupid, little Nino, chose me, as did everyone else," she giggled, "It's incredible how quickly idiots like you will fall at my feet once I say something that catches your ear. You didn't really think that I actually had all of those connections, did you? And even if I did, what possessed you to think I'd actually recommend one of your trashy 'movies' to someone like Basielberg?"

"Wow, nevermind," Skull said, "She's not a brat anymore. She's a total bitch!"

"Society runs off of lies, haven't you noticed that?" Lila smirked, "People lie all the time. About the weather, lies to be kind to people, lies to feel important. I really don't see what the problem here is… to most of the rest of the world, I'm just another tiny speck on this miserable planet."

"There's a difference between 'being nice' and taking advantage of people's kindness - the latter of which is all you're doing!" Chance countered.

"Tacē! Lying got me this far, you puny peon!" Lila's Shadow spat, "It's people like you that keep getting in my way! You and the rest of these goody-goodies… not that it got them very far..." her gaze lingered on the corpses behind the group.

"YOU… you killed them!" Fox snarled. This was quite reminiscent of Madarame… and not in a good way.

"Were you not listening to my Carnifex? I never laid a finger on them."

"Their blood rests on your hands nonetheless, and you know it," Joker pointed out.

"Only if I get caught," she countered, "and who on Earth will actually connect me to these suicides? My mom is far too important for anyone to suspect me. Just think of the scandals!"

"So even her own mom is nothing but a tool to her…" Queen realized.

"...You're horrible," Nino finally said, his voice barely above a whisper - he'd been quiet for too long, and now that he thought about it, less and less of what she said seemed probable in its veracity - "Try all you want - you'll never hurt my friends if I can help it!"

At long last… you have reached the truth.

"Urk!" Nino grunted in pain, a headache unlike any he'd ever had before ripping through his head as his eyes flashed golden. He fell to his knees.

"Again?!" Shadow Lila raged. Joker once more grinned almost maniacally, and Chance smiled bittersweetly.

It was foolish of you to be so easily deceived, and for so long too… nothing but a cruel, cruel illusion remains. You seek the strength to redeem yourself - to open new doors for yourself - don't you? Then let us form a contract.

With a quick flash of blue flames, Nino felt something appear on his face. He didn't know how, but he also knew it was the source of all this pain.

I am thou, thou art I… why hold back, now that you know the truth? Let us fight for a new future!

He grabbed onto the thing on his face - soundwave-patterned goggles connected around the back of his head like a pair of headphones - and pulled with all his might, ripping it off with a shudder-inducing crack.

As usual, a pillar of azure flames burst up from beneath Nino, and when they disappeared, a new figure stood behind him. Muscular & masculine, said figure held a shield the size of a Disneyworld teacup and a long iklwa was held in the other. Animal skins and long feathers covered the figure's shoulders, head, and lower body. As for Nino himself, the young lad was now dressed in a black leather jacket with spiky buttons and loose blue jeans. The jacket was zipped up halfway to reveal a plain white tank top underneath. On his hands were unlined leather gloves, and on his feet were black steel-toed boots. In his own hands was a pointy assegai spear.

"My path is set now, dudes and dudettes," Nino grinned viciously, "Will you aid me and Shaka Zulu here?"

"Of course!" the rest of them said, rushing to his side.

Lila's Shadow gaped in shock, as the tables had suddenly turned. But it soon shifted to fury, and she turned and pointed Carnifex.

"Deal with these mūrēs! Make them pay!"

"Yes, mea Imperatrix!" Alya's cognitive self saluted, before dissolving into shadow and reforming into five Screeching Wing-Women who quickly took to the skies before dive-bombing the Phantom Thieves.

Their attacks never landed, as Shaka Zulu's shield blocked all of them, protecting every member of the Phantom Thieves.

"Whoa! Nice!" Panther complimented.

"How dare you disrespect our Imperatrix," the head Shadow shrieked, "Atone for your crimes with your blood!"

"Sorry, dudettes, but that's not gonna happen!" Nino shouted back defiantly, "No matter what, for as long as I can do something, I will! Shaka Zulu, disgrace them!"

He extended his right fist in a curved clench, calling upon a Maeiga that knocked down all four Screeching Wing-Women in sight.

"Let's finish this, everyone!" Joker said as they all leaped into action, weapons drawn and surrounding them, "No mercy!"

Within seconds the Shadows were reduced to ash.

"That's five more down," Skull cheered enthusiastically.

"Five…?" Shadow Lila suddenly smirked, "I counted four."

"...Four?" Viper asked.

Shadow Lila grinned, and snapped her fingers. From above and behind them, the hidden fifth Screeching Wing-Woman swooped down, aiming for Chance with talons outstretched. She'd almost reached Chance's head when…

"LUCKY CHARM!" a squeaky voice shouted. In a flash of red light, a red and black-spotted anvil suddenly appeared above the Wing-Woman, and before she could dodge, slammed down on top of her, crushing her upon impact.

"...Now that is some exceptional timing, dear Kwami of Creation," Fox said respectfully, with a slight bow of his head to accentuate it.

"I try…" Tikki giggled softly. If she were human, Chance was sure the Kwami would have been blushing from the praise.

For the hundredth time that day, Nino's mouth was agape, staring at the little red Kwami - nope, nevermind, there's another one, he noted as the Snake one came flying out from Viper's jacket.

"Wha-who-how… no way…" Nino practically whimpered in awe, staring at Chance.

Chance laughed awkwardly, "Surprise…?"

"You meddlesome insect!" Shadow Lila seethed from the doors. Her eyes then landed on Nino.

"You'll regret this. At least that I can promise you!" she snarled as she snapped her fingers. In an orange burst of light, she disappeared.

"An illusion?" Viper questioned before frowning, "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me."

Nino attempted to run out the door to try and follow the Shadow, only to trip over his own feet in the process. Upon trying to get up, a huge wave of exhaustion fell over him.

"Nino!" Chance exclaimed, running over to him.

"She's getting away!" Nino protested.

"Let her go for now," Joker said, "You're completely drained. You wouldn't be able to fight her even if you wanted to."

Nino growled and clenched his fists on the ground.

"Let's get out of here," Mona advised, "before more Shadows show up."

"Right," Chance nodded, placing one of Nino's arms over her shoulders. Viper came to her aid on the other side.

"...We'll send you a link to those articles we mentioned," Oracle said softly.

"Sounds good," Viper nodded for the both of them before they got up and sprinted out the doors.

Chapter Text

Nino felt nervous. He was sitting at the park right outside the Dupain-Cheng bakery, waiting for Marinette to arrive.

The moment they had stepped out of the Metaverse - as he had learned that place was officially called - Luka and Marinette had ordered him to act natural at school and that everything would be explained after class that day.

That didn't stop him from nearly leaping out of his skin the second he spotted Lila sitting next to his girlfriend in class. When asked if he was okay, he made a quick excuse that he thought he saw a spider. The mention of eight-legged creepy-crawlies nearly had Kim leaping onto his own desk with a shriek, and Nino had to quickly assure the jock that it was just some dust.

Even during class though, he just couldn't focus. Every time he looked at either Lila or Alya, his mind immediately flashed back to the women in the Palace. It did give him some time to think, though. Now that he knew Lila's nature, he took a fresh look at the class, and things had indeed changed. He noticed Juleka was dying her hair less and less often, Mylene was constantly adjusting her clothes or looking in a mirror wherever there was one, and Adrien… remembering the way his bro looked in the Palace made him feel sick.

Even with the public knowledge that Adrien was dating Kagami, he noticed Lila constantly hanging off of Adrien as if she were the one dating him. Plus, it was clear from the look on his bro's face that Adrien wasn't comfortable with Lila doing that. Nino wanted to think that maybe she didn't notice the expression either, but the way Lila's nails seem to dig into Adrien's sleeve? No, she noticed, but just like her Shadow, she didn't care. And maybe Adrien was so used to Chloe doing stuff like this that he didn't know how to ask her to stop?

All of these observations just made him feel sick all over again. What on earth happened to him to make him not notice these things before? Especially with Marinette, a friend he'd known from childhood? Who he was crushing on before his relationship with Alya. How come he never noticed what was happening? Or maybe he did, and just didn't want to admit it? That was even worse.

He could only pray that he could salvage some piece of their friendship again, and build it back up from there. He'd failed Marinette - and Ladybug, by extension - once; he wasn't planning to do it again.

The faint sound of voices caught his attention, and he looked to see Marinette conversing intensely with Luka. Then he watched her take her earrings off... and hand them to him. Once they were in the guitarist's palm, he nodded and switched them out with the earrings he was currently wearing. A flash of red light later, in Luka's place was a male Ladybug-looking hero. With one final nod, he turned, threw out the yo-yo, and swung away from sight as he careened towards the rooftops.

Once Luka (or whatever he was called now) was out of sight, Marinette's gaze wandered over to Nino. With purpose, she approached the bench he was sitting on and sat down on the other end of it.

Not even greeting each other, there was an awkward silence, both of the teens wondering who should start talking first.

"...So…" Nino tentatively started, "...the blonde dudette… Panther was it? Is she Bombshell?"

The second that question left his mouth, Nino felt like banging his head against the wall. 'Seriously, Lahiffe?! The first real conversation you're having with Marinette in forever, and the first you ask her, Ladybug, is about your replacement?!' he ranted in his head, burying his face in his palms.

"...You probably would have figured it out eventually," Marinette sighed after a few seconds, "But yes, that was Bombshell. Her real name's Ann."

"Oh… cool. She's a… she's a good fighter," Nino attempted to compliment.

"Yeah," Marinette nodded, "yeah, she is…"

Some more awkward silence dragged on. If they were inside, Nino was sure that they would be able to hear a pin drop.

Nino awkwardly rubbed his elbow, eyes glancing between his childhood friend and his lap. Finally, he breathed out heavily and decided to simply take the leap.

"Listen… Marinette," Nino he started, "...what we saw in that place? Is all of that really true?"

"Whether you believe it or not Nino, yes," Marinette said solemnly, "That's the Lila I've been trying to warn you - no, everyone - about since she first started her crusade in class. And…" she sighed again, "Look, I'm not mad about the fact that you believed Lila. I mean, most of our class has done some crazy stuff already. Juleka, Ivan, and Rose are a band, Adrien is Gabriel Agreste's son, Alya runs the Ladyblog, our class has all done amazing things already. So, at first glance, it doesn't seem too unusual for Lila to be extraordinary either. No, I'm not mad because you thought she did all of that stuff… What really hurt though? It was the fact that you, all of you, believed the worst about me!"

Nino felt like an ice cube had slipped down his back, and his throat clogged up as Marinette continued.

"Nino, from all the years you have known me, have you ever heard or witnessed me do any of the things Lila was accusing me of?! Yes, I'll admit, I can get jealous sometimes and get carried away with things, but I've never tried to intentionally hurt anyone! And if I did, I always tried to fix it the best way I could!"

Nino couldn't say anything, so he just nodded sadly. The Marinette he knew always put other people first. Like when Adrien had started getting interested in Kagami for the first time, Marinette, for Adrien's sake, tried to help him ask her out. She went out of her way for everyone all the time. Nino felt like a piece of shit for ever having doubted Marinette. Lila… the thought of how clever she was, how she'd fooled him, how she'd almost turned him against the ball of sunshine that was Marinette … it made his blood boil.

"...So, how did you find out she was lying? Didn't you try to tell Alya and I about it once? Oh, fudge - we never let you finish…"

Marinette sighed again, "I'll admit, some of my actions that led up to it were a little out of jealousy at first. But then…"

Marinette went on to explain to Nino what had happened that day. How she had followed Lila to this same park outside of school, watched her buy a Fox Miraculous replica, and then throw the book she'd stolen from Adrien in the garbage… Nino was enraged. Then when he learned Lila had started claiming she was a descendant of a Fox hero to enamor Adrien with her? Nino was livid, more than he could ever remember being.

Shaka Zulu's voice echoed out a Save your rage for her Shadow Self in his mind. Agreeing with him mentally, Nino calmed down - best not become an akuma again.

Then after Lila had started that tirade, Marinette had apparently had enough, transformed into Ladybug, and confronted Lila about it, with Adrien-

"Whoa-wait a sec!" Nino suddenly gasped, "If Adrien was there… so he knew all along, too?"

Marinette cringed. She didn't want to drive a wedge between Adrien and his best friend, but…

"Yeah… he does," she admitted.

"...Given what I know about his shitty dad," Nino said after a moment of thought, "that doesn't surprise me as much as I thought it would. Don't get me wrong, Mari, I'm horrified, but I understand his reasoning."

"Don't tell me you agree with him!" Marinette cried out.

"Hell no! I said reason, not excuse, didn't I?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, cocking her head.

"Well… you know how Agreste Senior is like, super harsh on Adrien? All he knows to stay safe from his pop's wrath is to lie down and take it. Plus, didn't he pull Adrien from school simply because he lost something of his?"

"Yeah. That was the book that Lila stole," Marinette confirmed. Things were making more and more sense when it came to Adrien being such a doormat- "and the same one I returned the next day and said that I took."

Nino stared at Marinette like she'd just grown an extra set of eyes. "What?! Mari, that's not just stupid, but reckless! Considering you want to be a fashion designer someday, Gabriel could have easily ended your career right there and then!"

"Don't forget that I used to have a crush on Adrien, Nino," Marinette reminded him.

"Okay… but why take the fall? Why did you let Lila get away with it?"

"...Honestly, I felt bad for her at the time. I had already chewed her out as Ladybug, and that got her akumatized. To further everything, I had no idea how horrible she was… I was like Adrien is now, I guess."

"Well, you have my back now, Marinette," Nino assured her, "no matter what form you take."

"...Thanks, Nino. I'll admit, it will take a while for me to completely forgive you and trust again, but I'm glad that Lila's threat isn't being completely-"

"Wait… Lila threatened you?!" Nino interrupted incredulously.

Marinette looked a little sheepish. She honestly didn't want a lot of people to know about that. She looked down at her hands, fiddling with her cuticles.

"Mari… did she threaten you?" Nino asked again, a little more forcefully this time.

Marinette hunching her shoulders even further was all the answer Nino needed.

"...When?" he growled.

Knowing Nino was likely going to keep asking until she complied, she answered, "In the bathroom… at lunchtime, her first day back."

"...Lila had said she was going to the nurse's office to have her wrist looked at…" Nino thought out loud, "but she followed you instead? Then she threatened you?"

"Not at first," Marinette explained, "first she was trying to 'make peace' and win me over," she suddenly cringed, her mind flashing back the Trophy Garden in the Palace. She needed to find a better phrase to use next time, "but I told her I knew she was lying, and that I wasn't going to fall for it, and if she really wanted to be friends that she had to stop lying. That's when she threatened me…"

Nino breathed slowly through his nose to try and stay calm, "...And, if you want to tell me, what did she say?"

"She said…" Marinette rubbed her arms anxiously and swallowed, "she said I would lose all my friends, and wind up alone. That I was either with her or against her. She said… she'd give me until the end of the day to make my choice, and hoped it was the 'right' one. She left me alone after that… then I was almost akumatized."

If Nino wasn't horrified before, he was now. "Wha-an akuma came after you?!"

"Yeah… I was able to shoo it away with Tikki's help, but yeah…"

"Why…? Why didn't you say anything about that?!"

She looked him in the eye, "Would you have believed me if I had? Lila could have easily spun it that I was jealous or I was being over-dramatic."

Nino wanted to argue that getting akumatized, or almost akumatized in this case, was not something people would joke about or make up. But… looking back at his behavior - at everyone's behavior - that day… would he really have?

A faint sound of a yo-yo zipping above drew their attention to the sky. They barely saw Luka - or whatever he was calling himself right now - pull the yoyo back towards him, tap the yoyo, and release a white butterfly back into the air.

So that explained why Marinette gave him the earrings. How many had they attracted already from this one conversation?

"...I'm shocked that Adrien is still staying quiet after you were almost akumatized," Nino muttered, his brow furrowed.

Marinette tensed again, which didn't go unnoticed by the DJ.

"...Mari, Adrien does know, right?"

"...I didn't tell him about the akuma," she whispered, "or about the threat."

"...Why didn't you tell him?" he asked, trying not to sound accusatory.

"Because at the time, his advice did make sense a little…" Marinette said, "how Lila would eventually lie herself into a corner if we waited her out. But that was before…"

"...Before she got you expelled," Nino whispered in realization, "Holy fudge, she got you expelled on purpose, didn't she?"

"A-yup…" was all Marinette had to say, popping the 'p' at the end.

"...Wait a second, but didn't she apologize the very next day or something?" Nino asked, confused, "Saying it was all a mistake?"

"...So Ms. Bustier never told you guys?" Marinette asked, mostly to herself, "Lila made up another lie saying she had a condition that made her make things up all the time. A 'Lying Disease' for lack of better terms."

Nino scowled. Okay, now this was getting ridiculous…

"Apparently Adrien convinced her to do it," she added.

"Adrien? Did he tell you that?"

"No… I found out the first time I ended up in Lila's Palace. Her Shadow told me. Apparently Adrien had promised to play nice if she found a way to get me back into school. Not that that really changed anything. Lila still lied about me to you guys, and accused me of all sorts of things, but nothing bad enough that I would get expelled again."

"God… I am so sorry. What I did was incredibly wrong… I should have known better..."

Marinette almost instinctively said 'Yeah you should've,' but she held her tongue. Nino felt bad enough already and although it hurt, she didn't want to rub more salt in the wound. Instead, she did what they used to do in èlèmentaire when Chloe's bullying was especially bad that day…

She pulled him into a powerful hug.

"...Like I said, Nino," Marinette said, "it'll take a while for me to forgive and trust you again, but it's a good start."

The boy sniffled and wrapped his arms around Marinette as well, burying his face into her shoulder as he began to cry.

Chapter Text

Oracle: So… status on DJ boy?

Chance: We had a talk while Luka kept watch. It was a lot, but I think he understands what happened and that he screwed up.

Viper: Yeah. Caught four akumas during that time.

Skull: Good. Kid was already on thin ice anyway.

Queen: I'll admit, I'm not sure how I feel about Nino joining us. I mean, wasn't he technically one of the ringleaders in the campaign against you, Marinette?

Chance: Not necessarily… Nino is Alya's boyfriend, so he was likely going along with her to keep her happy. As much as I hate to admit it, unless it involves a movie he's trying to make, Nino was never really much of a leader. He's similar to Adrien when it comes to conflict, though he can be a bit more rebellious for things he wants.

Fox: ...So what now then? We can't keep him completely out of the loop, especially when he has a Persona and likely the Nav as well.

Viper: I honestly don't see a huge problem in letting Nino join. He's a good kid, he just… got caught in the wrong crowd for a while.

Joker: ...If you're willing to give him a chance, Mari, we'll trust you. If he wants to join, we'll let him. But we're keeping an eye on him until he proves he's trustworthy.

Chance: Thanks, Akira, that means a lot.

Panther: Just warn him that if we hear that he's hurt you again, we'll be coming after him. Understood?

Marinette giggled at the last message on the group chat and sent a quick thumbs-up as a reply. She, unfortunately, couldn't go to the Palace today as it was Friday, and she was meeting with Jagged Stone to discuss another commission with him. Marinette did express that the PTs didn't need to wait for her, and could go on without her for the day, but they immediately declined. They were a team, so they were all in this together! So, they planned to teach Nino the ropes the next day, Saturday.

"...I wonder if I can sneak some macaroons or croissants with me into the Metaverse next time…" she wondered aloud.

"Oh, Ann would love that!" Tikki squeaked in delight from her purse.

"What do you mean you 'want a break'?!"

Whatever response Marinette had for her kwami was cut off by the loud shout from the middle of the courtyard. She wasn't the only one that stopped and stared as well.

Standing just at the foot of the stairs was Nino and Alya. The Ladyblogger was staring at the DJ with a look of shocked betrayal. A couple of other classmates were glancing awkwardly between the couple and something, or someone, else.

"It's exactly what I said Alya, I just want a small break from… 'us'," Nino tried to explain calmly.

"What, so you're breaking up with me?" Alya demanded, hands landing on her hips, "Is that what you're saying?!"

"Alya-" Nino began sharply before stopping. He inhaled slowly through his nose, hands pressed together in front of his face, "I didn't say that Al. I just… We're always doing things together-"

"Yeah, that's how couples work, Nino!" Alya interrupted.

"Will you please let me finish?!" Nino shouted. Alya stepped back a little. Obviously this was the first time that Nino had raised his voice at his girlfriend. "I'm not breaking up with you, Alya, I just want some me time, okay? Is that too much to ask? I just want… uh…"

"Autonomy?" Marinette suggested softly. Nino jumped a little, finally noticing that she was there.

He cringed, "...Not exactly the word I was going for…"

"Stay out of this, Marinette!" Alya snapped, "This does not concern you!"

Before Marinette could say anything, Nino stepped in front of her, "Don't talk to Marinette like that Alya! As our class rep, this likely makes it her business anyway!"

"Marinette…" Lila suddenly whispered, looking timid, " didn't have anything to do with this... did you?"

Now all eyes were on Marinette. She barely noticed Tikki shuffling frantically in her purse.

"What?! No! Of course not!" she protested.

"Seriously, Mari?!" Alya shrieked, advancing on her, "What, so Juleka's bro ain't enough for you anymore?! I would have expected this when it came to Adrien, but Nino too?!"

Adrien in the background blinked in confusion. What did this have to do with him?

"Alya! Stop!" Nino shouted, "Mari has nothing to do with this! Besides, how does Lila know if Marinette did anything?"

The Italian gasped, "Y-You think I'm lying?!"

"Nino, whatever you heard about Lila, it's likely just one of Marinette's attempts to hurt her! You know that she's been on Lila since she got here! She just doesn't know when to cut it out and let Lila be!"

Nino remained planted in front of Marinette, but all the eyes were now solely focused on him. He was looking down, a shadow over his eyes.

"...This is why I want a break," he finally said, eerily calm.

Alya took a step back, caught off guard by his tone, "...'Scuse me?"

"I can't believe it took me this long to notice Al," Nino looked up with a scowl, "but this is why I want a break! It's 'cause whenever you hear something that you don't want to hear, this is what you do! You just stop listening and start yelling! You've been doing it a lot lately. Not just with Marinette either."

Alya squawked, "I'm not yell-" she cut herself off at the raised eyebrow Nino shot her, "Well, when was I yelling-"

"Hawaii, Alya," Nino pointed out, "Those Japanese high-schoolers. They weren't even accusing you of anything, they were just stating facts. But because it was contrary to what you 'knew', you yelled at them. Did you even stop to think that maybe Jagged wanted that video down for a reason?!"

"It was just a video!" Alya argued, "And people exaggerate all the time-"

"You're not listening and that's why I'm done!" Nino finally bellowed.

Anyone who wasn't previously paying attention stopped what they were doing and stared. There was complete silence in the courtyard.

"...What do you mean you're done?" Alya asked somewhat fearfully.

"Exactly that, Alya," Nino scowled, "Until you're ready to listen, I'm done."

With that final declaration, the DJ stomped up the stairs to Ms. Bustier's class and slammed the door on his way in.

While everyone still stood there in stunned shock, Marinette took that opportunity to make herself scarce before Alya or Lila started throwing accusations at her again. She rushed to the girl's bathroom and hid in an empty stall. Fortunately, no one else was inside, so Tikki took the opportunity to fly out.

Carrying Marinette's cellphone.

"...Did you record all of that?!" Marinette gasped, taking the phone from the Kwami.

"Not recorded…" Futaba's voice informed her on the other line, "I did though, on my end."

"You guys all heard that, didn't you?" Marinette moaned.

"Well, we'd be lying if we said 'no,' so…" Ann said awkwardly.

"Damn… I gotta say, though - wasn't expecting that." Ryuji said.

"I didn't intend for Nino to break up with Alya!" Marinette defended quickly.

"It seems that wasn't his original intention…" Yusuke mused, "But it took that turn when the argument escalated."

"We didn't understand the female voices, but from what Nino said, can we guess someone was trying to blame you for this too?" Morgana asked.

"Yeah… that's how good Lila is. Somehow she's always able to drag me into a situation and shove the blame on me. It's so frustrating!"

"Don't worry. That's going to change soon, Marinette," Makoto reassured her.

"For real! That brat won't know what hit her!" Ryuji cheered.

"You said you can't do it today, right?" Akira double-checked.

"No, not today. On Saturday I'm free, though."

"Perfect. We'll see you then…"

'Oh fudge, what did I just do ?!' Nino moaned as he trudged towards the locker room after school. That discussion had not gone the way he wanted. He had hoped, as her boyfriend, that he might have a bit more sway on Alya's views and convince her to actually research some of Lila's claims.

He certainly didn't want her to get in trouble legally again. He had been at Alya's house for breakfast when the lawyers came knocking at the door on Monday. They were lucky that Jagged Stone wasn't going to press charges if the video was simply taken down. If Alya refused, however, her family - since she was a minor - would have been faced with a lawsuit and the entire Ladyblog would have been taken down.

He would have to go through the remaining videos of Lila tonight when he got home to see who else she lied about. He remembered the one about Basielburg, the one that had originally drawn him in hook, line, and sinker. He also vaguely remembered claims about Prince Ali, Clara Nightingale, Austin Moon, and… he couldn't remember if it was Daniel Radcliffe or Elijah Wood she claimed to have 'professionally trained with'.

With a tired sigh, he snatched his backpack from his locker and slammed the door shut…

...only to almost immediately drop it again.

"L-Lila!" he squeaked.

"Hi Nino," she greeted, her voice saccharine-sweet.

Something about the tone made Nino tense, something that apparently didn't go unnoticed by Lila either, "Oh, I'm sorry… it must be painful to talk to me, what with me being Alya's BFF and all - oops!" her hands shot to her mouth with feigned horror, "Sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned that-"

"What do you want, Lila?" Nino interrupted, putting up a brave scowl, "Unless it's something that absolutely can't be talked about online, I really need to get going."

"Oh, where to?" Lila's face morphed into one of concern.

"None of your business!" he stressed impatiently, "Now, if you'll excuse me-"

He never realized how fast Lila was until her hand slammed onto the locker right in front of him. He barely had time to react before her other hand barricaded his other side and Lila leaned in, almost headbutting him against the locker behind him.

"Lila… what are you doing…?" he asks, his voice cracking slightly.

"So you're siding with Marinette now?" Lila asked, all of the sweetness in her tone gone, "And here I thought you were smarter than this, Nino."


"Just so you know, Nino, the second you tried to publicly out me like that was the second you threw your social life & reputation away," she snarled. Like a spider crawling up its web, Lila traced her fingers up Nino's arm. He shuddered.

"However, seeing how no one believed you, and it's a fairly abrupt change of sides, I'll give you one more chance to make the right decision."

"Th-the right decision?!" he exclaimed incredulously.

"Yes. I mean, it's certainly not Alya's fault that her boyfriend- oh silly me, ex -boyfriend's mind has been poisoned by a wolf in sheep's clothing like Marinette."

Instinctively, Nino pushed forward, swiftly releasing himself from his prison, making Lila stumble back a bit.

"No! You're the wolf here, Lila! And I've never been a friend to you either, have I? To you, I'm nothing more than a ticket to popularity!"

"You'd better shut your mouth," Lila growled, "or things will get drastically worse for you."

"And what do you mean by that?" Nino challenged.

Lila smiled brightly, pulling out her phone, "I supposed that since you're officially over with Alya, you wouldn't mind if I… oh, I don't know… showed her these ?"

Nino's blood ran cold as he stared at the picture she was showing him. It must have been taken yesterday when he and Marinette were just finishing up their conversation. They were locked in a very tight embrace.

"...Now, what was it you said earlier today?" Lila simpered, "That sweet, little Mari had nothing to do with your little break-up?"

" spied on us," Nino bitterly bit out.

Lila hummed, "Wouldn't call it 'spying,' per se. I got lucky, I suppose; maybe Ladybug's power is rubbing off on me."

"Like Ladybug would want anything to do with you - she hates liars, remember?" Nino shot back.

Lila sniffed, pocketing her phone, "Well, either way, as your betrayal is new, I'm giving you a full week to make your decision. Make the right one, and I'll delete these. I'll even do it in front of you if you're as interested in proof as Marinette is. If not… well, I'm sure the school newspaper would love a scoop of two cheaters snogging each other behind the backs of their loved ones."

She started walking out, but as she opened the door to leave, she turned to Nino one last time.

"Do the world a favor and be smart for once!" she advised cheerfully, practically skipping out of the locker room.


"SHE WHAT NOW?" Ryuji bellowed from his side of the screen. Nino had immediately gone to Marinette, who had been initially bewildered to see him in such a state of distress but was now looking quite angry at the story Nino had just told her and the Phantom Thieves.

"That's a low move," Ann scowled.

Luka looked a little guilty too. He didn't notice that Lila had been eavesdropping from the rooftops. If he had spotted her-

"Then she likely would have known something was up even more, Lu," Marinette told him. The guitarist blinked, realizing he had said that last part of his thoughts out loud.

"A week, huh?" Akira thought out loud, "It's a small deadline, but we're well into the Palace by now. It shouldn't be too hard if we work at it."

"Wait, a deadline?" Ryuji asked, "But… Futaba, can't you just hack Lila's phone and delete those pictures remotely?"

"I could, but who's to say that she'll simply tell Alya and the others anyway?" Futaba countered, "Even without photographic evidence, the chances of them still believing her are pretty high, from what I gathered."

"I agree," Marinette nodded, "I already tried disproving her by pointing the lack of evidence out, but who's to stop her from simply photo-shopping new pictures? She has stooped to planting evidence before."

Nino cringed, obviously thinking of the day Marinette was expelled.

"Also… and I'm not doubting you, Nino," Makoto said, "but who's to say that she'll keep her word about the deadline? She may leak it early or just show it to a select few people before making it officially 'public.'"

"So we may as well have less then a week, then," Yusuke frowned.

"I'm sorry," Nino said, head bowed, "I should have talked to Alya more privately. Then maybe Lila wouldn't have cornered me so soon."

"No, Nino, the fact that she had the pictures meant she would have confronted you whether you talked to Alya or not," Marinette said.

"Honestly, I'm just glad that she only took pictures of the two of you hugging," Akira spoke up, "if she had come by even ten minutes earlier…"

Marinette gasped in horror, exchanging a glance with Luka, "She could have found out I was Ladybug! Argh! We were careless!"

"Do you think she really would have revealed your identity?" Nino asked though he had a feeling he already knew the answer.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she reached for the next akuma she could find and told Hawkmoth immediately!" Marinette exclaimed, "That's how much she hates Ladybug. She'd rather see Paris burn to the ground than watch me not suffer…"

"Well, if there was any doubt in my mind about helping you guys," Nino quietly piped up from where he'd been sitting, "it's gone now. Let me help in whatever way I can, please!"

"...Alright," Akira shrugged, "we'll let you help."

"But!" Ryuji exclaimed, pointing a finger at the screen, "Just know, kid, we're still keeping an eye on you."

"Right. If we hear from Chance, Viper, or anyone else that you're up to shit," Morgana warned, his cat eyes narrowing in a way that Nino would have found adorable in a better situation, "let's just say that a couple of candid pictures getting leaked will be the least of your worries. Are we clear?"

"Yeah, yeah, we're clear," Nino nodded rapidly, feeling a couple of beads of sweat drip down his face, "we're so clear!"

"Good…" Akira smiled deviously, "Can't wait to work with you… uh…"

"Oh! We do need a codename for you, don't we?" Ann's eyes widened.

"Huh? What, like a superhero name?" Nino asked.

"Sure, but exclusively for the Metaverse," Marinette smiled, "Remember when I said to call me and Luka Chance and Viper? It's sort of like that."

"Try to keep it simple," Luka added, "easy to remember too."

"How about 'Shield'?" Ryuji suggested, "I mean, his Persona had a huge one."

"Said Persona also had a huge spear ," Makoto pointed out.

"...'Headphones'?" Futaba threw out, "He had some with his mask didn't he?"

"I thought the goal was to keep the name simple," Yusuke reminded them.

"...Hey, Marinette mentioned that you DJ in your spare time? That true?" Ann asked.

"Uh… I've only been hired to do a few events, but I do make my own music for my movies, yeah," Nino said with a shrug.

"How about that then?" Ann asked, "'DJ' sound good?"

"Or how about 'Beat'?" Luka asked, "Like a music beat?"

Nino thought about it for a second before grinning, "Has a good… beat to it."

Ryuji & Yusuke almost fell out of their chairs laughing, most of the other Phantom Thieves joining in.

"Maybe working with you won't be too bad after all, kid," Ryuji wheezed, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye.

"Just try not to make punning your thing, 'kay?" Futaba warned semi-seriously.

"I'll do my best," the DJ promised.

"Well, welcome to the team, Beat," Morgana said.

"Speaking of beating things, Marinette, you should head out now to avoid rush hour traffic," Luka said, noticing the clock.

Marinette perked up, looking at the time. She shot up with a shriek, "Crap! I'm gonna be late!" She scrambled to grab her sketch and purse, flipped open her trapdoor, and practically slid down the ladder. "Talk to you all tomorrow!"

"Bye Marinette!" Ann called from the screen and waved.

Nino chuckled, "That's Marinette for you. But I wouldn't want to change a bit about her."

"You better not!" Ryuji warned, though there wasn't any heat to his accusation.

Nino smiled. Sure, he still had a ways to go to reach forgiveness, but he had a feeling the trek would be worth it.

Days until pictures are leaked: 7

Chapter Text

"So… what did Jagged commission you for this time?" Luka asked as he and Marinette waited for Nino in a shaded area of the park.

"Oh my gosh, Luka, it's amazing! He wants me to design his outfit for the upcoming Parisian Music Awards!"

"What?!" Luka gasped excitedly, a huge smile on his face, "That's amazing, Marinette! That's huge!"

Marinette nodded giddily, the meeting with her honorary uncle still fresh in her memory. Jagged was technically supposed to dress nicer for the ceremony, but according to Penny, he refused to settle with a normal, mundane suit and bowtie. But because Marinette understood his 'rock and roll style' so well, she was first on his list to hire as a personal designer.

The suit that Marinette sketched up right in the hotel room was a tux that looked similar in basic shape but had spiky shoulder pads, the elbow sleeves intentionally ripped and cuffs undone, no button to keep them in place either. She planned to stud up a back with a picture of Fang, or more accurately two of him crisscrossing each other, their mouths wide open and tongues hanging out. If you looked at it from the right angle, it could resemble arms crisscrossed, making the rock and roll sign A slip-on tie and untucked dress shirt underneath. The pants were similar, but the rips were more asymmetrical, one ripping at the knee on the right and the other nearly tearing the hem off the bottom left.

It was a bit of a sloppy ensemble, but the design was clearly meant to show that. A rebellious statement for such a refined event.

Jagged had fallen in love with the outfit the second he had laid eyes on it. The PMAs were fortunately still about a couple months away, and it had been at Penny's suggestion that Jagged commission Marinette so soon so the designer could have plenty of time to work on it and stay on top of her classes as well. Jagged had joked with how professional-looking Marinette's designs were, he sometimes forgot that she was still in collége. Despite this though, Marinette promised to have it ready in two or three weeks at most.

"When this is over we need to celebrate this!" Luka insisted, "Maybe we can combine it with taking done Lila as well."

"Combine what with taking down Lila?" Nino asked as he finally jogged over, a large backpack over his shoulder.

"Jagged Stone asked me to design his outfit for the PMAs coming up!" Marinette informed him excitedly.

Nino's eyes lit up, "No way! That's awesome, dudette! Yeah, we totally need to celebrate that!... after the whole Lila situation is taken care of of course."

"Speaking of which, what's in the bag, Nino?" Luka asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Nino immediately blushed, scratching the back of his head sheepishly, "Er- well, I wasn't sure if they would help much," he swung his pack off his shoulder and started pulling out the contents, "But I brought these!"

The couple blinked as Nino laid down three Nerf guns on the grass. One looked a bit like a crossbow, another a flintlock, and the last one looked like a rifle with a large barrel drum attached to it.

"Nerf guns?" Marinette asked.

"I-I don't know! I noticed that we didn't have long-range weapons and I'm not going to risk carrying around a real gun so…" Nino tried to explain, "At the very least, it could keep the Shadows away from us, don't you think?"

"...Well, we won't know unless we try right?" Marinette asked, "We'll ask the others what they think."

Nino smiled again, looking a little less embarrassed this time.

"Looks like they're set on their end," Luka reported as their phones vibrated, "Ready?"

"Let's do this! The sooner we get this done, the better," Marinette nodded sharply.

"Totally! Let's go, dudes!" Nino cheered as Luka pressed down on the Navigation app.

Within seconds, the trio was greeted by the towering walls surrounding the inner Empirical Castle. At almost the exact same moment, the Tokies joined them, materializing next to them.

"All right, let's blow this popsicle… what do you have there?" Skull asked, noticing the Nerf guns they were carrying.

"They were my idea…" Beat said shyly, "thought they might work in some way…"

"Hmm," Mona hummed, eyeing the toys, before turning to Fox, "Fox, you got any paint on you?"

Fox jumped for a second before pulling out a paintbrush and a small tube of black paint. He then looked between the items and the Nerf guns.

"Oh!" he gasped in realization, finding a flat rock squirting some paint onto the surface.

The Parisians were confused before Fox held out his hand as if waiting for something to be put into it. Chance cautiously handed the crossbow over.

They watched in mesmerized awe as Fox expertly painted over the brightly colored toy with the black paint.

"Wh-what's he doing?" Beat asked. Not that they minded that the toy was being painted over as the three guns belonged to Beat specifically but they were still just Nerf guns.

"We're in the cognitive world," Joker explained, "as long as the opponent sees and believes our weapons to be real, they will be. Fox is painting over them to make them look more realistic. The obvious bright colors would easily give it away that they're fakes otherwise."

"However, because they'll be recognized as guns or a firearm, they'll also know that we'll have a limited number of shots, so our ammo will be limited every time we come to the Metaverse," Queen explained.

"So these Nerf guns will be able to shoot real bullets?" Viper asked incredulously.

"That's correct!" Panther chirped.

It took another fifteen minutes for Fox to finish his paint job, "That should work for now. Maybe add some more military-like colors when we get back."

"Thanks a lot Fox!" Chance said as she picked the crossbow up. Viper pocketed the flintlock and Beat took the barrel-gun.

"Now that we're properly armed, let's get moving. The more ground we cover today the better," Joker said firmly, "You think we can make it to the Treasure today, Mona?"

"It's certainly a possibility," Mona said, "if we move quickly and carefully enough."

"Let's get going then!" Oracle proclaimed.

Having traversed the beginning of the Palace almost three times now, not much changed until the Phantom Thieves were swiftly weaving through the Garden.

"Huh!" Skull suddenly stopped with a gasp, stopping around the trophies of Bustier's class, "take a look at that!"

Everyone looked over where the blond was pointing and gasped.

In the place where Nino's trophy was a pile of shiny rubble now sat.

"What the heck happened here?" Chance exclaimed.

"...This likely happened the second that Lila realized that Nino wasn't one of her faithful minions anymore. No offense, Beat," Mona said, glancing at the DJ.

"None taken," he said, though he did look a bit pale behind the mask.

"So… this is what happens when her 'subjects' rebel huh?" Queen scowled.

"Wait, but what about older, more rusty statues near the entrance?" Panther asked, "they must have discovered the truth eventually."

"They likely only found out the truth after Lila left," Fox speculated, "So as far as she's concerned, they never abandoned her. She abandoned them ."

"But… then shouldn't Marinette's trophy be here too? And wouldn't it be all crumbled like mine?" Beat asked.

"I told you the other day, Beat," Chance reminded, "I was never with Lila to begin with, so Lila never had a trophy of me."

"And she likely doesn't keep contact with any of her old classmates as she likely already knows that they figured her out by now," Viper added, "which is why their trophies, while still intact, were rusted and falling apart on their own."

"It's completely disgusting!" Panther scowled, "Just when I thought she couldn't treat people like objects any further."

"Well, we won't stop her until we get to the Treasure," Queen said, "let's keep moving."

With a nod, the group quickly exited the Garden, gladly leaving the trophies behind.

After several minutes of traversing the Palace, the group arrived at the silver doors.

Skull gulped, "You absolutely sure that there's no way around?"

"Unfortunately, no," Oracle sighed, "and yes, I checked."

"Great…" Skull moaned though he wasn't the only one that looked unenthusiastic.

"Just-just keep your heads down and we'll get through quicker," Mona suggested.

The silver doors opened with a creak, but fortunately there weren't any Shadows around to hear it. A couple of the Phantom Thieves still gagged as they tried to maneuver around the decapitated victims.

Near the end of the room, there was an empty crucifix, but it was clear who it was intended for before they even looked at the nameplate.

Then something caught Fox's eye.

"Hey! What gives?!" Skull gasped bumping into the artist.

Fox didn't answer and walked closer to the cross.

"...Raising voice, attempted leak of information, refusing submission… what is this?" he muttered.

The other Phantom Thieves approached behind him and read the same engraving.

"...Are these a list of 'crimes' that Marinette's committed against Lila?" Queen speculated.

Viper's eyes widened before growling viciously. His gloved hands clenched so tightly they turned white.

Chance gulped and her eyes wandered to the victims already dead. Now that she looked a little closer, similar lists were also among their names.

As her eyes wandered down the list, some of the 'crimes' could easily have been resolved with a small apology, such as 'sneezing in her direction' or 'making mistake in homework correction'. What the hell?

"...I never realized how petty she was," Beat muttered as he walked up next to her, "some of these are ridiculous to hold a grudge over."

"...As long as she 'wins,' she doesn't care what tools she uses," Chance muttered, her fists shaking too.

Beat hesitated for a moment, but he then reassuringly placed his hand on Chance's shoulder, "We'll stop her."

A small smile formed on Chance's lips, her hand resting on top of Beat's, "Yeah."

"Let's go then!" Panther called, "Making the Treasure ours is the first step!"

With a nod, the group confidently walked out.

The other side took the Phantom Thieves outside, along one of the roofs. A couple of Shadows wandered around a short distance away. Glancing up, Joker spotted the upper levels of the castle.

"Up there, right Mona?" he confirmed.

"Yeah, I'm sensing some very strong distortions coming from that direction," he nodded.

"Then let's kick their asses and get up there!" Skull grinned, gesturing to the Shadows.

"Sounds like a plan," Chance smirked, swinging her flail.

Like a cobra in the grass, Joker leaped at the guard, tearing the mask off in one move.

"Head in the game, Beat!" Oracle ordered as the Shadow dissolved into a Gegenees and a couple of One-Eyed Oafs, "The one in the middle is weak to curse attacks. Hit him hard!"

"Got it!" Beat shouted with the removal of his mask, "Persona!"

In a whoosh of blue flames, Shaka Zulu appeared loyally behind him, "Take them out! Maeiga!"

The dark spell was released upon the enemies, knocking the Gegenees down & hitting the One-Eyed Oafs for a bit under half their health.

"Not bad!" Skull cheered on.

"Out of our way!" Queen cried as she hopped atop Johanna and took down the One-Eyed Oafs with a Mafreila. As the Gegenees was still down, the team tore into it and ripped it asunder.

"...Wow," Beat breathed, feeling the adrenaline pulsing through him.

"Yeah, it takes some getting used to," Viper said, "Nice going there!"

"Thanks," Beat grinned.

"Okay, next question, how are we going to get up there?" Chance asked, gesturing to the upper level.

"You could transform and use your yo-yo to get up," Tikki suggested.

"No, that would take too long," Chance argued, "Plus, I can only transport one, maybe two people at a time. It's best not to get separated as much as possible."

Tikki frowned, and Chance swore for a moment that she was pouting, but nodded and shrugged it off.

"Come to think of it," Oracle suddenly said, "do we know if your powers are altered at all if you use them in the Metaverse?"

"Chance and I transformed the first time we stumbled into the Palace," Viper informed them, "it didn't seem to change very much ability-wise. I mean, there's also the fact we had no idea how to fight Shadows at that time either."

"Hmm," Mona hummed, "we may need to experiment with that on a later date when we aren't in as much of a time crunch."

"Like in Mementos?" Panther suggested.

"Me...mentos?" Beat asked, pronouncing the strange word.

"We'll explain later, it's not too important right now," Joker said dismissively, "But I do agree with Mona. If we can somehow integrate using the Miraculous with our Personas, I can see us pulling off some amazing tricks."

"Possibly. I can look through the Grimoire a little bit too and see if anything sticks out. Oh! Tikki, didn't you and Kaalki mention talking to Ziggy at some point too?" Chance asked her Kwami

"Ziggy?" Viper questioned, "Isn't she the Goat Kwami?"

"Ahh!" Sass gasped in realization, "I can ssssee why you would sssuggessst sssuch council."

"Um… mind sharing with the class, dudes?" Beat asked, his confusion shared with most of the other Phantom Thieves.

"Well, you see, Kwamis all represent different concepts throughout the universe," Tikki explained, "The very first ones were Creation and Destruction, which is what I, and Chat Noir's Kwami, Plagg, represent. All other Kwamis came afterward as new abstract ideas or emotions came into existence."

"Wait, so wouldn't that imply that there are Kwamis being created even now?" Fox asked, "After all, ideas can be endless."

"Theoretically, yessss," Sass nodded, "though it is unlikely that we'll sssee them in physical form like you sssee the two of usss now."

"Huh? Why not?" Skull asked.

"Well, you see, the forms that Sass and I are in aren't our original forms," Tikki said almost sheepishly, "we were originally in a spirit-like form, that couldn't be detected by regular, tangible lifeforms, like humans. It wasn't until a mage thousands of years ago created the Miraculous, the magical jewels connected to our own lifeforce. Even then, though, we can only interact the way we are now if we are in possession of an owner like Mar-" Tikki coughed and pink bubbles spewed from her mouth.

"Whoa! Are you okay?" Oracle gasped.

"The ssspell, Tikki," Sass reminded with a small grin.

"Oh right, forgot!" Tikki said, a little embarrassed.

"Spell?" Joker asked.

"One of the resssstrictionssss that Kwamisss have is that we can't reveal the namessss of our ownersss, not even to our fellow Kwamisss," Sass clarified.

"Oh, a safety measure?" Queen guessed.

"Precccisssely!" Sass nodded, "Of courssse, there are other waysss for Miraculous bearerssss to be dissscovered. Humansss don't possssessss the ssssame boundariesss as ussss, after all."

"How intriguing," Fox murmured.

"Anyway, what does this have to do with this Ziggy gal?" Skull asked.

"The concept that Ziggy represents is Imagination. Mine is, Creation, of course, and Sass is Intuition," Tikki answered.

"So even though it's not quite the same as Cognition," Mona deduced, "It's likely that with Ziggy's concept that she could still give a little insight, since both involve desires, dreams and all that, in a way."

"That's right," Tikki nodded, "So that's why we suggested that we talk with her."

"Sounds like a plan," Joker said, "let us know what you find out, will you Chance?"

"Yeah, sure thing!" she nodded in agreement, "Anyway, weren't we trying to figure out a way to get to the higher level?"

"In Kamoshida's Castle, I remember that we found a stairway on the other side of the building," Panther recalled, "We could start there."

"Wait, we have to go all the way around to the other side now? I thought there was no way to do that!" Beat exclaimed.

"Nope," Joker grinned, turning towards some thick stone railings with a grin, "We're taking the high route."

With a running leap, he jumped the gap and landed expertly on the stone outcropping.

"Come on!" he shouted, beckoning to the others.

"What?!" Beat cried, "We can't jump that far."

"Sure you can," Oracle grinned, "just watch us!"

One by one, each of the Tokies leaped after their leader with ease. Queen stopped a couple of outcroppings away, "Well…?"

Sucking in a quick breath, Viper went first, pushing as much into the jump as he could. With a grunt he landed firmly on solid stone.

With the reassurance that one of them could make it, Chance and Beat were quick to follow behind the older boy.

It took several minutes, and a couple of close calls, but they managed to scale to the other side. Panther's intuition paid off as they spotted a bolted door leading into one of the towers.

And of course, it was guarded by a large, strong-looking Shadow.

"...I don't see any way to sneak past that one," Oracle murmured, "We'll have to jump him."

"As much of a pain it is," Skull scowled, "I agree."

"Let's get this over with then," Viper said.

"Right," Joker nodded before leaping down, and practically landing right on the Shadow's shoulders, flipping backward with its mask in hand.

Just like with the other Shadows, this one also morphed into a monster right in front of them. This time it was a pair of Hybrid Terrors and another Multi-Headed Lernean.

"One of these again?!" Viper growled, eyeing the Lernean with distaste.

"Hey, you guys have your guns right?" Mona asked, "use them to take it down!"

Trusting their comrades, and Chance and Viper remembering that this was the same way the first Lernean had been taken down, the three Parisians whipped out the repainted Nerf guns and fired. True to Joker's word, real bullets (and arrows for Chance) were shot from the gun barrels. Their combined volley was enough to weaken the Multi-Head Lernean significantly and completely destroy the two Hybrid Terrors.

"Holy...dude!" Beat exclaimed in awe.

With a smirk, the rest of the Phantom Thieves quickly surrounded the Lernean, weapons raised. With a nod of Joker's head, they tore into the remaining Shadow, ripping it into black tatters. With the Shadow dealt with, the entrance was now wide open, and the group spared little time heading in.

"Whoa! What's going on?!" Chance gasped as she noticed that several pillars and even parts of the staircase were moving or didn't even seem very solid.

"Calm down, this isn't anything necessarily bad," Queen said, "this area of the Palace is simply more distorted than the others. That means that the Treasure isn't too far away from now."

"Okay, if you say so," Chance said, still a little disturbed by the landscape. She could have sworn that some of the less solid ones looked like moths were flying off, or out, of it, which reminded her of akumas. Shrugging it off, she followed the group.

After scaling two staircases and discovering a not-so-secret elevator, golden doors soon came into view.

"So… the Treasure is behind here?" Beat asked, "I mean, we were hoping to find some gold doors right?"

"Hmm, I don't think so," Mona frowned, "Something doesn't feel right."

"Come to think of it, would Lila really make the location of the Treasure this obvious?" Fox asked with a frown, "Considering how devious she's acted both here and in the real world, this seems strangely out of character."

"Well, even if it's not the Treasure, it's got to be important even then, right?" Skull said.

"Sass and I can check for you, if you want," Tikki offered.

"...Maybe you should," Panther said with a nod.

With duo nods, the two Kwamis quickly phased through the door with barely a sound. After a couple of minutes, they returned and both flew right into their holders' chests.

If the two were humans, the Kwamis would likely be paler than ghosts.

"Whoa, what's wrong?" Viper gasped, shocked how much Sass was shivering.

"Y-You need to see what's in there!" Tikki gasped out.

Alarmed by how scared the Kwamis were, the Phantom Thieves didn't wait another second and pulled the doors open.

Once they registered what was inside, the terror the Kwamis were displaying was quickly explained.

"...What the shit?!" Skull shouted, practically voicing everyone's thoughts as their eyes fell on a large white statue of Hawkmoth himself situated in the middle of the room. From the ceiling, several banners fell, each displaying the symbol of the terrorist's akuma sign in purple. A couple were blue with Mayura's amok symbol as well. Looking around, they finally realized that they were standing in some sort of indoor cathedral. It looked similar to the one Joker, Panther, Skull, and Mona found in Kamoshida's castle, but it was all in shades of purple and indigo.

"Everyone…" Chance suddenly whispered, looking up "Stay calm."

Following her gaze, they gasped when they saw that flying in all directions in the high ceiling were thousands, and thousands of akumas. It reminded them of the scene in the first Harry Potter movie with all of the flying keys.

"Chance! Over there!" Viper gasped, pointing. At the foot of the Hawkmoth statue was an altar, and upon closer inspection, there were two indents inside the stone. One was in the shape of a ring, the other could easily fit two circular earrings inside. Underneath there were small carved out slots on the sides of the altar, each had a different animal carved around the frame of the slot.

"...This was where the guard was going to bring the Miraculous the first time we came here," Chance realized.

"Hold up, I don't understand!" Skull exclaimed, "Why is all this here? I mean, Kamoshida had something similar, but that was because he saw our school gym as some sort of holy ground to him. Why is this here, and for that bastard?!"

"You mentioned before that Lila hates Ladybug right because you-she outed her in front of Adrien, right?" Queen asked.

"So… would she seriously prefer for Hawkmoth to win, then?!" Panther gasped.

"No, this is something more than that," Oracle frowned, "Someone who was simply against Ladybug wouldn't… worship Hawkmoth like this."

"...Wait, are you implying that Lila could be working with Hawkmoth?!" Chance gasped.

"Er… well, I mean, what else could this mean?" Oracle asked.

"I don't see another possibility…" Joker said, a scowl on his face.

"...Chance, I hate to be the one to bring this up but… thinking back on the day that you were expelled, don't you find it odd that Hawkmoth chose that day to try another mass akumatization?" Beat asked, "The fact that Lila did all of that to you that same day seems like too much of a coincidence now that I think about it differently."

"... Those motherfuckers planned it!" Chance snarled, her voice sharp enough to cut steel, "Let's go, everyone. We have other bugs to squish."

Skull and Beat shuddered the most as the group got up in preparation to exit.

The handle jiggled.

"Oh crap! We need to hide!" Skull whispered urgently.

"Wh-where can we hide?!" Queen asked.

"...The pews! Hide under them!" Oracle quickly ordered.

As quickly and quietly as possible, everyone dived under the pews and prayed that whoever was coming in wouldn't think to search for them.

Soon after, the sound of two pairs of feet clicking against the hard stone echoed throughout the chamber. Though they could only see the feet, the Phantom Thieves could tell that whoever came in here wasn't a run-of-the-mill Shadow, but at least it wasn't Shadow Lila either.

Last they checked, Shadow Lila's shoes were a near neon orange, not a dark indigo or azure blue.

There was a shift in the air as well, followed by the sound of thousands of wings suddenly descending from above.

Fox, who was the one closest to the altar and Hawkmoth statue, gulped as he saw the akuma moths that had previously been flying aimlessly around the ceiling, lighting down all over the very same statue, almost covering it in a dark, malignant cloak.

"The Imperatrix is growing impatient, and I'm afraid that I am as well."

The Parisians all froze as recognition hit them. They knew that goddamn voice.

"You've got to be kidding me," Viper barely whispered.

"Yet we continue to grow stronger each day," another voice, one recognized only by Chance, Viper & Beat followed up, "it's only a matter of time before the Miraculous fall into your hands, My Lord."

"If those insolent children believe that they are actually worthy of holding such power, they are more foolish than we thought. No, only the Imperatrix is worthy as of right now to use them properly."

It took every ounce of Chance's willpower to stay silent. Sure, this was Lila's cognition of Hawkmoth and Mayura, but the fact that she thought herself superior enough for the Miraculous sickened her. Who knows what sort of chaos she would create if she obtained even one of them?

"All that matters is who has the power. Those with the power make the rules in this world after all," Cognitive Hawkmoth proclaimed.

This comment sent anger coursing through every Phantom Thief in the room.

"Only those the Imperatrix finds worthy will hold a Miraculous, unlike simply using those already 'picked' like foolish Chloe did. Only the perfect akuma will guarantee our victory."

"I doubt another stroke of luck will befall us for a while," they could hear the frown in Mayura's tone, "the chaos Imperatrix caused for the Princess likely won't work a second time."

Chance's heart nearly stopped. So Lila had been trying to get her akumatized?! But, from the way that these cognitions sounded, it didn't seem like an arrangement anymore, and that the two villains were simply taking advantage of Lila's behavior against her.

"Gabriel Agreste has been serving his purpose well in trusting her," Cognitive Hawkmoth said, "I'm sure with his connections and influence that another opportunity will arise shortly."

"Wha-Agreste Senior?!" Beat hissed lowly.

"Adrien's father?" Fox asked, "He has a factor in this?"

"We should take this outside so we don't have to whisper or risk being discovered while discussing this," Joker said, his quiet voice helping everyone calm down enough. Carefully, cautiously, the team snuck outside through a door to the side. To their luck, there was a safe room just down the hall that they all scrambled into.

"Okay...what's going on?" Mona inquired, sounding just confused and concerned as the others.

"Well, it's clear that Lila's working for Hawkmoth in some way," Queen said, "you guys realize what this means right? We're not dealing with simply a liar and indirect murderer, but also a terrorist!"

"And it would seem from what those Cognitions were discussing that the Agrestes are involved somehow too," Fox said with a frown.

"No way! Adrien wouldn't do that!" Beat protested, "His pop on the other hand…"

"Chance, you did mention that that Grimoire book belonged to Gabriel Agreste right?" Panther asked, "The one that nearly got Adrien pulled from school? Do you think… do you think Mr. Agreste could be Hawkmoth?"

"No! No he can't be!" Chance insisted, before groaning, "This doesn't make any sense!"

"What doesn't make sense?" Joker inquired.

"Well… Gabriel can't be Hawkmoth! The same day that Adrien was pulled from school, he was akumatized! So, that rules him out doesn't it?"

"Even so…" Viper said, "I think it would be a good idea to look again, Chance. It's clear that Lila believes the Agrestes are involved in some way. Just because Gabriel isn't Hawkmoth doesn't mean he isn't associated with him in some way."

"I agree," Queen said, "the fact that he had that book alone is suspicious enough… do you know if Gabriel has motivation to be Hawkmoth?"

"Well…" Chance hesitated.

"Adrien's mom did disappear just over a year ago," Beat provided, "no one knows what happened to her, nor has anyone heard from her. According to what little bro has told me, his father's behavior changed drastically. But… that's usually normal for someone that loses a loved one, isn't it?"

"Maybe… but that could also possibly be a motive to use the Wish too," Panther said with a frown.

"But even though she's working for him, Lila still doesn't know who Hawkmoth and Mayura actually are?" Skull asked.

"I don't think so," Oracle shook his head, "if that were the case, we wouldn't have been seeing the supervillains but the people behind the masks. Right Mona?"

"That should be the case," he nodded, "so the fact that the supervillains were there instead of their civilian forms proves that Lila's as ignorant as everyone else. Of course, that's not to say that she has suspicions of her own…"

"So… even if she did know, she wouldn't tell anyone, huh?" Beat asked.

"Considering how much she supports Hawkmoth and despises the Parisian heroes, I wouldn't be surprised," Viper frowned.

"Lila's becoming a bigger and bigger threat the deeper we get in this Palace," Joker said, "now it's more important than ever that we find and steal her Treasure."

"But, where's the Treasure?" Beat asked, "I mean, shouldn't it have been behind those gold doors, but instead it was that church place."

"We just need to keep going forward," Fox said, "it's likely that those doors were gold in order to throw us off the trail. Deception does appear to be a speciality of Miss Rossi's."

"I agree," Mona said, "and besides, we're at least close by, considering how distorted everything is becoming, we just gotta keep going. Like we said when we were outside, the Treasure's likely at the highest point of this place."

"Just gotta keep climbing stairs then huh?" Chance huffed out a laugh, "What I wouldn't give for a speed-powered Miraculous." This caused Sass and Tikki to snicker.

"Let's go then! This is the final stretch!" Panther cheered.

With nods, the group stood up and exited the safe room.

Chapter Text

The rest of the path to the Treasure felt like an eternity. The Phantom Thieves passed through several rooms and hidden passageways, and they lost count how many staircases that they climbed a long time ago. Fortunately, the more they explored, the more Shadows they fought, and the more Personas that Joker absorbed into his mask. When Beat saw that for the first time he wished he had caught it on film due to how 'wicked' it was!

By the time they'd reached their destination, Joker had gained the Personas Discordia, Hydra & Manticore, and the rest of the team's Personas were a lot stronger as well. Plus, the Phantom Thieves pockets were bulging with extra treasure they collected from Treasure Chests, though some were more useful than others.

Finally, the team reached what looked like the top of the tower, a set of old looking double doors greeted them.

"So… is this it… finally?" Beat panted.

"Yeah, the Treasure is most likely ahead," Mona nodded, "We're nearly there."

Chance went to reach for the doorknob, when Tikki landed on top of her hand, "Wait, Chance. Sass and I should check it out first, don't you think?"

"...That's a good idea," Chance nodded. The two Kwamis quickly phased through the door to check it out. They returned not even ten seconds later.

"Don't tell me they're executing someone there or something…" Skull moaned uneasily.

"No," Sass shook his head, "but it would be bessst to find another way into thissss room. There are sssseveral Shadowssss and I doubt their leader issss far away."

"Okay, thanks," Joker nodded appreciatively, "Everyone, try to look for a side window or a vent we can use to sneak through."

"There were some railings around the sides of the room," Tikki suggested, "there may be a side door as well."

Taking the Kwami's advice, the team looked around to the sides, quickly finding a window on the right side of things and entering through it.

"Sweet! We're in!" Beat exclaimed before he felt a hand cover his mouth.

"Shush! Look down there!" Panther pointed with her eyes.

Just as Sass and Tikki had warned, the ground level below was lined with tons of soldiers, but in the center of the room was a large gold throne with none other than…

"Lila!" Viper hissed, narrowing his eyes.

"You still haven't found the intruders yet?!" the Shadow Self shrieked. Next to the throne, the cognitive Adrien was sitting crisscrossed next to the throne on a plush pillow. They couldn't tell from so far away, but he looked like he was glancing between Lila and the soldiers nervously.

"Our utmost apologies, Imperatrix!" one of the guards saluted, "Please forgive us!"

The Shadow growled, "Any more incompetence and you're all next to be executed!"

"And to think we're in the exact same room right now," Chance whispered with a small smirk.

"Let's keep moving, before they notice us," Queen advised as everyone crouched low.

Staying low enough to duck beneath the railing, the group shuffled silently towards a large, rusted door at the back of the room.

"After those three doors earlier, I'm not as impressed with this," Viper murmured, "this leads to this Treasure of yours?"

"Heh, guess this just proves that deep down, even with all of her lies and boasts, this chick ain't anything special," Skull smirked.

"Indeed," Fox agreed, "how does the saying go? 'What is a lie? Only the truth in masquerade…'"

"Who said that?" Beat asked curiously.

"Lord Byron, if memory serves," Fox answered, "Now then, let us proceed."

Upon pushing through the door, which was surprisingly not locked, the Phantom Thieves were led into a long, dark, empty hallway. At the end of it, they could barely see three more sets of double doors.

"...So, which one of these is the Treasure behind?" Beat asked.

"My thief senses are pulling towards the middle door," Mona smirked, "but it's definitely behind one of these, that's for sure."

"Then… what's behind the other doors?" Panther wondered.

"...Let's check them out either way. They're here for a reason, after all," Joker said grimly.

Opening the left door first, the Phantom Thieves found a massive heap of flowers.

"" Queen was the first to speak, her tone more confused than anything else.

"Oh, like at the trophy garden!" Chance snapped her fingers, "This must be where she takes all of those flowers once she's plucked them!"

"Sure enough," Viper said, now holding one of them in his hands, "I'm pretty sure this one is Kim's."

Inscribed on the flower were the words Sports, Swimming, and Challenges. That had to be Kim.

"So, she's storing hopes and dreams in here?" Panther scowled, "If that's what's in here, what's in the other room?"

"...Guess we'll find out," Queen said, as they closed that door and opened the door on the right.

This room didn't have flowers in them, but it wasn't empty either.

"...Is that a microphone?" Chance asked as she approached one of the shelves. Unlike in the flower room, where the blossoms were simply tossed haphazardly on the floor, all the items in here were on top of shelves, almost as if on display. Others included a marathon medal, a bunch of golden pencils, and even a tiara.

Approaching the microphone, the Phantom Thieves noticed a name on a plaque next to it as well that read Ivanka Ptichka.

"...Why does that name sound familiar?" Fox pondered.

"Oh my god!" Oracle gasped, "Ivanka was one of the suicide victims when Lila lived in Bulgaria! According to the article I read, she wanted to become a singer - an opera singer specifically. But then she had an accident that ruined her singing voice."

"What kind of accident?" Viper asked, before shaking his head, "You know what? I don't want to know."

"That's fair," Oracle acquiesced before scowling furiously, "...oddly enough, it was a month later that she was found hanging in her bathroom by the shower curtain."

The group collectively shuddered.

"You think Lila had something to do with her accident?" Mona asked.

Oracle could only answer, "Well, the fact that something of Ivanka's is here only proves that, right?"

"So… this is where Lila puts the dreams she stole from her enemies, then," Joker stated.

"Hey, Chance... isn't that…" Beat pointed to another shelf. It was empty, which made sense when they saw Marinette Dupain-Cheng engraved upon it; she wasn't dead, after all.

"Of course…" Chance grumbled, "I haven't done this as much as most of us and already I feel desensitized…"

"Nothing really will surprise you anymore, after a while…" Fox admitted, "Palaces do demonstrate the most depraved sides of human emotion, after all."

"...I think we've seen enough of all of this," Joker suggested, "Shall we move to the Treasure?"

"Yeah…" Mona nodded as they finally left the room and approached the middle room at last.

Shoving it open with more force than necessary, inside, the room was scarce except for one thing - a rippling shape of… something.

"...Well, there it is," Queen said, looking up at the hazy ball of light, levitating in the very center.

"Huh? That's the Treasure?" Beat asked, sounding confused and a bit in disbelief.

"Well, it's not the Treasure… yet, anyway," Oracle explained.

"What do you mean 'yet'?" Chance asked.

"This is the Treasure, but in order to steal it, we need to make it materialize first," Mona specified.

"Materialize?" Beat asked, "Is that like with some special Persona move?"

"No," Mona chuckled, "now what we got to do is alter Lila's cognition. You see, by nature, desires don't have a physical form. So we first have to make Lila realize that her desires are a Treasure. So, if her cognition then recognizes that her Treasure is about to be stolen, it will instantly appear over here!"

"Change her cognition?" Viper asked, "How are we going to pull that off?"

"Easy," Skull grinned, "All we gotta do is send her a calling card."

"A calling card?" Chance asked.

"Yes," Fox nodded, "on the calling card, we will state plainly that her Treasure - and her desires with it - will be stolen. That will put the Palace on high-alert for intruders, but that's what we want."

"All of the Palace's focus will be on keeping the Treasure safe," Joker explained, "which is why it will materialize when we give her the card."

"...Will she take it seriously, though?" Chance asked, "I mean, I didn't learn about the Phantom Thieves until we had a layover in Japan by chance. I'm sure she's at least aware of them by now, but…"

"'re worried that the fact that they seem to act solely in Japan may make it less believable?" Queen prodded.

"Yeah," Chance nodded.

"That shouldn't matter," Panther said, "when we sent Kamoshida's calling card, the Phantom Thieves didn't officially exist yet. Simply the fact that we accused him of things we knew he was doing was more than enough to make it work."

"...We'll trust you on that then," Viper sighed.

"And... if it doesn't work?" Beat asked.

"It will," Mona insisted, "just trust us, okay?"

A beat of uneasy silence passed before Chance took a step forward.

"If this doesn't work," she declared, "you will regret it."

"If it doesn't work, we'll figure something else out," Joker insisted, "We've come too far to fail now."

"...All right," Chance sighed, "I'm just… scared, that's all."

"Trust us, we get it," Skull assured them, "Joker, Panther, and I felt the same way when Mona walked us through this the first time. And at the very least it's worth giving it a shot, right?"

"Well, it's not like we have much else to lose…" Beat admitted.

"Very well," Mona smirked, "the infiltration route is secure. Now we just need to prepare the calling card in reality and send it to Lila. Then we can make the Treasure our own!"

"Everyone's done a great job today," Joker praised, "why don't we all take the rest of the day to rest, and then we can hash out details tomorrow over video call?"

"Hey, you think we can do it at my place this time?" Beat asked, "I usually have to babysit Chris on Sundays."

"Won't he overhear what we're planning?" Chance asked, a little alarmed.

Beat chuckled, "Unlikely. He just got a new video game two days ago, and he's been glued to it since. I doubt he'll bother us, much less care, or understand what we are talking about anyway."

"...All right if you're sure," Viper relented.

"Just so the three of you are aware, once the calling card is sent, there's no turning back," Queen warned them, "Furthermore, the effects of the card don't last very long - twenty-four hours at the most - so when we decide on a date to send it, we should all have plenty of time to do it."

"Well, if we hash out the details tomorrow, it could be ready as early as Monday right?" Chance said, "And considering Lila's only given Beat a week to give his answer, the sooner we do it, the better."

"Possibly," Fox agreed, "but rushing things can bring its own set of problems too."

"We also have to make sure Lila will come to school the same day we send it out," Viper added, "remember, Lila does have a habit of suddenly ditching school sometimes."

"...Looks like there are more things to go over than we thought. Let's get out of here for now," Joker decided, "call us tomorrow when you're ready, Chance."

"Okay, sounds good," was all she said before the Phantom Thieves vanished from the room.

Days until pictures are leaked: 6

Just as Nino promised, Chris was playing away when Luka and Marinette arrived at his family's apartment Sunday morning.

"...Enjoying your game, Chris?" Marinette asked, amused at how focused the younger boy was on his Nintendo Switch. Chris didn't answer, too focused on rapid-firing at the monster he was trying to defeat.

Marinette snorted and shook her head. It reminded her when she was in the zone for Ultimate Mecha Strike III.

"I got my computer set up in my room, so whenever you two are ready," Nino informed them.

Marinette quickly shot the Phantom Thieves a text, asking what their status was. Sunday was the day they all had off from school, but that didn't mean that they didn't have other commitments after all.

To her pleasant surprise, it wasn't even a full minute after when she got a reply. The Tokies were already waiting at their own hideout and had been waiting for them.

"They're ready anytime," Marinette said.

"Let's do this then," Luka said, and Nino nodded and the three headed to his room.

"Hey, Chris, we'll be in my room if you need anything, okay?" Nino called back over his shoulder.

"'Kay!" Chris gave a short reply to let his brother know he'd heard him.

"Now… let's hope we get an okay signal in here," Nino muttered as he pulled up Skype on his laptop. Once the program was booted up, he passed the computer to Marinette, who typed in Akira's phone number.

After two rings, the screen cleared.

"Sweet, it's working!" Nino gasped as the faces of the other Phantom Thieves filled the screen.

"Yo!" Ryuji greeted, "Can you hear us?"

"Loud and clear," Luka confirmed.

"Great! Let's get right down to business, then," Morgana said, "First, I think we should address how Lila is going to receive the calling card. You mentioned yesterday that Lila has a habit of skipping school, yes?"

"Yeah, definitely," Marinette confirmed, "sometimes it's completely random, too."

"Okay, if that's the case, then why don't we just send it to her house?" Ann suggested, "That way she has to see it, even if she skips school."

"We could, but I don't know where Lila lives," Marinette said, "do you Nino?"

"Uh, uh," Nino shook his head, "whenever Alya and Lila hang out, she always insists it's at Alya's house or somewhere outside. As far as I know, Als has never been to Lila's place."

"Then it's unlikely that anyone else knows where she lives either," Luka stated.

"But, Mari, isn't there a way for you to access stuff like that?" Nino asked, "You're the Class Representative, after all."

"I don't think that grants me such power…" Marinette answered sadly.

"Hmm… oh! I could ask Adrien to ask her to come!" Nino then suggested. Marinette looked unsure but Nino continued, "I mean, if Lila is already in cahoots with Agreste Senior, he probably sees Lila a lot. After all, she's 'keeping an eye on Adrien.'"

Marinette frowned at the reminder of that information, "So… she might show up at school anyway because of her 'job' is what you're saying right?"

Nino winced, "...Basically, yeah."

"Okay, that's taken care of," Makoto said, "Now, the next step. We need to secure you an alibi, Marinette."

Marinette blinked, "Huh? An alibi?"

"Yes. Think about it. When the students arrive at the school and see cards that apparently have a 'threatening' message on them towards Lila, who's going to be the first person suspected of putting them up? You. So we need to craft an airtight alibi for you so that you won't be suspected of being behind it."

"Okay… how about Luka and I had a sleepover at my house that had started as a movie night?" Marinette suggested.

"Hmmm, that's an okay alibi," Ann said, "but Luka's your boyfriend, so he's going to defend you and back you up no matter what. Or at least, that's what everyone at school will think... Not saying that that's a bad thing or anything!"

"You better not. Of course I'll defend this amazing girl," Luka smirked playfully, placing an arm over Marinette's shoulder. Marinette giggled and leaned into his hug.

"Hmmm, what if it's not Luka who stays over, but me?" Nino suggested.

"Uh… wouldn't that look suspicious too?" Ryuji asked, "Since, you know, you just broke up with your girlfriend and all?"

"Not if I say… I went to Marinette's house to discuss costume ideas for a new movie I thought of," Nino smirked mischievously, "and I happened to stay late enough that Marinette offered for me to stay over just like old days."

"Oh yeah!" Marinette remembered, "You, Kim, and I would have sleepovers together when we were still in èlèmentaire!"

"...What's Kim's position in this whole situation?" Akira asked suddenly, "If this was something the three of you did as kids a lot, then wouldn't he be offended that the two of you had a sleepover and didn't invite him? I can see Lila taking advantage of that and spinning it to look like you two are dating."

Marinette bit her lip. As much as she hated to admit it, Kim wasn't exactly the smartest kid in class. More brawn than brains as some people liked to put it. Plus, he usually relied on Max when it came to the brain's department anyway and Max was clearly on Lila's side. She could see Kim believing Lila too if she tried to spin it the way that Akira described. If he got upset enough, he could be-

"Oh shoot!" Marinette exclaimed, a crucial problem popping into her head.

"What's wrong?" Yusuke asked, voicing the alarm all the Phantom Thieves were feeling.

"Akumas! How are we going to deal with that?! I didn't even think about it! Posting all of those calling cards around the school is obviously going to scare some people. Hawkmoth could target any one of them! B-But I have to be there as Marinette, or else I'll just look even more suspicious, and I can't give the Miraculous to anyone else either! If they see that there is a different Ladybug on the same day these calling cards appear, that's going to look suspicious too!"

"Marinette, calm down," Luka said, "Breathe. We'll think of something. There's got to be a way around this."

"Can any of the other Miraculous help us?" Futaba asked, "Like, can one of them make a clone of you or something?"

"The Mouse Miraculous can make duplicates, but you shrink when that happens. And you can't take the Miraculous off or else the power will wear off. And I can't combine it with the Ladybug Miraculous, that would look suspicious too. The only time that Ladybug was seen wielding more than one Miraculous like that was when Miracle Queen happened. Seeing Ladybug in a new combined form could scare people even more!"

"...What if you weren't literally in two places at once," Nino said slowly, "it just looked like you were!"

"Huh?" Marinette gasped, looking at the bespectacled boy.

"Okay, hear me out. What if you were indeed there as Ladybug, but then someone else disguises as you and plays your part so that your alibi can still work," Nino explained.

Marinette stared at Nino for another five seconds before it finally clicked, "Oh my gosh! Nino, you're a genius!" with a shriek of happiness, she leaped forward and hugged the Moroccan boy.

"Did you figure something out?" Morgana asked curiously.

"Yes! The Fox Miraculous!" Marinette gasped excitedly, "It's the Miraculous of Illusion! Yusuke can use the Fox Miraculous to disguise one of us as me, while I, as Ladybug, keep an eye out for akumas as Lila reads the calling card."

"Huh?" Yusuke blinked, "Me? Why me?"

"Because you, Yusuke, are an artist, and in order to pull this off, we're going to have to dot every 'i' and cross every 't'... so to speak. Basically, I think you can pull off the best illusion of me, or anything else. That's all."

"Well, uh," Yusuke stuttered before clearing his throat, "I'll do my best."

"The only drawback to that plan is that we have to make sure that nothing touches the illusion. If something, or someone, so much as grazes it, the illusion will disappear. So we'll have to be careful with that."

"Great, got that problem taken care of," Luka said, "Now, about that alibi?"

"I can't use you or Nino, and I'm not sure if it's too last minute to get Aurore or Mireille involved for 'filming advice'," Marinette muttered.

"...What about Marc?" Nino asked, snapping his fingers, "He works with Nathaniel on their Ladybug comic, he does the dialogue," Nino suggested, "We can invite him with the option to write the script."

"Marc…?" Marinette asked in surprise, "...I guess I can shoot him a text. Plus, it kind of works a little anyway, he always gets to school early to work on his writing. I'm sure I can slip away to transform and have the illusion replace me."

"Why don't you text him right now, before it gets too late in the day?" Luka advised.

"Yeah, I'll do that," Marinette said, pulling out her phone.

MDC: Hey Marc, it's Marinette. How are you?

Surprisingly it was only fifteen seconds later that she got a reply.

MA: I'm doing fine. How are you?

MDC: I'm great! Hey, are you doing anything tonight, because Nino and I have a favor to ask of you?

MA: ?

MA: What kind of favor?

MDC: Nino has a new idea for a movie and he's coming over to my place later today to talk about costume designs. He was wondering if you'd be interested in helping with the script.

MA: For a movie…? Um… I guess I'm free tonight. I've never done a movie script before though, are you sure you want me?

MDC: You're writing is amazing, Marc! I think you'll do great!

MA: ….Okay. What time are you meeting?

MDC: We were aiming maybe around 5:30 or 6:00. My maman and papa can make us dinner too if you want.

MA: Sure, I think I can make that work.

MA: Does he have an idea for the plot yet? It's just so I can start thinking of ideas.

Marinette hummed and passed her phone onto Nino with a wink. Nino bit his lip in thought for a moment, then his eyes wandered to the Phantom Thieves on the other end and his eyes lit up.

MDC: Hey dude, Nino here. I kind of got inspired by those Phantom Thieves in Japan. I was thinking of maybe doing an origin story about them. I mean, no one really knows that much about them or why they're doing what they're doing, so I thought it'd be fun.

MA: Oh, the Phantom Thieves? I think I heard Nath mention them before.

MDC: There's a website called the Phan-Site you can use to research them if you want. It is in Japanese though, so some of the translations may be a bit off.

MA: Okay, I'll look. See you both later then?

MDC: Totally dude! Thanks so much!

"There, that should cover an alibi and pacify Kim if he complains. We can tell him that the movie was a surprise but someone, a.k.a. Lila, had to force us to reveal it ahead of schedule," Marinette grinned deviously.

"That will work, I think," Yusuke spoke.

"You'll still have to be cautious, of course," Makoto said, "but I agree, that should be a safe option."

"So just to make sure we understand, we send the calling card in the morning, and then steal Lila's heart before the end of the day, right?" Luka asked.

"That's correct. We'd recommend we do it immediately like, don't even wait until your school is out," Ann said.

"I guess the earlier the better, huh?" Nino asked.

"All right," Morgana grinned, "who's going to write the card then?"

"It would be a good idea for one of you to write it," Marinette said, "there's always the chance for one of the teachers to read it and recognize our writing style."

"Oh, let me do it! Please?" Ryuji begged, "I have some very choice words to put on it."

"...Why don't you and Makoto work on it, Ryuji," Akira suggested, "Then we can send it to the Parisians to translate it."

"Sounds like a plan," Makoto grinned.

"Awesome! Oh man, I can't believe we're actually going to do this!" Nino exclaimed.

"So… one more thing, who's going to put up the calling cards?" Marinette asked.

"...Didn't think of that one," Akira grimaced, an embarrassed blush on his face.

"...I think I have a solution for that too," Marinette said, "Luka can use the Horse Miraculous to transport you guys to our school to put them up. Then when you're done, you can transport out of there. That way, Nino and I can keep our alibi still. Plus, I doubt anyone would suspect you, Luka."

"I'll work with it," Luka nodded.

"Plus, that way, we'll be ready for when Yusuke needs to Inari up," Futaba grinned, "Good thinking!"

"All right, I think that's everything we need to cover for now," Marinette said, "Luka, do you think you can handle translating it? I don't want Marc to accidentally see it."

"No problem," the guitarist gave a thumbs up.

"All right then! We'll see you tomorrow then," Akira said.

"Right, Beat, Viper, and Chance, out!" Nino grinned before ending the call.

And just in time too, as Chris came into the room, "Hey, can we go outside? I'm bored."

With snickers coming from the trio, Nino quickly grabbed his bag and they headed out into the city.

Days until pictures are leaked: 5

"This was pretty cool. Thanks for having me, Marinette," Marc said meekly as he stood outside the bakery Monday morning.

"You sure you don't want to join us for breakfast, Marc?" Sabine asked sweetly.

"Oh, no thanks. I'll just take a croissant to go if that's okay," the writer said shyly and fumbled for his wallet.

"Oh don't worry about that dear," Sabine said, "it's on the house."

"Oh! Thank you," he stuttered as Ms. Cheng handed him a croissant that Mr. Dupain was just pulling from the oven.

"We'll see you at school later, dude," Nino called, "thanks again for helping us!"

"N-no problem! Bye!" he stammered out before quickly scrambling out the door.

"Marc's such a sweet boy," Sabine smiled.

"Yeah, and a good friend," Marinette nodded. The rest of the morning was fairly quiet, with Nino and Marinette sharing a couple of pastries at the front of the bakery.

"You two should get going too," Tom said as he started pounding out another batch of dough, "wait much longer and you may be late."

"Okay, papa! See you later!" Marinette said as Nino waved.

"Bye sweetheart! It was good to see you again Nino!" Sabine smiled.

"You too Ms. Cheng! See ya!"

The duo walked in comfortable silence before making a sharp turn down an alleyway.

"About time!" Ryuji grinned, pushing off the wall.

"How long have you been waiting?" Marinette asked anxiously.

"Mmm… about an hour give or take?" Makoto guessed, "Luka's a real trooper, he woke at 5:00 AM to come and get us in time."

"And the calling cards?" Nino asked.

"Oh, there's not a wall in that school without one," Futaba chuckled darkly, "Lila will totally see them!"

"Cool!" Marinette said as she spotted Luka and Juleka walking inside, "Then let's get down to business! Tikki, Spots On!"

In a flash of pink, the red and black spotted superheroine stood where Marinette Dupain-Cheng was.

"I-I still can't believe that you're Ladybug!" Nino said a large grin on his face.

Ladybug winked before opening up her yo-yo and extracting a familiar looking box.

"Yusuke Kitagawa, here is the Miraculous of the Fox, which grants the power of illusion," Marinette as Ladybug smiled, holding the box out to the artist, "you will use it to assist us in our task if you're willing."

With a sharp nod, Yusuke delicately took the box from her

"Once this job is done, you'll return the Miraculous to me. Can I trust you?" Ladybug asked him.

"I won't let you down, Ladybug," Yusuke said firmly. Cradling the box in his palm, Yusuke opened the lid. He barely had time to catch sight of the fox tailed necklace inside, when an orange ball of light rose up a split second after. Yusuke had been prepared for this. After all, if Kobra and Ladybug had a Kwami that powered their Miraculous, it made sense that each of them would have a Kwami as well. But the artist still instinctively flinched as the light spun around him a couple of times before finally fading to reveal the small fox-like Kwami floating in front of him.

After giving a large, open-mouth yawn, the Kwami introduced himself, "'Sup? Name's Trixx, and I'm your Kwami!"

"I am Kitagawa Yusuke, it's a pleasure to meet you," the artist said respectfully, slightly bowing his head.

Trixx's eye flashed a little, but then smirked at Ladybug and nodded his head, "I like this one already."

Ladybug smiled. Trixx was certainly one of the more laid-back Kwamis, but Yusuke's immediate demonstration of respect seemed to impress him immensely.

"All right, everyone remember the plan? Who's going to be playing fake-me?"

"We had a discussion," Akira said, "and it was agreed that Ann would. She's the best actress, plus she knows enough French to pass off as you."

"Okay, sounds good," Ladybug said, "just remember, once the illusion is in place, make sure no one touches you. We don't want it to give everything away."

"If we pull it off though, no one gets akumatized and suspicion will be taking off of you!" Nino finished with a grin and a fist pump.

"I'm still concerned that people will notice that the Marinette at the school is an illusion, however," Yusuke commented.

"You'd be surprised how easily a mirage can fool someone, kit," Trixx grinned.

"He's right. You have a pretty keen eye for detail, Yusuke, so I trust that that should be able to pull it off," Ladybug reassured him.

"You can do this, Yusuke," Ann nodded.

"Knock 'em dead… or whatever the phrase is," Ryuji said, realizing last minute that his comment was a little misplaced considering Yusuke wouldn't be actively fighting at the moment.

"...All right," the artist nodded, finally slipping the necklace over his head.

"Then you just need to say one thing: Trixx, Let's Pounce!" the Kwami proclaimed.

Yusuke smiled before uttering the same words, "Trixx, Let's Pounce!"

Instantly the Kwami was sucked into the necklace. Yusuke swiped a hand across his face, an orange mask with white lining materializing on his face. Upon opening his eyes, they were now a reddish-brown with slit pupils. He then threw his other arm into the air, orange light encasing it before spreading down the rest of his body, down to his toes. In place of his uniform was a kimono-like orange shirt, with a black under-jacket that fanned out at the collar, much like his attire in the Metaverse. The Fox Miraculous sat in the middle of his chest, acting as a zipper tab for the outer shirt. His orange pants were baggy and tied with thick straps around his ankles. His shoes were black traditional Japanese sandals with white socks separating his big toe from the rest. A sash appeared around his waist that draped down into two foxtails, like a Kitsune. With a flick upwards, two black-outlined fox ears - orange on the inside that grew lighter the more inward it went - appeared on his head. His hair was also longer, tied in a low ponytail with the end tipped in white. On his back, a traditional Shinobue flute appeared.

Ryuji whistled, "All right, looking good!"

"What's your hero name?" Ladybug asked.

"Is that really necessary?" Yusuke asked, "I am only using the Miraculous for this one task."

"Yeah, but we don't want anyone knowing your secret identity either now do we?" Ladybug reminded him.

"It's got to be Kitsune!" Ann suggested, "I mean, even the outfit has more than one tail."

"Boring!" Nino complained, "That's basically just 'fox' in Japanese, isn't it? Come on, if you're an artist, you've got to have a more creative name than that!"

"...How about Kijutsu-shi?" Yusuke suggested.

Most of the Phantom Thieves actually laughed at this suggestion.

"Kijutsu-shi literally means 'illusionist'," Makoto explained.

"Mmm, it's better," Nino shrugged.

"Hey, your hero name was basically Turtleshell," Ryuji pointed out.

"Yeah, and it was an awesome name!" Nino shot back.

Ladybug wasn't paying attention as she eyed Lila finally arriving at school and entering through the front doors.

"Lila just arrived. We gotta move!" she exclaimed.

"So I just play the flute, correct?" Kijustu-shi clarified, grasping the instrument in his hands.

"Yep! Just play a few notes, and once you see a ball of light appear, throw it and say 'Mirage'. Then think of the illusion you want to cast."

"Understood," he nodded. The rest of the group backed up as Nino and Ann got into position on the sidewalk.

With a quick twirl, he brought the flute up to his lips and blew out a few low, haunting notes. Just as Ladybug said, a ball of light appeared on the end of the flute. With a smirk, he reeled the instrument back.


Nino gulped nervously as he and a disguised Ann approached the entrance of Françoise Dupont. Upon making it to the doors it was clear that the atmosphere didn't seem excited with the usual banter before class. Instead, it sounded tense and even slightly worried.

Opening the doors, the duo soon saw why.

The Tokies hadn't been exaggerating when they said that they hadn't missed a single wall of the school when putting up the cards. The bulletin boards, walls, and windows were covered with them, the floor was littered with cards, and there were even some taped to the basketball hoop's pole!

Everywhere students were picking cards off the floor or wall and reading them in hushed tones. Some looked very frightened and confused.

Nino caught a couple of whispers here and there.

"Victims? What are they talking about? And suicide?"

"Phantom Thieves? Aren't they that group from Japan?"

"Is this a death threat? Should we call the police?"

"Why would someone say things like this about Lila?" he heard Mylene whisper.

"Oh, why don't we just ask them?!" a louder voice shouted, making Nino and Marinette-Ann stop. Low and behold, Alya came stomping up to the pair with a nearly inconsolable Lila close behind. She was hugging Adrien, who looked like he wanted to push her off, but awkwardly patted her back.

"What?" Ann asked in Marinette's voice, sounding confused but outraged, "What are you talking about, Alya?!"

"Don't play dumb, Mari!" Alya shouted, leaning in dangerously close to her face. Ann actually had to step back to avoid the illusion dropping, "Who else could it be? Look, I get that you and Lila don't get along, but this is going too far!"

"Hey! Marinette didn't do this!" Luka protested from the background.

"Alya, maybe before you accuse Marinette of anything, you should tell us what's going on!" Nino said with a scowl.

"Fine! Here!" Alya shoved one of the cards into Nino's hands, "Read what Marinette wrote!"

Nino's eyes scanned the card and widened. Wow. Ryuji and Makoto certainly didn't mince words.

But, knowing better, Nino took a calming breath, "Look Alya, sure this is bad, but I know for a fact that Marinette didn't do this."

"Oh really?" Alya asked sarcastically.

"Y-You're probably in on this too, aren't you, Nino?" Lila blubbered, "Because you're mad that Alya sided with me!"

"Oh, you want proof that neither of us did this?!" Nino demanded angrily, "Ask Marc! He was with us all last night!"

Silence fell over the courtyard as all eyes turned towards the boy in question. The writer looked like he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and seemed to want to run and hide in a corner. Nino winced; they'd have to apologize to the kid later for putting him on the spot like this.

Heh, spot.

"Marc… is that true?" Nathaniel asked, looking at his boyfriend.

Marc fidgeted, and Nino was scared that the poor kid may start to have a panic attack. To his relief, though, Marc nodded.

"Y-Yeah. The three of us had a sleepover at Marinette's place last night," he stuttered out, his face bright red in mortification.

More silence followed, and Nino and Ann saw Lila's eyes widen in panic for a moment, "Wh-you did?"

"Yeah," Marc squeaked, "They-they uh… wanted my help with something."

"...And what was that?" Juleka asked curiously.

"Uh… um, well," Marc stuttered again. Nino knew why too. It was because when they were working on the script - and boy could that kid write a good one - Nino had asked Marc to keep this project a secret for now, so that he could surprise his class when he was ready to announce it.

"Well," Nino frowned almost over-dramatically, "it was going to be a surprise. But it seems someone is forcing me to tell it now." He made sure to eye Lila and Alya specifically.

"Nino got an idea to do a new movie, and he came over so that we could do some costume designs for it. We decided to call Marc last-minute to help with the scriptwriting," Ann-Marinette explained succinctly. Man, she pulled off Marinette's character really well.

Murmurs started to ripple around the courtyard again and some people had the dignity to look a little ashamed. They knew that when it came to Nino's movies, he liked to make sure everything was in order before officially starting anything.

"Oh! That's cool, Nino," Adrien said, finally wrenching his arm out of Lila's grasp, "What is going to be about-"

"Nice try!" Nino snapped good-naturedly, "I ain't revealing anything else about it. The surprise itself was already ruined with that accusation!"

Adrien flinched slightly, not used to seeing Nino angry like this, but shot him a sympathetic smile.

Lila's face looked like it was shifting between true fear and pure rage as her eyes darted between Nino, Ann-Marinette, Marc, and several other people in the yard. It was clear that the little scene she had been hoping to start hadn't gone according to plan.

Alya looked like she was at a loss for words for a moment before scowling, "Okay, well if it wasn't one of you two, then who else could have done this?!"

"I don't think we're gonna get to find out," Kim suddenly cried, pointing in the air, "Everyone run!"

An akuma semi-leisurely flapped down from the sky, only to be snatched out of the air with a whiplike CRACK.

"Bye bye, little butterfly!" Ladybug smiled as she waved to the small white moth that flew out of her yo-yo. This grabbed the students' attention and a cheer erupted all over the school as the scarlet heroine swooped down from her perch on the rooftop. "What's going on here? What's with all the ruckus?"

"Oh, Ladybug! It's just awful!" Rose cried as she ran up to the heroine, Juleka hot on her heels. The pink girl had another red and black card in her hands, "Look!"

Raising a concerned eyebrow, Ladybug carefully took the card and slowly read it aloud.

"Mademoiselle Lila Rossi, Vixenly Empress of Mendacity,

It seems you've finally told the wrong lie at last. You fill the heads of the innocent with pretty words and promises you have no intention, much less the ability, to keep. To those who call you out and defy you, you bring nothing but threats, torment, and misery. You've followed through with these threats so thoroughly that some of your victims have even taken their own lives to finally escape the pain you caused. For too long have their families been denied justice for their children being robbed of bright futures because of one petty, jealous, despicable girl. We are especially appalled at the foolhardy teachers and cowardly principal of your current school for turning a blind eye to your reign of terror for so long. Today, however, they are not our target - you are. We are not your mindless subjects. We won't let you go unpunished nor ignore the murders you committed. Today, we are your judge and jury. With that said, we shall steal all of your twisted desires, and make you confess the truth, and nothing but the truth, with your own silver tongue.

Signed, The Phantom Thieves of Hearts"

Ladybug was silent for about a minute. Then she just sighed and breathed a small chuckle.

"Wow… who did you piss off this time, Lila?" Ladybug asked.

"Uh-Ladybug!" Sabrina exclaimed, "This can't be Lila's fault! Someone is threatening her, right? Shouldn't we be calling the police or something? I can get my dad on the phone!"

Ladybug sighed again, "Everyone, I honestly don't think you should take this too seriously. It's clear that Lila did make someone angry, though. It may not have been intentional, but still. I can assure you, though, the real Phantom Thieves aren't coming after Lila."

"Ladybug, not that we doubt you, but how do you know?" Ivan asked, holding Mylene who was still shaking a little.

"Well…" Ladybug said, pulling out her yo-yo and accessing the internet, "According to their official Phan-Site, the Phantom Thieves only operate in Japan, particularly Tokyo. I mean, there was Medjed, but that was a bit of a special case, I think. And besides, most of the Phantom Thieves' targets have been high ranking criminals that even the police couldn't catch. And also," she snapped her yo-yo shut and gave the students a serious gaze, "think about it. Considering all of the facts that are listed online, even if the Phantom Thieves are in Paris, why on Earth would they target a random school student? It doesn't make sense, don't you think?"

Silence once more was prevalent in the school grounds, but several students looked like they were actually thinking about Ladybug's information.

"Hmmm… there is a 99% possibility that your theory is sound, Ladybug," Max finally spoke up.

Max's statement seemed to calm down most of the students, though some still looked doubtful.

"So what, was this just a prank, then? Is that what you're saying, Ladybug?" Nathaniel asked.

"Possibly," Ladybug shrugged, "You all went to Hawaii a while ago right, and stopped in Tokyo halfway? It's likely someone got caught up in all the Phantom Thief drama and decided to prank Lila to get back at her for something."

This final statement finally dissipated the tension in the schoolyard as everyone finally accepted Ladybug's deduction.

"So… no one's really targeting me? I-I'm safe?" Lila asked in a small voice.

Ladybug managed to smile, "As I said, don't take this too seriously. Someone was likely just taking a prank too far. But, Lila, are you sure that there is no one that you've angered recently, even by accident? Some people can have a tendency to overreact to something."

Lila sighed remorsefully, but Ladybug didn't miss the malicious glance towards Ann-Marinette and Nino, "I-I can't think of anyone! I would never think to do something mean to anyone! I mean...I thought Marinette did this," she pointed at Marinette behind her, "but, if Nino and Marc are sure it wasn't her…"

"Well, still, maybe think about it, and if you remember something, maybe consider talking it out with them, okay?" Ladybug suggested.

Suddenly, the world around Lila, Nino, Luka, Ann, and Ladybug changed. The world had faded to black around them, and standing in Lila's place was her Shadow. She sneered at them.

"You think you can fool me? Come and try to take it, caudices. I'll be waiting!"

Though alarmed for a moment, the Parisians remembered what the Phantom Thieves had told them about Lila's cognition changing. From the response her Shadow just gave, they could only assume that something happened.

Plus, from the confident smile that Ann-Marinette was giving, it had to be a good sign.

Ladybug quickly regained her composure, "So anyway, everyone just take this down and throw it away. And to the person who actually initiated this prank, be more careful next time! Jokes like this aren't jokes - especially if it involves groups like the Phantom Thieves…. Then again…" Ladybug paused, catching the attention of the school-goers all over again, "...if this truly was the work of the Phantom Thieves, what does that mean about Lila… well hopefully, it's nothing. Anyway, I gotta get going. Bug Out!"

Several students cheered and clapped as Ladybug swung out of the school and back toward the city. But some of the students - especially those from Mme Bustier's class - looked confused and alarmed.

"Wait… what did she mean by that?" Mylene asked. Ivan shrugged, but it was easy to tell he was unnerved.

"Did Lila really do something wrong?" Rose asked quietly, "Cause… even if this is just a prank…"

Adrien looked a little pale and was glancing around, gauging everyone's reactions. If they weren't careful, another akuma could show up, and then they'd really be in trouble!

"Come on guys! You heard Ladybug, let's get this cleaned up!" Alya exclaimed, gesturing to the bulletin board.

Most of the students moved to do just that, completely ignoring Ann-Marinette and Nino who were still standing by the entrance. The DJ caught Luka's eye, who nodded and gestured outside. In response to the signal, the two of them turned around and carefully walked out the door, making sure that no one saw them.

No one saw the pair of curious eyes noticing the three disappearing in the crowd, nor did they notice the eyes shift to spot the flash of orange disappearing from the rooftop as well.

Once far enough away from school grounds, Nino broke into a run and scrambled into an alleyway.

"I think it worked! Nice job!" Nino complimented one of the figures leaning against the wall. The Marinette beside him suddenly dissipated in a cloud of colored smoke, being replaced by Ann. Seconds later, Ladybug, Kobra, and a new fox-themed superhero joined the group.

"Whoa…" the blonde whispered, "That was cool and freaky at the same time!"

"Trixx, Let's Rest." A flash of orange light later, Yusuke promptly caught the little fox kwami in his hand.

"Yay! That was fun!" Trixx cheered gleefully, "I gotta say - I like you, kit!"

"Great job, Yusuke! The school bought it!" Ladybug smiled, pumping her fist.

"My pleasure," Yusuke smiled back, as he took off the Fox Miraculous, handing it to Ladybug, "It was… quite the exhilarating experience."

"Anyway, Lila got the calling card," Makoto said, "the Treasure should have appeared in her Palace."

"That means we can take it today, right?" Nino asked.

"Not just today," Akira corrected, "only today."

"Akira's right," Morgana said from his bag, "the effect of seeing a calling card doesn't last very long. We only have today to steal the treasure. If we fail, we won't be able to use a calling card again."

"But if we succeed, Lila's heart will change, right?" Kobra asked before turning back into Luka.

"That's what should happen," Ann said, "But we just have to make sure that her Shadow Self remains alive as well. The last thing we need is her having a mental shutdown."

"Alright, what are we waiting for, then?!" Nino exclaimed, "Let's go steal us a Treasure!"

"Couldn't have said it better myself!" Ryuji whooped.

"Right!" Ladybug smiled.

As all of them pulled out their phones and turned on the app. The world around them shifted and warped until the familiar landscape of Lila's towering romanesque palace, surrounded by the thick stone walls and large pantheon at the very top of the mountain in the distance.

"We have our route to the Treasure! Let's go!" Morgana declared.

Before anyone could agree with him though, a voice behind them made them freeze.

"Whoa! What the heck just happened?!"

Viper, Chance, and Beat whipped around, eyes wide and mouths agape.

Alix Kubdel stood behind them, eyes bulging out and hands trembling.

"Oh, shit, not again…" Ryuji swore.

Chapter Text

The entire morning before arriving at school, Alix had been tense.

I mean, who wouldn't be if a familiar time burrow suddenly opened up in your room in the middle of the night and deposited a paper airplane that hit you square in the face?

The surprise she felt over the fact that her future self had contacted her in a less than traditional way, was nothing compared to the message actually written on the note.

'Times are changing, mini-me, and changing fast. Once the fox sees the red and black petals, follow Alice and Mini-Hatter down the rabbit hole.'

At the time of initially receiving it, Alix had absolutely no clue to what her future self was talking about. 'Red and black petals'? 'Alice' and 'mini-hatter'?

'Guess I got to start thinking of things in riddles too,' Alix mentally made a note to herself before heading back to sleep.

She got all of her answers the second she walked through the school doors.

There were cards, calling cards to be specific, from the freaking PHANTOM THIEVES all over the school! She spotted the teachers and Principal Damocles trying to gather as many cards as possible and throw them out, but there were simply too many of them and not enough time to clear them all. Students were picking them up off the ground and reading them from where they were posted on the walls.

The next thing Alix registered was about the cards themselves. Red and black were the main colors used on them. Was this what Bunnix was talking about?

And the answer of who the 'fox' was was answered as she read the calling card itself. It was addressed to Lila. That… sort of made sense.

When Lila herself came into the school, Alya was one of the first to rush up to her and show her the card, and Lila looked genuinely confused, and scared. Through her trembling voice she said she had no idea what these cards were talking about.

'Yeah, right, like you don't,' Alix had spat in her head. Ever since the trip to Hawaii and those Japanese students practically lynching Lila in front of the rest of the class, the strange feeling that Alix had had around the Italian for a while had skyrocketed in intensity. Because everything they said made sense! She felt like an absolute buffoon for not thinking of those legal issues sooner!

Then Marinette and Nino walked into school; if the pink-head was being honest, Marinette was her first suspect other than the actual Phantom Thieves. After all, Marinette had done some crazy things in the past, even if this one seemed to take the cake. She and Lila were like water and oil. They didn't get along at all, especially regarding Adrien. Marinette seemed to back off after the model started going out with Kagami, so Alix would admit she was confused as to why Marinette would be the one to do something this nuts and over the top. But it was obvious that she and Luka had fallen in love deeply. She had no idea when exactly it happened, but the two of them always had the other's back, no matter what. Luka was definitely Marinette's rock - although since he lived on a boat and all, buoy might be more fitting. Or maybe anchor? Or-

'Oh great!' Alix inwardly groaned, 'Thinking in metaphors already!'

This time though, Nino was the one to rush to Marinette's defense, pointing out that the two of them had an alibi through none other than Marc Anciel, the shy boy always hanging out with Nath in the art room.

After Marc confirmed that what Nino said was true, there wasn't time to throw more accusations around as Kim spotted an akuma heading straight for the school! After that, Ladybug showed up (boy, was that a shock) and Rose, in tears, showed her the calling card. After reading it aloud, she dismissed it as fake, and Alix was about to take it that way when a thought occurred to her:

Had Bunnix spoken to Ladybug as well?

The thought almost prevented her from noticing a flash of orange disappearing from the top of the roof. She had to blink several times to make sure she wasn't mistaken, because she could have sworn that that was a fox tail or something! But… Lila wasn't akumatized, and due to the identities being realized (*cough*cough* thanks Chloe *cough*), Alya wasn't in her Rena Rouge persona either.

Then, moments after Ladybug had left, as everyone else moved to help the teachers clean the mess up, she spotted Marinette and Nino retreat right back out of the school again.

Follow Alice and Mini-Hat-Oh! Alix nearly exclaimed it aloud when it finally hit her. Making sure that no one noticed, the skater zipped off after the pair. She'd been wondering what to say to them when the world started morphing around her.

"...I have so many questions," Panther was first to speak once Alix had finished.

"Yeah, like… what's a 'burrow,' because I have a feeling it's completely different from the definition we're thinking of," Fox said.

Before they could say anything else though, Chance gasped, pounding her fist into her open palm.

"The Rabbit Miraculous! Of course!"

"Rabbit Miraculous?" Queen asked, glancing at the young Guardian, to which Chance responded, "Yes! That Miraculous gives the bearer the ability to travel through time!"

"Wait, what?!" Skull exclaimed, "But I thought that was the Snake Miraculous's thing!"

"The powers are definitely similar," Viper answered, "but mine acts more like a reset button. The Rabbit Miraculous will literally open a portal through time. The bearer can travel all the way back to prehistoric times if they wanted, or even the Big Bang! It's a lot more dangerous."

"Okay, but why would the Rabbit holder- er, future Rabbit holder- ugh, you know what, I don't care! Why would that hero tell skater-girl here to follow us?" Oracle cried out in frustration.

Chance said, "I don't know! But if Bunnix sent a message, we must need Alix for something."

"Which is?" Mona said, pointedly ignoring Alix's eyes bugging out at the not-cat.

"Like I said, I don't know. " Chance responded, "We're just going to have to trust her. I gave her that Miraculous for a reason, after all!"

"Ah! Dudette!" Beat cried, catching Chance's mistake too late.

"Wait… Ladybug?!" Alix's eyes looked like they were going to pop out of their sockets. Groaning loudly, she buried her face in her hands, "Will someone please explain what the fresh fuck is going on?"

"Well… since you explained everything to us, we owe you an explanation, don't we?" Queen said uncomfortably.

"Welcome to Lila's shithole heart!" Skull said with a mock-cheer, raising his hands outwards.

"...Huh?" was all that came out of the pink-haired kid's mouth.

"Okay, we're in another reality based off of Lila's distorted beliefs & desires. We're taking something from a lookalike of her that will make her a better person. We don't exactly know what it looks like yet, but we know where to find it," Joker said quickly, "I'd love to give you a more detailed explanation, but we really don't have time."

"Stay with one of us at all times, and shout if the bad guys get too close, okay?" Beat added on.

"I...I can do that," Alix finally nodded, deciding to simply go along with it.

"Wait, we're not seriously taking her with us, are we?" Fox gasped.

"We have to," Chance insisted, "we don't have time to send her back, and like I said earlier, if Bunnix sent her a message, we will need her for something."

"Yeah, if the older me wants me here, then I'm staying!" Alix argued stubbornly.

"...Fine. But do as Beat said, and don't wander off! Got it?!" Mona ordered.

"Okay, okay, got it! Sheesh!" Alix raised her hands up.

"Let's go. We've wasted enough time already!" Joker proclaimed before running off. The rest of the group followed suit.

To the surprise of the Parisians, there weren't a ton of enemies as they made their way through the infiltration route. The Tokies assured them that this was pretty normal, though. Practically a stroke of luck even, since they now had to - as Skull put it - babysit on the job at the moment.

"So… all the things that Lila's said she's done are lies?" the skater asked as they rounded a corner out of the Trophy Garden (Alix had looked like a mix of freaked out and pissed off when she saw the statues).

"Yep! Sure are!" Viper confirmed.

"I knew it!" the skater shouted with glee.

She was then immediately swung behind a wall corner by Panther, her mouth getting covered as well. Everyone waited with baited breath as a large Shadow stomped by without noticing them.

"What do you mean you 'knew' it?" Chance asked, shooting her a suspicious look.

After Panther released her grip on Alix's jaw, the skater smacking her lips a little from how tight it had been, she explained, "Okay, so I never really suspected she was 'lying,' per se - well, at least not until Hawaii - but… I did notice something else."

"And what was that?" Viper asked.

"No offense meant to her-"

"Oh, take as much offense as you'd like," Chance grumbled. Skull snickered in the background.

"-but… she's sort of a glory hog, isn't she?

"Sort of?" Beat asked with an amused grin.

"Okay, a big attention hog then! Anyway, whenever the girls would talk with her around, she always made it about her; that's why I got tired of her. I didn't think she was lying until Hawaii, though. Oh, you other guys may not - hold up again… you're those Japanese students, aren't you?"

"Just how many people are going to figure us out?" Joker grumbled to himself, going unnoticed by the rest.

"Well, how many other Japanese people do you know that don't like Lila either?" Queen grinned a little.

"Kagami. Adrien's girlfriend," Alix said automatically.

"...You know what, that's fair. But besides her…" Queen admitted.

"...Fair enough," Alix shrugged, "Never mind what I was going to say then, since you guys were there."

"...So, what exactly made you believe she was lying then?" Beat asked, "I'll be honest, I didn't figure it out until I got dragged in here on accident a few days ago."

"Well… because it made sense!' Alix said, not knowing a better way of putting it.

"What made sense?" Chance asked.

"Lots of us have done crazy things or have big names as parents. Adrien, Chloe while she was here, and I have rich parents. Marin-"

"Chance. It's Chance while we're here," Chance interrupted as she started pointing each Phantom Thief out, "the rest of us are Beat, Viper, Joker, Mona, Skull, Panther, Fox, Queen & Oracle."

"...Okay, Chance then. Chance, your parents are pretty big bakers, your uncle is a famous chef, and you yourself have done some pretty cool shit for people like Jagged Stone & Clara Nightingale. So to hear someone else show up spouting achievements seemed decently normal at first, you know?"

"Sure, at first… but really? A song from Jagged Stone? Prince Ali's secret lover? The inspiration for Austin Moon's new album?" Chance deadpanned.

Alix couldn't help but look away, "She fooled almost all of us, Chance. It doesn't excuse our behavior, but it does explain it. I'm… I'm sorry, Chance."

"I'm willing to forgive you, Alix, but it'll take a while," Chance said honestly.

Alix nodded, but then felt a hand covering her eyes this time. These ones must belong to Fox, considering all she saw was blue.

"Hey, what-"

"Shh! Just keep walking," he ordered quietly before speed walking with her, preventing her from seeing what was going on. She heard the sound of double doors opening and shutting. She could have sworn she heard one or two of the Thieves gagging as they walked.

After the sound of another set of double doors opening and closing, Fox removed his hand.

Alix was more concerned than confused when she spotted some of the teens looking sick. Whatever was in there, it wasn't something they wanted her to see.

Most of the rest of the time, they were quiet, hiding from Shadows every other hallway.

It wasn't until they made it to the familiar old, rusty doors that should have led to the throne room that things got interesting.

Doors that were swung wide open.

"...That wasn't there before!" Skull exclaimed as he and the others gaped at the new path laid before them.

"They must have moved the Treasure down this path," Queen deduced.

"Okay, but how do we-"

"Hold on!" Chance interrupted Panther, her eyes narrowed, "Mona, let me borrow a stone."

"Um… sure?" Mona said, tossing one over, confused.

Taking a breath, and tossing the pebble up and down a few times, Chance then tossed it forward… and it phased right through the floor. Upon contact, the rest of the room and path evaporated.

"Holy shit!" Skull shouted, jumping back.

In front of them wasn't the throne room or even an empty passageway, but a death trap. Had any of them stepped into the room, they would have fallen down a sloped ramp and slid right into a trap of spikes that shot up and down randomly. Beyond that, there were a ton of other things that would have spelled an unpleasant end for all of them.

"This is so insane!" Panther gasped, "How are we supposed to get past this?!"

"It looks like our calling card changed Lila's cognition in more ways than one. It's like with Kaneshiro," Mona observed.

"Everyone, over there!" Viper pointed. Squinting, the group finally saw what he was looking at. There was a lever in the middle of all the chaos.

"You think that's what will turn all of this off?" Joker asked.

"It has to," Viper insisted, "look. There's something blocking the Treasure's door too!"

"Okay, but… how do we get to it?" Beat asked, "Even if you two used your Miraculous…"

Unbeknownst to them, Alix narrowed her eyes, scanning the area. Why did this layout look so familiar? Then it hit her!

"It's a roller-rink!" Alix gasped. A crafty grin spread across her features, and she knelt down and tightened her laces.

"Whoa, hold it, what are you doing?!" Oracle exclaimed, "You're not going down there!"

"Hey, you said I needed to be here for a reason right? Well, this is it!" Alix argued, "It has to be!"

"Alix, no! It's too dangerous!" Chance exclaimed, "You'll get killed!"

Alix actually scoffed, before lowering into a set running position, "No I won't!"

Before anyone could stop her or protest further, Alix took off, skidding down the ramp in her roller-blades.

( Listen as you read the following scene.)

Using her momentum to her advantage, Alix tucked her legs underneath her and leaped over the spikes. She then leaned over backward, nearly backflipping, sliding underneath a swinging ax.

"What in the…" Queen gaped, her mouth hanging open like a hashbrown in its bag.

"OHHHHH! GO GO GO!" Skull cackled, laughing hard.

With a grunt, Alix swerved to the side, skating up the wall, and around a pool of what looked like acid, doing the same thing to the opposite wall.

At one point, she did stumble, slamming against one of the walls with her back, spikes shooting out by either side of her head.

The Phantom Thieves could only look on in horror when they saw that. Skull stopped laughing immediately.

However, the spikes soon retreated back into the wall, and taking a breath to calm her racing heart, Alix took off again, this time jumping a gap with a forward flip, cartwheeling upon landing on the other side.

From the entrance to the arena (what else could they possibly call it?), the Phantom Thieves' eyes tracked the skater through every turn, flip, and trick she did to maneuver around the obstacles, their heads turning this way and that.

Finally, from one final ramp, the lever was in sight, and using all the speed she could build up, Alix leaped, hands outstretched, and latched onto the lever. Fortunately, her weight was enough to pull the lever down with her, and the floor underneath snapped shut and all the hanging contraptions disappeared back into the ceiling.

But most importantly, the barrier blocking the Treasure room also slipped back into the floor.

"Open sesame!" Alix shouted from where she still hung from the lever, a huge grin on her face.

"...That was the most reckless, crazy, stupid… but also the most amazing thing I've ever seen," Chance exclaimed as she and other Thieves ran to the center of the room.

"Mental note: learn more about skating and shit. HOLY 'EFF, THAT WAS BADASS!" Skull cheered.

Alix grinned, proud as a peacock as she finally let go, landing safely in Viper's arms.

"I guess now we know why Bunnix wanted her younger self here," Mona said with a giant grin on his face, "I'll admit, that was pretty awesome to watch."

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's get going!" Alix pumped her fist in the air.

"Right," Joker nodded before leading the way to the doors. Being wary of any additional traps, the group snuck down the hall. To their luck, no further traps were laid. But…

"...Are you kidding me?" Joker sighed when the door jiggled but didn't open.

"Move aside," Chance grinned, before glancing down at Tikki, sharing a similar grin. With a flourish, the Kwami vanished into the lock. After a small click was heard, the doors creaked open.

"...Ha, ah, ah! There it is!" Mona cried in excitement as a large, gold laurel wreath tiara greeted them, floating in the air.

"Holy cow, that's huge!" Beat muttered in shock.

"See? It's just like we told you," Panther grinned, "Now all we need to do is take it!"

"Are you sure these are Lila's desires?" Chance asked dubiously, "It seems way too pretty for that."

"That's usually been the case, unfortunately," Joker confessed, "but yes, this is it."

"Heh-heh, heh-heh!" Mona giggled hysterically, eyes shining.

"Um… what's up with Mona?" Viper asked, eying the cat with a quirked eyebrow.

"Uh… well," Queen started.

With a shrill caterwaul, Mona leaped on the tiara and started rubbing his face against the shining metal.

The Tokyo Phantom Thieves just looked annoyed, while the Parisian ones plus Alix could only stare, uneasy & confused. Even Sass and Tikki looked a little unnerved.

"...Are you dudes sure that he's not a cat?" Beat eventually asked.

"Oh, trust us, we've been asking ourselves that since Day 1," Skull groaned.

"Mona, I believe we still have a job to do!" Fox said loudly, which was enough to catch the cat's attention.

With a flush of embarrassment, Mona leaped off the tiara and dusted himself off.

"Er, right," he cleared his throat, "anyway, let's get this thing out of here!"

"No need to tell us twice," Beat said as he and the others gathered around the tiara, gently lowering it down.

"Once this is out of the Palace, Lila will change, right?" Chance asked.

"That should be what happens," Queen nodded.

"All right then, let's go," Viper said.

It took some maneuvering, but the group managed to slowly carry the tiara out of its vault and into the main room. Chance suddenly stopped dead in her tracks.

"Hey, what's the big idea?" Skull asked.

"Everyone… stay calm," Viper whispered urgently.

Following his line of sight, the PTs soon saw what had made Chance stop in the first place.

Where the ceiling used to look normal, it was now covered with hundreds of glistening indigo and black wings.

Each and every one of the group gulped simultaneously.

As if on signal, the moths, like a cloud of thick smoke, descended on the group.

"Agh! No!"

"Get back!"

"Fuck the hell off!"

"Go away!"

Fortunately, none of the moths merged with any of the team or Alix's clothes, but the attacking swarm forced them to drop the tiara with a clank. In another flash of light, it disappeared, and the moths backed off.

"Nu-uh-uh…" a citrus-sweet voice scolded from behind them, "Don't you know that it's not nice to take something that doesn't belong to you?"

The group didn't even need to turn around to know who it was, as the Imperatrix herself smiled coyly from the top of the stairs, her tiara twirling around her finger.

"I'll admit, I was impressed that you managed to see through my trap, even if you had to rely on a peasant outsider to get through the security."

"Say what now?" Alix roared.

"I suppose everyone needs to hold a couple of pawns in reserve to get what they want," the Shadow Self shrugged, barely regarding the skater.

"I ain't nobody's pawn!" Alix snarled, "I made some mistakes, that's true, but you're still making ones now! If you'd been honest with all of our class, you know we'd have been your genuine friends! Instead, you've got fake friends who're only interested in you for your stories. What the hell do you possibly plan to gain from all that?"

Shadow Lila was silent for a few moments, before chuckling, as if the answer was obvious, "What do I gain, you ask? Their focus. Their admiration. I'm the queen bee that Chloe Bourgeois could only dream of becoming! I'm the center of attention, the one they adore! Who cares if it's a foundation of lies, so long as they worship me? I'm a higher breed of human, you know!"

"'Higher breed'?" Chance asked incredulously, "Is that why you tried to expel me?"

"Please," Shadow Lila scoffed, "You defied the Imperatrix - the Empress of the school. What else was I supposed to do to get you out of my way?"

"Uh, you coulda ignored her, maybe?" Skull asked as if talking to a three-year-old.

"How does the old saying go?" Lila's suppressed self asked, "Uproot the weed now before it spreads?"

"...You were scared, weren't you?" Oracle accused, "Because Marinette knew, you knew there was a minuscule chance she could unravel everything. That's why you did all of what you did!"

"All because I wouldn't believe you?" Chance roared, "If you had just been honest from the start, I would have given you a chance! Heck, I still tried to give you a chance - multiple times !"

"And yet the second I open my mouth, your precious friends are more willing to believe me over you," Shadow Lila laughed, "Those idiots would believe anything. If I'm ever caught, I could just as easily tell them that my 'illness' was acting up. They would believe it. After all, they believed me about all my other injuries."

Viper pointed out, "Your lies only work with emotional appeal to make people feel sorry for you or obligated to help you. Eventually, people will get tired of it… and then what? You'll just move on to the next school?"

Shadow Lila shrugged. "The next school, the next community, the next city, the next country…doesn't matter. It's worked for me so far."

"And you've left a trail of bodies in your wake as well," Fox reminded her.

Alix snapped to attention at that, recalling the room Fox had refused to let her see. Her eyes zipped over from Fox to Shadow Lila to Fox again. Fox only nodded gravely at her. Alix nodded back, a grateful look on her face.

"You know you could have just left people that didn't believe you alone, right?" Joker inquired, "Why did you have to push them to kill themselves?!"

Laughing, Lila responded, "Oh my, do you have short term memory? I've already told you, I never laid a finger on them. All of their 'suffering' was caused by their own friends. Like that annoying wannabe-opera singer for example."

"Ivanka…?" Panther murmured.

"All I had to do was spin a little tale about Ivanka messing with the sound equipment at a play audition, which is why she got the part and not me. And I only wanted the part because it was a role my sweet, sweet grandma played in school too! Why she even threatened me not to audition at all, and said I would regret it if she saw me try to."

"...What did you do?" Queen asked angrily.

"How many times do I have to tell you? I didn't do anything. But my dear 'friends' decided to help me get back at her… who knew a couple of drops of hydrochloric acid was all it took to put her in her place? I'm honestly still wondering how they managed to get their hands on that. Friends in higher places, perhaps?"

"No… You went that far?!" Panther gasped.

"And then a month later, she finished herself off because she was too stubborn to bow down to me! It served her right! Oh, if only I had been there to see it happen myself… to see my enemy admit defeat in the most pitiful way possible? What glory that would have been! And I was so close to adding you to the list too, Mari. If only your annoying boyfriend didn't interfere!"

Chance's face pales and she feels bile rise up her throat. Viper glares defiantly at the Shadow.

"...Viper? What is that supposed to mean?" Beat spoke up first. Tears gathered in Chance's eyes.

"Marinette… did try to commit suicide, once," Viper admitted sorrowfully.

Despite the masks, looks of shocked horror spread across the room, with the exception of Tikki, Sass, Shadow Lila & the two Phantom Thieves in question.

"...When?" Beat asked. Alix looked at a loss for words.

"I was returning an assignment Juleka left at home when I heard crying in the boys' bathroom. Chance must have wandered in there by mistake. She'd ripped off her earrings and was about to… to slit her wrist."

Shadow Lila sneered as Viper continued, "I stopped her and helped slow the bleeding. That was the day I found her other identity out, just so we're clear. Luckily, you were in between periods at the time, so I brought her to the Liberty and bandaged her with my Mom's help. Chance didn't want to go to the hospital or tell her parents about this.

"Mom relented eventually, but made her promise to tell someone like her or me if it ever happened again. I suppose… I suppose it's why I'm so protective of her." Viper finished as Sass floated down to rest gently on his holder's head, "I mean… I always have been… but after that…"

"So that's why…" Mona said, his ears flattening. Beat & Alix looked horrified.

"So that's where the blood was from?" Beat asked, mostly to himself. A hand grasped his stomach as he struggled to keep his breakfast down.

"Hold on a tick," Alix piped up, "How do you know Mari tried to… you know…?"

"The idiots at school may have believed the whole 'home injury' excuse, but I didn't," Shadow Lila sneered, "I've seen it before. What else could it be when someone comes to school with their wrist wrapped up, with a long-sleeved shirt even?"

"...You know what? That's enough, Lila," Alix said, her head rising to stare the supposed Imperatrix in her golden eyes.

"You wanna fuckin' go?" she said to the shock of Chance & Beat (like Skull, Alix would use any curse word except for fuck, albeit with the exception of extreme emotion), "Let's fucking go!"

Wow, wasn't this overdue…

A gripping aching wracked Alix's head. She clutched her sides and fell to her knees.

" How many times are you fools going to suddenly gain superpowers? " Shadow Lila bellowed in agony & rage.

"Serves you right…" Skull mumbled to himself. Joker chuckled ominously, as usual.

You've waited for so long to dig deep enough… now you have the opportunity. Are you going to run and hide, or will you leap into action?

"Mmmrph…" Alix groaned. There was something on her face, she hazily noted, and it needed to go, immediately.

I am thou, thou art I… the time for waiting is over. Let's reach out and see what we can do!

"I'm ready…" Alix said as she shakily rose to her feet and ripped off her mask.


The Phantom Thieves, all smirking knowingly, shielded their eyes against the pillar of flame that erupted where Alix stood.

When the fire faded, with a mighty roar, a large shadowy mass in the form of a freaking bear stomped its front paws down on the tile, cracking it ever-so-slightly. On its back was a woman with deer antlers sprouting out of her strawberry-blonde hair. Her clothes looked somewhat like that of a Native American, covering her breasts and torso in some kind of thick animal hide. In the woman's hands was a humongous golden pugio, and interestingly enough, its pommel was shaped like a large golden apple.

Alix herself was clad in an outfit similar to that of when she was Timebreaker, but it was more like that of a biker outfit than it had been as the akuma. The helmet she wore partially obscured her eyes, serving as the mask.

"That's a freaking bear…" Skull muttered.

"I thought her thing was bunnies, though," Panther added, though a small smirk was on her face all the same.

"So, you wanna fuck with my friends, huh?" Alix snarled, "We'll see about that!"

"Ugh, fine! If you want to fight so bad, then let's get the crushing over with…" Shadow Lila grinned as she began to transform. Her face narrowed, forming a large canine snout, and her teeth grew much sharper, poking out between her jaws. Her dress ripped as her form grew larger and furrier, but she remained on two feet. A colossal and very intimidating longsword appeared in her hand.

Her most distinct feature, though, was the wave of long puffy tails that grew from behind her. They lashed madly, cracking like bullwhips.

L I L A “L I L I T H” R O S S I

"All right, furry," Joker declared with a slight snicker at his quip, "It's time we took you down!"

Lila roared in challenge, loudly enough that the room shook, her clawed hands gripping her longsword.

"Careful, guys," Queen said, "Kitsune are known for being tricksters. Don't do anything reckless!"

"We're ready! Let's do this!" Chance shouted just as the first tail came swinging down.

Chapter Text

Dust billowed from the mark Lila's tail smash made, as each of the Persona wielders leaped out of harm's way. Several coughed and waited for the smoke to clear.

"Agh!" Skull gasped, barely raising his club in time to block a strike from-

"Woah! Queen! It's me, Skull!" he shouted frantically.

"Hey! What's the big idea, Beat!" Alix (come to think of it, they needed to think of a codename for her) exclaimed, nearly getting tackled by Beat.

"What's happening?!" Panther shouted, barely dodging Fox's sword slash.

"Hold up! Persona!" Viper shouted calling upon Terpander, "Garula!"

With a burst of wind that blew through the entire room; the three attacking PTs froze and blinked.

"What the-? Alix, where'd Lila go?!"

"What are you talking about! You were attacking me this whole freaking time!"

"That's it! Illusions!" Chance shouted.

"Lila somehow tricked you three into attacking the others, making you think it was her!" Oracle added.

"Kitsune. Tricksters. Lies. Makes sense," Joker growled, eyes narrowing at the monster in front of them. All he received in return was a feral snarl.

"Wait, so how are we supposed to figure out what's real, and what… well, isn't?" Skull demanded.

"I don't know, but I bet it has something to do with those tails," Mona theorized, "What else do we know about kitsune besides illusion casting?"

"I know in some stories they can control all the elements," Queen informed them, "as well as transform into anything."

Before anything further could be discussed, a bright light surrounded Shadow Lila, forcing the group to shield their eyes. When the light faded, Chance nearly groaned.

At least a dozen replicas of the monstrous liar had assembled in front of the group.

"GODDAMNIT!" Skull cursed, "How are we supposed to figure the real one out?"

"Only one way to find out!" Panther shouted, before lashing her whip at one of the duplicates. With a mocking giggle, it vanished in a cloud of smoke.

"Guys, get back!" Beat shouted, whipping out his gun. Once the rest of the team moved out of the way, Beat fired rapidly at the crowd. There was a small yelp of pain from the one near the center as the rest vanished like the last one did.

"Wait a second… everyone, next time she tries something like that, don't attack right away!" Oracle ordered, "I wanna test something I thought I saw!"

"We're counting on you, Oracle!" Fox shouted.

"Pestēs!" the Shadow Self sneered before a light flashed again. This time when it cleared, there was a large row of ballistas, locked and loaded aimed directly at the group.

"Fuck! Move!" Viper cried as the ballistas fired away.

"Hold it!" Oracle shouted.

Just as the arrows were about to hit, Necronomicon swooped down in front of them, taking the shots… only for the attacks to vanish into the air.

"I got! I know how to tell the difference!" the Navigator proclaimed.

"Well, don't keep us waiting!" Joker exclaimed.

"It's the shadow! None of those illusions just now had one!" she explained.

"The shadow… of course! Illusions are just tricks of the eye!" Chance realized, "They aren't made of any kind of matter or substance, so of course nothing is there to reflect the light!"

"Then let's watch for that," Alix said, punching her fist into her palm.

With a roar of anger, Shadow Lila raised her tails again, then with a swish, two simultaneous attacks of ice and fire barreled towards the group.

"Those aren't illusions!" was the only warning Mona was able to exclaim before the attacks hit, sending them flying backward.

"Dammit! Even though we know how to tell, we barely have any time to register it before deciding to dodge or not!" Viper said.

"We may need to be as sneaky as her in this," Panther muttered.

"What do you suggest? One of us sneak up behind her or something?" Alix asked sarcastically.

"That's worked several times before…" Joker muttered.

"Hey! Wait a second, that was sarcasm!" Alix protested.

"Even so, if we could find a way to do that…" Joker mumbled to himself, deep in thought.

"It can't be Chance," Queen muttered, "Lila would notice she's missing right away…"

"I can do it again," Mona whispered with a grin, "I'm the least likely to be noticed sneaking off."

"That could work," Skull smirked.

"They're seriously serious!" Alix said softly in shock.

"If this has worked before…" Chance said quietly as she dodged another blast of fire as a precaution, "then I trust them. Let's do it!"

"Just give the signal when you're ready Joker," Mona grinned with a wink.

"Right…" the Phantom Thief leader smirked.

"Sure, just tell me your plan right in front of me!" Lila cackled as her tails whipped outwards again, this time sending waves of wind and nukes. Not wanting to take chances, the group dodged the attacks, which were indeed real again. It seemed Lila was planning to stick to her illusions if they figure out how to get past them already.

"We need to draw her attention somehow," Queen said.

"You think all of you are so special because of some extra powers. Well, take that away and what are you?!" the Kitsune shouted.

"Um… honest, hard-working students?" Panther quipped, "And what about you? You spend so much energy on your lies, but don't even try to make a name for yourself in some other way so you do have something to brag about!"

"Oh I will!" the monster sneered, "Once those goodie-goodie heroes are finally dealt with, the Miraculous will be in the correct hands! Like Volpina's! Me!"

"Um…" Beat hesitated, knowing that this could backfire spectacularly, "I think Volpina sucked!"

The kitsune monster actually froze for a second, before her pupils contracted and with a furious roar, actually leaped towards the DJ.

With a scream of terror, Beat ran for his life. However, the PTs weren't going to take this window of distraction for granted.

"Mona, go!" Joker hissed urgently, pointing towards the stairs.

"You got it!" the cat-like being saluted.

"Tikki, Sass, go with him just in case," Chance ordered.

"Underssstood," the Snake kwami bowed, while Tikki nodded in affirmation.

"Volpina isn't the only one that sucks!" Alix screamed with Atalanta firing a Freila at one of the kitsune's tails, "Timebreaker, Bubbler, all of Hawkmoth's goons do! And that fact that you're praising them is totally BS!"

"Those with power make the rules, dummy!" Shadow Lila snarled, barely flinching from the attack, "Those who don't, follow them!"

"Hawk-bastard has all the power, huh?" Skull growled, "And what makes you think he's going to share any of it with you?!"

"Can't you see that you're just a pawn to him, Lila?!" Chance exclaimed after Mulan fired a Kouga at her, "That's his entire MO! He's just using you! The second he gets what he wants, he'll just toss you away! What possibly makes you think he's going to hold a deal with you?! And at what cost?"

"Tacēte! I won't listen to a word of what you have to tell me!" Shadow Lila bellowed.

"Lila, we'll ask again, what on Earth did you plan to achieve from those lies?!" Beat exclaimed, "And so what if Ladybug called you out?! You could have just apologized, it wouldn't have been that hard!"

"How else was I supposed to get his attention?! Adrien only has eyes for Ladybug, and always will!"

"Well, if you knew that, why did you still try to do it?!" Beat demanded, "And besides, his relationship with Kagami seems genuine enough, even you can see that!"

"She's just a replacement!" the kitsune scoffed, "He's settling for second best, is all!"

Chance wanted to scream at Lila saying that she was wrong, but held her tongue. She knew that the fox was just baiting them.

"All right…" Viper started calmly, "you think your plan would have worked so flawlessly? Then what do you think would happen if someone actually talked to Ladybug about you? What then?"

"She was never supposed to find out!" the kitsune shrieked, "I had Adrien hanging off my every word before she came in and ruined it! She made me look like a liar!"

"You say that as if you aren't one already…" Fox pointed out in disgust.

"He would have figured it out eventually!" Beat defended, "You said you were a superhero, but what do you think would happen if you couldn't transform or something?!"

"Big talk coming from you of all people," Shadow Lila taunted, "you were a superhero and now you can't transform yourself!"

"True, but you can thank your 'buddy' Hawkmoth for that!" Beat retaliated, throwing an Eiga at her. Viper nodded in agreement.

"Funny how disposable you are to her, huh?" Lila smirked, "I mean, it's clear that the same person can have two different hero identities. If she really wanted you, Ladybug could have helped you out there."

"That...that's my own fault!" Beat argued, "I lost her trust, and deserved it too!"

"And that's a prime example there, Lie-la!" Alix argued, "Chloe willingly helped Hawkmoth, and once things started going south, he left her! Now look where she is!"

"Oh please! I'm not as stupid as Chloe Bourgeois!"

"...But apparently the fox isn't smart enough to notice the leopard sneaking up behind it," Joker smirked.

Lila didn't get the chance to register what Joker said when she felt something sharp pierce into her back.

With a scream of agony and rage, Lila flung around trying to knock Mona off. However, that was simply another distraction.

In the process of Lila's transformation, the tiara had morphed from a headpiece into a golden collar. As Mona rodeoed around on the kitsune's back, smiling gleefully as he did so, Sass and Tikki got to work to unhinge it.

It wasn't too difficult to unlatch the gold hook and the collar fell with a clank once again to the floor.

With a cackle of his own, Mona flipped off the fox and landed gracefully next to Joker and Queen, who both smirked victoriously.

"Y-You!" Lila shrieked in outrage.

"It's over for you!" Chance shouted, signaling for an All-Out Attack. In a flurry of movement, the Phantom Thieves charged, slicing and bludgeoning the Shadow with everything they had.

With a final flash of light, the tiara shrunk and shifted to its original form again, rolling to a stop at Chance's feet.

"Dammit!" Shadow Lila cursed, falling to her knees in exhaustion.

"Are you done?" Chance asked, picking up the laurel wreath gently.

Lila snarled, "No! This isn't over! I won't-I won't settle for this!"

"Are you serious?!" Skull demanded, "Just save yourself the trouble and admit defeat!"

"At least you can keep some dignity if you do so now," Fox added with a scowl.

"NO!" she screamed, "If I can't have it my way, then no one can!"

"Lila, you've lost!" Viper snapped, "Even if you tried to, you'd just be beaten again!"

"No…" she giggled, "he won't let me be beaten…" she snickered almost hysterically, "I… I'm much too valuable to him to let it end here!"

"What…?" Queen whispered.

"Hawkmoth…" Lila said as she stood up shakily. She threw her arms out wide as if to embrace something, "Assist your most trusted servant now! Help me to crush my enemies and your foes at once!"

"She can't be serious!" Beat gasped.

"She's lost her mind…" Panther agreed.

Before anyone could voice any further opinions, the ground shook. Then it shook again, harder.

Then, the windows around the room darkened.

"Don't tell me…" Chance muttered fearfully.

With shatters of glass, thousands of akumas began pouring in through the broken windows.

Over the roaring of the wind picking up, the only sound heard otherwise was the insane cackle of Lila as the moths swarmed her form like a twister of black smog.

Then, with a burst of energy, the room itself shattered into pieces, bricks falling haphazardly from the extreme height of the tower they had climbed.

Chance jerked forward, the tiara still in her grasp. She grunted as she tried to keep a hold on it, but with one final tug, the wreath flew like a comet back towards the mass of darkness now hovering in the air.

Finally, like a butterfly breaking from its cocoon, the cloud dispersed, the akumas flying this way and that.

In the center where the Imperatrix once stood was another being. Skin as tinted violet, that seemed to be highlighted by the black moth wings now attached to its back. Hair no longer in its sausage tails, but fanned out like electricity was coursing through it. Her dress was no longer orange with a purple sash but black that faded out into violet at the tips, though the overall design was still quite romanesque.

"Now fAce tHe WraTh oF LorD HawKMoth'S mOSt TruSteD sErvAnT!" she bellowed, her wings picked up wind as they flapped behind her.

"I thought the fight was over…." Oracle said, "But it looks like it's just begun!"

"Everyone, brace yourselves!" Joker exclaimed.


Chapter Text  

LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH, FURCIFEROS ! ” Lilith screeched. In each of her hands, a humongous cage was grasped.

THAT SAID, I HAVE LESS QUARREL WITH YOU JAPANESE BRATS… ” Before anyone could react, Lilith smashed the Tokies (minus Oracle) with the cages, causing a magic flash. When the light died down, the sextet of Tokyo-goers was inside the cages.

“NO!” Chance shouted. 

“Hey! No fair, this is cheating!!” Skull exclaimed angrily, banging against the bars with Fox and Queen. Joker, Panther, and Mona were occupying the other one.

THIS IS BETWEEN YOU FOUR AND ME! ” Lilith screamed, violently banging the cages together.

“Us four, huh…” Beat murmured, “What do you say, Chance?”

“When we take you down, you free our friends. Do we have a deal?” Chance eventually said, her tone resolute.


“Try us…” Viper growled, shifting to battle position and ripping off his mask to begin, “Terpander! Garula!” 

The musician Persona appeared, sending a gust of sharp wind towards the akumatized Lilith. She grunted in pain as some of the wind blades sliced her form.

“Mulan! Kouga!”

“Shaka Zulu! Eiga!”

“Atalanta! Freila!”

Each of the attacks crashed into the Shadow, but it only seemed to annoy her.

“TAKE THIS!!” she shrieked, her wings extending. With a sharp flap of said wings, a great gust billowed up and slammed into the Parisians. 

“All right! How about this, then?!” Oracle exclaimed, the only Japanese thief not captured, “Speeeeeeed up!”

Alix, Beat, Chance & Viper felt much lighter on their feet. They were sure that if they wanted to run a mile, they’d barely break a sweat doing so. 

Chance bit her lip. Besides the fact that Lilith was able to fly out of reach, she was concerned for the Tokies’ safety as well… and she’d learned through experience to never trust this horrible girl. So she had to do something.

Drawing her crossbow, Chance shot a couple of shots - not at Lilith, but at the cages she held.

“HEY! WHAT DID I SAY EARLIER!!” the monster shouted, “THIS IS OUR FIGHT!

“You’ve cheated, lied, and been generally dirty, Lila,” Viper snarked, “Every doctor hates the taste of their own medicine, I suppose.”


“Aim for the cages! We need to get them out first!” Chance ordered.

“No more excuses, Lila,” Beat grinned, “Let’s finish this. You two ready?”


The sound of something above Lilith caught her attention. She looked up just in time to have Alix heel-kick her face in.

As she fell to the ground, she dropped the cages, which broke down on contact with the ground. Quickly, the Tokies & Alix escaped their bonds and dashed over to the side of Chance, Viper, & Beat.

“You all okay?” Chance asked.

“Never better,” Skull grinned, “Now let’s catch us a fox!”

The group surrounded Lilith, ranged weapons pointed right at her face.

“THAT WAS A CHEAP TRICK! Lilith snarled.

“But apparently effective enough to work, wasn’t it?” Alix smirked.

“You can try and divide us all you want Lila,” Beat exclaimed, “it ain’t going to work!”

“Phantom Thieves, together!” Joker commanded, and the team tore into her with an All-Out Attack.

The mighty team attack managed to deal a lot of damage, but it wasn’t quite enough. Lilith rose to her feet as the Phantom Thieves scurried to a decent distance. They didn’t want to get trapped again, after all.

“Too bad we don’t have some kind of ballista to take her down,” Mona muttered in annoyance.


Several pillars of purple miasma rose up in front of the group. When they faded, they gasped. 

“Hail to Lord Hawkmoth!” perfect copies of the previously akumatized Parisians stood in front of them. Timebreaker, Bubbler, Silencer, and even an akumatized Ladybug from the Heroes’ Day illusion as well.

“What the hell?!” Skull exclaimed.

“Everyone, careful! We’ll handle this!” Alix shouted, narrowing her eyes.

“You sure?” Panther asked.

“Of course. They’re us , after all,” Beat smirked.

As if by signal, Bubbler took his large bubble blower and threw several red bubbles at the group; they had dispersed within seconds.

“Watch out!” Chance warned and everyone quickly ran to avoid the bubbles, which exploded moments later.

“Akuma Charm!” the akumatized Ladybug shouted, throwing her evilized yo-yo in the air. A machine gun fell into her hands. She wasted no time beginning to fire mercilessly at the group.

“Shaka Zulu!” Beat exclaimed, summoning his Persona. Not wasting another second, the warrior threw his shield in front of the group, protecting them from the volley of bullets.

The second the shield lifted after the volley, Alix and Viper barely had time to block some physical attacks from their akumatized forms. Fortunately for them, the powers of Timebreaker & Silencer did not carry over, so Alix didn’t dissipate into thin air, nor was Viper robbed of his voice.

“Manticore!” Joker exclaimed, apparently having had enough, “Ravage them with Double Shot!”

The gun spell ripped into Timebreaker, causing it to dissipate into Shadow.

“Feel my rage!” Queen shouted, summoning Johanna and throwing a Mafreila at the rest of the akumas. With shrieks of pain, the other akumas faded away as well.


“Lila, you and Hawkmoth are fighting a pointless fight!” Chance shouted, “That’s why you’ll never win!”

“SHUT UP! SHUT UP!! SHUT UP! ” the monstrous form of Lila shouted, before swooping into midair and charging at Chance. 

“Ugh… are you done?” Chance groaned, before nocking her last arrow. Steady… steady…



Struck down by the arrow, Lilith screamed and collapsed to the ground, skidding to a stop right in front of Chance. She was enveloped in a dark purple light, and when that was gone, Shadow Lila was all that remained.

Shadow Lila groaned as she struggled to her knees. Not wasting a second, Viper grabbed the laurel wreath and wrenched it away from her grasp. 

“No!” she cried in despair, “Don’t you dare! If you take that, I’ll turn into a goody two-shoes like you!”

“And what’s so wrong about that?” Alix demanded, “‘It’s worked for us so far,’ after all.”

“But without my popularity, I’m nothing!”

“...Lila, you don’t need to be popular to make friends,” Chance said, “Look at Chloe. She was ‘popular’ too, but the only people she had were Sabrina and Adrien. And even then, they were only ‘friends’ with her because either she was their only friend or because she manipulated them. Look where it got her...”

“You focus so much on what you can achieve now with your lies, but what about the future?” Queen asked, “You may have fooled people now, but in the real world, it will never work as well as you want it to. You’ll only get so far… and just because you can’t do something doesn’t give you the right to decide what others deserve and/or don’t.”

“Not to mention half of the things you bragged about are barely going to be remembered anymore after a while,” Alix added, “I’d wager we’d have forgotten or grown sick of you by the time university rolls around. We’ll have our own problems to deal with by then.”

“Did it ever occur to you that the people who called you out just wanted to help you?” Joker asked, “That they wanted to be your friend? That’s what friends are supposed to do, after all. Help people that they care about improve.”

“...Fine. You’ve convinced me… I’ll stop and confess everything.”

Beat gave her a look. “You say that… but do you really mean it? After all, you’re a noted liar. Thanks to what you’ve done, I don’t know how to trust you anymore.”

“...For once, I mean it. I’ll even delete those photos of you and Marinette and not blackmail you…” Lila’s form began glowing, and it slowly started fading away.

“...Is it over?” Chance asked.

The question was answered for her as the ground began to rumble once again.

“It’s over! And now we’ve got to skedaddle!” Mona proclaimed urgently. With a yowl, Mona leaped up into the air, and with a *pop* a large van replaced where the cat once was.

“Wh-wh- what?!” Nino squawked, sharing similar gaping expressions with the other three Parisians. 

“Just get in!” Skull demanded, wrenching open the car door.

“Uh… okay,” Alix said, deciding to just roll with it. Everyone piled into the bus and Mona took off with a squeal against the stone. 

“HANG ON!!” Mona shouted as he barreled off the side of the tower. All the Phantom Thieves could do was scream as gravity took over and the Monabus started free-falling to the cobblestone streets below…

...Only to feel their bones rattle intensely as they landed hard on their feet on the sturdy concrete streets of France.

“Holy...Cow… That… Please don’t tell me that that is a normal thing you guys do?” Alix gasped.

“Heh, heh,” Ryuji chuckled between breaths, “And if we said yes?”

“I haven’t felt like this since my first akuma fight,” Marinette breathed, hands on her knees. Tikki gave her holder a sympathetic look and patted her head.

“The destination has been deleted.”

“Huh?” Nino gasped, pulled out his phone and pulling up the Nav.

“We did it,” Ann smiled, “That Palace is gone.”

“So… Lila is-”

Before Marinette could finish her question, Alix’s phone suddenly blew up. The skater scrambled to grab it and answer it. She saw that the first couple of texts started around lunch time.

Ladyblogger: Alix where’d you go? Lila’s still a bit freaked out by the cards this morning, so we’re having a sleepover at my place tonight! 

Most of the texts after that were of the other girls sending ideas for activities and even ‘safety measures’ to take in case it was real.

There weren’t any other texts addressed directly to her until around 5:00.

Ladyblogger: Alix where r u?! The sleepover’s starting soon! 

Alix grimaced when she saw that the text had been sent two hours ago along with several other texts sent by the other girls too, asking where she was and if she was okay. Now that she looked around, she realized that it was actually starting to get pretty dark out. How long had they been in that Palace? She sighed and sent a quick reply with an excuse.

Pinkbitch: Hey, sorry, just saw this text. Suddenly wasn’t feeling too good this morning, so I went home. Been sleeping until now.

It wasn’t even five seconds later that she got a reply back.

PurpleBats: That sucks...

Flowerpower: Oh dear! I hope you’re feeling better soon!

Bookworm: Luckily there wasn’t any new homework today, so you’re good there.

Smellywolf: You want us to bring you something? I know a really good chicken noodle soup recipe!

Pinkbitch: Nah, I think it was just a stomach bug. I’m okay now, just not in the mood to go out. You guys have fun. Maybe next time.

Ladyblogger: Okay. But seriously if you need something, let us know.

Alix scowled as she put her phone away.

“Who was that?” Luka asked.

“The other girls from class. They’re having a sleepover at Alya’s house because they’re paranoid about the calling cards,” she answered.

Ann smirked, “Well, hate to tell them this, but that’s not going to help them much.”

“Yeah… oh, where’s the Treasure thing?” Marinette asked.

“This…” Akira said holding up-

“A tiara?” Nino asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“That’s it?” Alix complained, “I’ll be honest, I was expecting something… more treasury?”

“Most of the time, the Treasures in real life aren’t that impressive. With some exceptions…” Yusuke explained with a grimace before shaking his head, “It doesn’t matter what it is except that it is what began their distorted crusade in some way.”

“And I think I know what this one did,” Akira said holding out the tiara, “Look what’s on it.”

Leaning in, the Phantom Thieves read what was on it.

‘Awarded to our gold star student, June Peña.’

“June Peña…” Futaba muttered, “...I don’t remember her being mentioned among the suicide victims. I don’t think she was a trophy either.”

“...This must be when it started,” Marinette realized, “Whatever this crown was meant to award, Lila wanted it so badly that she must have lied to get it. She likely told a lie about June to steal this crown from her so that she could get it instead.”

“And so she realized how ‘useful’ lying could be to get what she wants,” Luka finished.

“What a pitiful creature…” Sass frowned, folding his arms. Tikki just shook her head.

“...I can’t believe it was something as silly as this that started all of this,” Makoto sighed.

“When you think about it though, we kind of have to thank Lila too,” Ryuji said. Upon seeing the incredulous looks from his friends he raised his hands, “H-hear me out! I mean, if it weren’t for her, we likely never would have met Marinette. Or maybe we would have but we wouldn’t… you know?”

“As twisted as that sounds, you’re kind of right,” Ann admitted.

“...So what now?” Nino asked, changing the subject.

“Now, all we can do is wait,” Morgana said. If he was human, he would have shrugged, “We’ve done our part. Now we just have to wait for her to confess herself.”

“And how long does it take?” Marinette asked persistently.

“It depends,” Ryuji said honestly, “Like with Kamoshida and Madarame, it took about a week for them to confess. They also timed it to happen after something else was going on. With Kaneshiro, he turned himself in to the police the very same night.”

“So… all we can do is wait…” Nino summarized glumly.

“Yep,”  Futaba nodded, but she was smiling.

“We understand if you’re feeling a bit antsy,” Ann said, “Ryuji, Akira, and I felt the same way when we stole Kamoshida’s heart. But don’t worry. Everything should be fine! It’s always worked out so far.”

“...Honestly, I’m more concerned about the aftermath of this,” Luka said solemnly. Everyone’s attention turned to him, “Marinette and I have discussed this before, about the damage control we’ll have to clean up once Lila’s lies are exposed. Even though the last two incidents seemed calculated and planned…”

“Wait! You don’t seriously think Hawkmoth would try and pull another Heroes’ Day from Lila’s confession?” Nino exclaimed. Looks of alarm crossed everyone’s faces.

“It’s a possibility…” Marinette muttered, “Even if it’s not planned, if I were Hawkmoth, and I felt all of the negative emotions suddenly emanating from Lila’s confession, I’d at the very least be curious and would be a fool to not take advantage of it.”

“And yet this entire scenario could have easily been avoided if someone spoke up sooner,” Makoto scowled.

Alix nearly growled at the reminder of that. When they had told her in the Palace that Adrien had known about Lila this whole fucking time she had wanted to leap right out of that Palace and slug the blonde in the face. Maybe knock some teeth out for good measure. Lawsuit from Gabriel Agreste for assaulting his star, cash-grab be damned!

“...So what do we do?” Nino asked uncertainly.

“...We get ready,” Marinette frowned determinedly before walking purposefully out of the alleyway, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

No one argued as they watched her leave. That wasn’t Marinette Dupain-Cheng walking away. That was the hero and savior of Paris, France, Ladybug.

Marinette returned not long after, not even five minutes, donned in her Ladybug guise and carrying a rounded object under her arm.

“Mar-Ladybug…” Makoto started when she saw the box.

“I’ll get straight to the point,” Ladybug said authoritatively, “I trust you guys. Your actions in the Palace and in the real world have proven that much. Even so, I’m going to lay down some rules and I expect you to follow them.”

“We’re listening,” Akira said seriously.

“This is a temporary arrangement. I expect you all to return these to me once Lila confesses. So rule number one, don’t transform or use your powers in public. If word gets out that a Miraculous is in Tokyo, that’s going to draw attention that we do not need right now. I will give you permission to practice your powers, but it has to be in a place where no one will see you.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Ann said.

“Rule number two. Don’t tell anyone about your other identity. That should be pretty obvious but I still need to say it.”

“Of course,” Yusuke agreed.

“Rule number three, take care of the Kwami that comes with the Miraculous. These guys aren’t pets, they’re ancient beings that each have a personality of their own. I expect you to treat them with respect and as a close companion.”

“Absolutely,” Makoto nodded.

“No problem!” Ryuji grinned.

“And rule number four. This rule is probably the most important. Don’t give or lend your Miraculous to anyone. These are special, powerful relics, and people have sought after them for centuries. There are likely people out there that are looking for them even now, other than Hawkmoth. Maybe even worse than him. So, if someone asks you where you got it, say you bought it, or it was a gift from a friend. And… if anyone approaches you and asks or threatens you for it specifically, contact me immediately so we can figure out something else.”

“Okay, we’ll do that,” Akira said, agreeing to the conditions with the other Phantom Thieves.

Only then did Ladybug finally smile, “Then let's get to work.”

Chapter Text

Marinette groaned as she flopped on her bed in complete exhaustion. To say that the day had been eventful was an understatement. The heist itself took up most of the day, and then there was the conversation afterward about Hawkmoth's possible retaliation before sending the Phantom Thieves home (she really hoped none of them got in trouble for 'staying out late').

She only hoped that she was making the right call by sending out so many Miraculous all at one time. After all, the reason Master Fu had been hesitant to hand out more than the Black Cat and Ladybug was because he feared Hawkmoth would use the knowledge of more active Miraculouses to find the Guardian.

Technically, that strategy had worked, too. It had taken a while, sure, but Hawkmoth was smart and had bided his time. He knew that Ladybug was getting those other Miraculous from somewhere, so he just needed to find out where and strike!

"What are you thinking about, Marinette?" Tikki asked as she nibbled on a chocolate chip cookie.

"Do… do you think I did the right thing, Tikki?"

"The right thing with Lila, or with the Miraculous?" the kwami questioned.


"...Well, I think you did what was best for yourself. Since you're Guardian of the Miraculous, that means it benefits the Miraculous as well. The Phantom Thieves all seem like good people - they seem to have taken your warning about using them seriously. Plus," Tikki added with a giggle, "Xuppu wouldn't stop talking about Ryuji for a long time after Saruchame's first mission, and you know that Wayzz is fond of Ann already."

"...And Lila?"

"Well… remember when Makoto texted you that night in Hawaii?" Tikki asked, "If someone is hurting you Marinette, there's no shame in asking for help. You'll need help and others that have your back; no one should bear such a burden like yours alone… granted, Fu wasn't like that, but he found good company in Wayzz and the rest of us kwamis alongside the customers at his parlor. You're younger - you'll need more of a support system than he did."

"True… I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad that we stopped Lila, but what if this all backfires? I mean, what if something like Heroes' Day does happen? The last time so many Miraculous were out at once voluntarily, we almost didn't win."

"Marinette, what Hawkmoth did on Heroes' Day was something no one saw coming," Tikki reminded her, "you didn't know how to respond to a situation like that! But now that you know that it's a possibility, and you've taken precautions so that you're ready in case it does happen. How does that human saying go? 'It's better to have something and not need it…'"

"'...Then to need something and not have it,'" Marinette finished with a nod before smiling, "Yeah, you're right, Tikki. Everything should be okay. All we can do is wait now, right?"

"Yep… all we can do is wait…"

The atmosphere at school the next day still felt a bit tense. Everyone was likely still trying to get over the shock of finding the calling cards yesterday. At least her alibi seemed to be holding out, given that she hadn't been summoned to Principal Damocles' office yet.

One thing she did notice during class was that the girls were acting unusual. Other than the fact that Lila was absent (not a huge surprise there), they kept shooting one another strange looks.

It wasn't until lunch that Marinette got some possible background information when Alix joined her at her lunch table.

"Mari!" Alix exclaimed as she glided towards her table and plopped down beside her.

"What's up Alix?"

"Not too much, personally. The girls were telling me what happened at the sleepover last night."

Marinette raised an eyebrow, "What happened?"

"Apparently nothing unusual at first. They watched a movie, painted one another's nails, played Truth or Dare, just the usual stuff."

"But…?" Marinette asked, urging the skater to get to the point.

"...Apparently it was around 11:00 when Lila started acting weird. They wouldn't give me any details, but Liar supposedly locked herself in Alya's bathroom and wouldn't come out until almost midnight. Then when she did come out, she grabbed her stuff and said that she had to go home."

Marinette gasped, eyes widening.

"Then Alya tried to call Lila this morning to ask if she was coming to school. She said Lila sounded awful. Lila told that she wouldn't be making it. Then when Alya tried to ask her more questions, she said that Lila shouted to leave her alone and immediately hung up after. Alya tried to call her back at least ten times, but all of them have gone straight to voicemail."

Marinette's mouth remained open as she absorbed this information. That was strange… However, there were plenty of other possibilities as to why that happened. Maybe Lila ate something that didn't agree with her stomach, or her mom called her and wanted her home for something. But, despite all of these excuses, Marinette had a feeling that it wasn't any of those.

"Hey, dudettes!" Nino greeted as he joined the two girls as well.

"'Sup, Nino?" Alix said.

"How have you been since yesterday?" Marinette asked.

"I've been okay. Nothing weird happened after we got back," the DJ answered with a shrug.

"That's good," Marinette smiled.

"Yeah… but this morning, you won't guess who called me!"

"Who? Alya?" Alix asked sarcastically.

"No. It was Lila."

"Wait, what?!" Marinette gasped, nearly falling out of her chair.

"Yeah," Nino nodded, "she called and said that she deleted the pictures. That was all she said before she hung up."

Alix blinked, "Pictures? What pictures?"

"Oh yeah, you weren't here for that…" Marinette said, "Remember when Nino broke up with Alya?"

"Yeah, I think everyone in school saw that or at least heard it," Alix's tone was joking, but a grimace was present on her face.

"Well… the day before that happened was when I learned about the Metaverse, met Shaka Zulu, and all that jazz. After we got out, Marinette and I had a talk in the park. Long story short, I finally heard and listened to Marinette… and I'm working to fix my mistakes now."

"Yeah… same here, Mari," Alix said, clenching her fist, "I was a god-awful friend to you. I know we were never besties like you and Alya used to be, but… I'm glad you're giving me another chance."

Marinette smiled kindly and nodded gratefully.

"Anyway," Nino continued, "after Marinette finally told me what happened, we hugged and I apologized for not listening to her. But…"

Marinette frowned, "Apparently Lila was close by when this happened, and she took pictures of me and Nino hugging and making up. It wasn't anything intimate, but if out of context… well, you probably guess the assumptions that would be made. She then cornered him in the locker room the day of the break-up and planned to use them to blackmail him."

"... What?" Alix demanded, feeling her anger rise.

"Yeah… she gave me a week to 'think about my answer'," Nino shuddered, "but honestly, I'm not sure if she would have waited a week. I'm just glad we took care of everything before that happened."

"No kidding. That's playing dirty right there!" Alix growled.

The two nodded in agreement before Nino looked at Marinette again, "So… does that mean it worked? That Lila's… changed?" he asked, unable to think of a better term to use.

"...I don't know," Marinette answered honestly, "Lila has lied and manipulated so many people that the only word I can think of when I try to describe her is 'liar'. I don't think we have a choice but to wait until Friday passes. If the photos aren't leaked by then, I think only then we'll know that she had told the truth… for once. Either that or wait until she confesses herself."

"Well… something must have happened!" Alix argued, "I mean, I've seen her at sleepovers before, and she wouldn't just leave like that out of the blue."

"I agree," Marinette nodded, "but I think to stay safe we should wait until Friday. Just try and act cool until then, okay?"

"...Yeah. Yeah, you're right," Nino said, still sounding unsure but willing to trust Marinette's word.

"If it helps, I'll let the Tokies know about what happened last night," Marinette decided, "and ask if this is normal. I'll let you know what they say."

The two barely finished nodding when a familiar sound echoed in the cafeteria. Checking it on instinct, the trio was not surprised to see the Akuma alert flashes on the screen. Marinette stifled a groan.

"Go, we'll cover you," Nino said urgently as they got up from the table. According to the alert, the akuma was closer to Versailles than the school, so classes wouldn't be canceled unless the akuma moved over in their direction.

Marinette nodded gratefully and scrambled towards the locker room.

The first thing that nearly greeted Ladybug when she swung towards the Palace of Versailles was an exploding golf ball to the face. It was only thanks to Kobra's immediate interference that she wasn't blasted to pieces the second she got to the battlefield.

"Oh! What a beautiful slice!" a thick accent exclaimed once she and Kobra landed rather roughly on the ground.

"So… rundown?" Ladybug gasped as she leaped to her feet, yo-yo spinning already.

"Duke Hazard is his name," Kobra informed her, "power is basically a dangerous form of golf; namely, the golf balls explode."

"All of them?" Ladybug asked.

"So far…" Kobra nodded, but his eyes told her that he knew what she meant. If some balls exploded, did that mean others did different things, like have built-in nets in them?

"We should still be careful. Any sign of Chat Noir?"

"Not yet, but I'm sure he'll show up… Hopefully, it's soon!"

"Yeah…" she agreed as they leaped away from another exploding golf ball, "You wouldn't happen to know why he got akumatized, would you?"

"No clue! I was in the middle of work when he came swinging in!"

"Hey, leave the puns to me, Scales! That's my department!"

The two heroes looked up in time to see Chat Noir swoop in, rappelling down his staff like a fireman down the pole.

"Nice of you to join us, kitty!" Ladybug smiled.

"Sorry, I'm late. Had a prior engagement," the cat hero winked.

Duke Hazard snarled as the familiar butterfly mask appeared around his face, "Yes, of course, Hawkmoth. All right, you bogies, hand over those Miraculous!"

"I'm afraid you're going to have par-blems doing that, buddy!" Chat shot back, causing Ladybug to groan and Kobra to grimace.

The pun only seemed to tick the akuma off too as he reached back into his golf bag and pulled out some more golf balls, but these ones were black instead of white.

"Oh, lordy," Kobra gulped.

"I'll drive you down the course! Fore!" with a mighty swing the black balls came flying in the heroes' direction. They leaped away, but as soon as the balls hit the ground, large, heavy-looking nets sprang out from the balls.

"Well, this akuma is certainly going to be un-fore-gettable, won't it?" Chat quipped with a grin.

"If you spent half as much time working on that akuma as you did punning, it would be a lot more easily 'fore-gotten,'" Ladybug snapped.

"Sheesh, a little chipper on the tongue today M'Lady-"

"Chat Noir!" Kobra's shout was the only warning Chat Noir got before something hard slammed into his back. Landing with a grunt, the cat hero realized that one of the black balls had trapped him in his net.

"Ugh, Chat," Ladybug groaned, "Fine. Lucky Charm!"

A small, plastic tray of sushi fell into her hands.


"Oh, I know! That's inarizushi! I had it once with a friend!" Chat piped up from his trap.

"Inari… I see! I'll be right back!"

"Huh? Wait where are you-"

"Just trust her, Chat!" Kobra shouted; chucking his lyre at some white golf balls, they exploded into smoke, "You're making yourself look like a greenhorn !"

Chance: Yusuke, where are you right now?

Fox: Kosei Academy, boys' locker room in the B building.

Chance: Oh! That-that was fast!

Fox: We thought it was wise to download the Akuma app when we returned home, just in case.

Chance: Ah, that's smart! Be there in a second!

Putting her phone down on her chaise, Marinette was quick to grab Kaalki. Moments later a portal was open between her bedroom and what was indeed a locker room. Yusuke, who had been sitting on one of the benches, shot up once the portal opened up.

"Time to get down to business, huh?" Trixx grinned as he flew out of Yusuke's book bag.

"I do hope you haven't been up to too much mischief, Trixx," Ladybug chided lightly.

Trixx gasped in mock offense, "Why, I would never…!"

Yusuke smirked and shook his head. True, Trixx was a bit of a handful - after all, he was a fox - but he at least knew when to stay out of sight and quiet - especially during his classes.

"You have a plan yet, Ladybug?" Yusuke asked once he stepped into her room. He struggled not to wince. A little too much pink for his taste, but Marinette was a girl.

"Possibly," she said as she put Kaalki away after tossing her a sugar cube, "Chat Noir been caught. Kobra's keeping him at bay for now, but I'm not sure how much longer he can keep it up."

"I see. Well, I'll follow your lead then," he said adjusting the Fox Miraculous against his chest.

"Great! I'm glad I can count on you, Yusuke!"

The artist nodded, "Trixx, Let's Pounce!"

"I'm running a tight chip here, Alley Chat," Duke Hazard sneered as he towered over the cat hero. Kobra had been forced to retreat briefly before his timer went off. He lowered his hand to grab the ring, "So, we'll make this simple now."

"Cataclysm!" Chat Noir shouted in desperation.

Upon seeing the black energy in his claw, Duke Hazard backed off quickly. He wouldn't be able to take the ring until Chat Noir either destroyed something, or his timer ran out, and from the way the net held his wrists down, he couldn't maneuver to destroy the net.

"Leave him alone! Your actions today have been pre-par-sterous!"

Chat Noir didn't register that his lady had punned when the akuma whipped around and instead of putting it, simply chucked another black ball in Ladybug's direction.

"I got you now, greenie!" he snarled as the trap sprang.

Only for Ladybug to vanish in a cloud of color.

"Eh?!" the akuma gasped before he felt his bag being jerked from his back. He looked up in horror to see a coat hanger attached to a yo-yo flying off with his bag.

Looking up at the roof, Chat Noir spotted Ladybug expertly grabbing the bag and ripping it in two. Next to her was yet another new hero, this time donning Rena Rouge's old guise with the Fox Miraculous.

Ladybug didn't waste any time snatching the moth that emerged from the bag and casting her Miraculous Charm throughout the city, freeing Chat Noir from his prison in the process. Down below, a recharged Kobra sprinted back out and knelt next to the akuma victim. The man was shaken up but overall seemed to be okay.

"Thanks for the help, M'lady!" Chat suddenly snarked as he jumped to the rooftop to join the two.

Ladybug blinked in surprise by her partner's sudden hostility. Kijutsu-shi tensed next to her as well.

Her surprise quickly vanished into a scowl though, "Maybe if you actually paid more attention to battles instead of punning and joking around you wouldn't get captured!"

"You could have stayed and got me out! I get that Kobra had to recharge, but you hadn't used your power yet! You could have done that instead of grabbing another newbie!"

Ladybug groaned, "Chat, my Lucky Charm told me to go get the Fox Miraculous. If I didn't listen we all likely would have gotten captured too!"

Chat hesitated for a second before frowning, "Can I at least know who you're considering for Miraculous? Can you at least do that?!"

Ladybug shook her head, "You wouldn't know them Chat-"

Chat scowled, not liking the response, " We're supposed to be partners, Ladybug! You can't just go ahead and pick and get rid of teammates without me. We both approved of Kobra, I don't see why I can't approve of your choices either! How are we supposed to be a team if you don't trust me with even that?!"

"Chat! It's dangerous for you to know other heroes' identities," Kobra interrupted fiercely, "Ladybug is the Guardian, so she needs to know these things."

"And as I said, Chat, you wouldn't know them even if I told you their identities!"

"You don't know that!" Chat exclaimed angrily at her, "You don't know anything about me!"

Before Chat could continue his tirade, Kijutsu-shi stepped between him and Ladybug, "Is there a problem, Chat Noir?"

Kijutsu-shi's tone actually made Chat Noir step back a little. He knew that tone - it was one that his girlfriend used to use far too often before they became official.

Because of that, he found that no more words could come out of his mouth.

Alya clutched her phone so tightly that her hands were turning white. She had been in the middle of filming the latest battle for the Ladyblog when she spotted him.

Immediately, she recognized the ears, the tail (well, tails in this case), and the obvious fox necklace-now-zipper-tab resting on his chest.

A fox hero, who wasn't her.

There he was, right next to Ladybug in the heat of battle, using her Miraculous.

Pulling out her flute.

Using her move.

She knew it was coming. After all, she and Nino both saw the new Turtle Heroine appear a couple of weeks ago, so she knew it was only a matter of time.

But she couldn't help it. The second she saw the Fox hero step up - she hadn't stayed long enough to catch his name (not that she cared) - she felt rage and betrayal, unlike anything before boiling to the surface.

She'd been a good hero! Why couldn't Ladybug see that?! Sure, thanks to Chloe she wouldn't be able to be Rena Rouge anymore, but she could use a different Miraculous! Heck, when Style Queen appeared, Ladybug even offered her the Bee Miraculous instead of Chloe!

But Lila's words about Ladybug's plan rang in her ears. She couldn't believe Ladybug was so selfish! She never came across as the spotlight-hogging type, but then again everyone had a side they didn't want anyone to see.

Guess Ladybug was just like Marinette. Once someone started taking more spotlight, they became nothing but jealous, selfish bitches! Who's the one not worthy of a Miraculous now?!

"Rena Rogue… It's me, Hawkmoth…"

Chapter Text

"Thanks for your help, Yusuke," Ladybug smiled as the artist detransformed and fished into his pocket for Trixx's treat.

"Grape or melon?" he asked, pulling out two mini candy floss packets.

"Oh! Grape, please!" Trixx requested eagerly. Yusuke just smiled as he tore open the package and casually tossed the floss in the air, which Trixx caught easily before taking a large bite out of it. The Phantom Thieves decided that it would be a good idea to carry some kwami treats with them in case Marinette needed them to suit up. That way, she wouldn't need to worry about feeding the kwami herself afterward.

"I swear, I'll never get used to watching them eat," Yusuke shook his head with a smile, "From the way their anatomy looks, it shouldn't be possible to eat very much at all."

"Yeah…" Ladybug giggled, remembering the first time she saw Tikki swallow a macaroon whole.

"By the way…" Yusuke suddenly asked, "Was that behavior I saw Chat Noir do common?"

Ladybug raised an eyebrow, "You mean the joking part or the… tantrum part?" she asked with a small wince at the last part.


Ladybug grimaced, "The joking and punning is something he's always done. And I'll admit, it has caused problems before, and that doesn't even cover when he used to flirt with me all the time. He's backed off on that greatly ever since Kobra became a permanent team member though, but it was bad when we were still single… As for the hissy-fits…? They're kind of on and off. He hates secrets and it frustrates him that I have to keep some from him."

"...Even so, that shouldn't excuse him from disrespecting you like that," Yusuke frowned, "Secrets come with the superhero territory, whether in fiction or reality. He doesn't seem to understand that very well. Also, you two have worked together ever since you've received your Miraculous, so why doesn't he trust you more?"

"He does trust me!" Ladybug defended, "As I said, he isn't fond of secrets, and even I don't think it's fair that he's kept in the dark about so many things. But as Guardian, there's certain knowledge that's too dangerous to share with anyone in case someone like Hawkmoth gets a hold of it."

"...I apologize if I overstepped my bounds, but it seems Luka knows more about the Miraculous than Chat Noir does, and yet he's known about them even less time than either of you."

"Luka knows so much because it's for his safety," Ladybug explained, "The reason he has a Miraculous at all is that he knows my identity. Had it been a different situation, I wouldn't have given the Snake Miraculous back to him, but it would've taken too long to figure out what other one suited him too. That doesn't mean that he knows everything, though. There are some things I haven't told him either, and won't tell him because they're for a Guardian's eyes only."

"And…" Ladybug swallowed as she felt tears gather in her eyes, "After what happened in the boys' bathroom… it wasn't until then that I realized that I needed help. Not just with my school life either. I'm only fifteen! My master was over a hundred years old-" - Yusuke's eyes widened immensely at this piece of information - "- and it was barely enough for him to handle! I just… I needed support. Support that Chat simply can't give me as a superhero."

"I never meant any offense to Luka, but what's stopping you from finding out Chat's identity so that his civilian form could be that support?"

Ladybug sighed sadly, "It wouldn't be fair to him. He's wanted to know my identity since day one. If I asked him to tell me who he is, but I still can't tell him mine, it wouldn't be fair! I have to keep my identity secret so that Hawkmoth won't find the Miracle Box again. It's bad enough that Luka knows… Not that I'm not glad that he knows, but…" she whined and covered her face in frustration.

"...Or is it less the fact that you don't want him to know your identity… and more that you don't want to know his ?"

Yusuke's statement stunned Ladybug. She scowled and was about to retort when her yo-yo exploded with an Akuma again.

"What the-" she gasped before a live video message appeared on the screen. Swallowing, she pressed the link, with Yusuke leaning curiously over to look as well.

"Citizens of Paris! I have an announcement to make!" a clearly akumatized Alya shouted into the camera. Her akuma form wasn't that of Lady Wifi though. She looked fairly similar to her Rena Rouge form, but the color of the suit was more of a darker orange-red, and the weapon that she had on her back looked spiky in some places. "Kijutsu or whatever you call yourself - I, Rena Rogue, challenge you to a duel! The prize for the winner will be the Fox Miraculous that you stole from me! I don't know what possessed Ladybug to give it to you, but that Miraculous was mine first! And I deserve it if Ladybug chose me for it!"

Ladybug groaned and rubbed her forehead, and Yusuke scowled. Did Alya still not get it?! That was not how it worked! She lent the Miraculous to Alya; that didn't mean that it belonged to her! She knew that Alya's delusion wasn't completely her fault thanks to Lila's lie about Ladybug's integrity, but this was going too far.

She heard Yusuke sigh next to her. "Well, if that's how she wants things to be..."


"If this is what finally convinces her to let go of her fantasy, so be it." the art student said, glancing over at Trixx who floated over after finishing his snack. Ladybug wasn't sure what the kwami was thinking right now, or how he felt about this situation. She would have to talk to Trixx later after they dealt with this Akuma.

Unfortunately, Ladybug heard the familiar sound of her earrings beeping rapidly just as she transformed back into Marinette, and Tikki landed in her hands.

"...I'll distract her while you recover," Yusuke decided.

"Good idea. Be careful, though," Marinette warned, "it looks like she's a copy of the Fox hero like Volpina was."

"Understood. Now hurry, before she finds us," Yusuke called over his shoulder; before he ran out of the alley, he said, "Trixx, Let's Pounce!"

Kijutsu-shi grunted as he leaped from rooftop to rooftop, searching for the new akuma. He'd admit, he was planning to use himself as bait to lure the akuma out since she was the old Fox Heroine, but he knew this could also backfire immensely in a number of different ways.

He suddenly stopped as the hairs on the back of his neck stuck up. The fox ears on his head twitching as he glanced around (it was quite an unusual feeling).

His gaze drifted to the right where a slight reflection was cast off of one of the metal chimneys-

Kijutsu-shi barely managed to backflip out of the way as a small dart whizzed just inches away from his form. The dart landed in the wall in front of him hard enough that it made an indent.

He didn't have time to catch his breath as a flash of red & orange charged him, swinging something wildly at him. He whipped out his flute to block the strikes. He was thankful that the instrument was sturdy enough to take the strikes.

"Give it back!" Rena Rogue screamed, her hand swiping at Kijutsu-shi's chest for the zipper-tab. Kijutsu-shi leaped away out of reach, scowling, "You have no right to steal that from me!"

"I believe this never belonged to you in the first place, so you're incorrect to assume it's been stolen," Kijutsu-shi responded coolly.

"Shut up!" Rena Rogue roared, "Ladybug gave it to me first! What the hell do you have that I don't?"

"For one, my identity is known to no one but myself and Ladybug," Kijutsu-shi riposted, parrying another strike of his foe's blowgun.

"Being revealed wasn't my fault! There was nothing I could do!"

"Then why are you so angry?" Kijutsu-shi asked rhetorically, "Had she continued to give you the Fox, Hawkmoth would target your family to hurt you, just like Miss Bourgeois, if I'm not mistaken."

"She didn't need to stop using me altogether!" Rena Rogue raged, "I could use a different Miraculous! I was almost given the Bee Miraculous once!"

"It still isn't your decision to make," Kijutsu shot back, "If you still haven't been chosen, though, perhaps there's a good reason behind it? I'd wager you did something wrong in your civilian life…"

"I haven't done anything wrong!"

"If that's true, how would throwing a tantrum fix it?"

Rena Rogue screamed again as she leaped towards him, swinging down from above that he blocked expertly. She then grunted in surprise as she felt herself being dragged back to the other side of the roof.

"Alya! That's enough!" Ladybug shouted as her yo-yo zipped back to her. Kobra and Chat Noir both leaped up, landing behind her.

"I'm not Alya! I'm Rena Rogue! And once I take back what's mine, it'll be Rena Rouge to you!"

"Alya! You can't have the Fox Miraculous again!" Chat Noir exclaimed, "You know Hawkmoth knows your identity!"

"So what?!" Rena Rogue stopped her foot, "You gave Chloe the Bee Miraculous, and Hawkmoth knew her identity!"

"Yes, and that was a mistake on my part!" Ladybug admitted, "But I'm not going to make that mistake again!"

"So you've replaced me, huh?" she shrieked, "Why haven't you asked for my help yet?! I was a good hero!"

"Yes… you were," Ladybug said sorrowfully before throwing her yo-yo up, "Lucky Charm!"

In a swarm of ladybugs, a small object landed in her hands. It was a police badge.

"Huh, well I guess we could call the fuzz as a last resort," Chat Noir quipped.

"Ladybug…" Kobra muttered, eyeing the pin.

Ladybug gasped, "I'll be right back!"

"Wait, where are you going?!" Chat Noir gasped.

"To get help!" Ladybug shouted as she ran off.

"Who?!" Chat Noir exclaimed. He didn't even notice that Kobra had zipped in front of him until the snake hero was blocking another dart from the former fox hero. The akuma growled and lowered her weapon, which upon closer inspection wasn't just a flute, but a blowgun as well!

"Just trust her Chat!" Kobra insisted, "She knows what she's doing!"

"...Do I, though…?" Chat Noir muttered softly enough that no one heard him as the three boys all charged towards Rena Rogue.

Ladybug once again zipped towards her house, but this time she didn't flip into her room as she had the Horse Miraculous with her already.

Chance: Makoto, you're up!

Queen: Shujin Academy Student Council Room.

One Voyage later, Shujin Academy's Student Council President joined Ladybug on the roof of the Dupain-Cheng Bakery.

"So, what's the plan?" she asked, Pollen hovering anxiously above her head.

"It's Alya. Hawkmoth must have akumatized her when she saw Yusuke with the Fox Miraculous. She's likely still bitter because of what Lila said about Ladybug replacing all the heroes."

"Huh?" Makoto gasped, "What did she say?"

Ladybug blinked, then felt like face-palming. She never told them!

"It was after Ryuji debuted as Saruchame. The next day at school Lila was telling everyone in my class that Ladybug was planning to replace the heroes all along, and Miracle Queen was advantageous to Ladybug as a result!"

Pollen flinched a little at the sound of her old holder and Ladybug felt her heart clench. Ever since her betrayal, Chloe had always been a touchy subject for the Bee Kwami.

"Well, that's stupid," Makoto scowled, "and they still believed her?"

"Yes! They still believe that she's my 'best friend'," Ladybug exclaimed, "But never mind that right now, we have to go!"

"Right! Let's get this over with!" Makoto nodded in determination.

"You know what to say, my queen!" Pollen exclaimed eagerly, having shaken off the sorrow already.

"Please don't call me that… Pollen, Buzz On!" Makoto shouted, and Pollen vanished with a giggle into the rose gold hair comb nestled in Makoto's locks.

With a spin, Makoto's body was engulfed in yellow light. Unlike Chloe's skintight suit, Makoto's outfit seemed a bit looser but still form-fitting. Her pants were mostly black, with yellow zig-zag stripes running up the legs. Just like Ann, Makoto's knees were sporting some knee-pads, but these ones were pure black. Her arms had golden yellow armored gloves that ran up to her elbows. She even had a gold breastplate around her midriff and shoulders. Throwing her head back, a gold headband wrapped around her head, the ends flapping in the wind. Swiping her hand upon her face, a black mask materialized and across her face, with gold highlighting around her eyes. She spun her spinning top around as if it appeared in her hand, before clicking it to her side before folding her arms.

She was ready for action.

Ladybug whistled and even clapped a little. "Nice! I like it!"

"Thanks! You can call me Mitsubachi! Honeybee in English."

"Cool! Now come on, let's back our boys up!" Ladybug grinned, spinning her yo-yo and launching it at a lamppost. She let it drag her across the skylight. She heard a zipping sound behind her and nearly laughed out loud when she saw Mak-Mitsubachi swinging right after her with her top.

This was going to be fun!

Shortly after Ladybug left, the boys figured out what exactly happened if someone got hit by one of Rena Rogue's darts. It happened when one of the darts missed Kijutsu-shi and hit an unsuspecting civilian. Once the dart hit, the man's eyes went blank and he began to scream in absolute terror. It seemed that getting hit by the darts caused someone to hallucinate their greatest fears, so avoiding the darts became top priority.

Fortunately, Rena Rogue's attention only seemed to be focused on Kijutsu-shi, and due to her rage, she wasn't aiming very well, so he could easily dodge most of the attacks.

Still, dodging only worked for so long, and the more they dodged the more civilians got hit as well. Kobra had been hesitant to turn on Second Chance since Ladybug hadn't gotten back yet.

"Ugh, this is getting ridiculous!" Chat Noir exclaimed, finally losing his patience, "Cataclysm!"

With Chat's hand now swirling with dark energy, he attempted to charge at Rena Rogue.

"Chat, wait!" Kobra exclaimed, leaping after him.

Fortunately for the cat hero, two zipping sounds met their ears and one wrapped around his waist while the other smacked the incoming dart out of the way.

"Sorry to keep you boys waiting!" Mitsubachi greeted with a grin, recoiling her top back.

"What's this, another replacement?" Rena Rogue snarled, "Well, at least she looks competent, unlike Chloe!"

Mitsubachi scowled, but held her tongue, knowing the akuma was trying to rile her up.

"What's going on?" Ladybug demanded, noticing the panicking civilians.

"Those blow darts make people hallucinate," Kijutsu-shi reported quickly, "it seems of one's worst nightmares."

"Good to know," Ladybug nodded, spinning her yo-yo rapidly. Chat Noir carefully got up, making sure he didn't destroy the building below them, "the akuma is likely in her flute-gun thing."

"Well, how exactly can we get close enough?" Mitsubachi asked, "If we try to charge her directly, she can just shoot us, and we likely won't be able to dodge in time!"

"You're right. Lucky Charm!" Ladybug shouted and once again, in a shower of Ladybugs another object fell from the sky. This time, it was much bigger from a police badge.

"Laundry detergent?!" Ladybug gasped as she stumbled from catching the polka-dotted red crate it fell down in.

"Perhaps it's a sign for you to clean up your act, Ladybug!" Rena Rogue taunted as she blew more darts at the group, who promptly scattered.

As Ladybug flipped in the air, she spotted a fire hydrant that lit up with her lucky vision. Then as she landed, Chat Noir lit up, followed by the laundry detergent, then Kijutsu-shi, specifically his flute, then Kobra, and finally Mitsubachi.

With a grin, a plan formulated in her head.

"Chat Noir! The fire hydrant!"

His eyes shifted between her and the hydrant before he grinned mischievously. With a feline yowl, he leaped for the hydrant, his Cataclysm dragging across it.

With a *boom* the hydrant exploded, shooting water everywhere.

With a grin, Ladybug dropped the detergent into the now flooded street. Immediately, soap bubbles started foaming everywhere.

"This should not be possible…" she heard Mitsubachi mutter somewhere behind her. She barely stifled a snigger.

Rena Rogue yelled in frustration as her field of vision was suddenly obstructed by the bubble barrier. No vision, no heroes to shoot after all.

Taking her distraction to her advantage, she signaled to Kobra to finally activate his power and she leaped towards Kijutsu-shi. Pulling the fox artist closer, she whispered urgently in his ear. With a nod, he leaped towards the other building.

Finally she swung towards their newest recruit.

"Once she charges at Kijutsu-shi's mirage, use your power to paralyze her," she instructed.

Mitsubachi winced, "I haven't had a chance to practice it yet. Will it work?"

"It should. Just pull the string on your top and say 'Venom'. That'll activate the power. Once she's distracted, stab her with it, like a bee!"

Mitsubachi smirked, "With great pleasure, Ladybug!" Doing exactly what Ladybug instructed, Mitsubachi pulling back the string of her top, "Venom!" Instantly, the top's size increased and pulsed brightly with yellow light.

Moments later, the familiar sound of Kijutsu-shi's flute rang through the air. There was a flash directed in the bubbles below and Rena Rogue's eyes widened.

Instead of simply shooting the figure though, she charged at it, swinging her flute like an ax…

...Only to swing through Kijutsu-shi's as he vanished into mist.

"What?!" she screamed, "Are you trying to mock me?!"

"Ever heard the phrase 'to see authenticity, one must be dispassionately realistic?' It seems even when you had the power of illusion, you still fail to see through the illusions of others even now!" Kijutsu-shi's voice chastised.

"What the hell does that mean?!"

Before Rena Rogue could do anything else though, she felt a sharp pinch on her back. Unfortunately, she couldn't move to turn to see who had hit her.

"All yours, Ladybug!" Mitsubachi shouted with a grin, snatching the flute and flinging it towards the heroine.

Quickly catching it, Ladybug glanced at Kobra, "How many times?"

"Just three. Took him a few tries to get the right illusion," he smiled, "I had to convince him to just keep it simple. He can go crazy some other time."

Ladybug chuckled as she snapped the flute in two and the akuma emerged.

One Miraculous Cure later and 'pound it!, Paris was returned to its former glory.

Alya was laying in a ball on the ground.

Ladybug looked at her with pity, and looked back at the quartet.

"Can you give us a minute?" she asked softly, "I'll come collect your Miraculous in a bit."

The group looked uneasy, but with a jerk of Kobra's head, Kijutsu-shi and Mitsubachi both turned and leaped up to the rooftops.

Chat Noir was still there.

"...I'll talk to you tonight Chat, okay?"

Chat grimaced but nodded, noticing his ring beeping. He quickly fled as well.

"Miss Cesaire. I understand you feel... betrayed. That was not my intention… but I made it clear that I couldn't give you the Fox Miraculous again. I thought you understood that-" she began.

"Why wasn't I good enough?" Alya whispered.

Ladybug stopped and carefully considered her words.

"You were... It depends on the situation..."

"King Monkey... Ryuko... that rabbit chick… Pegasus... Chloe freaking Bourgeois?! Now these new guys?! Why didn't you come to me to help?" Alya hissed, sinking her head deeper into her arms.

"Alya... each situation calls for a unique solution…" Ladybug explained carefully, not understanding where all of this bitterness to the other heroes was coming from, "I couldn't always call on the fox… there's sometimes not enough time to find you or-"

"That's bullshit!" Alya shouted, leaping to her feet, "You follow my blog, you know I keep an eye out for akumas all the time! So why?! Why haven't you picked me again?! I deserve it!"

Ladybug breathed slowly through her nose to squash the emotions of sorrow and grief rising to the surface. If only Alya knew how untrue that statement was right now.

"Being a hero isn't a game. It's a massive responsibility! Regardless of how we feel, Hawkmoth knows your identity as Rena Rouge!" Ladybug exclaimed, noting her earring was beeping in warning, "And if you think you're so entitled for a Miraculous, then that only proves that you don't deserve one!"

Alya blinked and backed up at that proclamation. No… Ladybug couldn't be serious!


Ladybug raised her hand, silencing Alya with the gesture alone, "The decision is final. There's a new fox now. Rena Rouge and all the old heroes are officially retired… I'm sorry."

With that final utterance, Ladybug swung away down the road, leaving one fallen hero behind.

Chapter Text

Ladybug wouldn't admit it, but part of her was hoping that Chat Noir wouldn't show up for their 'talk.' However, she knew that this had to happen in order for their team to still work. It wasn't like she wanted to leave Chat Noir behind; that had never been her intention.

However, that was up until a couple of weeks ago when she finally got the support system she needed so she wouldn't go in a downward spiral again - namely, the Phantom Thieves, Nino & Alix included.

Eventually, she heard the familiar click of Chat Noir's boots against the metal surface of the structure. Turning in his direction, Ladybug shot him a smile.

"Good evening, Chat," she greeted politely.

No answer. Chat was staring off in the distance.

"Chat…?" Ladybug said a little louder.

This, fortunately, shook Chat out of whatever trance he was in and he looked in her direction, "Um, sorry. Good evening, m'lady."

With a nod, Ladybug got straight to the point, "So… what's going on? Why did you snap at me earlier? When both Bombshell & Saruchame showed up, you didn't seem to have a problem with new temporary heroes turning up."

Chat sighed in frustration, "Ladybug, I get that with you being the Guardian there are things I'll likely never know about, no matter how much I ask you. But… even so, we're still partners, aren't we? So if you're choosing new heroes, shouldn't I at least know who they are so I can give input like with Kobra? We both agreed for him to join us full-time. Also, can't I give recommendations from time to time on who can get a Miraculous? If it's solely the Guardian's job to do that, why did Master Fu let you choose?"

"And while we're on the subject," he continued, "now that you are Guardian, shouldn't you know my identity too? Why are you stalling for that? Plus, why does it seem like Kobra knows more about the Miraculous stuff than I do? I get it, Luka's a good guy, and he's a great hero, but you never told me specifically why he's permanent now. You simply said 'something happened' and it would be safer if he had a Miraculous than if he didn't. And I accepted that at the time, I'll grant that. But… I want the truth. The whole truth now."

Ladybug was cringing on the inside, but sighed, knowing that it was only fair.

"Life has… been tough for me, Chat, and not just in regard to all this Miraculous business. Most of the time, I have no idea what I'm doing whatsoever. It's been unpleasant as both Ladybug & my civilian self. Until a few weeks ago, anyway."

Chat's face morphed from annoyed to concerned immediately, "What's been going on?"

"Someone was… mistreating my civilian self," she said quietly, "Bullying, manipulating my friends, spreading nasty rumors, the whole nine yards."

Chat's eyes widened in shock before he scowled angrily. Before he could demand who, Ladybug continued, "It was only a couple weeks ago that things have gotten a little better. I made some new friends from a different school. They've been helping me. They… they even called the girl out on her bullshit one time."

Chat blinked in surprise, "No offense Ladybug, but… 'called her out?' Do you mean they humiliated her? What good did that do? Making the bad guys feel bad never makes them a better person."

"If you're suggesting they should have lied down and taken whatever that horrid girl did to me and them, we're gonna have a problem," Ladybug sternly admonished, "That might be true, but being good to them is even less likely to succeed in fixing their behavior; haven't you heard the phrase silence is violence? Plus, it's not like I asked them to do it. They did it on their own because I'm their friend. That's what they told me."

Chat looked surprised, and there was something conflicted on his face, as he looked off to the side.

"Anyway, they've been helping me. I've honestly felt a lot happier than I have in a long time. I guess… I didn't realize I needed help until they came around."

"So… because they're helping you, you're giving them Miraculous?" Chat asked, trying to understand.

"They're good people, Chat," Ladybug insisted, "Because they've been helping me, I trust them, and that's why I've given them Miraculous. Plus, they live pretty far from where most akumas usually attack -uh, not counting city-wide akumas, of course - so it's safer for them, too."

"So that's why you insisted that I didn't know them? How did you know I lived so close to the akuma hotspot area?" Chat asked.

"So you do live close to College Francoise-Dupont?" Ladybug asked.

Chat gaped for a second, "Wha-Hey! You tricked me!"

"I suspected it for a while, you simply confirmed it. After all, it doesn't take very long for you to get to most attacks," she explained, "That's why I'm so sure you don't know the new holders, even if you knew their names."

"Then… wouldn't it be even more appropriate for me to at least know their names?" Chat asked.

"Chat, I appreciate that you want to help, but knowledge can be a burden too. If we both know their identities, Hawkmoth has twice the number of chances to find them out. Let's say he does! In that situation, he could shift the akuma attacks to places where they live or target their family members to trap us. That's exactly what he did to Chloe, remember?"

Chat cringed as that event. Seeing Chloe like that… he was honestly still trying to process it. He had thought that ultimately, deep down, Chloe was good and that her desire to be a heroine was genuine.

So why? She knew Hawkmoth was evil! Why did she do it?

"That's another reason I don't want to know your identity yet, Chat. It would be another burden to add to an already-heavy list. If I find out that you're, say, a friend of mine, it would be a hundred times harder to fight you if something happens to you. Or, say you get akumatized while in civilian form? Knowing you're Chat Noir underneath that… I don't know if I'd be able to fight you."

Chat was quiet for a few minutes. This had oddly touched him. He knew that Ladybug always wanted to protect people, even him; it was one of the things he had loved about her. But still…

"...What about Kobra, then? If the new strategy is to pick people that Hawkmoth is less likely to affect, why did you insist that Luka get the Snake Miraculous again? Heck, wouldn't it have made more sense to at least give him a different Miraculous? Being able to alter your hero form is cool and all but… it still seems risky."

Ladybug struggled not to gulp. This was the part of the conversation that she had been dreading a bit because she honestly didn't have a clue as to how Chat Noir would react to this. It was clear that Chat Noir must know Luka in civilian form too; otherwise, why would he have agreed so easily and quickly to his inclusion? If she said directly why Luka was made a permanent wielder, could that be giving him a clue to her identity?

But… she didn't want to lie to him either. How else is she supposed to show him that she trusts him?

"I wasn't lying when I said I wanted him to have the Snake Miraculous again for his safety. But I was vague about the reasoning for it because… I didn't want to hurt your feelings or have that affect our teamwork."

"...So what is it?" Chat asked.

"...Luka… he found out my identity," she admitted before she could stop herself.

Chat's reaction was about what she had expected. A look of shock, even anger spread across his face.

"What?! How?!" he demanded to know.

"I didn't tell him if that's what you're thinking!" Ladybug retorted defensively, "I was… I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he was in the wrong place at the right time."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he shot back.

"Chat! That's really all there is to it!" Ladybug shouted, "I was… I was struggling very hard that day and Luka happened to be close by to help me. And he happened to see Tikki as well. After that, we talked, and I gave him Sass and his Miraculous again for his safety. That same night, I talked to you about it."

"If I had known that that was the reason…" Chat practically growled. There was a glint of… something in his eye.

"Chat! Would you rather he be defenseless while holding dangerous information like that?!"

"You could have erased his memories or something! I mean, that's what Master Fu did to himself right?!"

"That automatically happens when the role of the Guardian is passed on! If Master Fu had a way to erase memories, he certainly never taught it to me!"

"You still could have-"

"You think I like knowing, Chat?!"

Wait, Chat thought, that's not Ladybug's voice!

Whipping around, the hero saw Kobra landing deftly from higher up in the structure. Chat could have sworn he saw someone else land behind Kobra, but his night vision wasn't picking anything up; he must have imagined it. He did, however, notice that Ladybug's eyes had shifted in the same direction. But if he didn't see it in the dark, how could Ladybug have?

"Wha-were you spying on us?!" Chat demanded to know.

"I asked him to come! In case something like this happened!" Ladybug growled out.


"Chat, you keep insisting to know Ladybug's identity, but that same knowledge can be a burden too! She explained that just moments ago why she didn't want to know your identity!" Kobra interrupted angrily.

Chat stopped and looked down, having the humility to look a little guilty. He hadn't meant to lash out at Ladybug, but his feelings just took over.

"Chat, I do trust you," Ladybug insisted, "but Kobra's right. Knowing identities is a heavy burden to bear. I just… I just don't think I'm ready to add another one to my plate right now. So please just… be patient, just a little longer. Please…"

"...All right. It's late - I'll be off now. Good night to you both, Kobra & Ladybug."

With that, Chat leaped off quickly - quicker than normal it seems - and disappeared into the night.

Now that he was gone, a transformed Akira stepped out of the shadows.

"For a second there I was scared we'd have to physically restrain him," he said with concern.

"...Are you okay?" Kobra asked her with a concerned glint in his snake eyes.

"Yeah… I'm fine as I'll ever be," Ladybug tiredly responded, "Let's all get home."

"Sir…" Nathalie addressed as she entered Gabriel's study.

"What is it, Nathalie?" he asked, slightly impatient. He was looking down at his computer, deep in the middle of a task.

"We just received a voicemail from Miss Rossi," Nathalie explained promptly, "She was quite distraught as she resigned from the Gabriel brand and refused to spy for you any longer."

This statement actually made Gabriel pause and look up at his secretary-slash-supervillainous sidekick.

"Did she give a reason?" he asked lowly, eyes narrowed.

"Perhaps you should hear it yourself," she said, pulling up the message on her tablet.

"...Well then," Gabriel said quietly after the voicemail was finished, "I can certainly say I didn't expect that."

"Sir…?" Nathalie asked, sounding confused. Did Gabriel expect for Lila to quit at some point?

"Those words she said, right at the end… 'What was I thinking?', was it?" Gabriel grinned sinisterly, "I think that Miss Rossi just perhaps might grant us one final golden goose."

Chapter Text

Wednesday passed, and so did Thursday. Hawkmoth didn't send any akumas either one of those days.

And Marinette was paranoid.

It was extremely rare that Hawkmoth didn't akumatize someone at least once a day. If there were breaks it was usually every other day. But very rarely did Hawkmoth skip two days in a row.

Now, Marinette knew that she shouldn't start panicking yet. Before big, planned, attacks, Hawkmoth usually waited five days to nearly a week. That had been the case before Heroes' Day and before the Battle of the Miraculous. But even so, every time there was a time span longer than twenty-four hours that Hawkmoth didn't akumatize someone, Marinette couldn't help but feel her paranoia skyrocket.

Of course, Hawkmoth's strange inactivity wasn't the only thing that Marinette had to worry about. It was Friday. The day the deadline for Lila's threat to be up.

Sure, she remembered that Nino said that Lila had deleted the photos, but… as she said prior, Lila was a liar. She could have simply said that to make the two drop their guard and then ambush them at school, and no reassurance from the PTs that the heist worked was helping at all.

"Everything is going to be okay, Marinette," Tikki said, trying to sound reassuring as her holder walked to school.

"I hope so, Tikki," she said quietly, "I really hope so…"

Marinette stopped briefly at the entrance of the school. She knew that the second she walked through would be the moment of truth. Either there would be a mob of angry students, Alya likely at the lead unless Lila was back, ready to attack her and Nino which would likely send them to the hospital… or there wouldn't be.

Taking a deep breath and bracing herself, Marinette stepped briskly into the Collége's entrance.

To her absolute relief, her fantasy of an angry mob wasn't reality. The school was acting fairly normal. Girls chatting and giggling on the stairs and some of the boys were being rowdy and running down the halls. It looked like just another school day.

"So… that meant that the heist must have worked after all!" Marinette whispered in relief, feeling a massive weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Now with a slight skip in her step, she trotted towards Miss Bustier's classroom.

When she entered the room, most of the class was there already. But the bell wouldn't ring for another fifteen minutes, so there was really no hurry.

Nathaniel was doodling in the back, like normal. Mylene and Ivan were flirting in their seats; same with Rose and Juleka. Kim and Max were also deep in conversation, though it looked mostly light-hearted. Alix was also there, looking a little bored, but upon seeing Marinette enter, she shot her a brief wave with a smirk. Marinette lightly waved back.

Alya was also there. She didn't look too cheerful, though. She was rapidly texting on her phone, her brow creasing with every text. Guess Lila still wasn't answering her messages.

She felt someone lightly bump her shoulder. Turning, she smiled kindly at Nino, who winked back before taking his usual seat. However, Marinette could tell that he looked just as relieved as she felt.

Sabrina entered class a few minutes later, and surprisingly, Adrien was the last to make it, just before the bell rang in fact.

"You were almost late, dude," Nino commented as Adrien sat next to him in his usual spot, "everything okay?"

"Yeah, sort of…" Adrien admitted, looking confused and conflicted, "My dad and Natalie were trying to convince me to stay home from school today."

"...Seriously?" Nino asked, raising an eyebrow, "Why?"

"No idea. Usually, this only happens if there's a last-minute photoshoot. Not this time though. There was no reason besides because they said so! It was only when I threatened to run to school myself when they finally relented," Adrien explained, "Thankfully, Gorilla helped me out there. We sped off before Natalie could catch up with the car."

Nino whistled in congratulations, "That's gutsy, man!"

"Yeah! Still… they were acting really weird," Adrien added.

"Eh, no offense dude, but your dad isn't exactly 'normal,' either."

"I… I guess I can't argue with you there," Adrien said, laughing awkwardly, scratching the back of his head.

Marinette heard most of the conversation, and alarm bells were ringing in her head. The conversation that she had with the Tokies resurfaced. Particularly about Hawkmoth's identity, and how Gabriel Agreste was practically the prime suspect at this point. Of course, she didn't want to accuse anyone without proof, but… that did seem strange, even for Gabriel.

"Good morning, class!" Miss Bustier greeted cheerfully. She glanced around the room, and her smile faltered slightly as her eyes landed on Lila's empty seat, "Lila's still out sick?"

She directed the question to Alya since she seemed to be in contact with Lila the most often.

"I've been texting her all morning!" Alya reported, "She hasn't answered even once!"

"Hmmm, how sad. She must be down with something pretty nasty," Bustier speculated with a frown before taking attendance. Other than Lila, everyone else was there, so Miss Bustier began the lesson.

For most of the morning, class went on like normal. Miss Bustier taught like normal, and everyone mostly paid attention. It was just like any other day.

And then there was a knock on the door.

"Yes?" Miss Bustier called, pausing her lecture.

Slowly, the door opened, and Principal Damocles walked in. He looked white as a sheet and was sweating bullets. Okay, not completely white - one side of his face was strangely pink and swollen like he'd been slapped not once, but several times in the same spot.

Miss Bustier seemed to notice as well as her face soon shifted to one of concern as well, "Gerald? What's wrong? Are you all right?"

Principal Damocles didn't answer. He simply swallowed and moved away from the door.

Standing behind him in the doorway were three people: Sabrina's dad, Officer Roger, a tall auburn-haired woman in a navy cardigan who looked absolutely livid, and…


The girl looked absolutely miserable. Fresh tear tracks were illuminated on her face, her lip was trembling, but most notably, there were handcuffs on her wrists.

"Lila?!" Alya was the first to gasp, nearly jumping out of her seat.

Instead of acknowledging the Ladyblogger or possibly begging her for help, Lila simply flinched and looked away, a fresh tear running down her cheek.

"Dad, what's going on?" Sabrina asked in shock, "Why's Lila in handcuffs?"

"That should be obvious, Sabrina," Officer Roger firmly frowned, "This girl is a criminal."

"What?!" Alya shouted in outrage, this time really leaping out of her seat, "What are you talking about? Lila hasn't done anything like that!"

Taking his ex-girlfriend's outburst as a distraction, Nino discreetly reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Opening up the PT group text he sent an alert to the other members.

Beat: Lila's back. In handcuffs. Get ready, ASAP!

After the text was sent, he pocketed his phone again, staring forward at the Italian like nothing happened.

"Yeah! You can't convict a civilian like this without warning!" Max exclaimed, "Not without proper cause!"

"Oh, believe me," the woman angrily answered in a heavy Italian accent, "there is plenty of 'probable cause' for why my daughter is handcuffed."

There were murmurs all around the classroom.

"Wait… you're Lila's mom?" Mylene asked, "But… Lila said that you were out of town for the last month in Achu!"

"Yeah, helping Prince Ali with his charity work!" Rose added.

"In Achu?! Prince Ali?!" the woman exclaimed, before barking out a laugh and shaking her head, "I wouldn't know- I've never been more embarrassed and appalled in my entire life! I don't know whether to laugh, cry, spit, or…!"

The woman - now identified as Lila's mother - turned on Miss Bustier, and as quick as a viper slapped Miss Bustier clean across the face. The force of said slap was hard enough that the teacher actually stumbled and would have fallen if she hadn't grabbed the bottom of the chalkboard in time, "And you! Did the thought of ever contacting me, to ask me if my daughter was out of school ever cross your mind? And what's this I'm hearing about a disease? Tinnitus?! Sprained wrists and ankles?! Why even being pushed down the stairs was on the list! How come I was never informed of these events happening to my child? What kind of a teacher are you?!"

"M-madame Rossi," Miss Bustier stuttered, "We tried to contact you several times-"

Miss Bustier was interrupted by another slap. Despite the act, Officer Roger made no move to stop her, looking just as angry and disappointed in the teacher as well, "Excuses! That's all I've been hearing all day! First from this laughable excuse for a principal, and now you?! Did it never occur to you that if my cell wasn't working to call… oh, I don't know, the embassy?! Where I work?! If I'll even still work there after this?!"

"Madame-Ms. Rossi!" Adrien stuttered out, "Please, just calm down!"

"'Calm down'?!" Ms. Rossi howled, turning on the blond now, "What exactly is your name, young man?"

"A-Adrien Agreste," he stuttered out, leaning back slightly.

"Adrien… ah, you're the boyfriend my daughter claimed simply couldn't stop texting her, and yet strangely I never got the chance to meet or have a meal with!"

"I-wait, what?!" Adrien gasped as he took in her words. This was news to him.

"Well, Adrien, I'll have you know that not only did I find out that my daughter has not only been lying to me about the school being closed because apparently Ladybug and her 'useless sidekicks' weren't competent enough to protect the school!-"

"W-what?" Alya shouted, "She… lied?"

"-Not only that, but I find out that she's been bullying a student in this class, all because she wouldn't comply with her! How in the world do you think I'm supposed to feel, Mr. Agreste?!"

Adrien was struck speechless. He looked like he wanted to say something, say anything, but no words were coming out.

"...So, you really don't know Prince Ali?" Rose's timid voice asked after several tense moments.

"And Jagged Stone didn't write a song about you, after all?" Ivan inquired.

"And you don't know any of those athletes you talked about?" Kim demanded.

"Or programmers?" Max piled on.

"Or actresses?" Mylene squeaked.

Lila didn't say a word, only continuing to look down at the floor, shoulders shaking slightly. A crazed grin formed on Ms. Rossi's face.

"Go on, mi Bella," Ms. Rossi spat, like the words themselves were poison, "Tell them what you told me this morning right before you called the police on yourself!"

This elicited a series of gasps throughout the room. Officer Roger didn't budge though, which only proved the accusation was indeed correct.

Lila whimpered and seemed to cave in on herself further before timidly looking up at her mother. Ms. Rossi said nothing and merely gestured with her head towards the class almost impatiently. 'Tell… Them… Now!' the expression read.

"I…" Lila finally began, "...have done you all wrong. I lied about it all… except for my parents' professions. I threatened your beloved Marinette when she tried to call me out! I worked with Gabriel Agreste to spy on Adrien for him in exchange for favors!"

"Like… the sexual kind?" Nathaniel asked, his eyes wide open.

"No, thankfully, but that's not the worst of it. Hawkmoth saw potential in me and asked me to help him cause akumas. That's why I got Marinette expelled, temporary as it was - it meant more potential akumas for him!"

Gasps of shock and rage burst through the classroom.

"That's not the worst of it, either. This isn't the first school I've done this in. In other schools all across the world, I've pulled this, and have even led kids to suicide!"

Everyone gasped again; this time even Principal Damocles and Miss Bustier. Officer Roger blinked and stared at the girl in utter shock and horror, before it morphed into a disgusted rage as well. Though Chloe had been the closest thing Sabrina had to a friend, everyone remembered their first year of Collége and heard the news about one of Sabrina's cousins taking their own life. It was one of the few times Chloe had looked genuinely concerned for her friend. The only difference was that this one wasn't driven by bullying, but severe, untreated depression instead. Either way, Sabrina was inconsolable for weeks, and there were rumors that Officer Roger had asked to be put on leave for two weeks from his job to have time to cope. Ever since then, suicide had been a touchy subject for the Raincomprix family, no matter who it involved.

"They were just like Marinette. They knew I lied and told me to stop! But I didn't like that and tried to make their lives miserable in return. There was one guy, I cut the soles of his sneakers before one of his races so he would fall and lose. He didn't just fall, he broke his leg and arm. One was a compound fracture. He couldn't run after that…"

The confessions went on. From how she bribed some older boys at one school to ruin someone's voice so she couldn't sing anymore, to how she lied about another boy copying a graphic novel from her that he was hoping to publish… she wasn't stopping.

While Marinette had mostly tuned the sobbing Italian out, for now, she noticed that most of the class was glued to their seats, shell-shocked about these revelations. She spotted Max typing on his laptop rapidly, looking more and more horrified and panicked with each result he searched. Alya was in a similar situation. Rose and Mylene looked seconds away from bursting into tears. Ivan was awkwardly trying to comfort his girlfriend while also glaring daggers at Lila. Juleka was staring down at her lap, her eyes wide and face paling too. Kim looked close to pulling a Hulk move and ripping off his shirt in anger, and Nathaniel looked nauseous and seemed to be discreetly eyeing the trash bin at the front of the room.

As for Adrien…?

If one were to look up the phrase 'what have I done?' on the internet, Marinette was sure his expression would have appeared as the first result.

It seemed Lila had gotten the attention she so greatly desired; this time, however, Marinette was all too willing to let this time slide.

Then, she noticed Nino's finger give three small taps on his desk, his eyes barely glancing between her and the door. There it was - the signal that everyone was ready.

She caught Alix's eye from across her desk, the pinkette barely nodding. Marinette noticed the skater's hand tensing in her pocket where the Rabbit Miraculous that she had handed the skater the same day Lila's Palace crumbled laid ready to go.

With a sudden bang, Marinette shot up from her desk, a scowl on her face. This immediately stopped Lila's confession dead in its tracks. The attention of the entire class was now focused on her.

She said nothing as she grabbed her bag, swiftly glided down the steps.

"M-Marinette, where are you going?!" Bustier's shocked voice followed as her hand landed on the classroom doorknob.

"Marinette?" Adrien's quivering voice questioned.

With a final glare over her shoulder, making the blond flinch back, she wrenched the door open and slammed it shut behind her.

She was barely halfway down the stairs when the shouting and screaming started. She quickly picked up the pace to the locker room. If that didn't attract Hawkmoth's attention, she didn't know what would!

Once ensuring that she was alone she opened her purse and Tikki flew out in a flash along with Kaalki as she pulled out the Horse Miraculous.

Queen: Shujin Academy Student Council Room. We managed to sneak Yusuke and Futaba in too.

With a nod, Marinette stashed her phone and stuck on the glasses.

"Kaalki, Full Gallop!" she shouted.

A flash of light later, Marinette - or Horseshoe, as she briefly dubbed herself in this form - got to work.

"Voyage!" she exclaimed and threw the portal forward. On the other side, she smiled as she saw her team waiting expectantly on the other end.

"Waiting for an invitation?" Horseshoe smirked, jerking her head.

"Don't have to tell me twice!" Ryuji whooped and he leaped through, the others following closely behind.

"How did it go?" Makoto asked, Pollen perched on her shoulder, "According to Nino's text, Lila was handcuffed."

"Kaalki, Dismount," Marinette quickly caught the little Kwami and tossed her a sugar cube. Once she finished chewing, Marinette gave her Miraculous to the little kwami, "Go find Nino Lahiffe. He's wearing glasses and a red cap."

With a sharp nod, the Horse Kwami zipped speedily out the door.

"He wasn't wrong," Marinette finally answered, "and it went about as well as you'd expect. But the shouting and accusing didn't really start until after I made a scene exiting the class."

"A scene?" Yusuke asked, Trixx poking up from the top of his head.

"Halfway through her speech I simply stood up and walked out of the classroom," she told them bluntly, "the shouting started when I was halfway down the stairs."

"You really think it'll attract Hawkmoth's attention?" Futaba asked, fiddling with her thumb ring.

"Even if it wasn't originally planned, if I were him, I'd be an idiot not to. So many negative emotions all in one place all of a sudden? I'd at the very least be curious."

"I see," Akira said, hand flexing with the Tiger Panja Bracelet, "so we're not only reacting to a potential mass terrorist attack but also attempting to unmask Hawkmoth ourselves, correct?"

"If he shows up, that would be optimal. Same goes with Mayura," Marinette said confidently.

As if on cue, a shrill scream echoed from outside the locker room. Being the closest one to the door, Ann peeked out, and with a gasp immediately closed it again. It wasn't fast enough, though, as one scarlet akuma managed to slip inside.

The Phantom Thieves immediately tensed at the approaching akuma but contained their fear and anger to ward it off. As it flew out of a window to go find someone else, the group let out a collective sigh of relief.

"Everyone ready?" Marinette finally said.

"It's showtime," Akira nodded his assent, "Roaar, Leap Out!"

"Xuppu, Showtime!"

"Trixx, Let's Pounce!"

"Wayzz, Shell On!"

"Pollen, Buzz On!"

"Orikko, Sunrise!"

"Tikki, Spots On!"

"LILA!" Ms. Rossi screamed as akumas began pouring into the room. The class started screaming as well, not in anger, but in horror and fear as they attempted to dodge the scarlet moths.

"N-No! Mama, I didn't- I didn't have anything to do with this!" Lila sobbed right before being forcefully turned into a silver & white version of Volpina.

"Ms. Rossi, look out!" Miss Buster shouted, just before an akuma entered a pencil on the back of her ear, turning into Zombizou. An akuma also landed securely in Ms. Rossi's purse.

"Verity Queen," a silken voice rang in her head, "I am Scarlet Moth. The one that you used to trust has deceived you, so I'm giving you the power to separate the truth from the lies. And as for the rest of you…"

By now most of the class - plus Mr. Damocles & Roger - had been reakumatized, all in scarlet versions of their old forms. The only ones that weren't were Adrien, Nino, and Alix, who managed to sneak out quickly.

" were disappointed and let down by one you once called a friend? A supposed role model? Yes, the truth hurts, but not all is lost. All you must do is seize Ladybug and Chat Noir's Miraculous!"

"Yes, Hawkmoth," the akumas said in monotone unison before crowding out the door.

"Plagg… I messed up," Adrien practically sobbed as he ducked into the bathroom. He immediately collapsed to the floor, "I messed up so bad!"

"I tried to warn you, kid. I warned you that your advice would backfire," Plagg replied, crossing his tiny arms, "But for now, let's deal with the akumas. Then you can go apologize to Marinette."

"'re right on that," Adrien admitted morosely, "Plagg, Claws Out!"

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!" Nino frantically repeated as he and Alix took off, dodging akumas and attacks left and right.

"Over here!" they heard an urgent whisper from the art room. Turning to the source, the duo spotted Luka, hurriedly ushering them in. Not wasting another second, they sprinted in just in time to dodge a blast from Horrificator.

"You okay?" Luka asked, Sass flying around the windows frantically.

"Yeah, we're good, dude," Nino nodded with a gasp, "A-any word from Ladybug?"

"Madame Guardian and the rest of the Thieves are assembled, waiting for you," an elegant, posh voice informed them from the vent. From it floated…

"Kaalki!" Luka exclaimed as the Horse kwami sped towards Nino.

"Hmmm," she frowned, eyeing Nino up and down scrutinizingly, "You'll do for now, I suppose."

"Wait… Ladybug sent you to me?" Nino asked, sounding surprised.

"Well, of course," Kaalki scoffed, "Who else?"

"But… why me, I-I was part of this for a while too!"

"Nino, she said she's willing to give you another chance," Luka said, "If you're still unsure, you talk to her in private later - we have a job to do."

"Right! Let's back our girl up!" Alix cheered, clutching the Rabbit Miraculous tightly as Nino tentatively took the glasses from Kaalki.

"All you must say is 'Kaalki, Full Gallop!'" she informed him.

"Kaalki, Full Gallop!"

"Sass, Scales Slither!"

"Fluff, Clockwise!"

In flashes of light, three heroes, two old (well, sort of old in one of the cases) and one new one stood in the kids' place.

Alongside Kobra and a younger Bunnix, Nino's Horse hero form looked much more techno compared to his Carapace suit. It was somewhat similar to Futaba when she was Oracle, in fact. The glasses had morphed into goggles that partially blacked out Nino's eyes, making him look like a teenage bodyguard. His brown suit was tight and had silver tech-like outlines. On each of his sides, instead of horseshoe boomerangs, were horseshoe-shaped katars. He felt like he had just walked out of a Tron movie.

"Um… you guys don't think Futaba will think I'm copying her, do you?" he asked, looking down at his suit.

"Maybe she'll joke about it, but I don't think there will be a problem," Kobra responded.

"We can talk about the outfits later - let's go!" Bunnix exclaimed, grabbing her umbrella and smashing a window with it.

"Right! Follow me!" Kobra ordered before leaping out of said window. From the outside, the trio could see that akumas weren't staying put at the school premises. They were spreading out to the rest of the city; the group could tell by the screams and cries of terror in the distance.

They watched in horror as the Dupain-Cheng bakery was destroyed from a gigantic beanstalk that was growing from the center of it. Fortunately, it seemed the area of Marinette's room where the Miracle Box was resting didn't get destroyed.

"Oh no…" Kobra breathed as they quickly jumped to the rooftops.

"Took you long enough!" Bombshell exclaimed, her shield already held out on her arm.

"Sorry," Nino apologized.

"Not too shabby there," Futaba commented, eyeing his outfit.

"Called it," Bunnix mumbled to herself.

"Thanks… you too?"

Futaba grinned as she swung a bola in her hand. Her hair was tossed to the side in a crease, and tied in multiple bands. Her red-orange shirt trailed down her back with gold hemming. She had red leather gloves with the thumb ring now holding a bird-claw shape in the middle of it. She also wore brown pants and gold boots not too unlike Saruchame. Her mask was also bird-like, ending in a slight point at the tip of her nose like Joker's.

"Thanks, uh… what should I call you?"

"Henhouse!" Henhouse flashed him and the others a peace sign, "And you?"

"...Shadow Barb," Shadow Barb said resolutely, "Let's do this!"

"The name's Amur," Akira - clad in the Tiger Miraculous - said, examining his trench knife. Not too different from his Joker guise, Amur sported a deep indigo suit and black striped tailcoat. Unlike Joker, however, his mask covered his whole upper head above the mouth like a reverse bandana, emulating Mona. His gloves also had sharp nails sewn into them. Licking the inside of his mouth, he felt around his canines which had also sharpened to a point.

"And for those who don't know, I'm Bunnix!"

"Thank you all for being here," Ladybug said gratefully. She then glanced down at Morgana who was waiting anxiously for her signal. The heroine originally had tried to give Morgana the Mouse Miraculous, but due to his animal form, he wasn't compatible with any of the jewelry. But fortunately, Ladybug had a different task in mind for the not-feline.

"You know your job, right Morgana?"

"I won't let that box out of my sight, Ladybug!" Morgana promised, lifting his paw and saluting.

"And if an akuma finds it?"

"I'll just whisk it away to the Metaverse like a thief in the night! No sweat!" the cat grinned, his tail lashing eagerly.

"Good, now get going! Make sure you're not seen!"

"Got it!" the cat shouted and with a feline howl, leaped down from the school roof and started sprinting towards the bakery.

"Brought the cavalry I see, m'lady!" Chat Noir said, sounding out of breath as he too joined the group.

"Kind of had to," Ladybug answered quickly, gazing at the utter chaos around them.

"Same strategy as last time, I presume?" he asked anxiously.

"Let's hope for the same results…"

"We distract and disorient them, break their items, and Ladybug goes badass and swipes the moths, right?" Saruchame double-checked.

"We also support her," Kobra added.

"Of course. That sounds like a plan…" Mitsubachi said, as the heroes lined up on the roof, the akumas below beginning to take notice of them at last.

"Team Miraculous! Go!"

Chapter Text

"I hope you enjoy your little show while it lasted, Hawkmoth!" Ladybug exclaimed boldly, standing proudly at the edge of the school building, "No matter what you try, you're never going to get our Miraculous! We will stop you, just like we have before!"

"And when this is over, you and Mayura are going to hand over your Miraculous!" Chat Noir added.

"Your days of making the people of Paris suffer end now, Hawkmoth!" Kobra shouted.

"We're totally going to wreck up your plans, Hawky!" Saruchame chimed in.

"Haven't you ever heard that the bad guys always lose?" Bunnix added with a smirk.

"And we'll make sure you atone for everything you've done for the rest of your life!" Bombshell proclaimed.

"It would be within your best interests to surrender to your fate!" Kijutsu-shi snapped.

"You've been playing dirty up to this point… well we're done playing nice as well!" Mitsubachi taunted.

"You won't stand a chance against us together!" Shadow Barb exclaimed confidently.

"We're going to expose your stupid face to the public so everyone can see how much of a deadbeat coward you are!" Henhouse jabbed.

Amur was silent, steeling himself for the battle ahead.

Growling, Lady Wifi typed on her phone and the school's televisions crackled to life. On them, the masked villain himself, dressed in his scarlet attire, appeared in front of them.

"So you wish to fight, do you ?" the villain cackled.

"Huh, you're uglier than I thought you'd be," Saruchame remarked.

"And that's not even counting your personality!" Henhouse snickered.

If this angered Hawkmoth, he didn't show it as he went on, "Get them, akumas! Seize their Miraculouses - every last one !"

With roars of challenge, the army of akumas charged from both the ground and the air.

"Watch out!" Chat warned as Dark Cupid rained arrows down from above. Team Miraculous quickly scattered to avoid the shots

"Dark Cupid… he's by far the most dangerous akuma right now! Try to take him out first!" Ladybug ordered.

"What do his powers do again?" Bombshell asked, blocking a lightning zap from Stormy Weather.

"Kijutsu, duck!" Mitsubachi warned as the fox locked his flute against the Mime's invisible sword,

Instinctively, Kijutsu-shi did so, barely dodging an arrow from the rogue angel akuma. Unfortunately, the arrow sunk into a civilian just getting out of his car to get to safety. Upon stumbling, the man slumped over before lifting his head and snarling. Another citizen ran over to try and help him, but the man swung his briefcase at them aggressively before the other man backed off and ran away instead.

"...Now I see why that one must be taken out first," Kijutsu-shi observed in horror before sweeping Princess Fragrance off her feet.

"How the hell are we supposed to get him, he's literally flying in the air!" Saruchame shouted, ducking to avoid a pause sign from Lady Wifi.

Ladybug bit her lip. They, fortunately, had a couple of Miraculous that Hawkmoth hasn't seen yet (or at least she hoped he didn't; he had the Grimoire translation, after all) so they could possibly use their abilities to their advantage. Glancing around at her team, her eyes eventually came to rest on Amur & Shadow Barb.

A grin spread over her face as she rolled around a blast from Reflekta.

"Shadow Barb! Amur!" she shouted, pointing at where Dark Cupid was circling above.

"Huh?" the Horse Holder gasped, glancing between the winged villain and Amur. The Tiger user did the same before his eyes shined in understanding. Straightening, Amur crossed his arms over his shoulders, fingers clawed before spreading his arms out, and the stripes on his suit began to glow before darkening.

"Stealth!" he shouted, and the blink of an eye later, he vanished.

"Whoa, what?!" Shadow Barb exclaimed, then his gaze wandered to Kim flying above, "Oh, I get it!"

With a smirk and gleam from his glasses, Shadow Barb swung his arm, "Voyage!" and the luminescent ring levitated around his wrist before he flung it forward.

With a hidden smirk, Amur sprinted towards the portal and leaped forward-

-and crashed with a grunt on top of Dark Cupid.

The akuma gasped in surprise as he felt strong arms wrap around his chest and wings. He tried to elbow and buck the invisible force off, but it held firm. With a grunt of its own, Dark Cupid felt sharp claws dig into his chest before it ripped off his brooch away and crushed it.

With another cry of fright this time, the miasma reverted off of Kim's form, causing him to free fall to the ground, the invisible bonds still holding his arms tight at his sides.

As he screamed, the invisible force glimmered before materializing around him. With a swift flip forward, Kim found himself cradled against a strong chest before landing firmly on the ground and being let down gently.

"You good?" the new hero asked.

All Kim could do was nod before the hero leaped back onto the roof to rejoin the fray.

By now, most of the akumas had scattered beyond the school to the rest of the city, so even though there were some still lurking around, Kim managed to reign in his emotions enough to keep them away. But he couldn't seem to ignore what felt like a hole that had been punched through his chest. The revelations of just a little while ago were still rawly fresh in his mind. A girl he admired was really a liar and bully, and Marinette… sweet, amazing Marinette had been innocent the entire time.

It was no wonder Ladybug didn't trust him anymore. How could… no, was there a way he could fix this at all?

Glad to see he's alright, Amur thought to himself as he watched Kim leave; that said, he didn't miss the kid's conflicted expression.

For the most part, anyway…

"Amur heads up!" Henhouse warned. Amur leaped blindly into the air, barely missing the gold ray that hit and left a scorch mark where he had been crouching just seconds ago.

"Oh, shit!" Saruchame cursed, staring at a new akuma behind him.

"Lying filth! Share your truths!" said akuma howled. The most notable trait about this one was the thick fabric that was wrapped around her eyes, and the large rusted scales she held from a chain. In her other hand was a long, sharp-looking sword that gleamed in the sunlight.

"Madame Rossi…" Ladybug muttered grimly.

"That's Verity Queen to you, oh perjurious one!" the akuma shouted back, somehow hearing the comment.

"Verity… the quality of being true…" Henhouse murmured, her brain spitting out the definition, "Don't tell me her power is…!"

"I guess we don't want to know what'll happen if we're hit by one of those blasts," Chat Noir groaned.

"Best guess, she'll force us to tell the truth, and nothing else," Mitsubachi theorized, "any sort of secret or illusion will be useless."

"Including identities…" Kijutsu-shi's eyes widened in realization.

"We need more space," Kobra decided, before twin sounds of beeping reached their ears. Shadow Barb and Amur both glanced at their Miraculous, one of the dots and claw prints blinking.

"And you two need a place to recharge," Bunnix added.

"Go! We'll draw them out towards the Eiffel Tower!" Ladybug ordered.

"Got it!" Shadow Barb agreed, leaping away. Amur nodded before doing the same.

Bombshell noticed Stormy Weather attempting to follow them but aggressively threw her shield, hitting the parasol. With a scream, Aurore began descending to the ground but was quickly caught by Kobra and settled on the ground.

"Let's go!" Ladybug shouted, before flicking out her yo-yo and swinging away from the school, the rest of Team Miraculous following close behind.

Amur's heart pounded as he dropped into an alley, his transformation stopping five seconds later. Instinctively, he caught the tiny Tiger kwami that came out of the bracelet.

"Not bad kid," Roaar commented as Akira dug out some beef jerky from his pocket, tossing it to the kwami, "that was a pretty awesome stunt back there!"

"Well, the fewer opportunities for more of these things, the better, right?" he asked.

"Not arguing there!" Roaar grinned, wolfing down the jerky.

"How Ladybug does this nearly every single day is incredible on its own…" Akira murmured, "she has my respect."

"She's a tough one, that's for sure!" Roaar agreed, "Stubborn and headstrong too!"

"No arguments there," Akira smiled, before noticing the tiger was finished eating, "Ready?"

"Let's do this!" Roaar grinned, doing a small flip, balling his nubby fists.

"Roaar, Leap Out!" Akira shouted, Roaar vanishing once again into the panjas bracelet.

With a grunt, he leaped back out of the alley, noticing out of the corner of his eye that Shadow Barb was leaping across the rooftops as well. Right, time to meet up with Ladybug-

With a gasp of surprise, Amur felt something hard tackle him from behind, flipping him over and pinning to his back. Looking up, slightly dazed, he found himself face-to-face with a woman with periwinkle skin. Over her head, while leaving her mouth exposed, she was wearing a black helmet with a red visor with black edges and a red spike pointing towards the back of her head, with a black dress suit with stiff shoulders, including a dark red front and swan neck collar that featured a red downward-arrow-shaped section in the center. The sleeves covered her entire arms, with the tips of her fingers fading into red. Also, she had pocket-like ridges on each side of her hips, and her pant legs went down to her feet, having red high-heels, soles, and tips.

"Let me ask you something, hero," the woman sneered, holding his shoulders firmly, "Do you enjoy being Ladybug's servant? Having to wait for her to loan you a Miraculous? Wouldn't you rather have boundless powers of your own?"

"Kusokurae, madam," Amur simply replied.

The woman's head reared back for a moment. If Amur could see her eyes, he would have seen the surprised blink at the language change before her smirk returned.

"Come with us, boy," she smiled deviously, "you can use the Tiger Miraculous whenever you want!"

"If you think this is a matter of wanting, you're really not as smart as you seem to think you are," Amur gave an unimpressed look, and with that, he jerked his head up, headbutting her hard.

With a cry of pain, the woman let go of him, stumbling back.

In a matter of seconds, he had Catalyst pinned to the ground herself.

"Now then, where's your akuma?" he mumbled to himself.

Hawkmoth gasped from his position in his lair. Quickly recovering, he called someone, any of his akumas to go save Catalyst.

Amur heard the sound of heavy stomping. He didn't let go of his hold on Catalyst, but he did turn his head around to see Stoneheart charging towards him.

With a snarl, he unsheathed his trench knife, holding it to Catalyst's neck, "One more step and I take her item, and if you're extra pushy, I may slit her throat open… decisions, decisions…"

Stoneheart stopped, a red moth mask surrounding his eyes, but he didn't get the chance to decide what he would do, as Bombshell's shield rammed into the paper his akuma was contained in. Granted, he grew bigger, but in shock, his hand opened, and the paper fell out just in time for the pointy green shield to bounce off of a wall, fly back and slice through it cleanly, reverting the golem to Ivan.

"Thanks, Bomb!" Amur grinned.

"Anytime," the blonde smirked, spinning her shield and clipping it to her back, "Who's that?"

"I dunno, but I should take her akumatized item, shouldn't I? Either way, go get Ladybug to purify that akuma from Stoneheart."

"On it-look out!" she shouted, pointing up. Above, Evillustrator flew towards them on a hoverboard he'd drawn.

"Oh, no ya don't!" another voice shouted before a sock monkey hit the akumatized artist right on his head.

"Huh?" the akuma gasped as the hoverboard below lost its weight and folded into two-dimensional paper beneath his feet, his pencil becoming a little daisy.

The former hoverboard and its rider crashed into the ground, sending the akumatized artist flying through the air. His tablet slipped midway and cracked when it hit the ground, releasing the moth.

"Agh, there's no end to these guys!" Saruchame groaned before heading off to recharge.

"If we can take out Hawkmoth, we stop all of this," Amur murmured before glaring down at his prisoner, "and you're going to tell us where he is. Considering the offer you tried to give me earlier, I'm guessing you're a bit closer to him, just like Lila Rossi was. Who's the 'servant' now?"

"Both of us, seeing as you work for Ladybug," she retorted with a scowl.

"Nope!" Amur grinned, to Catalyst's confusion, "I work with her on equal footing. Trying to sway me will just shorten your time. Now, where's your akuma?"

"Try checking her helmet," Ladybug's voice reasoned, as she and Chat Noir leaped up to join him, "take her out and Hawkmoth's done for!"

"Right…" he muttered, reaching for the helmet.

"Amur, get back!" Kijutsu-shi's voice suddenly rang out. Alarmed, Amur instinctively did, letting go of his captive in the process.

Throwing his flute like one would throw a spear, Ladybug and Chat Noir's forms vanished, to be replaced by Lady Wifi and the silver version of Volpina respectively.

"How did you- that illusion was perfect!" Silver Volpina shouted, infuriated. Lady Wifi growled as she stood up.

"To the normal eye. But when searching for the finer details, one must be careful to detect the slightest error," Kijutsu-shi grinned intimidatingly, "Ladybug's ribbons are shorter than what you gave your work."

Bombshell and Amur stared at Kijutsu-shi, wide-eyed.

"How did you notice something like that?!" Bombshell gasped.

"Trade secret," the Fox hero simply grinned.

"Ugh…" Catalyst groaned as she rose to her feet, "I'll get you for this some other time!"

"That's some real cliche supervillain shit there, miss!" Saruchame's voice chastised as the Monkey wielder returned.

Catalyst just growled, before pointing at Lady Wifi and Silver Volpina. "Take care of them!" she ordered.

"Yes, Madame Catalyst," Lady Wifi smirked before a barrage of pause buttons soared towards the quartet.

"Catalyst…" Bombshell murmured as they dodged the flying attacks, "Oh! Her akuma power must act like a turbo-charger! That's how Hawkmoth is able to create so many akumas right now!"

"If we can take her out, the rest of the akumas will likely go away too, then," Saruchame realized.

"Like we'll let you get the-" Lady Wifi didn't get the chance to finish her sentence as Shadow Barb rushed her, pinning her to a nearby chimney. Before she could react too much, Shadow Barb ripped her phone out of her hands and smashed it.

"Sorry, hon," Shadow Barb said in a tone betraying his sadness in order to hide any connection to the Ladyblogger. As Alya returned to her normal, he nodded at her neutrally before leaping off, leaving her behind.

"One down, one to go!" Amur grinned as Silver Volpina gasped.

Quickly she blew into her flute and in a flash of light, multiple copies of herself surrounded her.

Groaning in annoyance, Bombshell prepared to throw her shield again, only for a whirling sound to stop her. In a swish, a dark-gray grapple ripped through the illusions, leaving no Volpinas in sight.

The quartet looked back in the direction of the grapple just as Shadow Barb pulled his horseshoe katar back towards him, hearing the weapon lock back into place. He smirked and sent a two-fingered salute.

"We should let Ladybug know about that Catalyst akuma," Amur decided, "Saruchame, Bombshell, you go give her the news. Kijutsu-shi, Shadow Barb, you're with me - we're chasing down Catalyst!"

"Got it!" Bombshell nodded.

"Sure thing, dude!" Shadow Barb exclaimed; behind him, Alya's eyes widened before narrowing slightly suspiciously.

"Okay, now move!" Amur ordered as the group dispersed.

"You have got to be kidding me…" Mitsubachi groaned as she dodged yet another kissing zombie!

"Okay, seriously, either Hawkmoth has too big of an imagination or he was really desperate when he made this one!" Henhouse agreed, batting a zombie away with her bola.

"I'm sticking with the desperate option for this one," Bunnix agreed, sending another flying with her umbrella.

"Stay focused!" Ladybug ordered, "Let even one of them kiss you and you turn into a zombie too, superhero suits be damned!"

"Look out! Shellter!" Bombshell shouted, barely making it in time to shield the group from a laser attack from Gamer's mech.

"Nice catch!" Ladybug exclaimed as the beam bounced off the shield into the horde of zombies, hitting them all at once and turning them into red game-like orbs.

"No problem," Bombshell said before lowering the shield, "Ladybug, there's a special akuma running around, her name is Catalyst. We think she's the source of Hawkmoth's enhanced powers."

"Not sure what she can do, exactly," Saruchame said, "but she certainly seemed more interested in getting away than fighting us."

"Where are Amur, Kijutsu, and Barb?" Ladybug asked urgently.

"They went after her. She may be able to lead them to Hawkmoth," Bombshell said.

"I hope they're careful. Hawkmoth is dangerous to fight alone!" Chat Noir exclaims, holding a newly freed Rose in his arms.

"Ladybug, taking them out one by one will take forever!" Kobra said, "If we can't find Hawkmoth, we need a way we can either take them out at once or at least immobilize everyone."

Glancing around at the continued chaos, Ladybug knew Kobra was right. Hawkmoth had yet to make an appearance, likely waiting for the akumas to tire them out. If there was a way to band all the villains together and at least trap them, that would work for the time being.

Taking a deep breath, Ladybug threw her yo-yo into the air.

"Lucky Charm!"

Chapter Text

In a swirl of ladybugs, a long, thin object fell lightly into Ladybug's palms.

"A fencing foil?" she asked, staring down at the weapon.

"No offense, Ladybug, but I don't see how that is going to help us here-look out!" Henhouse exclaimed before everyone dived out of the way of a car.

"...You've got to be kidding me," Saruchame groaned this time as a fifty-foot tall baby started walking towards them, alongside a knock-off version of King Kong and an… ice cream snow monster?

"We could go on like this forever," Kobra groaned, "we need a way to either capture or destroy their items all at once!"

"Capture them together…" Ladybug muttered, still staring at the foil. Then her eyes lit up. It was risky, but if Longg walked her through the same procedure that Sass did with Luka, it could still work.

"I need to make a call. I'll be right back," she exclaimed.

"Go then!" Mitsubachi shouted, blocking a shot from Reflekta with her top.

With a brief nod, Ladybug swung towards the rooftops and sprinted towards a more secure before pulling her phone out and Facetiming Akira's phone.

After two rings, Morgana's face appeared on the screen.

"Everything okay, Ladybug?" he asked, concerned.

"So far, but I need a favor Mona-is that my dad?!"

Glancing behind him, Morgana indeed saw a knocked out Weredad's legs hanging out of her trapdoor.

If Morgana had been human, he would have been blushing from embarrassment, "Yeah… I kind of had to knock him out when I got here. But he'll go back to normal once this is done right?"

"He should…" Ladybug bit her lip before her earrings beeped in warning, "Anyway, Mona, I need you to grab the Dragon Miraculous. It's a black choker with a red gem in the middle. I need you to take it and find Kagami Tsurugi."

"Um… not that I can't do that, but won't that leave the Miracle Box unguarded?" the not-cat asked.

"Just trust me on this, Mona. Hawkmoth will expect me to go looking for another wielder, not a being that looks like a cat."

"...Okay, if you say so. But doesn't Hawkmoth know who holds the Dragon Miraculous?" Mona asked, cocking his head.

"He knows who Ryūko is, yes," Ladybug nodded, "but if a different Dragon hero shows up…"

"...Oh! Okay, I get it!" Morgana nodded with a smirk, "Leave it to me, Ladybug!"

After Ladybug hung up, Mona got to work. Fortunately, since Ladybug had given him permission to, he was able to open the spherical box after activating the mechanism that kept it hidden in Marinette's chest. Like a flower in bloom, the box split open, revealing the remaining Miraculous that weren't in use yet.

"Let's see, choker, choker, choker… there it is!" he exclaimed before picking the Miraculous up in his mouth. In a flash of red light, Longg, the Dragon Kwami appeared next to it as well.

"It seems that Guardian-sama is in need of further assistance, no?" the little dragon asked. Due to the Miraculous being in his mouth, Morgana could only nod. With an amused chuckled, Longg nodded, "Well then, let us be off!"

"Swer thwing," Morgana muffled a reply before he pounced out the window, the kwami following close behind him.

Moments later, a white burrow opened up in the exact same spot that Morgana had been waiting in seconds ago.

With a small yelp of surprise, a pair of white and blue gloves dropped Morgana inside. Shaking his head, Morgana looked back just in time to watch the burrow vanish.

"...Huh, time travel. It is a cornucopia of madness!"

Morgana found himself growling in frustration. Sure, he knew what Kagami looked like thanks to pictures Marinette had shown them, but actually finding her? That was a different story. For all he knew, she was one of the akumas running rampant right now. He had already run past three of them, a red and white kid on a paper airplane, a man in a scarlet owl suit (he was pretty sure that was the principal), and a silver guy with a red afro and disco balls for hands. Fortunately for Morgana, the akumas either didn't notice him, or they did and didn't look closely enough to see what he was carrying in his mouth, assuming he was just an ordinary street-cat.

Guess this non-Metaverse form had its advantages after all.

"If memory serves correctly, Kagami-chan is usually practicing her fencing in the park at this time. The one across from the Roue de Paris. Perhaps we should search there?" Longg suggested.

Morgana could only grunt in response, but quickly followed the Dragon's instructions.

Finding the Ferris wheel was easy enough, but it took Morgana another five minutes to get to the park, which was on the other end of the river. Once again, there are perks of being a cat in the real world.

Turns out, Longg's intuition was spot on as he spotted Kagami in the middle of the park…

...Desperately blocking wild swings from a girl with long and messy scarlet hair that was pointed at the top, red lipstick, and red sclera, blue iris with a black outline, and blue pupils. The akuma's outfit was a black mask with a scarlet outline. Her lower arms were red, which contrasts to black, with a red outline. Her upper arms and lower legs were light red with a black bodysuit that covers her neck, torso, and halfway down above her ankle gloves, with a red outline around her collar, armholes, and lower legs. On the center of her bodysuit was a red circle with a black question mark on the center. She also had a pair of black wedges with a red outline around the top and red soles.

"You will not take one more step!" Kagami proclaimed, swinging her boken against the akuma's tonfa. Morgana could hear the akuma's growl of frustration. It was clear that this akuma wanted to get away, but Kagami wasn't having it. Whatever power it had, the fencer was determined to not let the akuma get closer to where the other heroes are.

"Get out of my way, Ice Queen!" the akuma shouted, swinging wildly with her tonfa, but it was clear the akuma was no real fighter. Kagami saw this too, and easily disarmed the girl and kicked her under a tree.

While the akuma was stunned, Morgana took this opportunity to climb up to the top branches. When the akuma attempted to get back up, reaching for her tonfa, Morgana struck. With a yowl, he leaped down and swiped the tonfa away from the akuma where it broke against the concrete.

With a gasp, the akuma returned to normal and Mona recognized it as the policeman's daughter. The bespectacled girl looked confused and dazed. Kagami was looking between Morgana and the girl, though it was mostly blank, her eyes shone with confusion and shock.

"...Kitty?" the girl asked warily. While Mona deeply wanted to comfort the girl, he also knew that they needed Kagami's help as soon as possible.

So he hissed aggressively at the girl, hackles raised and everything, which caused her to shriek and run away.

Kagami was just standing there, continuing to stare at the unusual scene. Her mouth opened and closed silently, but no sound came out.

Once the girl was out of sight, Mona turned his attention back to the Miraculous that he had dropped in the process, picking it up, trotting up to Kagami, and dropping the choker at her feet.

Looking down at what he dropped, Kagami's eyes widened in recognition.

"Th-that's…!" she murmured, bending down and picking up the choker.

"Greetings once again, Kagami-chan!" Longg greeted eagerly, flying over from hiding behind the trees.

"Ah-Longg-sama!" Kagami exclaimed, before bowing shortly, "I don't understand. What's going-"

A loud 'meow' interrupted her. Looking down, she saw that Morgana was pawing urgently at her leg.

Longg laughed anxiously, "Yes, but explanations can wait for later; right now, Ladybug-sama needs your help."

"...Very well, Longg, Bring the-ow!" Kagami yelped, stopping mid-sentence. Now clearly irritated, she looked down to see that Morgana had bitten her ankle. It wasn't hard enough to draw blood, but it still hurt! Though she failed to notice Longg's relieved expression.

Before Kagami could deal with the annoying cat, it yowled and started… wait, it was drawing something with its tail on the ground. The two characters that made up the words 'Ryūko' (流子) on the ground, before drawing a large 'x' over the symbols.

Kagami blinked, eyes flickering between the cat and the symbols on the ground.

"...You're not a normal cat, are you?" she inquired.

Longg chuckled awkwardly, "What my friend is trying to say is that while you must assist, it can't be as Ryūko. You must pick a different form! And I will teach you how to do so."

Kagami glanced between the cat and the Dragon kwami again, but her mind was racing. She remembered when Kobra first appeared, and his unusual resemblance to the old Snake Hero, Viperion. It was also strange how easily he seemed to use his power right away, with little to no instruction from Ladybug whatsoever (or was that how his power worked? She knew it had to do with time somehow…). Was it possible that… Viperion was Kobra? The same person, but with a different identity. So if that was really the case, then that meant-

Her eyes shifted from confused to determined, "What must I do?"

"Dammit!" Amur cursed as he, Shadow Barb, and Kijutsu-shi rushed back towards the Eiffel Tower. They had literally been on Catalyst's tail. He was positive the akuma could lead them to Hawkmoth or at least his lair. However, a different akuma - he heard Catalyst call him Pharaoh - had grabbed her and flown off with her, causing them to lose her trail. The only thing they could do now was regroup with Ladybug.

Shadow Barb had wanted to use his Voyage to get back faster, but he and Kijutsu convinced him not to, and to save it for later.

It was a good thing they did, too, as it was only Shadow Barb's Voyage that stopped Animan from pouncing on an unsuspecting Bombshell.

"Ladybug," Amur shouted, as the trio joined them in the fray, "Sorry, we lost track of Catalyst."

"It's fine. We'll find her next time!" the red and black spotted her said promptly, blocking several shots from Rogercop's blasts.

"Yeah, let's figure out how to deal with King Kong over there first!" Saruchame shouted, pointing towards Gorizilla who was lumbering towards the group.

"That's Adrien Agreste's bodyguard!" Chat Noir exclaimed, "Kijutsu!"

Understanding immediately, the Fox hero immediately brought his flute to his lips, a soft, quick melody, the ball of light appearing on the end of it.

"Mirage!" he exclaimed, throwing the light as far towards the akumatized Gorilla monster as possible. It must have worked as Gorizilla stopped and started lumbering away down the street again, chasing after the Adrien illusion instead.

"Nice going, Kijutsu!" Mitsubachi exclaimed.

"My pleas-" the Fox hero suddenly grunted as he was hit by something from behind. A huge wave of fear suddenly overtook him and he fell to his knees.

"Kijutsu!" Kobra exclaimed. The Fox hero heard his comrade, but he couldn't stop shaking.

"Up there!" Bunnix pointed, "Dammit, Reverser!"

Just as Reverser's plane flew above them, Amur pulled out his trench knife, and threw it, causing the weapon to cut straight through the plane's bottom.

With a shout, Reverser reverted back to Marc, causing him to free fall to the ground. Fortunately, Mitsubachi rushed to grab him and deposit him on the grass.

"Kijustu-shi, snap out of it!" Ladybug shouted, sounding panicked.

He understood why moments later; a cold sensation, like an iron grip rolled through Kijutsu-shi's body.

"Mayakashi," a cold voice whispered inside his head, "This is Hawkmoth. You wish for-"

Before Hawkmoth could utter so much as another syllable, pain - and a lot of it - ripped through Kijutsu-shi's skull. Though he couldn't see it, behind the scarlet moth outline, the Fox hero's eyes flashed gold before, clutching his head, he collapsed to the ground and started howling in agony, curling in on himself as if to try and stop the pain.

"Whoa!" Shadow Barb exclaimed in shocked fright, "What's happening? What's wrong with him?"

On the other end of the connection, Hawkmoth was also crying out as the same pain raked through his head as well. He didn't realize what was going on. He'd never had such a reaction like this to an akuma victim, hero or otherwise.

Then a new voice - a deep and dramatic one the villain didn't recognize - sent shivers running down his spine.

"You are not welcome here. I claimed him long before you… BEGONE!"

At that point the pain intensified ten-fold, nearly causing Hawkmoth to collapse. Frantically, he cut the connection to the Fox hero. Only then did the torturing anguish cease.

Kijutsu-shi gasped as the connection severed, his limbs limply flopping to the ground.

"Kijutsu, are you-"

He gasped again, curling inward, trying to look as small as possible. The pain was gone, yes, but the terror he was feeling remained.

"Crap, he's terrified! Hen!"

"On it!"

He didn't see what happened, but in a flash of light, he felt something warm and pleasant wrap around his form like an old, soft blanket.

"Restore!" the voice continued, the light glowing brighter before suddenly fading.

Gasping, Kijutsu-shi leaped to his feet, the despair he had felt previously having vanished.

"Wh-what happened?" he asked honestly, as the last few minutes had been a blur.

"Reverser hit you with one of his planes, which I guess made you super scared of everything," Saruchame began, "then Hawkmoth tried to akumatize you, but then you collapsed and started screaming - you seriously looked like you were having a seizure or something - and you only stopped once the moth left. Then Henhouse here just used her ability to… well, reverse whatever Reverser did to you."

"...I see," was all the Fox hero could really say.

"Oh, and while you were screaming all the other akumas stopped too and started screaming too. It looked like they were in the same pain you were in," Bombshell added.

"Oh yeah… that was weird," Bunnix said, "You think it's because they were all connected to Hawkmoth?"

"That must be the case," Ladybug said, "because I can't think of any other reason-"

A clang of Kobra's lyre intercepting a shot from Rogercop brought Ladybug and the rest of the team back to their senses.

"Maybe save the discussion for after we deal with the rest of the army right now?" he asked urgently, catching the lyre as it spun back to him.

Ladybug groaned as her attention was brought back to the army. While they had managed to de-evilize several of the victims, many more still remained and were beginning to surround them. And now half of the team was on a timer from using their abilities. Until they could-

"Wind Dragon!"

A strong gust of wind suddenly overtook the majority of the area. In shouts of surprise and shock, the remaining akumas were all sucked into the vortex. Despite being the center of the storm, Ladybug remained calm, a small smile tugging at her lips.

With a shout of triumph, Henhouse flung her bolas up into the air. Being at the mercy of the wind, the weapon was easily able to tangle up the remaining enemies, rendering them all immobile.

All except for one…

"You sinners of chicanery!" Verity Queen raged, having been able to fly away from the storm (since when could she fly?!), "You shall pay dearly!"

She had just barely raised her sword to strike at the group when-

"Lightning Dragon!"

With a burst of electricity, the akuma found herself being hit point-blank in the chest by a bolt of pure lighting. As the electricity flooded through her body, the scales in her hand also shattered to pieces, the small red moth fleeing from its temporary hold.

The evil magic faded from Ms. Rossi's form, and the ambassador was soon free-falling just like so many other akumas had. She would have hit the ground had a lithe form not caught her and broke her fall.

"...Now that's what I call 'swift as lightning'," Ladybug grinned once she got over her shock.

After setting the woman down, the new hero turned to face the group. Unlike Ryūko's costume, which was mostly red, this one was more black, especially around the legs with a gold dragon-like pattern wrapped around both of them. Her upper half faded up into a darker red, with the circle in the center of her chest showing the elements she represented now outlined in gold as well. Her gloves remained the same style, but her right was red with gold outline, and her left was gold with red outlining. Her mask, while still mostly red, now was gold down the middle of her nose which faded into red than black on the sides. Her hair, just like Ryūko, had horns sticking from her hair, but the hair itself also curled up as if to frame them.

"I appreciate the chance to help, Ladybug," the hero bowed respectively. The word 'again' went unsaid, but to those in the know, the meaning was there, "I am Dragonica."

"You came just in time!" Bombshell grinned, eyeing the group of bound-up akumas in the center of the park.

"Alright, now let's end this-huh?" Saruchame gasped as all of the remaining moths suddenly started retreating towards the Eiffel Tower.

"What's going on?" Kobra gasped.

"Why does this seem familiar…?" Chat wondered.

The akumas then began to converge into an oval, slowly forming into the shape of…

"Hawkmoth!" Ladybug growled, looking defiantly up at the villain's face.

"Oh, finally showing your ugly mug, huh?" Saruchame taunted.

"Quite the performance of yours," Henhouse smirked, "but you failed to completely follow through, now didn't you?"

Ladybug frowned. The last time he did this he came out on his own, and she and Chat had to fight him face to face. Why was he keeping his distance now?

"What's the matter? Come out and fight us, you coward!" Bunnix shouted angrily.

The akuma-made face seemed to grimace before finally speaking, "I can admit when I've… miscalculated."

"Miscalculated?" Mitsubachi asked softly, eyebrows furrowing, "That is quite the understatement."

"I suppose a congratulations is in order," Hawkmoth said with scorn, "This victory goes to you. However… this war is far from over!"

With this final declaration, the akumas all dispersed in all directions, disappearing into the sky, their dark red color fading to white.

Then, much to the team's confusion, the remaining akumas that were tied up reverted back to normal as well.

The team of heroes could only look on in shock. Hawkmoth had called off his own attack? Why?

"Nooroo, Dark Wings Fall," Gabriel intoned as his transformation dropped, alongside Catalyst who reverted back into Natalie. He heard his assistant breathe a huge sigh of relief.

"Are you all right, Natalie?" Gabriel asked, moving to kneel next to her.

"Yes. Just… shaken up," she replied. Gabriel didn't blame her; after all, this was the first time a Miraculous-wielding hero had shown a willingness to actually kill someone.

Gabriel grimaced. The plan they complied shortly after hearing Ms. Rossi's voicemail hadn't gone accordingly at all. They knew that if another mass attack happened, Ladybug would need to return to the Miracle Box and retrieve the Miraculous for her allies. They planned for Natalie - as Catalyst - to avoid most of the fighting and simply follow Ladybug to the box's location. If they did that, they would not only know where the box was, but they also could possibly discover Ladybug's identity. It seemed like a win-win situation… well, not for Ladybug, that is.

But no, that's not what happened.

Instead of retreating to its location, Ladybug and the new team appeared nearly two minutes after the mass akumatization started. Even with the power of the other Miraculous, even that seemed impossible… unless…

…Ladybug had anticipated this attack from the start! But that was impossible! Yes, Ms. Rossi's confession was abrupt, and that blasted "heroine" was obviously smart enough to know that a confession would cause this situation. But she had no way of knowing what day it would happen!

So… that only left one other possibility - she had given the Miraculous out already! In other words, in preparation, she had given the heroes their Miraculous likely days in advance! Then when it started, she simply needed to contact them.

But that only seemed to be a small inconvenience. He was sure that she would need to go back to the box again at some point in the battle. Yes, that was a gamble, but it was one he took. And to his good fortune, that seemed to be the case when Ladybug disappeared for a few minutes. However, much to his surprise, she returned shortly after empty-handed.

Or so he thought, as when it looked like he had nearly cornered the team, a new Dragon wielder appeared and had practically ended the battle right there and then. But how? Ladybug didn't return with her, so how did she retrieve the Miraculous? Ultimately, he had been given no choice but to retreat for now.

Speaking of the wielders, something was strange about them as well. For a while after his and Mayura's assault on the Guardian with Chloe, Ladybug and Chat Noir didn't bring in any new heroes at all. If another Miraculous was needed, the heroes would simply unify it with their own powers. That changed when Kobra, the new snake-wielder appeared three months later. He knew that it would happen eventually. Using more than one Miraculous at a time was likely exhausting on the duo, but no other heroes appeared besides him.

However, after only two weeks, not one, not two, but eight new heroes had appeared… although only four of those that showed up today during the battle were new.

Something had changed. Why else would Ladybug bring out the other Miraculous again, and how did she find such competent allies so quickly? Not only that, but each of the new heroes seemed to already be completely trusted by Ladybug; if they hadn't, then again, they wouldn't have been given a Miraculous in the first place, would they?

As for the new heroes, they couldn't be the same children that went to his son's school… well, nearly all of them, with the exception of Adrien, Miss Dupain-Cheng, M. Lahiffe, and Ms. Kubdel. So that meant the new heroes didn't go to that school, as most of the school had been akumatized. Whether this was intentional by Ladybug or not he didn't know.

Speaking of said new heroes… Kijutsu-shi, was it? When he had tried to akumatize the new Fox wielder, he hadn't expected any of what occurred. It was almost as if there was some sort of other person… no, another being already inside his mind. A being that had not been happy with Hawkmoth's intrusion. The pain it caused hadn't stopped until he was forced to withdraw that akuma.

Was it some sort of fail-safe Ladybug had created, or was it something else entirely? Thanks to the translations on the iPad of the old Guardian, he was able to learn many of the Miraculous's secrets, but nowhere did it mention a protection like that. Perhaps the answer was in an area that hadn't been completely translated yet? Furthermore, did the other heroes - new and/or old - have this same protection?

As Gabriel opened the door to his office, he murmured to himself, "It seems Ladybug's new allies will be more troublesome than we expected…"

Chapter Text

School was officially canceled for the rest of the day; however, once the Miraculous Ladybug restored everything, Principal Damocles sent out an email, telling all parents to meet at the school that evening for an 'emergency assembly'. All the students had been informed before returning home that day as well that they were to come as well.

Most of the students were still shaken from the incident - this was the second recorded time a mass akumatization occurred on the school grounds - and the parents were not being shy about voicing their criticisms about the situation. Tom and Sabine were present too, though they looked more annoyed than angry, it didn't seem to be directed at Marinette, much to her relief.

For once, Miss Bustier's class was silent as they waited for Principal Damocles to make the announcement. Most of them were avoiding Marinette's eyes, too embarrassed to do so. Only Alix, Nino, and Luka stuck close to Marinette's side.

Mr. Damocles began his apology speech, but Marinette and her closest allies hadn't paid much attention to it; in fact, Nino in particular had been on his phone, for the most part, quietly murmuring words no one had caught.

Standing by the podium close to the principal was Lila, Ms. Rossi, Officer Roger, and a man that Marinette could only assume was Lila's father due to his dark hair and olive complexion. He didn't look angry, but the sheer look of disappointment he had as he stoically stared at his daughter told anyone looking all they needed to know.

"As everyone is aware, several months ago, a similar incident happened at our school and nearly had a bright, young student of this institution expelled on false charges," Principal Damocles went on, "Now, our actions may have a bit… hasty," he finally admitted, "and our handling of the entire situation could have gone better. We would like to apologize profoundly for our imperfections in dealing with this."

Alix scoffed and rolled her eyes. "Does he realize how uncaring 'imperfections' sounds?" she grumbled to Marinette, "And 'nearly' got you expelled? Oh, please."

"Ever since that incident, we have received several reports regarding the interactions between Miss Rossi and Miss Dupain-Cheng, which upon further investigation have been proven false as well."

There were several murmurs from most of the audience and Marinette could feel their eyes on her, but she continued to stare ahead, completely stone-faced. Everyone else from class seemed to cave in on themselves as they were reminded of Lila's confession from earlier as Principal Damocles went on, explaining the situation further, detailing everything that Lila confessed to just hours ago.

"Now, Monsieur Rossi has asked to say a few words before Miss Rossi is escorted off of school premises," with that, Principal Damocles scurried from the stand as fast as he could respectfully go as the olive-toned man approached it, face completely blank.

He cleared his throat before speaking, "On behalf of my family and on the accounts of the… horrendous and ludicrous behavior of my daughter," his decently thick Italian accent rang through the room with gritted teeth and his hands clenched on the podium, though one could easily understand where that anger was being directed at, "I would like to give my sincerest apologies to the Dupain-Cheng family. I promise that should charges be filed, as you have the right to do so, we will accept them and provide any sort of recompensation, whether financial or otherwise until you are satisfied."

"Well, Mlle. Dupain-Cheng?" Ms. Bustier asked, "Do you forgive Lila, or do you want recompense?"

She sounded as if she already knew the answer.

Marinette took the opportunity to get out of her seat. Like a queen making her way down from her throne, she walked up to the podium, and with a nod to Principal Damocles, she took the microphone.

"...What the fuck?!" Ryuji exclaimed once Alix was done explaining the system their college had about punishment and forgiveness.

All of the Phantom Thieves were staring through the monitors with expressions mixed with shock and revulsion.

"Or at least, that's how it works for our class… usually," Nino said with a grimace.

"There shouldn't be a system like that anywhere," Akira grumbled, "never mind one plagued by supervillains that feed off of negative emotion."

"I think most of it was because of Chloe," Marinette admitted, "the teachers always refused to punish her because of her Daddy. And when they did try, she threatened to call her dad and get them fired. One time, my dad came to our school to teach us how to make macaroons, and she called the Fire Department! Then after it was clear there was no fire, and no one was coming forward to confess, Principal Damocles, punished the entire school except for Chloe, who got out of it because she threatened to call her dad, even when we found out that she's the one that did it later on!"

"I remember that. Juleka came home in a really bad mood…" Luka commented.

Makoto sighed heavily and covered her eyes with her hand, "Marinette… do you realize what they're doing?"

"Letting bullies get away with anything they want?" Alix asked.

"Not just that," Makoto said, "it's humiliation !"

"She's correct," Yusuke agreed, scowling, "They're forcing the victim to accept a likely insincere apology from the aggressor, with no further discipline being given to the guilty party."

"They aren't teaching you to 'be kind' and 'forgiveness will make everyone happier,'" Futaba expressed, "No! They're basically telling the student 'Stop causing trouble and suck it up! It's your fault they're bullying you because you're the problem. Fix it yourself, because we have better things to do!'"

"Shit like that's awful appetitic…" Ryuji grumbled.

"Skull… you mean apathetic, don't you?" Morgana chided.

"Yeah, that," the blond amended.

With these new realizations being thrown at the quartet, it took several minutes for them to digest this information before any of them replied.

"...Then what can we do? That's going to happen no matter what, I guarantee it!" Marinette said.

"Easy. Don't accept the apology," Ann said bluntly.

"What do you mean 'don't accept it'?" Nino asked.

"Well… do you honestly think I'm going to forgive Kamoshida for what he did to me and Shiho, just because he said 'sorry'?" Ann asked, "Well, I won't, and I still haven't, and likely never will! Basically, there are situations where a simple 'I'm sorry' isn't going to cut it no matter how many times they say it!"

"Marinette," Akira said, cutting the pig-tailed girl off before she could say anything, "Listen… you are under no obligation to forgive any of them, least of all Lila."

"Remember what I sad in Hawaii, Mari," Makoto said, "you warned your class multiple times to check Lila's stories, to listen to you-"

This comment had Nino and Alix cringing a little in guilt.

"-but they didn't. That's on them , not you ."

"If you want to forgive them, fine, whatever," Ryuji shrugged, "but only do it if you want to, not because some other asshole is expecting you to!"

"They can only control your life and your actions if you let them," Futaba added, "So put your foot down, and say-"


There were gasps. Principal Damocles started sputtering and Miss Bustier looked like she had been slapped all over again.

But before anyone could protest or berate her, Marinette continued, "You think a simple sorry is going to change anything ?" her eyes landed on Lila, and she had the audacity to cower under her gaze, "You made my life a living hell for the past two years, and you didn't care! You got me expelled for crying out loud, and for what? Because you didn't like me? Because I was the only one not groveling at your feet or serving your every whim? No! I'll… I'll never… I'll never forgive you!"

There was absolute silence in the entire auditorium. One could easily hear a pin drop. Principal Damocles and Miss Bustier were staring at Marinette in horror. Most of the other students and staff looked shocked as well, but some were even looking at her with awe. Marinette spotted her parents in the crowd, both looking shocked too, but, especially in her mom, she could also see a sheen of pride and she didn't miss the small twitch in Sabine's lip.

*clap clap clap clap clap clap*

The distinct sound of hands clapping broke the silence. Marinette had been so into the moment that she actually jumped. Looking out to find the source, she spotted Nino holding up his phone as far out as he could.

On the screen, she could see every member of the Tokies clapping loudly and beaming proudly at her. Ryuji was even wolf-whistling.

Then the live clapping started. Shifting her eyes, she saw Luka and Alix joining in. Nino was shooting her a thumbs-up as he was still holding up his phone.

Soon others joined in. Several members of Madame Mendeleiev's class - Aurore, Mireille, Jean, Kagami, Marc - then other members of the art club, the fencing team, even members of the facility joined in the applause. She spotted Madame Mendeleiev herself shooting her an approving smirk.

The only ones not clapping were the majority of Bustier's class. They were too busy staring at the ground, ashamed of their actions, and trying to look as small as possible. It didn't help that many of their parents were shooting disapproving or disappointed looks at them, either. Even Anarka was frowning at Juleka.

The Rossi family took this opportunity to shuffle off, with Lila being personally escorted by Officer Roger. This was only the first school that they would need to stop at. Several more awaited for Lila to confess to, and her parents would ensure she confessed to every last one of them.

One more pair of eyes watched Lila leave before shifting back to Marinette on the stage. He would be lying if he said he wasn't a little proud of his friend, but Adrien couldn't bring himself to clap. Heck, even Nathalie was giving a polite golf-clap. The feeling of guilt gnawing inside was stronger.

"Marinette… what's happened to you?"

Akira couldn't stop smiling as he ended the video call from Nino. He couldn't be prouder of Marinette for taking a stand like that. She had been through so much with being Ladybug, dealing with Hawkmoth, and surviving one of the worst bullying cases he'd ever witnessed. She was strong, and he was happy to consider him a friend and fellow member of the Phantom Thieves.

As if reading his mind, Morgana smiled, "This definitely calls for celebration, doesn't it? Sure, we only got about 2050 yen from that junky tiara, but it would be a crime to not go somewhere! Maybe we can discuss it with the Parisians tomorrow. Oh! Maybe we can convince Marinette to smuggle some of her bakery goods over to us, don't you think?"

Akira chuckled, "We could definitely ask her… hey, wasn't there something you wanted to talk to me about a while ago?

"Hmm? Oh! It's nothing!" Morgana insisted, "It was a bit of a… in the moment thing, but it's not important anymore."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, don't worry," Morgana smiled confidently.

"By the way, did you get any more of your memories back?" Akira pressed.

"No, nothing solid, just a couple flashes of things I can't remember now…"

"Sorry about that…." Akira said sincerely.

"It's not your fault. I guess all we can do is keep moving forward," the not-cat said before settling on the bed next to him, "Anyway, it's pretty late, you still have school tomorrow. We'll talk more and decide what's next then."

"Okay…" Akira murmured before yawning and falling onto his pillow, feeling his eyes droop closed. Although he'd only had him a couple of days, he already missed the small indent in the corner of his pillow where Roaar liked to settle. He wondered if he would be able to see him again. He was sure he would for now, but considering the conversation he and Futaba had with Ladybug after the battle…

No, he wouldn't think about it for now.

We'll cross that bridge when they got there was the last thought he had before nodding off.

The feeling of cold metal pressing against his back was an old feeling by now as Akira opened his eyes and was greeted by the familiar bars of the Velvet Room's jail cell.

There was the familiar sound of a baton banging against the cell bars.

"On your feet, inmate!" Caroline barked just as he swung his legs off his bed.

As he approached the bars, he spotted Igor with his usual grin on his face.

"You have eliminated a young soul drowning in Mendacity. I'm very impressed with your progress," the Velvet Room's headmaster praised.

"You have come far from when you first set foot in this place, inmate," Justine smiled softly.

"You have even discovered another power, one given to you by a Guardian," Igor continued, "Wielding a Miraculous is considered one of the highest honors one can obtain; you should feel as such. Use the jewels wisely."

Normally, Akira wouldn't have felt happy, or touched by what the headmaster said, but… for some reason a sense of foreboding fell upon his shoulders, causing him to frown. Why didn't Igor's statement sit right with him?

"Such power should not be taken lightly. But, you are already aware of that, aren't you?"

"Do you know who Hawkmoth or Mayura would be?" Akira had to ask.

"That is something I'm not at liberty to share," Igor informed him, much to Akira's frustration, "but worry not. The truth will unravel in due time."

"That's… reassuring," Akira said honestly.

Before he could ask any further questions, the prison sirens blared.

"Time's up for now, inmate," Caroline huffed.

"We will continue to monitor your progress," Justine informed him calmly.

Before anything else could be said, the world faded from his sight, and Akira was once more drifting off into oblivion.

"So… what now?" Alix asked in the video conference the next day. It was lunchtime once again at their college, so the Tokies were just getting out of school for the day, "I mean, Lila's out of the picture. She and her family left Paris yesterday. It was all over the news even!"

"Well, the news of the Phantom Thieves possibly being involved may surface at some point too," Makoto reasoned, "There's no way the school will be able to keep quiet about that for long. It would be best to lay low until that blows over. Considering this will be the first time the Phantom Thieves worked outside of Japan, I wouldn't be surprised if this makes international coverage."

"Lay low, huh?" Marinette asked, partially agreeing, "I understand, but… so far no one has been able to figure out how exactly you guys do what you do, right? If they can't do that, the 'crime'," Marinette made quotation marks, "can't be traced back to you, right?"

"Theoretically, yeah," Ryuji nodded, "but… people still talk. Has anyone been saying anything over there?"

"Not as far as we're aware," Nino answered honestly, "at least… not publicly. I wouldn't be surprised if some kids told their parents at least. I think the only reason the police aren't involved is thanks to Marinette when she came in as Ladybug."

"No offense… but Paris seems to put a lot of faith in their heroes. Not saying that that's a bad thing," Yusuke reassured, "but, it can be dangerous to take the word of a single person so seriously around the clock."

"You don't think they'll start targeting the heroes for this, do you?" Luka asked, eyes widening in concern.

"Somehow I doubt it. Sure, Ladybug deals with a magical, moth-themed terrorist, but the Phantom Thieves seem to be on a completely different scale if one looks at it from a certain angle. Ladybug is a superhero, not a goddess. No offense, Tikki," Futaba added.

"None taken," the kwami shrugged, looking up from her cookie.

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see how the public here takes it," Marinette reasoned, "Doesn't Tokyo technically see your group as criminals?"

"The police do," Akira admitted, "to most of the rest of the city though we're warriors for justice. Some wonder if we really exist even now."

"Hey, when it does get out, do you think the media will want a response from Ladybug in some way?" Nino suddenly asked, "Like, what her personal opinion on it is?"

"It's not too far out there…" Marinette admitted, "...but let's just cross that bridge when it comes, shall we?"

"Good thinking," Morgana agreed, "For the time being though, this is a major victory for the Phantom Thieves. Not only do we have members outside of Japan now, but we accomplished our first successful heist in a foreign country as well. If you ask me that's more than enough reason to celebrate!"

"Oh, good thinking!" Ryuji cheered, "We can turn it into a welcome party for the new members too! Oh, speaking of which," Ryuji eyed Alix mischievously, "Shorty over there still needs a codename."

Alix's eyes flashed, "The hell did you just call me?!"

"Alix, calm down!" Marinette exclaimed, "I'm sure Ryuji didn't mean it in the rude way. But he is right. All thieves need a codename."

"Oh, all right, but make it badass!" Alix commented smugly.

"Um… how about 'Skate'? Your thief costume still comes with some, and it's a type of fish, isn't it?" Ann asked.

"Nah, too obvious," Alix shook her head. Ann shrugged it off.

"Mmm, your Miraculous is the Rabbit, correct?" Yusuke asked, "So… perhaps 'Usagi'?"

Alix's nose wrinkled, "That makes me sound like some cliche magical girl."

"Not to rip off my codename…" Akira spoke up, "but how about Jack? Like a jackrabbit?"

"Jack, huh… okay, I like that!" Alix smirked.

"Now we have a Jack, a Queen, and a Joker…" Morgana smiled, "Very nice. Now we just need a King."

It took everyone a couple of seconds to figure out what Morgana meant, but soon everyone was laughing.

"Well, welcome to the team, Jack!" Futaba grinned.

"Awesome! So… about that celebration?" Alix asked.

"What should we do?" Ann asked, "We didn't get much out of that tiara, so we can't go anywhere too expensive."

"...How about a potluck picnic?" Marinette suggested, "We can have it in the park outside my family bakery!"

"I like that idea!" Futaba said.

"Sounds wonderful," Yusuke agreed.

"Great! All right, we'll need some people to bring drinks, a couple of entrees. Marinette, I'm guessing you'll handle dessert?" Makoto delegated.

"If that's what everyone wants," Marinette shrugged.

"Yay! I can finally try some of your family's pastries!" Ann squealed.

"Futaba and I can bring some drinks and an entree. Sojiro's been teaching me how to make the coffee and curry he sells at the shop," Akira said.

"Cool! I'm not much of a cook, so is it okay if I just bring some chips or something?" Ryuji asked.

"As long as everyone contributes something, that should be fine, Ryuji," Makoto said.

"Why stop at just a picnic?" Alix suddenly said, "None of you guys have been to Paris before, right? If we do this on Sunday, neither of us have school. I say we take them on a tour of the city! I can even ask my dad for access to some more private areas of the Louvre!"

"You're kidding me…" Yusuke whispered, eyes sparkling a tad bit, "You can do that?!"

"Alix's old man is one of the Louvre's managers," Nino explained, "He's mostly in charge of the more archaeological stuff, like the Egyptian collection, but Alix wasn't kidding with what she said."

"Is everything settled, then?" Morgana asked.

"Sounds like it to me! This is going to be awesome!" Ryuji whooped.

"We may need to spring back home at some point so that no one gets suspicious of where we are. If we do the tour stuff in the afternoon - Paris time, that is - and the picnic in the evening, we'll be out pretty late in Japan time," Makoto pointed out.

"Good point…" Akira murmured, "given my record, I'll definitely have to tell Sojiro what's going on."

"Record?" Luka asked, eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

Realizing his mistake, Akira deflated, while the rest of the Tokies shot him sympathetic looks.

"It's complicated," Akira said, "I was… framed for a crime I didn't do. I'm currently on probation, which is why I'm living in Leblanc. Sojiro's a family acquaintance."

Marinette gasped, "That's horrible!"

"For real!" Ryuji grumbled, "We're still trying to find the bastard that did it! It's scumbags like him that made society what it is now!"

"Isn't there a way you can get that appealed? From the sound of it, the police didn't investigate it properly," Luka observed.

"That's why we're trying to find him," Ann said, "In Japan, it's very hard to get appealed for something as serious as assault. Without real solid evidence that proves Akira's innocence, there's not much chance that anything will get done…"

"Man, that sucks," Alix muttered, "Sorry to hear that."

"So that's why you took what was happening to me so personally," Marinette realized.

"Well, that coupled with what happened with Kamoshida at our school, and let's just say this felt quite personal for us," Makoto explained.

"And even if it wasn't, we weren't just going to sit back and do nothing, either," Ryuji said, "It wouldn't be right, yeah?"

"You guys are amazing," Marinette shook her head fondly, "but anyway, back on topic. Let's see… Japan is about seven hours ahead of Paris, so… I think it would be better to do this earlier than later. It'll be just afternoon for you guys by the time 8:00 rolls around for us!"

"Everything settled, then?" Makoto checked; at everyone's nods, she said, "Then let's do this."

Chapter Text

Akira's memory faded as he just finished telling Sae about how they had dealt with Lila.

"The Miraculous?" Sae asked, sounding skeptical, "Now magical, animal-themed, superpowers are involved with this?"

Akira didn't answer. Or more precisely, he couldn't. Due to the drugs still coursing through his veins, it had been extremely hard to tell this account properly and not reveal anyone's identities as either heroes or Phantom Thieves at the same time. From the beginning of the interrogation, to combat this, Akira had been calling everyone by a Confidant that he obtained from Igor in the Velvet Room.

Sae sighed in frustration, "Due to this incident happening out of the country, there was limited information that I was able to confiscate from the French and Parisian governments. From what little I was able to dig up, however, it seems accurate, especially involving when Lila and her family were deported from France. As well as the second mass attack from that Hawkmoth character."

"He was rotten, wasn't he?" Akira grimaced.

Sae scoffed, "It seems there are some things we agree on after all. So to conclude this case, you encountered Miss Rossi completely by chance, just like with Madarame, and you decided to go after her basically out of the goodness of your heart?" she said the last part with slight sarcasm.

"And let Luck, Artisan, Archangel & Adam suffer?"

"You barely knew these people when you traveled to Hawaii. Why, two of them you didn't entirely like at first either. For all you knew, everything could have been an act," Sae argued, before sighing.

"Either way… I suppose we should move to the next target. Another thing I will agree with you on is that the way that College Francoise-Dupont handled the situation involving Miss Rossi was horrendous. The fact that the teachers and faculty, with only a few exceptions, didn't research or follow any form of protocol is also unprofessional and even criminal. I suppose it makes sense that your next target was obvious, then…"

Sae reached back into her bag for yet another manila envelope. A picture with a woman's face fell out of it as she tossed it in front of him.

"Your first major adult female target… Caline Bustier."

"What?! Paris, France?!" Sae gasped, practically gaping at Akechi at the police station.

"Or so the reports say. The Phantom Thieves seem to have gone international…" Akechi reported with concern.

"Dammit!" Sae cursed, "If that's true, this case isn't only under our jurisdiction anymore! That'll only make it even harder to catch them now! And they targeted a child this time?!"

"In defense of that Sae-san, it's said that once Miss Rossi confesses to the other schools she's attended, that she'll be taken back to Italy to be tried as an adult on several counts of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and/or manslaughter. There are also the allegations that she was working willingly with that Parisian terrorist as well…" he informed professionally, "Under those pretenses, we can't exactly call her a child, can we?"

"Well… still!"

"Now calm down, Sae-san," Akechi said, holding his hands up in mock surrender, "As I said, that's what the reports seem to say. It's still under investigation. For all we know, this isn't the same group; it could easily be a copycat."

"What are the odds of that being the case, though?" Sae all but demanded, "And wouldn't that be even worse?"

"Higher than you think," Akechi countered, "ever since Medjed, the Phantom Thieves have garnered international attention. It actually isn't as far-fetched as one would think for others to copy their methods and modus operandi. And think about it - if it does end up being a copycat, the Phantom Thieves here would still be under our jurisdiction, while the copycats in Paris would fall under the French government's responsibility."

Sae could only groan. "We have a lot of work ahead of us," she said.

"That we do," Akechi could only say, "that we do."

"Sir, please calm down!" the SIU Director frantically exclaimed, "We only just heard about this! There's still a possibility that this is a completely different group, a-and if that's the case, it's not our concern! Or, at least legally, it can't be our concern…"

The person on the other end said something, and the SIU Director cringed.

"F-fair enough… we'll have to double down on the inconspicuousness of our actions, then… we will look into it as best we can!"

The person on the other end said something again, and the SIU Director nodded fearfully before hanging up.

The day had probably been one of the best that Marinette had had in a long time.

Just as planned, she forced herself to get up at around 7:00 A.M. to get ready for the day, and around 8:00 A.M, she used the Horse Miraculous to transport the Tokies to the City of Love.

Marinette had informed her parents about the potluck her friends were going to have later, and got permission to store the food in the fridge until they were ready to eat it. Tom and Sabine were happy to meet her new friends, and they expressed their gratitude for supporting their daughter through the entire incident at school.

Ryuji & Yusuke wondered to themselves if this was what parental affection (or fatherly affection, in Ryuji's case) was supposed to be like.

First, as Alix promised, they went to visit the Louvre. The second they stepped inside, Yusuke looked like he had died and gone to heaven.

"I don't get it," Ryuji had said as they descended the spiraling staircase, "what's the big deal about this Loofah place anyway?"

Yusuke looked affronted at the bottle blond's words. "This is the Mecca of artists, I'll have you know!" he proclaimed dramatically.

"Ryuji, the Louvre is the most famous art museum in the entire world!" Ann had explained sternly, "Some of the most famous paintings of all time are on display here, including the Mona Lisa! The real one!"

"Shoot, really? That's cool!" Ryuji may not care too much for the fine arts, but even he knew what the Mona Lisa was.

"Cool is quite the understatement…" Yusuke uncharacteristically grumbled.

"Hm?" Morgana's head poked up from inside Akira's bag, before fully taking in what she'd said, "Oh. Never mind."

"What's up, Mona?" Akira asked.

"Thought I heard my name, that's all," the not-a-cat replied.

Akira was confused, then went over Ann's statement in his head before nodding his head in realization, "Oh! Yeah, got it."

"That's true, but like I said yesterday, there are way more than just paintings here," Alix said as she casually heelied across the smooth marble floor, "we got ancient artifacts and stuff like that too!"

"You said that your dad helped run the Egyptian exhibit here?" Futaba asked.

"Yeah-oh, that reminds me!" Marinette said, before jogging off in the exhibits' direction, "Come on, I want to show you guys something cool!"

Confused but curious, the group followed after Marinette. One staircase later, the room and hallway darkened as the group passed several Egyptian cat statues.

"Over here!" Marinette exclaimed, running over to one of the old Egyptian scrolls on display.

"Right… there! Does that hieroglyphic look familiar?"

The Parisians grinned, as they knew where this was going. The Tokies looked at where Marinette was pointing, still confused.

"Wait a minute… is that Ladybug?!" Makoto gasped, finally spotting the woman twirling a yo-yo-like object on the papyrus.

"No 'effing way!" Ryuji exclaimed.

"And if you look right there…" Marinette pointed a little to the left, the Tokies following her finger.

"...It's Tikki!" Ann realized.

"So that was one of y… I mean Ladybug's predecessors?" Akira corrected, remembering they were in a public setting.

"Well, I'm certainly not five thousand years old, now, am I?" Marinette joked, causing the group to laugh.

"You know, the Eiffel Tower is much prettier when there aren't moths and supervillains infesting the place," Futaba joked. The Eiffel Tower was the next stop on their list after practically dragging Yusuke out of the Louvre. He spent at least twenty minutes just staring at the Mona Lisa on its own.

"Ugh, don't remind me," Nino grumbled, "This thing has been blown up, sliced apart, and outright demolished more times than I'd like to count…"

"And yet she still stands tall," a thick, pirate-like voice called out.

Luka and Marinette smiled as they turned to see a familiar face.

"Hey, Mom!" Luka greeted, while Marinette waved.

"Hi, Mme. Couffaine!" Marinette exclaimed happily.

"Oh, lass, how many times must I tell ya? Call me Captain!" Anarka grinned widely as she approached the group. Her eyes then shifted towards the Tokies, "And who are these new young swashbucklers here?"

"The name's Ryuji, Captain!" Ryuji grinned all too eagerly, using the best English he had, "Nice t'meetcha!"

Anarka threw her back and guffawed, "Nice to meet you, sonny!"

"I'm Ann! Nice to meet you!" Ann introduced herself.

"I'm Makoto," she said with a small bow.

"I'm Akira," he said, smiling softly as Futaba shyly peeked over his shoulder, "and this is Futaba."

"Je suis Yusuke, ravi de vous rencontrer," the artist introduced in French, much to the shock of other Tokies, "Didn't I say I knew a little French earlier?"

"I didn't think you knew it that well!" Ann exclaimed.

"And you two are… Nino and Alix, correct?" Anarka asked, "I've seen you two around the Liberty from time to time."

"The… Liberty?" Ryuji whispered to Luka.

"It's our houseboat," the blue-haired lad replied.

"Oh… oh yeah, you mentioned you live on a boat! Awesome, you're like legit pirates!" Ryuji remembered.

Anarka's eyes flashed and a large grin spread across her face. Exaggerating a whisper, she winked at her son, "I like this one!"

Luka choked, trying to hold in laughter.

Meanwhile, Marinette whispered to Akira, "If we ever leave Anarka, Ryuji & Alix alone for too long, we're in big trouble."

"Agreed," Akira said in a serious tone.

"So, you're those friends of Marinette who helped her through that whole Lila debacle," Kagami said, giving the Tokies a scrutinizing once-over.

The group had been on their way to the Roue de Paris when Marinette spotted Kagami practicing her fencing in the park. Eager to introduce them to her, Marinette had called out to Kagami.

"Well, Marinette's our friend too," Futaba smiled, "It was the right thing to do, too."

"I'm still quite shocked by how your class was so taken in with her," Kagami scowled, "It doesn't take a genius to know that her words were nothing but empty promises."

"No kidding," Makoto couldn't help but grumble, "when we met in Hawaii I felt like I was talking to toddlers…"

Nino and Alix were once again cringing a little, as they had been part of those 'toddlers' at the time.

"...Anyway," Ryuji said, awkwardly changing the subject, "Marinette here told us you fence, right?"

"And your last name is Tsurugi… you wouldn't happen to be related to Tsurugi Tomoe, would you?" Ann asked.

"Yes, that's my mother," Kagami replied matter-of-factly.

"Really? That's cool!" Ann complimented.

"And you," Kagami moved on, turning to look at Luka, "I don't think we've been given the chance to really meet, have we?"

"I suppose not," Luka shrugged, extending his hand, "Luka Couffaine."

"Kagami Tsurugi," she took it firmly.

Later on, Marinette would get a text from Kagami.

KT: I approve. 😁

Soon around 3 P.M., Marinette dropped the Tokies back in Japan so that they could let their families know that they would be out late. Some asked questions, and others didn't, but soon a blanket was being spread out in the park by the carousel nearby the Dupain-Cheng Bakery and food was being spread out.

Just as Akira promised, he and Futaba had brought curry and a thermos full of Leblanc coffee. Ryuji brought several bags of chips and some salsa, and Ann brought some flan she'd bought. Alix had brought some watermelon, while both Nino and Luka brought sandwiches. Makoto had brought some spring rolls and Yusuke had some hard-boiled eggs and fruit juice.

And of course, Marinette plopped a couple of boxes full of freshly made macaroons onto the blanket.

The second Ann smelled them, her eyes sparkled and her mouth started to drool.

"Gimme, gimme, gimme!" she squealed, causing Marinette to laugh as she tried to open the box as quickly as she could.

"Whoa!" Marinette exclaimed happily as Ann's hand snatched up a random macaroon as soon as the lid was off.

Ann shoved the macaroon in her mouth and froze; she then fell onto her side limply.

"...Oh no, did I bake them wrong? Are they that bad?!" Marinette exclaimed, starting to panic.

This was answered when Ann moaned with a huge smile on her face.

"Oh, uh… I think she's pulling a Food Wars right now!" Ryuji cackled as the blonde sat back up grinning.

"These are amazing!" she shrieked happily before swiping a few more.

"Hey, save some for the rest of us!" Futaba protested as Marinette pulled the box from Ann's reach - resulting in a mock-pout - and passed it around.

"Wow! These are good!" Makoto complemented, biting into a coffee one, "You weren't kidding!"

"Indeed," Yusuke agreed, having bitten into a pistachio-flavored one.

"Mmmm… so good!" Ryuji moaned around the chocolate one in his mouth.

"Your family is very talented, Marinette," Akira smiled, a half-eaten lemon one in his hand, "You want to try some, Mona?"

"Can he have sweets?" Alix asked, "I mean, as a cat, wouldn't that be bad for him?"

"No, just because I look like a cat, doesn't mean I am one!" Morgana argued, "I eat normal food all the time!"

"Okay, okay, just checking!" the skater said, holding her hands in surrender.

"Anyway, pass me that cream one!" Morgana ordered, and Marinette tossed the S'Mores-flavored macron towards him. He caught it out of the air happily.

The rest of the food was passed out shortly after. The Parisians really enjoyed the Leblanc coffee.

"I'll have to hunt this place down if we ever end up in Tokyo," Nino said.

"It's not the biggest establishment in the city," Akira said, "but we do have a good handful of regulars on a daily basis."

"Did you make these spring rolls, Makoto?" Luka asked.

"No, I bought these ones. I thought about making them, but I didn't want Sis to get too suspicious just yet," she explained, nibbling a hard-boiled egg.

"Uh oh…" Futaba suddenly said, causing everyone to look at her.

"What's up Futaba?" Ann asked.

"Don't look now, but paparazzi at two o'clock," the hacker said bluntly, gesturing to the park's side entrance.

Looking at where she was gesturing, the group finally noticed the remainder of Miss Bustier's class lingering at the park's edge.

"This ought to be good," Akira muttered when the class noticed they had been seen.

Half of them look like they want to turn and run away, but Rose ended up being the one brave enough to speak up.

"Um… Marinette… Can… Can we talk to you, please?" she asked timidly.

Marinette's face remained neutral, "Okay, what's up?"

"Um…" Rose hesitantly, "maybe not… here?" she squeaked out the last word.

"What? Anything you have to say to Mari, you can say it in front of us. Why are you so scared?" Ryuji suddenly challenged.

The class faltered, seeming to just notice the other members. Then Alya's eyes widened as she further took in the sight of them.

"Wha-You!" she exclaimed, pointing, "What are you guys doing here?!"

"Huh…? Oh yeah!" Sabrina realized, "You're those kids from Hawaii!"

"Really, we should be calling you guys kids - you're our juniors!" Ryuji snarked.

"Answer the question! What are you doing here?!" Alya demanded.

"I don't see what the problem is," Yusuke tilted his head in faux-innocence, "Is it that unusual for long-distance friends to visit the country of another long-distance friend?"

"Guys, we didn't come here to fight," Ivan attempted to ameliorate the situation, "remember?"

"Well, if you guys want to say something, go ahead and say it!" Alix snapped.

"We-well," Mylene stuttered, "We just wanted to say…"

"Mari, we're sorry!" Kim finally blurted out, head bowed in shame.

"...You're sorry? For what, exactly?" Marinette asked cautiously. Sure, she knew that she was being petty, but she honestly couldn't help it.

"We… we should have listened to you about Lila," Max muttered, rubbing his arm, "We shouldn't have taken Lila's word without doing proper research first, especially because we have known you longer than her."

"...Well, I guess it's a little late to say 'we told you so,' then, isn't it?" Makoto said, withholding the Niijima Glare for now.

"Are you?" Marinette whispered, causing everyone to look at her; seeing this, she raised her voice and further elucidated, "Are you really sorry?"

"Wh-what do you mean by that?" Kim gasped.

"I mean, are you really sorry for not only believing Lila but for your behavior towards me for the past two years…? Or are you only sorry because you've been caught? Or maybe… it's because you want things to go back to what it was before?"

Even the Phantom Thieves could feel a small chill run down their back from the tone in Marinette's voice. They could tell. She was fighting with every fiber of her being to not start screaming, demanding for the group to get lost and leave her alone.

"Let me ask you," she continued on, "why did you jump to conclusions on Lila's side when she turned on the crocodile tears, especially when you knew I'd never done anything like what she framed me for? I gave you plenty of sources to check to verify Lila's claims; heck, some of you had sources you could check yourselves! So why didn't you?"

"Rose, why didn't you text Prince Ali and ask if he actually knew Lila? Max, I don't know where to begin with you! You could have easily had Markov search the entire internet and then some to fact check Lila's stories! Alya…" Marinette had to stop and take a deep breath to compose herself, "You had plenty of opportunities to flag Ladybug down and ask her if Lila was her BFF! Heck, shouldn't the fact that she made a claim like that have sounded fishy to begin with? She'd be putting herself in danger… if she really was your friend, you should have told her to shush about it, at least."

"By the way, in regard to half or so of the people that Lila lied about," Ann spoke up, holding up a finger (not her middle one, thankfully), "Jagged Stone? Clara Nightingale? Marinette has personally worked with them. You know Marinette designed Jagged's glasses and album cover. Shouldn't she know better than anyone if he had a cat or not?"

Akira raised two fingers (not in the sense of a peace sign, however), "Not to mention that Marinette was the one to arrange that interview with Ladybug specifically for you… Alya, right?"

"And a napkin gouging out an eye?" Futaba said in a deeply unimpressed tone, "Through glasses? Come on, really? What kinda glasses do they make here…? And what the hell was that napkin made of? Vibranium?"

"Despite all of that… I'm still willing to be friends with you," Marinette said, causing several faces to light up, "you were victims of her too, and I hate what she did to you."

"However," she said before they could thank her, "it will take some time for me to forgive you, and when I do, things will be different."

"For example…" she said, turning to Alya, "You can't expect to pass on your babysitting duties to me without at least paying me. The same thing goes for any sort of commission from now on."

Her classmates nodded.

"...What about Nino and Alix?" Alya said, scowling a little, "It seems you've forgiven them already!"

"No, not really," Nino admitted, rubbing the back of his head, "we've just taken the first step."

"This is your chance to do the same," Alix said, "so I would advise you to be patient."

"But… how will we know if we're forgiven?" Nathaniel asked.

A strange smile appeared on Marinette's face.

"You'll know. Trust me, you'll know."

Adrien stepped forward. His face was that of utter guilt and grief.

"I think I owe you an apology most… no offense to the rest of you guys," he began, "I never realized how evil Lila was…"

"Wait, you knew?!" Kim was the first to say it, "You knew she was lying?"

Adrien cringed but nodded.

"...For how long?" Juleka whispered.

"Since her first day at school," Adrien admitted softly.

"What?!" Alya exclaimed angrily.

"I tried to tell her to stop, but when I did, she got akumatized. I figured after that she'd learn that lying wouldn't make friends… I never realized she wanted to get akumatized, though…"

"Kid, I'm going to stop you right there," Ryuji interrupted, "'Lying to make friends?' That's bullshit and you know it! If she wanted 'friends,' she never would have lied to begin with!"

"Were you truly blind enough to not see how much Marinette was suffering because of those 'harmless' lies?" Yusuke inquired, a dangerous look on his face.

"I thought exposing her would humiliate her and get her akumatized again; she got akumatized every time Marinette tried in the past!" Adrien tried to reason.

"...And what about Marinette? What if she was akumatized because of Lila's actions?" Makoto asked lowly.

Adrien was struck speechless, color draining from his face.

"Didn't think about that, did you? Genius plan, Einstein!" Futaba sneered.

"I think we're laying it on a bit thick…" Akira cautioned, "There are still akumas in Paris."

"Yeah… still, you guys walked into this. From the way you're talking," Ann said calmly, "it makes it sound like Lila was the only person getting akumatized in this entire city! What makes her so special in that regard?"

"Speaking from experience," Akira said, "lies do hurt people. It doesn't matter how small or 'harmless' they seem. The world is a cruel place. The sooner you understand that, the better."

"That's a bit dark, isn't it?" Nino shivered.

"True; the world is a place full of wrongdoings…" Yusuke said, "but that is why we must do right in its place. Even if it isn't the easiest thing to do…"

"Harry Potter? Really?" Luka lightly quipped. Yusuke just shrugged.

"Adrien… I thought we were friends. Why didn't you at least tell me?" Nino asked.

"You didn't believe Marinette, who you've known for years!" Adrien sobbed, "Why would you believe me?"

"Even if I hadn't at the time…" Nino said solemnly, "a good bro is there for their bros and shows it. Didn't you promise her that?"

"Adrien, your actions hurt a lot," Marinette said softly, "it felt like you left me, all to uphold your illusion of peace. You could have done something, like texted me to ensure I was okay. That would have been better than nothing at all! You're going to have to walk the same path as everyone else; if you truly are repentant, prove it."

Silence befell the park for a small while before Ryuji finally broke it, saying, "Alright, if that's everything, you guys should be on your way. This was sort of an invitation-only party, ya get me?"

Slowly, the group dispersed, scampering off into the twilight lit streets.

Adrien was the last to leave, lingering at the gates a few minutes longer.

Then he followed, a fresh tear trailing his cheek.

Chapter Text

Adrien barely picked at his food as he sat down for dinner that evening. It was one of the few rare nights where his father was even joining him at the table. The usual excitement he felt was numbed out, with the confession from two days ago still fresh in his mind. And the conversation with Marinette and her friends earlier… why had he told Marinette to stay quiet that day? If only he wasn't such a… coward.

"Adrien," Gabriel said, looking down at him, "is there something wrong with your dinner?"

Adrien paused in twirling a cherry tomato on his plate.

Well… he thought, that changed starting now.

In a quiet but cold tone, he eventually said, "You were having Lila spy on me, right?"

There was silence; neither Nathalie nor Gabriel spoke.

He looked up and glared at his father with ice-cold eyes, "Did you order her to get Marinette expelled? Was that modeling gig one of those 'favors' she mentioned?"

There was still no response but Adrien took that as confirmation.

Shoving his seat back, he stood abruptly, hands shaking at his side, "Pére, if you had any problems or concerns with my social life, you could have just talked to me! Sure, I'm still pretty slow when it comes to most social situations, but I've been around enough socialites, paparazzi, and philanthropists to know a 'bad influence' when I see one," he slammed his hands against the table, actually making Nathalie flinch slightly, "Do you seriously trust me that little? I'm not a kid anymore! I'm fifteen years old, dang it!"

There was still no response, but Nathalie seemed a little remorseful.

Adrien stepped back and angrily made his way out of the room.

"Everything I've done has been for your benefit, Adrien."

Adrien paused for a moment at the door, before speaking quietly, "I wish I could believe that."

Without another word, Adrien stomped off to his room.

After slamming the door with a loud bang, Adrien sprinted to his bed and flung down on it, burying his face in his pillow.

After silently crying for five minutes, he turned onto his back. Then his eyes lingered to his right hand. What kind of superhero was he when he couldn't even be a good person outside the suit? It was like… like Chloe had been!

He found his left hand hovering over the ring.

"You're kidding me, right?"

Adrien jumped at Plagg's snarky voice next to him. He had completely forgotten that the kwami was there.


"You're still going to run?" Plagg accused, "Giving back my ring won't fix anything, Adrien!"

Adrien gasped slightly. Plagg didn't use his name very often - or at least, not in front of him. So the fact that he was…

"If you give the ring back, someone else will have to take it; who knows what they'll do with it! Furthermore, they'll be inexperienced… not to mention you'll be locked here with no means of escape. Is that what you want?"

"...Of course not. But, maybe I deserve it…"

"Okay, stop right there-"

"No, Plagg! You heard what Marinette's friends said, and they're right!" he interrupted, "I could and should have done more! I didn't so much as text her to check up on her! I promised we were in it together, but… I left her. And I should have been brave enough to expose Lila sooner; then no one would have gotten akumatized like they did the other day! Heck, I could have said something the first time she arrived, when Ladybug called her out! Why… why was I so focused on only Lila getting akumatized? It never even crossed my mind that Marinette could be akumatized!"

Adrien was full-on crying now, curled up on his bed as Plagg stared down at him in silence.

Finally, Plagg sighed, "Look, kid, Liar-Liar would have been exposed eventually, whether by Marinette or someone else. I don't think we could have avoided that mass attack from the beginning - it simply would have happened whether you were quiet about it or not. I won't lie and say you didn't screw up because you totally did, but quit dwelling on the 'should've' and 'could've' and figure out what you're to do now to fix it!"

"Can I fix this, Plagg? Marinette was one of my first friends besides Chloe. And said she didn't want to talk to me. I'll be lucky if she even looks at me in class now… if she's even still there…"

Adrien honestly wouldn't blame Marinette if she decided to switch classes or even schools after this. After everything that she had been through, it would certainly seem like a better and safer option for her.

"You sure it's completely unsalvageable?" Plagg asked, "She did tell you how to fix it, after all."

"She did?" Adrien asked, a small sliver of hope in his tone.

Plagg sighed and shook his head, "I mean, you can correct me if I'm wrong, but last I checked she didn't necessarily say she wouldn't forgive you, not like she did Liar-Liar's face… boy, that was awesome!" he cackled.

Shaking his head, Plagg continued on to say, "But forgiveness and trust are two different things, kiddo. For some people, forgiveness comes easy; it's trust that's hard to rebuild. That make any sense?"

Adrien nodded his head. That did make sense. So there was still hope that he and Marinette could make up. And when they did, he would do everything he could to be a better friend to her. She only deserved the best, after all.

"Although…" Plagg paused, making Adrien look up in alarm, "speaking of Liar-Liar, something about that whole thing on its own was fishy from the start. I could smell it almost as fast as I can smell my beautiful Camembert."

Ignoring the last part, Adrien tilted his head to the side, "What do you mean, Plagg?"

Digging into Adrien's bag, Plagg pulled out a piece of red and black paper.

"I managed to snag one of these babies while nobody was looking," the kwami explained, "You think these Phantom Thief guys are responsible for Lila's confession?"

Adrien took the card in his hands and read over the contents again. Whoever did this certainly didn't seem to be joking around like Ladybug claimed - if anything, now that he was taking a closer look, the message made this feel almost personal.

"Wait… Plagg, are you saying that you think this is the real deal after all? That these really were the Phantom Thieves?"

Plagg shrugged, "All I'm saying kid is that Liar-Liar's personality seemed to do a major one-eighty when she came back to school on Friday. My expertise isn't on the human consciousness or their emotions, but there is no way that all that was normal."

"So if it was the Phantom Thieves…" Adrien mused, "just what in the world did they do? Threaten her? Blackmail? Did they force her to confess? Better yet, why did they come to Paris, and target her of all people? If I were one of the Phantom Thieves, the first person I'd go after would be Hawkmoth!"

"You're asking the wrong kwami here," Plagg shrugged, though his flattened ears and sorrowful face betrayed his attempt at nonchalance.

"Well, let's start getting to the bottom of this, then," Adrien said resolutely, before turning to his computer.

It was time to do some research.

Joker: So Yuuki - he was in Hawaii with us - helps run the Phan-Site. He said he started a French version of the website and will let you know when it's ready.

Chance: Wait, does he know who any of us are? Both as Phantom Thieves and Miraculous wielders.

Panther: He was actually one of the first people to figure the Phantom Thieves out. He can't confirm it from us, as we haven't given him concrete proof or anything, but still… As for the Miraculous, no clue. Like we mentioned in Hawaii, we haven't gotten a ton of news from France or Paris.

Beat: There might be something soon. After all, this was Hawkmoth's second mass attack to date.

Queen: True.

Jack: Can we trust this Yuuki guy?

Skull: Well, he hasn't blabbed about us yet, so I doubt he will now. It would make him an associate or whatever, anyway, right?

Queen: You mean an accomplice?

Skull: Yeah! I think associate works too, though…

Viper: All right, we'll hold you to that.

Joker: Putting that aside, how are things on your end?

Chance: They're okay. Lila's expulsion and her family's deportation made public news. Some police came by this morning and were interviewing random students and teachers. I saw some professional-looking people coming out of the principal's office, too.

Jack: Interpol, maybe? This could technically count as an international incident, can't it?

Fox: If the police are there, it's likely the incident involving the calling cards will come to light as well.

Viper: That'll be a whole other can of worms when that happens because I'm sure Damocles would have tried to cover that up as much as possible too.

Skull: Once again, I'm reminded of Kamoshitbag.

Jack: LOL!

Chance: Speaking of teachers, Miss Bustier is still trying to convince me to accept Lila's apology. I saw some papers with phone numbers and email addresses on my desk.

Oracle: They belong to Lie-la and her family, don't they?

Chance: Yeah…

Beat: Is that why she was giving you those weird smiles in class today? It felt a bit creepy, to be honest.

Queen: Weird smiles?

Chance: The smile an adult gives you when they're expecting you to do something… particularly the 'right thing.'

Joker: I'm guessing "the right thing" means "what they want you to do"?

Chance: Bullseye.

Skull: 'Eff her. What does she know?

Joker: I hope you didn't keep the papers.

Chance: Nope! Tore them up and threw them out the second I was out of sight.

Fox: It never seems to stop, does it…?

Viper: Doesn't look like it…

Jack: No kidding. It's super annoying!

Chance: Anyway, can we call you guys later? We had a few more questions about those Palace places you mentioned.

Joker: Mona's our expert on all of this, so we should definitely wait until you get out. He says hi, by the way.

Jack: Tell him "Hi Kitty" for me, and tell us how he reacts.

Beat: 80D

Viper: :,D

Chance: >w<

Joker: And his response is D:

Chance: HA! Alright, we'll talk after school!

Marinette was so relieved when the final bell rang. Mme. Bustier had put another copy of the Rossis' contact information on her desk, which met the exact same fate as its predecessor. Furthermore, Alya kept trying to corner her for some reason. Heeding her advice from the other day, most of the rest of her classmates seemed to be keeping their distance for now.

Upon a suggestion that Makoto sent later that Sunday, Marinette had made a list of those in her class, and ranked them from either one to ten on a 'Hurt Scale,' with 1 meaning they didn't hurt her at all, physically or emotionally, and 10 meaning they could no longer be trusted or forgiven. She should also give a short, honest explanation as to why they were of that rank.

Fortunately, none of them made it to ten (the only people who would have out of anyone were Lila & Hawkmoth), but a couple came too close for her comfort. Each week, she would review, and remake the list and either raise or lower the number depending on what happened with each classmate until Marinette decided that she should stop. Makoto reasoned this may help with her trusting them again if that was what she wanted, though she also recommended not showing it to anyone. This was especially since Nino and Alix were on the list too.

So far, the highest on the list were Alya (should have researched like she said she would, and took a stranger's word over a best friend's) and Adrien (broke his promise and downplayed the seriousness of it all) with eights, Kim (known her since they were babies; should have known better), Rose (could have asked Prince Ali at any time about Lila), and Max (same as Alya, research and common sense (napkin incident)) with sixes, and most of the rest were three-five. Luckily for the last two - Nino & Alix - they were at two & three respectively.

Phantom Thievery has that sort of effect on people, she supposed.

Turning her attention from the well-hidden list to the three fellow Phantom Thieves in her room, she opened the call request and was greeted with the smiling visages of the Tokies.

"Yo! What's up?" Ryuji greeted, the usual big grin on his face.

"Not much, how are you guys?" Luka answered.

"We're pretty good. School is back in full swing, and it seems everyone's back into the usual routine," Makoto informed.

"You dudes are officially in high school, right?" Nino asked.

"Yes, Makoto is in her final year. Myself, Ann, Akira, and Ryuji are second-years," Yusuke explained, "Futaba at the moment isn't attending school but she would be a first-year if she did, and Morgana… well, he's stuck in a cat's form, but he sometimes hides in Akira's desk, so I suppose he has some second-year students' knowledge…?"

"...I won't comment further on that," Morgana said through gritted teeth, "Anyway, you guys said that you had some questions?"

"I didn't say you were a cat…" Yusuke mumbled before looking back at Marinette and company through the screen.

"Yeah. So about this whole Metaverse thing," Marinette said, "You guys mentioned that you've already done this several times back in Japan. So, is it only people like Lila that have these Palaces?"

The question seemed to surprise the Tokies. Not that they couldn't answer the question, but…

"Are you saying that you want to keep doing this?" Ann asked.

"Um, yeah?!" Alix exclaimed, "Why do you think we wouldn't?"

"Well, if we're being honest, we weren't completely expecting you to stick around," Ryuji admitted.

"But… you guys would be okay with us continuing, right?" Luka asked.

"Yeah, yeah, of course, we're fine with that. We just don't want to force you guys to keep going either if you don't want to, you know?" Futaba asked.

"It's why we have a unanimous rule," Akira chimed in.

"A unanimous rule?" Nino asked.

"Yeah, every time we decide to go after a target, we take a vote. Only if the votes are unanimous do we decide what our next target is," Ann explained.

Marinette was impressed, "That's a good rule. It ensures that everyone's opinion has equal value."

"Plus, if someone didn't agree to it, that could lead to infighting… maybe even betrayal," Luka piped up.

"So… what do you do if it isn't unanimous right away?" Alix asked.

"We usually talk it out and ask why those who disagree don't want to go after them," Makoto answered, "After that, we usually try to take a closer look at our target, and see if we're maybe misinterpreting something. For example, maybe their 'crime' is just a rumor that we didn't research properly. Or perhaps there's someone pulling their strings…"

"Like those bullies, right?" Futaba asked Makoto.


"We'll admit, deciding on whether to take on Lila's palace was actually the first time we had a solid disagreement," Morgana informed them.

"Seriously?" Nino asked in surprise, "Why did you disagree?"

"The main issue ended up being her age," Makoto explained, "Officially, Lila's been the youngest person we've ever targeted, and in the eyes of the public, the Phantom Thieves targeting a minor might not look too good. Plus, lying isn't exactly a unique thing that happens around our age."

"...What made you change your mind?" Marinette asked.

"It was the articles I looked up from Lila's previous schools," Futaba said, "the ones about the suicides. They all happened around the time that Lila went to those schools. Coincidence? I think not!"

"You did mention those earlier on…" Marinette snapped her fingers, "I don't recall getting them, though…"

"...ack! Forgot to send those to you!" Futaba said, eyes widening, "Sorry about that!"

"Eh, forget it. I've had enough of her for a lifetime."

"Amen!" Ryuji whooped.

"Anyways…" Luka redirected, "before we get to business, I have a question for you."

"And that is…?" Ann asked innocently.

Luka fixed the Tokies with a serious look before saying, "Does Hawkmoth have a Palace?"

There was a moment of silence before Ryuji answered.

"Probably," he said, "I mean it would make sense if he did. But we don't know his real name, so we can't access his Palace… damn."

"And a name is crucial, remember?" Futaba asked, "the code-words."

"I don't think I was here for this…" Alix said quietly.

"Same here…" Nino nodded in assent.

"Long story short, in order to get into a Palace, you need the target's name - their real one - as well as where their distortion is and what it takes the form of," Ann explained, "For Lila, obviously her name was 'Lila Rossi'. The other keywords were your school, 'College Francoise-Dupont' and, 'Empire' was the form of distortion, or how Lila saw your school."

"Seriously…? Okay, that's messed up!" Alix exclaimed angrily, "What, were we mindless subjects to her or something?"

"Mindless subjects were higher up…" Ryuji grumbled, "you were golden statues in a flower garden. Trophies, really."

Nino nodded, remembering that, while Alix flushed red. Marinette put a hand on her shoulder to calm her down; the last thing they needed was an akumatization, even if Alix had returned her Miraculous.

"...So, we could put any random person's name into the app, and there's a possibility they could have a Palace?" Nino asked.

"If their desires are distorted enough, yes," Akira nodded, "However, also note that just because someone has a Palace doesn't automatically mean that they are a bad person."

"I had a Palace…" Futaba whispered, "but these guys saved me. Helping them in battle is the least I could do, y'know?"

"Futaba…" Ann said softly, "we never expected any recompense for helping you, just like we didn't expect thanks for stopping Kamoshida or the rest of the people we've changed."

Futaba smiled in return.

"...So, I'm guessing the reason you ask about potential Palace holders is because you want to try and catch Hawkmoth using the Metaverse, huh?" Morgana guessed.

"That's one way of putting it, I guess," Marinette admitted, "Plus, I can think of plenty of people that are just as bad, if not worse, than Lila and Hawkmoth too."

"Your persistence is admirable, but we would recommend that you wait until at least the police presence at your school is gone," Yusuke noted, "Too much action will lead to suspicion, and that could spell a very unpleasant end for the Phantom Thieves."

"Well… unless they have the app, there's no way that this can be linked back to us, right?" Alix pointed out.

"Even so, we're not too eager to take chances," Akira grumbled, "with my record, any suspicion could get me in jail for a long time."

"He has a point," Luka nodded, "plus, even if nothing can really be proven, people will still talk. Like we mentioned at lunchtime, I wouldn't be surprised if word about the calling cards hit the headlines here tonight."

"Still, the only way things can get back to 'normal' around here is if Hawkmoth is stopped," Marinette said, "Because of the power his Miraculous gives him, it's impossible for people to safely live their lives here anymore! It's exhausting to always try and stay positive all the time."

"Well, you're not going back to normal either way," Ryuji grumbled, "the shit Hawkmoth's done is gonna affect lots of people for long after he's gone… you included."

"That's not counting the psychological and mental damage to becoming an akuma could bring," Makoto added, "People may not remember what they did while being controlled, but there are still many people that record them doing it still. Like on the Ladyblog."

"Exactly!" Ryuji exclaimed.

"You're right…" Ann murmured, "when you think about it, that sort of makes it worse. You know you did it, but you don't remember actually doing it. It's like cases where people have dissociative identities or whatever it's called."

"There are ways to help akuma victims, right?" Makoto asked.

"There had better," Akira snarled quietly, "Paris can't be that ass-backward."

"There are," Marinette reassured, "We have a hotline, and I know a lot of support groups exist, too. Plus, there are also some therapists that will give free sessions to the victims if the need arises."

"If there is a god, thank them," Morgana mumbled, "but I guess we should also curse them for letting the world get this rotten… anyways, don't forget that pretty much anything and everything you do as civilians can very well affect you as a Phantom Thief."

"That's our expert for you!" Futaba cheered, "Even if he doesn't know where he got all this information…"

"What do you mean by that?" Alix asked.

"...Morgana has amnesia," Ann eventually said.

This shocked the Parisians.

"How?" Luka asked.

"No clue," Morgana admitted, his ears flat, "I'm slowly getting it back, though. I remember a little more every time we take down a Palace."

"It also opens up more areas in Mementos…" Yusuke noted.

"You keep mentioning this 'Mementos' place too," Alix piped up, "Just what is Mementos?"

"Okay, so remember how we mentioned everyone has the potential to develop a Palace if their desires are distorted enough?" Futaba asked.

"Yeah…?" Marinette asked, not quite sure where this was going.

"Well, people can be distorted but not have Palaces. Their Shadow Selves can be found in Mementos, which is sort of like everyone's Palace. I imagine Lila's Shadow Self was in there for some time before it evolved into her own personal Palace…"

"Everyone's Palace?" Luka said, "So when you say that, you mean that it's everyone's desires all put together? Even though they're all strangers?"

"Another way of putting it is the collective unconscious' Palace," Morgana explained.

"So… we can still change people's hearts even if a Palace hasn't formed yet?" Nino asked.

"That's correct. Doing so is a little different, though," Akira added.

"We'll wait until Yuuki finishes the French version of the Phan-Site," Ryuji said with a grin, "then we'll show you how it's done!"

"Okay, sounds cool!" Alix said a wholesome smile on her face.

Just then, Marinette's phone lit up with a text. Opening it, she saw it was from Nathaniel (who Marinette had ranked a 4 on her list).

NK: I know you wanted some space, Marinette, but I think this is a fair excuse. Alya's roping some of us into some weird plan to "win you back." I told her I want no part of it.

MDC: Thanks for the warning, Nathaniel. I really appreciate it.

NK: No problem.

She could feel Nathaniel moving down the scale, but she sighed nonetheless.

"Everything okay?" Luka asked with a concerned frown.

Marinette groaned, "It was Nathaniel. He said Alya's roping some of my classmates into a 'win me back' scheme."

Ryuji scowled. "What are you, some sort of prize to them?" he growled.

Marinette shook her head, with Nino and Alix sharing similar looks of annoyance, "Alya's always pulled things like this, especially when I was still pining for Adrien."

"From the sound of it, it seems like not everyone is on board this time though," Akira said uneasily.

"Well, Nathaniel certainly isn't," Marinette confirmed, "he didn't mention anyone else though."

"Did he tell you what the plan was?" Makoto asked.

"No," she shook her head, "but I'll be wary."

"We'll keep an eye out, too," Alix said, "Maybe you can get something out of Jules, Luka."

"I'll ask her," the guitarist nodded.

"Good luck, then!" Ann said, "We have to go. Homework calls…"

"Yeah, no problem. Talk to you later!" Marinette and the other three waved as the Tokies hung up.

The next second, as if sensing the conversation's end, the akuma alert lit up on everyone's phone.

"Saved by the bell, it seems!" Tikki giggled.

"Be careful, you two!" Nino said as Marinette and Luka climbed up to the roof.

"We will! Thanks!"

Chapter Text

"Phew…" Ladybug breathed a sigh of relief; they'd finally cleansed the akuma and sent the purified person on their way.

"LADYBUG!" a girl's voice shouted from the street below.

Ladybug stopped just as she was about to throw her yo-yo. Looking down, she spotted Aurore Beauréal waving her arms wildly in the air, clearly trying to catch the heroine's attention.

Kobra and Chat Noir eyed the blonde below cautiously, but Ladybug relaxed. She and Aurore may not be in the same class, but they always had a friendly relationship.

"I'll see what she wants," Ladybug informed them, "I can spare a minute. You guys can't."

Nodding uncertainly, Chat & Kobra hopped off into the distance.

This time flipping her yo-yo towards the streets, Ladybug gracefully landed nearly right next to the weather girl.

"What can I help you with, Miss Beauréal?" she asked professionally.

Aurore looked delighted that Ladybug was actually taking the time to talk to her, but quickly composed herself.

"Well, I was wondering…"

The conversation with Aurore was still fresh in her mind as Marinette made her way to school. She had immediately sent a message to Kobra and Chat Noir to inform them of the weather girl's proposal, and the two of them both thought that it was a great idea. She was going to catch Alix and Nino up to speed at lunch, and she intended to ask the Tokies if they would be willing to participate after school.

"I never even thought about something like that, Tikki! But it's a great way to help the public become more proactive against Hawkmoth, especially kids my age!"

"I agree!" Tikki smiled from her purse, "The fewer chances Hawkmoth has to akumatize people, the better!"

"It's also a great way to show that the heroes are here for more than just akumas, but public safety and mental health as well," she continued excitedly. She stopped short when she spotted Alix and Nino at the top of the stairs by Miss Bustier's door, not looking too cheerful.

"Is something going on?" Marinette asked, but as she came closer, she began to get an idea of what was going on.

It was clear that there was an argument happening behind the door. One of the voices she could definitely make out was Alya, she couldn't quite make out who else was yelling though. She had remembered Nathaniel's text yesterday, warning her about the scheme. From the sound of it though, it seemed Nathaniel wasn't the only one that disagreed with Alya's 'genius' plan.

"...Is it safe to go in?" Marinette had to ask.

"We're honestly not sure…" Nino admitted with a shrug.

Marinette sighed, "Well… we can't stay outside forever…"

With solemn nods, the trio approached the door to the classroom, and inside…

"How many times do we have to say it?" Kim growled, with Juleka, Nathaniel, Max, Rose, and Adrien behind him, "If Marinette wants space, we should give her space!"

"Well, she's never going to talk to us otherwise!" Alya shouted back, with Mylene, Ivan, and Sabrina in her corner facing away from the door. Off to the side, at her desk, Miss Bustier was just watching the fight like a tennis match, seeming to be too overwhelmed with shock to interfere on either side.

"Save it, Kim," Adrien said sadly, "it's like we're talking to a brick wall…"

Marinette cleared her throat loudly, catching the rest of her classmates' attention.

Everyone but her, Nino, & Alix froze, eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights.

"Marinette!" Alya gasped, "How… how long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough," she said shortly before walking right past the blogger and taking a seat at her desk in the back. Alix and Nino quietly followed suit, settling down in their own seats.

After a short while of silence, Marinette sighed. "Isn't this a classroom? Let's get going!" she said, resisting the urge to clap her hands.

This seemed to snap a majority of the students out of it, as they quickly scrambled to their seats.

She saw Miss Bustier shoot her a grateful smile, but she turned away, refusing to look her teacher in the eyes. Any respect she had for Bustier had gone down the drain for quite some time now.

Bustier looked hurt but quickly started taking attendance.

Marinette did make sure to catch Nathaniel's eye and wink. He flushed and looked down shyly, but sent a cautious smile back.

"Marinette!" Alya exclaimed, just as she stepped out of the class. She felt her grab her arm, crying, "Please, just wait!"

"Let go, Alya!" Marinette exclaimed, "Whatever scheme you've got planned, I don't want any part of it!"

"If you would just listen-"

The second she heard that word, Marinette barked out a laugh, "Listen? Really? Funny how I was practically begging you for months to listen to me! And you're still not doing it!" she accused, ripping her arm away. Not even caring that the rest of the class had stopped to watch, she continued, "I asked you to leave me alone! I'll talk to you when I'm ready, Alya! Not when you're ready - when I'm ready!"

"Look, Mari-"

"Don't call me that!" Marinette snapped, cutting Alya off.

"Wh-what?" Alya gasped in shock.

"Only my friends can call me Mari. No one else!"

"But… I am your friend…"

"Really…? Last I checked, friends don't trip each other in the hall. Or spread baseless rumors about them! Or attempt to destroy something that they know is precious to them!"

The memory of walking back to class after a bathroom break and seeing her - fortunately fake - sketchbook torn to shreds and with tomato soup spilled all over it and her chair had nearly been another breaking point for Marinette. Fortunately, she had developed the habit of leaving her sketchbook at home, and a spare one was hidden in Luka's guitar case. She was so glad that Luka had suggested it a couple days before it actually happened, too.

"Oh, and they certainly don't demand evidence from them, but for some reason take the word from someone they barely knew!"

"Marinette, that's-"

"Please don't, Miss Bustier!" Marinette snapped, "You've never been any help! Not with Chloe, not with Lila, and especially not now!"

Surprisingly, for once, Miss Bustier actually looked angry as she rose from her desk.

"Marinette, go to the principal's office!"

"For what? Standing up for myself and stating facts?" she countered defiantly.

The teacher was silent.

"I'm only going to say this one more time, I'll talk to all of you when I'm ready. You can approach me and ask if I'm ready, but I expect all of you to accept it when or if I say 'no.'"

With that said, Marinette took a deep breath to collect herself before walking out of the classroom.

Nino shot his ex-girlfriend a disappointed look before following her. Alix playfully elbowed Kim and shot him a approving smirk before jogging off too.

"Wow…" was all Alix could say as the three headed to the bakery for lunch, "That was probably the gutsiest thing I've seen you ever do, Mari!"

Marinette flushed, still trying to process what she did herself. She was quite shocked that she didn't attract an akuma with that stunt she pulled.

"I think it's something they needed to hear though," Nino admitted, "If anything, it shows them that you're serious about earning your trust."

"But will even that be enough?" Marinette asked as they crossed the street, "I'm seriously starting to consider taking my case to the Board of Governors. The behavior in class is just out of control… and people wonder why we're nicknamed the 'Akuma Class.'"

"Why wait?" Alix asked, "You could talk to your parents about it now if you want - heck, we'll back you up if you want!"

"Talk to us about what, sweetie?" Sabine asked, having heard the last bit of Alix's suggestion. Tom had just pulled out some freshly made croissants from the oven, but he looked up as well.

"Oh, um…" Marinette hesitated, before noticing the encouraging glances Nino and Alix were sending her.

"Maman, would you and Papa be available to talk upstairs in a bit?" she asked.

Tom and Sabine exchanged concerned looks, before Sabine responded with, "Let us finish with these customers, then we'll meet you up there, all right?"

"Okay, thanks!" Marinette said, before the three teens headed to the back and up the stairs.

About ten minutes later, as they promised, the couple hurried up the stairs, finding the trio munching on some steamed buns.

"Now, what was it you wanted to talk about, il mio tesoro?" Tom asked.

Marinette took a deep breath before looking at Nino and Alix one more time. In unison, they gestured to her parents encouragingly.

Marinette explained to her parents how her classmates had crashed their picnic on Sunday, and she had given them her terms on where they now stood trust- and friendship-wise. Then she explained what happened during class, from the fight that morning to Alya practically trying to force her to accept her friendship back.

Tom and Sabine were horrified to say the least as they listened to what their daughter described. Now they were even more relieved by their decision they made on Sunday.

"I'm really thinking of going to the Board of Governors about what's happening. I… I'm really not feeling safe at school. I haven't for a while now…"

"Oh Marinette," Sabine gasped, leaping up and hugging her daughter. Tom was quick to follow, enveloping both of his girls in a large bear-hug, "There's actually no need for you to do that…"

"What do you mean?" Marinette asked, looking up at her maman and papa.

"We have a small confession to make, Cupcake," Tom said softly, "We've… we've actually already done that."

This caught all of the teens off guard.

"You did?" Nino asked.

"When?" Alix questioned.

"It was last Sunday, while you three were out with Luka and those Japanese friends of yours," Sabine explained, "We chose not to tell you because we didn't want to add more stress to your plate, Marinette."

"We should have done it sooner," Tom said remorsefully, "Your grandfather told me that Dupains should always listen to that feeling they get in their blood, and I've had it for a while. I couldn't figure out why it was always highest when that Lila girl was nearby…"

Marinette grimaced. She knew that she couldn't hold her parents responsible in the same way she did her classmates. Mostly because she never told them about Lila from the start. They were always worried about her being bullied by Chloe all the time, adding another to the list would just worry them more.

"So… what did they say?" Marinette asked with genuine curiosity. She felt Alix and Nino lean closer to hear the answer too.

"They told us that they had been planning to launch an investigation for a while actually," Sabine revealed, "They were greatly concerned about the number of akumas that were appearing specifically from your school. Several parents had come to them with numerous complaints over the weekend, in fact. Then after the incident with Lila, they decided to open an investigation starting yesterday."

"Yesterday…? Wait! There were some professional-looking people going into Principal Damocles' office!" Nino remembered, "Could that have been them?"

"Most likely," Alix nodded, "it would make sense if that's the case. More logical than Interpol anyway."

"That's good to hear," Sabine sighed in relief, and Tom sagged as well, "but, honey. Even though they're doing this… we wanted to ask you if you wanted to change schools. I know we've asked you this before but… with what happened and if you really don't feel safe at that school..."

They had talked to her about transferring schools several times in the past, but Marinette had always stubbornly said no because she didn't want to leave her friends at Chloe's mercy. And she had still loved Miss Bustier back then too… Now though…? She still didn't want to transfer, even after all the crap she had to endure from Lila and most of the rest of the class. If she had to give a reason… it wasn't to be an example. It was to be a reminder. A reminder of what their careless and selfish acts had done to someone.

...Man, it was official. The Phantom Thieves were rubbing off on her.

"No," Marinette shook her head, "I don't want to transfer. That…" she looked up at her parents with a glint in her eye, "That would be too easy."

"Well spoken." Mulan whispered in her mind.

Sabine and Tom's eyes widened, and Alix and Nino felt a shiver run down their back. But then Sabine recovered and mirrored her daughter's smile.

"All right then," she agreed, "but sweetie, please come to us if you need anything, all right?"

"Thanks, Maman!" Marinette said, hugging her parents once more. Tom even pulled Alix and Nino in as the five of them embraced one another happily.

Chance: Hey, if you've guys have got a minute, I've got some big news!

Skull: What kind of news? Did something happen at school?

Chance: …Something did happen, but that wasn't what I wanted to tell you.

Queen: Are you okay?

Jack: She's fine. We all are.

Beat: Class was a warzone when we came in today. Literally. I'm surprised no one got akumatized.

Viper: That's what Jules told me at lunch. Rose was apparently originally on Alya's side, but Juleka convinced her to back out last minute.

Panther: Which one is Rose again?

Chance: Short blonde hair, wears pink a lot.

Skull: Oh, the one that was gushing over Lila all the time? Makes sense.

Viper: Rose is a little… naive, but she always wants to see people happy.

Fox: Wasn't she the one that had a Prince's personal number?

Chance: Yep. Prince Ali. I don't understand why she was so adamant about not texting him about Lila.

Beat: Lila likely convinced her that Prince Ali was super busy with his charity work and she shouldn't disturb him.

Oracle: Even so, if Prince Ali was really her friend, he would make time to answer her.

Chance: Yeah, I hope she realizes that. Anyways, here's what's going on…

Chance: One Mlle. Beauréal (she goes to my school) requested an interview with all of us. If you guys can make time…

Fox: An interview, you say? What is it about?

Chance: We're going to discuss things that people can do to help avoid potential akumatizations. It'll be about bullying, abuse, and their effects on mental health, especially in those of schools. We'll also be giving steps people can take to reduce their chances of attracting Hawkmoth.

Panther: Oh, Mari, this is fantastic!

Queen: After Lila & Chloe, I think this is long overdue.

Joker: Me and Oracle can be ready in about an hour. Does that sound possible for everyone else?

Panther: Yeah, I can do that. Nothing better to do but a little easy homework.

Queen: I hope you can get it done quickly… anyway, I can make it in an hour.

Skull: Sure! I got nothing today, too!

Fox: I was hoping to work on a project of mine, but I am more than willing to do this instead.

Chance: Thank you all so much!

Oracle: No prob, M! We'll see you soon!

Seeing that she now had an hour to spare, Marinette decided to swing by the Tsurugi residence to track Kagami down. After all, Aurore said the more heroes that were present there, the better.

Ladybug swung back onto her balcony with a large smile on her face. Kagami had agreed to participate so long as she was told the time so she could sneak away from her mom.

"Guessing she said yes?" Luka guessed as he, Nino, and Alix were already waiting in Marinette's bedroom.

"She said it would depend on the time, but if she can make it, she will."

"Awesome!" Alix grinned, but it turned into a frown as she said, "I'm honestly surprised they didn't do something like this sooner - like… oh, I don't know, when all of this actually started?"

"I think the second mass akuma attack and Lila's expulsion are what pushed them to do it," Nino reasoned.

"They still should have done it earlier… what, did they not take the literal magical terrorist seriously?" Luka grumbled.

"Whatever the reason, they're doing it now. Better late than never," Marinette said as she logged onto the computer and called the Tokies.

After a few rings, the gang appeared on the screen, all gathered in Akira's room at Leblanc.

"Hey! How's it going?" Futaba greeted.

"We're pretty good. Thanks for coming on such short notice," Marinette said thankfully.

"No problem," Akira reassured her, "So… what's the deal with this interview again? I just want to go over everything one more time."

"It's more of a… how did Aurore put it… a 'live forum discussion' or something like that? Basically, people will tune into the broadcast and send questions to the KIDZ+ website that we will discuss and answer. And the topic is what the effect of bullying and abuse have on mental health, with an emphasis on in the cases of school students."

"Oh, so it's streamed?" Futaba asked somewhat nervously.

"It will be live, yes," Marinette nodded.

"G-geez… I've never been recorded like this before… sure, I've been in photos, but…" Futaba said somewhat fearfully.

"If you dudes aren't comfortable doing it, you don't have to," Nino assured, "The four of us - plus whoever Dragonica and Chat Noir are - can handle it."

"N-no! I can do this!" Futaba said bravely, "Sorry for getting all anxious."

"Don't worry, Futaba. Remember, it won't necessarily be you, either," Ann reminded her with a wink, "It'll be Henhouse."

"Alright, you guys ready to go?" Marinette asked, wearing her signature Ladybug grin.

"I'm all for it! This gonna be awesome!" Ryuji cheered.

"Do you know when it'll be?" Morgana asked.

"Aurore said this Saturday. She said she should have the time by tomorrow."

"I think we can make that work," Makoto said thoughtfully, "We'll just have to time it correctly."

"Excellent…" Yusuke smiled uneasily.

Alix caught the look and squinted. "What's going on, Foxy?" she asked.

"We were hoping you would inform us about what went on at your school this morning," he confessed.

Marinette shrugged, looking more annoyed than upset.

"I don't know the details, but when the three of us arrived in class, everyone was taking sides, either with Alya or against her."

"They were planning some sort of surprise party for Marinette," Nino supplied, "but I guess not everyone was on board…"

"The only ones that stayed on Alya's side were Ivan, Mylene, and Sabrina. And… possibly Miss Bustier," Alix added.

"I'm really starting to hate teachers…" Ryuji muttered grumpily.

"Hey, now. Kawakami-sensei isn't that bad," Akira elbowed the bottle blond.

"You have her for a homeroom teacher - aren't you sorta biased?" he pointed out.

"I like Kawakami-sensei too," Ann said.

"See previous statement," Ryuji deadpanned, causing Morgana to let out a small laugh.

"Kawakami… wait, wasn't she the one that looked ready to deck Miss Bustier in Hawaii?" Alix questioned.

Akira and Ann choked laughing as Makoto smiled amusedly. "Oh, is that what you'd call that face?" she asked, chuckling a bit herself.

"Anyway, back on topic," Luka said, shifting back to the incident.

"So, besides Nathaniel - who tipped me off about the whole thing - Max, Kim, Juleka, Rose, Adrien, and of course these two," Marinette said while pointing to Nino & Alix, "were against the whole plan. We walked in just as Kim was ripping Alya a new one."

"Max & Rose took a tad bit of convincing, though," Alix recalled, "I was honestly shocked that Adrien of all people was against it."

"I'm not, in honesty," Nino said, capturing everyone's focus, "My bro may have done Marinette wrong, but there's no denying he drinks his Respect Women Juice."

"A whole glass?" Akira asked in a serious tone that betrayed the comical side of it.

"Every goddamn morning," Nino responded, his tone equally serious.

After about five seconds of silence, everyone burst out laughing.

"Oh, man…" Marinette giggled wiping a tear from her eye, "Anyway, I made my presence known shortly after, and then class started. Didn't see any new papers on my desk, so maybe Miss Bustier thinks I took the contact info home or something."

"But after class," Marinette said, pausing to massage the bridge of her nose, "Alya tried to… for lack of better terms force me to talk to her. I… may have told her off."

"Hell yeah, you did! Both her and Miss Bustier," Alix grinned, "she tried to send her to the Principal's Office, but our Class Prez wouldn't have it!"

"Wait, you're a Class President?" Makoto gasped, "So am I!"

"The official title is Class Representative, but yeah!" Marinette grinned.

"That… explains a lot, actually," Ryuji said, eyes wide.

"I remember a few months ago that you almost had it taken from you, too," Nino remembered, "but the reason you kept it is because no one else wanted it, and Lila… well, back then she claimed she was 'busy with her charity work,' but I bet it's because she just didn't want to do all the work that comes with the job."

"Sounds like Lila…" Ann said, "well, the old Lila, anyways."

"Why was it almost taken away?" Yusuke asked.

"Oh… how did Miss Bustier put it?" Marinette said with feigned sweetness, "Being a disruption to the peace or something?"

"Lila opened her big fat mouth and Miss Bustier believed her instead of Mari," Alix translated with a deadpan tone, but her voice was also tinted with guilt a little.

"Something just occurred to me…" Akira said quietly, "Do you think Alya would be in Mementos? Sure, the French Phan-Site isn't done yet, but…"

"If it's anything like what you describe it, it wouldn't surprise me," Nino said sorrowfully, "Do you guys think we should…"

"...No," Marinette shook her head.

When everyone gave her a shocked stare, she amended her statement with, "Or at least, not yet."

"Why not?" Morgana asked, sounding genuinely curious.

"I want to give her a chance to do better," Marinette explained, "If she doesn't take it, we'll change her heart - if she does, no more harm, no more foul. I guess right now… changing her heart seems like giving her an easy way out - you know what I mean?"

"Totally," Ryuji said, "I can respect that, Marinette. If you change your mind, you just let us know."

"Thanks. And don't worry, if she's crossed the point of no return, you'll all be the first to know."

Having caught the hidden meaning, Makoto's eyebrow rose a fraction before she nodded along with the rest of them.

"Okay, sounds good," Ann smiled.

"So I guess that's it… oh, wait! Your mom and pops talked to the Board of Governors on Sunday too," Nino reminded her.

"Oh yeah. That's what we call our School Board here," Luka informed them.

"Oh, really? Well, that's another plus, isn't it?" Akira smiled.

"Yeah. Apparently, the Board was planning to investigate our school for a while now. I guess this last attack was what pushed them to finally launch one," Marinette reasoned, "We'll update you on what happens."

"If the School Board is there, laying low is even more important now," Yusuke reminded them, "Be cautious."

"We will, thanks! We'll text you the time of the forum tomorrow," Marinette said, "so keep your schedules open!"

"Sounds good. We'll see you later!" Morgana said his farewell before the screen went blank.

Chapter Text

"Welcome, one and all, to a very special live stream," Aurore Beauréal smiled widely as the cameras and lights from the studio lit up the stage, "I'm your host, Aurore Beauréal, and today, we are lucky to be greeted by some very special guests tonight. Please welcome… Ladybug, Chat Noir, and Team Miraculous!"

The in-studio audience cheered as the heroes all waved in greeting. It would be another long night for the Tokies once again - it was currently 6:30 P.M. in Paris, which made it 1:30 A.M. in Tokyo. Fortunately, since it was Saturday, they didn't have school the next day, so they could sleep in if they needed to. Fortunately, they had been told that the forum shouldn't last more than two hours at most. KIDZ+ was aiming for about an hour and a half.

"Thank you for having us, Mlle. Beauréal," Ladybug smiled politely.

"And thank you all for being willing to participate," Aurore replied before facing the camera again, "Now, as everyone watching is aware, this is a live streaming forum discussion, so if any of you watching has a question you want our heroes to answer, send them to us at our website at, or use the hashtag #HeroesToday!"

"Now then, let's get started," Aurore said, turning to the heroes, "In light of recent events, especially involving Hawkmoth's latest mass attack, the topic that we've chosen to discuss with our heroes is bullying, abuse & its effects on mental health. Ladybug, what do you and your allies have to say on this?"

"Well, Aurore, the topic on discussing bullying, how to recognize it, and how to monitor and stop it I think is more important than ever for us right now. Hawkmoth's Miraculous gives him the ability to literally take the negative emotions of an individual and turn it into a weapon. Of course, emotions, even negative ones, are normal, and you have the right to feel them, but under these unfortunate circumstances, it's not exactly safe to feel too strongly."

"And, as we've seen with this last mass attack," Kobra piped up, "the main driving force behind all of these negative emotions coming to light was the result of one thing… bullying. As a matter of fact, for most akumas that are school students, a majority of the time the reason that Hawkmoth targets them is because someone is bullying them. Someone is making them feel ashamed, sad, hurt, or even angry, which draws Hawkmoth's attention to them."

"That's very interesting," Aurore commented, "and it's sad to see someone have to suffer even more by being targeted by an akuma who's out for them."

"We won't give names," Bunnix said, "but it seems a lot of young people seem to think that it's okay to… 'get back at someone' - for lack of a better term - for something that to some would seem silly or ridiculous."

"While it's understandable that people may feel more personal about some things than others," Mitsubachi said, "I think it's also just as important to recognize when to just let something go. If the person who wronged says 'sorry' and shows that they are, then that should be it."

"You gotta be careful about when you forgive 'em, though," Saruchame cautioned, "There are times when there is no forgiving someone for what they did… or at least, not right away. You honestly have to use your own judgment at that, and know when it's time to put your foot down."

"Those are some good pieces of advice," Aurore nodded in approval, the studio audience applauding.

Her gaze then wandered to the laptop in her lap, "Okay, so ever since this forum was announced, we've received tons of questions from watchers worldwide. Understand that you are under no obligation to answer a question if it makes you feel uncomfortable since this is a sensitive topic to some folks and all. Upon looking through them, a version of this question has popped up several times and it is, 'What is the difference between playful teasing and bullying and how do I recognize it?'"

"Mostly it's where and when the line is drawn," Amur said, "but bullying can often be shrugged off as teasing, so the intention matters as well."

"Communication is also key in situations like this," Dragonica answered, "from what I've noticed, if someone says something accidentally insulting, but then are told that it was when it wasn't the intention, they usually will understand and work hard not to say it again. If it continues despite warnings - especially repeated ones - then I believe it becomes a problem."

"I agree with that," Bombshell added, "in my opinion, teasing can actually be a way that people can bond with each other as well. And like Dragonica just said, so long as the teasing isn't meant to hurt someone, there likely isn't too much of a problem. However, kids do need to watch themselves, as teasing can easily turn into bullying too, especially when the jabs start becoming hostile or are said in a way to intentionally draw a negative reaction out of someone."

"Great answers, thank you guys," Aurore smiled, scrolling through her iPad again, "Okay, here's another one that's been asked a lot, 'If I'm being bullied by someone, what's the best way to handle it? Should I just ignore them or should I get help?'"

"Oh… that's a tough one," Shadow Barb admitted, "I-I think it depends on the situation in all honesty. I mean we've all heard the saying: 'Just ignore them and they won't bother you.' But while there are definitely cases where this strategy has worked perfectly, there are also cases where it's just made things worse too."

"If you feel like the bullying isn't really hurting you, and you need to be honest with yourself when you ask yourself this, then maybe the ignoring strategy could work. But it's a risky one that you yourself need to monitor closely," Kobra said.

"Feelings are like wine," Chat proclaimed wisely, "they can lead to things both fun and sad, but most importantly, if you bottle it up long enough… well, even the finest of wine will turn into vinegar, you know?"

"As I said before, you need to know when to draw the line," Amur repeated, "And when that line is crossed, then further action needs to be taken to protect yourself."

"For example, if you don't feel safe when the bullying happens, that's one of many cases where you need to get help," Henhouse said, "Talking to an adult that you trust would be a good first step, like a parent or a teacher. If the case is a bit more extreme, you could even go to the local authorities. Depending on the type of bullying that happens, in some places it can be a criminal offense."

"I do hope this is discouraging people from bullying others to begin with," Kijutsu-shi noted somewhat sternly.

"I hope so too," Aurore nodded grimly, "Okay, so this question caught our attention when it was submitted. Someone from Marseilles - whose name will remain anonymous for their safety - asks, 'I recently found out that one of my closest friends has been actively participating in bullying another student at my school. I know this is wrong and I want to tell him to stop, but I'm scared if I confront him, I'll lose him as a friend and get bullied too. What should I do? Please help!'"

No one noticed Chat Noir grimace when this question was asked. This felt a little too close to home for his civilian self.

"Well…" Mitsubachi frowned, "First of all, we're sorry you're in this situation and can't imagine how difficult this likely is for you. But, like we said earlier, the best thing you could do is talk to your friend about it. Try to help them understand why what they're doing is hurting you. If they really are your friend and value your friendship, then they should stop."

"And if your friend continues even despite your warnings… you've given him a chance to do better," Ladybug said solemnly, causing Kobra to put a hand on her shoulder in solidarity.

"Hurt as it will," she said, "the best thing you can do is not be his friend - it'll show him you don't support what he's doing, and he's being what some might call a bad influence on you. In some cases, this very act is what forces someone to stop these actions!"

"Let me add on to that a little," Shadow Barb said, "if worst comes to worst and you end up getting targeted too, the best thing to do in that case would be to befriend the kid getting bullied. That way, the two of you can stand against the bullies together. If there are two or more witnesses to the bullying, adults and other students are more likely to believe you and act too."

"A burden shared is a burden lightened, after all," Kijutsu-shi smiled sorrowfully.

"That's some great advice, thank you," Aurore nodded gratefully, "Now, a lot of students usually recognize the physical type of bullying, and that's usually the bullying that's highlighted in the media the most. However, a lot of kids - and people in general, sadly - don't seem to recognize that bullying isn't always physical abuse like punching, kicking or hitting. That's the type of bullying that can get caught easily. But there are plenty of forms of bullying that go undetected. Several questions have asked about different types of bullying and how to recognize each type. Got any tips for that?"

"While it's not official or anything, abuse comes in at least six named forms," Henhouse said, holding up her index finger, "Physical is just one of them. Sexual abuse and harassment is another, as is emotional/verbal. There's also mental or psychological abuse like manipulation, financial/economic abuse, and cultural/identity abuse."

"Cultural/Identity?" Bombshell said, tilting her head to the side, "I'll admit, I haven't heard of that." Several members of the rest of the team nodded. Even Aurore looked intrigued.

"It's holding a part of someone's identity - like their sexuality or preferred gender - against them," Henhouse explained, "For example, if someone finds out a gay kid has homophobic parents and they blackmail the kid, saying that they'll reveal the secret to their parents unless they do what they say… that's identity abuse. An example of cultural abuse is isolating someone who doesn't speak a dominant language in the country they currently live in and preventing them from learning it so they have power over the person. It's all about control."

"At the end of the day, that's mostly what bullying and abuse is about. When someone tries to control or dominate another person," Bunnix clarified, "If you don't give the bully the opportunity to gain that power, they can't do anything to you!"

Team Miraculous answered several more questions that night, ranging from the types of bullying and how to recognize it, to cyberbullying and ways to stop or block the harasser, to even brushing a little bit on sexual harassment and the importance of consent in such cases ("Just because they don't say 'no' does not mean that they said 'yes'!" Saruchame had commented). Bombshell even bravely admitted to everyone's shock that she was a victim of sexual harassment and, without disclosing names or places, told how she had found support and later healing from the incident. Several tissues had been passed around to both the heroes and the audience alike.

The interview slowly came to an end with the heroes sharing tips and strategies they used to help deal with their negative emotions in a healthier way instead of letting them stew, which is what gives Hawkmoth the chance to akumatize people.

"Any more questions you want to ask us, Miss Beauréal?" Saruchame asked.

"As much as I would love to, I think that's all we have time for right now. Do you have any more advice you'd like to give before we sign off?"

"Honestly, just remember that you're not alone," Ladybug said, "you're not the only person being bullied or abused and there are people that are willing to help you. If we're in the area, we will try our best to help if we can!"

"I wish nobody was being abused…" Amur grumbled, "but it does happen. If I'm given the opportunity, I will not hesitate to help you if you are being hurt in some way or another."

"Same!" the rest of Team Miraculous chorused.

"Thank you so much for participating in this forum. Thanks also go to all of our viewers for all of the questions that you submitted. If there are specific questions that we didn't cover that you want us at KIDZ+ to answer, please submit them to our website and we will do our best to answer them."

"As glad to help as we are, Aurore, we all do need to get going. Thank you for all you've done to help," Ladybug smiled as she and the rest of the team stood up and headed for the opened windows.

"No problem!" Aurore exclaimed, waving after them. Cameras were turned in the team's direction just in time to catch them leaping out one by one, making their way back into the city.

"Whoo-hoo!" Saruchame shouted as the team sprinted across the rooftops towards the Eiffel Tower, where Ladybug would collect their Miraculous and send them home. They spotted several Parisians cheering for them as they passed overhead from both the streets and through open windows and balconies.

While they smiled and waved, this did little to hinder their course towards Eiffel Tower. Soon the team found themselves back on the top level overlooking the city down below.

"That felt so cool! I don't think I've felt this widely-trusted in a long time…" Henhouse cheered.

"I'm glad that Aurore thought to do this. Hopefully, this will bring attention to the bullying that happens in schools so that measures can be taken to stop it." Ladybug said.

"We can always hope, huh?" Chat Noir agreed, scratching the back of his head, "Either way, I'd best be off. Don't want to discover you guys' identities, after all."

With that, he made tracks for wherever he lived. Once Ladybug couldn't see him anymore and was sure he was gone, she turned to the remaining members of the team.

"You can head home too, Dragonica," Ladybug said, "There's something I want to talk to these guys about in private. I'll come pick your Miraculous up later."

"Very well then, Ladybug," Dragonica nodded curtly before heading off in another direction.

Once the Dragon heroine leaped away, Morgana trotted out from behind one of the pillars. Now that the Thieves were back, he was relieved from 'Akuma Watch' duty.

"How did it go?" he asked.

"Pretty well," Henhouse answered, "I didn't freak out as much as I thought I would."

Ladybug then turned to the Phantom Thieves. A serious look was on her face.

"You didn't do anything wrong before I begin," she said, "but I noticed some things with what you guys were saying. You absolutely must be careful not to mix celebrity with hero."

"'s true," Saruchame was surprisingly the first to admit it in a low whisper, "I think this applies to PT life as well."

"How so?" Bombshell asked.

"We can't let the public decide whoever our next target will be, or if they're worth going after or not," he explained.

"Saruchame is right," Amur said, "remember Mishima? He was obsessed about us going after this one actor, but he didn't have solid evidence that the man was doing anything illegal. If we had gone off of his word alone and targeted him, who knows what would have happened?"

"Then again, he probably wouldn't have had a place in the Metaverse…" Kijutsu-shi thought out loud, "not to detract from your statement. We must ensure not only that we think the target is worth going after but that the target actually deserves a change of heart."

"Sort of like when we chose to target Lila," Mitsubachi realized, "Remember? Our first concern against it may have been her age, but we were also concerned if the public would start to view the Phantom Thieves negatively again."

"Just because something looks beneficial initially doesn't mean it is. We need to focus on what's best for the long run," Bunnix said.

"It's true. At the end of the day, the facts will always remain just that: the facts. And even if it's painful or isn't the most popular opinion, if it's the right thing to do, we should do it," Morgana added solemnly.

The rest of the team nodded. After saying their goodbyes and handing over their Miraculouses, Shadow Barb called on Voyage and sent the Tokies home.

"You think that thing with KIDZ+ will really make a difference?" Bunnix questioned once they were gone.

"We can only hope for the best at this point," Kobra said, "but we need to keep our end of the bargain up too. If you ask me, if we see something that's causing akumas, even unintentionally, we need to address it, like speak privately with the person in question."

"That's a not a bad idea," Ladybug agreed, "Maybe if I'd done that originally…"

"Hey, it's not on you, Ladybug," Shadow Barb said, "You weren't exactly given a superhero handbook, from what it sounds like. This is anything but your fault."

"Thanks, guys… come on, let's head home."

Chapter Text

"I feel like we did a good thing today," Nino said to Ladybug. She'd already gotten Alix home, and Nino had gone to his own home to wait for her while she picked up Dragonica's choker and dropped off the Tokies' Miraculouses at home so she could carry the rest. Now that she'd done that, he'd returned Kaalki.

"I agree, Nino," she smiled, "Even if it isn't a school night, I'd advise you to get some sleep… see you around."

Nino nodded. He waved slightly as Ladybug slowly became a silhouette in the distance, before heading off to go take a shower before bed.

"Are you sure you don't want to just Voyage home?" Kaalki asked as she and Ladybug - wearing the Horse glasses but not transformed with the kwami - flew on their way to the Dupain-Cheng residence.

Suddenly, a familiar voice caught Ladybug's attention. Stopping atop a building not too far off, she covertly peered down, searching for the source of the voice and trying to recall whose it was.

"They must be children…" she heard the voice - clearly that of a woman's - mutter from the open window, "Who else would think so… narrow-mindedly? What is the point of making children suffer? Some simply will never learn, and we just have to deal with it. Ugh… Well, with the changes that'll happen at school soon, I'll ensure everyone's happy."

Ladybug felt her blood chill. She couldn't quite make out the voice of the person below, She didn't expect everyone to agree with what they said in that interview - Hawkmoth being at the top of that list - but this sounded almost sinister.

The woman mentioned something about things changing at a school?

A school…

If anyone had been watching Ladybug, chances were they would have seen the lightbulb over her head turn on.

"No… it couldn't be…"

Before she could be noticed, Ladybug shook her head and leaped away from the rooftop, making her way back to the bakery and dropping off Kaalki's glasses.

She didn't get a lot of sleep that night.

Sundays were not the usual days that Marinette heard her mom knocking on her trapdoor. It was one of the few days she knew she could sleep in blissfully without too much disturbance.

And that was why she found herself nearly falling out of bed when she heard the sound of knocking on her trapdoor.

"Marinette, you have a visitor!"

"Wha…" she knew she hadn't been expecting anyone… "Who'zit?" she asked as she opened her trapdoor and descended the steps.

"I can send him away, if you want…" Sabine said softly as Marinette spotted the sharp spikes of golden hair by the doorframe.

"...Kim?" Upon hearing his name, the athlete jumped, then looked down with an embarrassed flush.

"Hi, Mari-I mean Marinette," he muttered, rubbing his arm, "I was on a run, and this was on the path I was going on. I was wondering if you'd like to join me?"

Before Marinette could answer, Kim's eyes snapped open, as if realizing something. "I-it's not a plot to 'win back your friendship' or anything, I swear!" he stammered, waving his hands in front of him, "W-we don't even need to talk, if that's what you'd like!"

Marinette scanned his face for any hints that he had ulterior motives; when she found none, she apprehensively gave a small nod. Both Kim & Sabine's eyes widened.

"Gimme five minutes," she replied simply - she was still quite sleepy, after all - before retreating back to her room to change. She didn't see it, but Kim visibly sagged in relief. He then heard a throat being cleared loudly.

Snapping his head up, Kim noticed Tom Dupain staring him down; Sabine was eyeing him with similar intensity behind him at the counter.

"Just so you're aware, Kim," Tom said in a dangerous tone, "if Marinette gets back and I hear she's been hurt by you or any of your classmates in any way, you'll be answering to me and Sabine. Are we clear?"

"Yessir!" Kim said, nodding so fast you'd think his head would have flown off his shoulders.

"Good to hear," Sabine smiled, looking up from where she had been chopping up some apples. Her knife gleamed a little in the early morning sunlight, and the slightly-red apple juices didn't help much.

Kim visibly gulped.

Just as Marinette promised, she reappeared about five minutes later. Her hair was pulled back in a single ponytail and she was dressed in light clothing and running shoes.

"So… we going?" she asked.

"Oh! Um, yeah," Kim nodded, "Let's go!"

With a small wave to her parents, Marinette followed Kim, closing the door behind her.

Just as Kim promised, the duo jogged around the block and down by the Seine. Neither of them talked, though she noticed Kim glance at her every now and then.

Marinette couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten serious exercise like this as Marinette and not Ladybug or some other Miraculous wielder. She could also feel Kim trickling down the scale, and by the time it was over, she wasn't sure if he was a five or a four.

They passed by the Liberty, and Marinette spotted Luka relaxing on the deck, his guitar resting at his side. He looked a bit surprised to see Kim with her, but after a few seconds, his face lit up with understanding, and he smiled and gave a short wave. Marinette smiled brightly and waved back; Kim did the same, a slightly-uneasy smile on his face.

Eventually, Marinette decided the silence was starting to grate on her, and she began making conversation with Kim. He was all too eager to respond, and soon the two were chatting animatedly.

At one point, however Kim's face grew somber, and Marinette expected him to do some apology.

"I know the last thing you probably wanna think about right now is school, but did you hear that M. Damocles got fired?"

It took a couple of seconds from Marinette to process what she heard, and she almost stopped jogging. "Wait, what?!"

"Yeah, it was in an email that was sent last night," he said, "It was from the Board of Governors. They said they found that M. Damocles was 'unfit to work in a learning environment' or something like that."

"Huh… even if he did things wrong, is it weird that I sort of feel bad for him?"

"Nah," Kim shook his head, "I mean, we've had him as our principal since we started collège, so it'll be weird seeing him gone… I hear that they're starting to investigate the teachers next. You think anything will happen to Mme. Bustier? I mean, considering how she handled dealing with both Chloe and Lila..."

Marinette's mind flashed to the night before, causing her to shudder.


"Huh?" Kim asked, wondering if he heard her right.

"I-I mean, well… obviously it would be bad if she was fired too, but the way she handled things… all of her talk about being a good role model just made it harder for me. I realize that now. Even if she doesn't get fired, though, she shouldn't go without punishment."

"Yeah… who knows, maybe she'll take some of the advice from that KIDZ+ forum last night. Man, did you watch that? That was awesome to listen to! Ladybug and Chat Noir's team brought up some great points. Even Max admitted that he hadn't thought of some of them."

Marinette mentally cringed at both the mention of the KIDZ+ forum & the mention of Max.

Noticing her unease, Kim quickly said, "Sorry if I brought up something touchy…"

"No…" Marinette said, looking down; when she looked up, her face was in a grateful smile, "I didn't mind talking about you with this stuff. Sure, it brings up memories that I think won't ever stop hurting… but I guess if you never address it, it'll never get solved, right?"

Kim smiled, a softer look on his face then Marinette had ever seen on him.

"Yeah… you wanna finish up? We're near your place, after all."

Marinette's phone lit up with a text; looking at it, she saw it was from Futaba and had also been sent to Nino, Luka, & Alix as well.

Oracle: The Parisian Phan-Site's up and ready! Head to the closest subway and call us when you all get there!

"Y-yeah," she said quickly, "thanks for doing this with me. I had a good time!"

"N-no problem!" he said, watching Marinette jog off to the bakery before heading back home himself.

"Wow, this Yuuki guy is good!" Alix commented as the quartet entered the subway entrance, "There are even comments on it already. Guess more people found out about the calling cards than we thought."

"Yeah," Marinette nodded. She remembered that along with the information about M. Damocles' termination, the email brought up the possible involvement with the Phantom Thieves and for all students, staff, and guardians to exercise caution until further notice.

"Okay, so we're here," Luka muttered.

"They said to call them when we got here, right?" Nino asked.

"I think so,' Alix responded, "They didn't say to get on the subway, did they?"

"No, just to get underground," Luka replied.

"Well, we're here, so let's go," Marinette decided, pulling up Akira's number and pressing the call button. He picked up after two rings.

"Hey, so you're there?" The PT leader asked.

"Yeah, we're here like you said. So now what?"

"Okay, put me on speaker and we'll walk you through it. First, one of you needs to pull up the website."

Marinette did as he said while the other three pulled the Phan-Site up.

"Okay, we have the site," Alix said.

"Okay," Morgana's voice came through this time, "First look for a post with someone's full name on it."

"Ignore small stuff like 'She's bad-mouthing me in chat rooms' or 'My boyfriend won't listen to me.'" Ryuji's voice chimed in, "Look for more serious stuff like 'This guy is stalking me,' or 'Someone's threatening me.' Stuff like that we can work with."

"Okay… 'My boss won't take my ideas seriously.'" Nino muttered; he then squinted further at the screen before groaning, "Aw, there's no name here."

"Ooh, what about this one?" Alix piped up, "'My history teacher seems to show no patience for students that don't take to the material quickly. He'll shout at us and berate us a lot. He's even thrown things at us before. Everything is really starting to have a negative effect on my bestie, who has ADHD. If it helps, his name is Lionel Garçon; if this is real, Phantom Thieves, please help us!'"

"Throwing things at students?!" Yusuke gasped.

"This guy definitely needs to take a chill pill," Futaba scowled.

"Hmm, okay sounds like a good first target," Makoto said, "Anyone object to going after M. Garçon, speak up now."

"None here."


"I'm ready when you are."

"Let's do this!"

"All right, looks like we're in agreement!" Morgana said. The Parisians could hear the grin in his voice, "Okay, now get the Nav ready! We only need one keyword this time!"

"That Mementos place, right?" Luka checked.

"Candidate Found."

"Perfect, see you soon!" Ann exclaimed before the call hung up.

"Whoa-wait a sec-" before Marinette could finish her sentence, the familiar feeling of reality warping around them distracted her.

Just as soon as they felt it, the feeling left.

"Whoa! It's completely deserted!" Alix exclaimed, looking around the subway wildly.

"Makes sense if we're back in the Metaverse," Nino figured, "I mean, us and the Tokies are the only ones that can come in here, right?"

"That's right!"

Turning around, the Parisians jumped as the Tokies came out from around the corner.

"Whoa! How did you get here so fast?!" Nino exclaimed.

"I dunno, honestly," Ryuji (who the Parisians noticed was also still in civilian clothes) shrugged, "how do you think we jumped into Lila's Palace without being in Paris?"

"Touchè," the DJ responded, giving a shrug of his own.

"So… this is that Mementos place you were talking about, huh?" Marinette asked.

"That's right," Morgana nodded, "Welcome to the Palace of the masses."

"And it's a subway tunnel?" Luka asked.

"Well, what's the first thing you think of when you think of Paris' underground?" Morgana countered.

"Honestly… the first place that comes to mind for me is the Catacombs," the musician confessed.

"The Catacombs?" Akira asked.

"Yeah… then again, my mom took me and Juleka there a lot when we were younger. We'd always be on some sort of 'adventure,' so that could be why I thought of them first," Luka shrugged.

"I thought of the Catacombs too," Alix piped up.

Marinette chuckled slightly, "I actually thought of the sewer system. Although, I have been down there plenty of times as Ladybug, so…"

"Well, Paris' masses likely don't have the exact same cognition as Tokyo's," Makoto reasoned, "who knows, maybe we'll see glimpses of both places down here."

"As interesting as this all sounds, we can discuss that later," Akira said, "Come on, we need to locate Garçon."

"Okay, where do we find the dude?" Nino asked.

"Where else? We're going deeper in," Futaba smirked, jerking her head towards the subway tracks.

"Ah, hey! Wait up!" Marinette shouted as the Tokies quickly headed down the stairs. Hurriedly, she and the other three followed them in…

...only to find Joker and the rest of the Phantom Thieves waiting on the other side.

In flashes of blue flames, Chance, Viper, Beat, and Jack soon stood in the Parisians' place.

"Our clothes changed…" Beat noticed, "Ah! That means we're viewed as threats now, right?"

"To whom, I'm not sure…" Mona confirmed a bit sadly, "but yeah."

"I see…" Viper noted, "so… Garçon's down here somewhere? How will we know where to look? If this is the cognition of the masses, this place must be huge!"

Mona grinned, before leaping in the air and transforming into the Monabus.

"This is only the second time seeing this and I already know I'm never gonna be used to this…" Jack deadpanned as they all loaded into the vehicle.

"I resent that remark!" Mona complained.

"So anyway," Chance said, "About finding this guy?"

"He'll be in a pocket of his own creation," Queen replied, "Trust us, you'll know it when you see it."

"So we're gonna wander around until we find it?" Jack questioned, sounding irritated, "Don't you have a way to track it at all?"

"That's what me and Mona are for," Oracle grinned confidently, "I can sense the layout of the whole map, and Mona can sense if there's a target on whatever floor we're in!"

"Okay, I guess that's handy…" Jack shrugged.

"It's super handy! Especially since we shouldn't linger in one area for too long…" Panther said a little ominously.

"...What does that mean?" Viper asked cautiously.

"There are Shadows down here," Joker explained, "but according to Mona, there's one Shadow that we need to avoid at all costs. We've never seen it, but if any of you hear the sound of chains rustling in the wind, let us know immediately."

"Ch-chains rustling?" Beat stammered, his face going pale. Jack, Chance & Viper shuddered.

"Yes," Mona confirmed, "The Reaper's too powerful to face even at the level these guys are at. Our best option would be to run, maybe leave Mementos altogether if we absolutely have to."

"Okay, rustling chains is a bad sign then. Noted," Chance nodded, swallowing down a wave of anxiety.

"Anyway, enough talking! Let's go already, Mona! Joker, step on it!" Skull exclaimed impatiently.

Without a second thought, Joker slammed down on the pedal, and with a feline yowl, the Monabus burst forward, zooming down the tunnel.

Queen had been correct in her assumptions; the Parisian Mementos did look a bit different compared to Tokyo's. For one, the tunnels seemed older and more decrepit & crumbled, and more like it was carved from the stone itself rather than cut. They even spotted some human skulls sticking out from the walls at random points, which unnerved even Viper and Fox, who were arguably the most collected of the group. Even the Shadows looked a lot more skeletal than the ones in Tokyo.

"Well, looks like you were right, Queen," Oracle said, "this area of Mementos is a bit different. I can definitely see the influence of the Catacombs here."

"What exactly are the Catacombs, again?" Skull asked.

"The Catacombs are basically a mass grave," Jack explained bluntly, her historian brain kicking in, "Around the eighteenth century, Paris was experiencing a lot of major public health problems, resulting in people dying faster than graves could be dug. The population was simply running out of space to bury people. So they started digging up old graves and replacing the old bodies with new ones. As to where the old bodies went… well, they couldn't just leave them out on the streets, so Paris set aside a portion of land to dump all of the old bodies in, and that eventually became the Catacombs. It's said that the remains of over six million people are buried there, including, according to rumors, the remains of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart."

"Really?! Cool!" Beat gasped in awe, before his face settled into a smirk. "You're not allowed to insult Jalil around me ever again," he teased.

"Oy!" Jack snarled, giving Beat a small thwack to the back of his head. Skull chuckled at the antics, before noticing something on the Monabus' left.

"Over there! That's it!" he exclaimed, pointing towards an area that looked like it was being sucked into a black hole.

"That's where our target is?" Beat asked.

"Yep! See how the area is experiencing such strong distortions?" Mona pointed out, "That's proof that a Palace is slowly developing. It hasn't fully bloomed yet, which is good, but it could if we don't take care of it!"

"Let's go, then!" Chance exclaimed.

"All right! Hang on!" Mona warned as his bus form lunged forward into the distortion.

Emerging from the other side, the Thieves found themselves in a confined chamber, surrounded by skull heads. It looked similar to some of the crossroad corridors one would run into in the Catacombs. And standing in the middle was…

"That's M. Garçon?" Jack asked. The figure standing in the central area didn't seem to register that there were intruders. There didn't seem to be anything unusual about his form either. He was younger than Mme. Bustier, seeming to be fresh out of university. The dark-haired man wore a casual dress shirt and blazer with elbow pads, beige pants, and rectangular spectacles.

"Not M. Garçon, technically," Queen corrected, "it is his Shadow though."

"So this is a teacher that's been harassing students at his school, huh?" Skull scowled.

"I can understand the need for strictness," Fox frowned, "But going as far to throw things at your own pupils is unacceptable."

"Right. Come on, let's go talk to him," Joker decided, leading the way to the Shadow.

Once the group got within about a yard of the figure, he finally seemed to notice them. Just like with Lila's Shadow, M. Garçon's eyes shined with a malicious golden yellow.

"Who are you?!" he demanded with a snarl.

"M. Garçon?" Viper asked, and continued before the Shadow could reply, "We've been hearing that you're being unreasonably unfair with the students you've been teaching. Don't you know that some of them are having harder times with mental disorders because they can't keep up with you?"

"Your job as a teacher should be helping students understand what you're teaching them. It's not necessarily bad if you need to slow down for some of them!" Panther added.

Garçon scoffed, then said something that shocked everyone.

"I'm just showing them what life is really like!" M. Garçon snapped, "Life won't wait for you! If you can't keep up, if you can't handle it, you have no say in it! All that taking everyone's bullshit stuff that Bustier put on me taught me that!"

"Wha-Miss Bustier?!" Chance gasped. Jack and Beat looked equally taken aback, VIper's eyes narrowed, and the rest of the Phantom Thieves' eyes widened after a few seconds in recognition.

"W-well, just because you weren't treated right as a student, doesn't give you the right to do the same to the ones you're teaching now!" Skull argued.

"Well, that harpy never stopped to ask how I felt when I was a student! Always sticking up for the snobs and money-grubbers rather than the students that actually needed help! 'Be the example they need, Lionel, there are only so many people like you in the world.' That's what she told me!"

Chance felt queasy all of a sudden, a nasty feeling of deja vu flowing through her. Miss Bustier constantly told her the exact same thing. And this man was saying that Miss Bustier did the same thing to him?

"Why aren't you going after that bitch anyway?!" M. Garçon demanded, "It's teachers like her that turned my life into hell!"

Before any more discussion could be had, M. Garçon's Shadow overflowed with dark energy, and in his place was an old, dark-skinned monk-like man with pure-white hair and a heavy beard, levitating on a carpet. He held a feathered pen in one hand and a heavy-looking book in the other.

"Get ready! Here he comes!" Oracle shouted in warning as the Immortal Writer assumed a fighting stance from atop his carpet.

"How do we do this? So we just hit him until he's down?" Beat exclaimed.

"Yeah, basically!" Skull nodded, "As long as we don't actually kill him, it should be okay."

"We need to convince him to change," Joker simplified, "If that means beating him up a little, so be it."

"Kind of like akumas in a way…" Chance realized.

"I... I suppose it is a bit similar, yes," Fox agreed.

"Let's go then! Atalanta!" Jack shouted, summoning her bear-riding Persona, "Freila!"

A blast of nuclear energy hit the Shadow head-on. While it did do some damage, it wasn't enough to knock him down.

This only seemed to further irritate the Shadow. With a swish of his feathered pen, dark energy surrounded Panther. A second later, Panther fell to her knees, an utterly defeated look on her face.

"Panther!" Chance exclaimed before the same attack hit her, causing her to fall to the ground and curl up.

"What's going on?" Beat yelled to Queen.

"It's a status ailment!" she called back, "Despair, to be specific!"

"Viper, can you heal her?" Joker called over, recalling a battle in Lila's Palace where Viper had learned a spell known as Energy Shower. He'd never needed it before… until now.

"Me? How?" the serpentine thief asked in surprise.

"That spell you learned in Lila's Palace!" Mona reminded him, "Energy Shower! It can rid her and Panther of their Despair!"

Viper gave a thumbs up, before summoning Terpander and crying, "Energy Shower!"

The Persona strummed his lyre, causing Chance & Panther to be enveloped in bright, green light. Panther rose to her feet and having more experience dealing with status ailments, she was able to immediately extend her whip towards the Immortal Writer. He tilted his head to the side, effortlessly dodging the attack.

"Huh…?" Chance mumbled, before recalling what was going on; hurriedly, she jumped up to continue the battle. She quickly turned to Viper and said, "Thank you…" in a loving tone.

"Of course, Chance," Viper responded genuinely, "No matter how many times life gets you down, I'll always be there to pull you back up."

Chance was lucky she was decked out in red; elsewise, the blush would have been more apparent. It didn't matter too much, however, as a blast of light energy bounced off of her. It didn't hurt her too much, thanks to Mulan's resistance to Bless skills, but it certainly snapped her back to attention.

"Let's go, lovebugs!" Jack called, worsening Chance's blush and adding a small blush to Viper's face as well. They shook it off hurriedly, fortunately, and in perfect sync, they struck the Immortal Writer with their melee weapons.

"Urgh…" the Shadow grunted, before mostly shaking it off. He then pointed his feathered pen at Viper and summoned a spell. Unfortunately for him, the ensuing Garula practically bounced off of Viper.

"Was that the smartest decision?" Viper guffawed.

"Bad decisions, one after the other…" Fox quietly laughed.

"Today's not your lucky day, now, is it?" Panther taunted, before lighting the Immortal Writer up with an Agidyne. He reeled back from the attack, and the feathered pen and book dropped from his hand onto his carpet, which began wobbling, descending almost to the floor.

Taking this chance while he was stunned, the Phantom Thieves converged and surrounded the Shadow. When all he did was glare back at them, Joker declared, "Let's go!"

"Finish 'em!" Mona exclaimed as everyone charged forward at once, ripping into the Immortal Writer with a flurry of mighty blows.

With a final thrust of Beat's assegai, energy flew out of the Shadow, reverting it back into M. Garçon. The teacher collapsed to his knees.

"You done with your tantrum?" Oracle asked, sounding like a mom talking to a misbehaving child.

The Shadow Self sighed remorsefully. "I was so caught up in not wanting to be like Mme. Bustier that I became my own brand of rotten…"

"Don't get angry at your students just because they don't understand something. Shouldn't the fact that they are asking questions be a good thing?" Panther questioned, "They want to understand. You just have to be patient with some of them."

"Yes, I realize that now…" the Shadow admitted.

"You mentioned a Mme. Bustier earlier…" Chance said, "Are you, by any chance, talking about Caline Bustier?"

"You know her?" Shadow Garçon looked up in surprise.

Jack, Beat, and Chance grimaced. "Better than you think," the first of the three admitted.

"She's our teacher right now, actually," Beat explained.

"What?! The ruler with a ruler is still teaching?!" Shadow Garçon gasped.

"And from the sound of it, she hasn't changed very much from when she was your teacher," Queen observed.

"No, I wouldn't have expected her to…" Shadow Garçon said. Suddenly, he perked up a little bit.

"If you guys can change my heart… I'm sure you can change her heart too, can't you?" Garçon inquired.

"Yes, we can," Fox said cautiously.

"Then do it! Please… I beg of you…" he pleaded, "I'm not the only victim. I'm sure she's done this to plenty of other students. I'm sure at least half of my former classmates don't realize what she did to us…"

"No promises…" Joker said honestly, keeping him and the Thieves' word to Ladybug, "but we'll see."

"I'll take it!" Shadow Garçon said eagerly, rising to his feet, "I'll return to my true self and fix my behavior!"

Enveloped in a bright sky-blue light, Shadow Garçon disappeared, leaving a small orb that formed into a book behind.

"Wait, is that a Treasure?" Beat asked.

"It's the bud of one," Mona explained, "It could have easily formed into a Palace if we had left it alone to fester."

Joker snatched the book from the air and stuffed it into his coat.

"So, that means M. Garçon had a change of heart, right? Just like Lila?" Chance asked.

"He should have, yes," Queen nodded.

"How will we know though?" Beat asked, "I mean M. Garçon doesn't work at our school, so…"

"Usually Mishima sends me an update," Joker answered, "If it helps to reassure you, I can ask him tomorrow if he's heard anything."

"That would be nice. I mean, we trust you and all, but…" Chance trailed off.

"We understand. It is only natural to be anxious when trying new things," Fox nodded.

"Yeah, thanks!"

"Chance, do you know what this means?!" Tikki exclaimed, zipping out of Chance's pocket, "This Mementos place could be the perfect place to train and get stronger. Plus, it's a safe place to let your emotions out so Hawkmoth can't akumatize you! If we don't have a Palace working on at the time, we can go here!"

"That's true!" Beat exclaimed, with a grin, "Hey, maybe we can practice our hero powers here too!"

"Joker, didn't you mention that you wanted to test out the Miraculous in the Metaverse more?" Viper asked, "This seems like a safe place to try something like that."

"Hmm, what do you think, Chance?" Joker asked, "You're the Guardian, after all."

"I don't think it's a bad idea," Chance admitted, "I think we should learn a little more about this place too, though. I'll bring Ziggy the next time we come here. She may be able to provide more information. Who knows, maybe she can help you with your memories too, Mona!"

Mona looked like he wanted to cry, but he shook his head, willing any tears away.

"You… you mean it?" Mona asked.

"Of course!" Viper smiled serenely, "You and the Thieves - never mind the reason for doing so - have helped us so much. To be truthful, this is the least we could do."

"...The Grimoire might have some information too," Chance pondered, "I'll have to look, as it might be in areas that aren't completely translated yet. Oh, speaking of which, Fox, I know I asked you after the battle against Hawkmoth…"

"Do you mean when I was nearly akumatized? Goemon mentioned to me a while after we had that conversation that he protected me from Hawkmoth's influence," Fox answered, "He had no right to control me, as I never gave him such permission."

"So we have protection from Hawkmoth now?" Beat said giddily, "Awesome!"

"Wait, 'permission?' So… are you saying we can still get akumatized if we willingly agree to it?" Jack exclaimed, "Not that any of us would, but…"

"Even so, if Hawkmoth akumatizes civvie-any of us and gets shut out, he'll get suspicious…" Skull realized, "Even if we might not be akumatized, we still can't run the risk of drawing his attention."

"I'll definitely have to look into this. I'll let you all know if the Grimoire says anything."

"Wait! If the Grimoire does say something about this… and Hawkmoth has a copy of it…!" Viper realized.

"In that case, it can't have anything," Panther pointed out, "Hawkmoth would totally be using the power of the Metaverse to his advantage if he knew about it, wouldn't he?"

"Unless it's in a part that's not fully translated yet," Chance pointed out, "I've already read through the translated portions plenty of times, and it's never once mentioned anything about a 'Metaverse' or 'Personas' before. The same applies to anything similar."

"Can't the Kwamis this Grimoire thing?" Skull asked.

"No," Sass answered this time, "Even if we know whatever language it comesss in, usss kwami are forbidden to know the sssecretsss kept in the ssspell book, in case we were to be captured by a villain jussst like Nooroo and Duusu have been."

"Master Fu said he only had been trained to recognize part of the code," Chance explained, "If we want to get the full translation… I'll have to either find another fully trained Guardian or visit the Miraculous Temple that Master Fu told me about."

"In that situation, it would be a race to beat him before he discovers that, wouldn't he?" Queen wondered.

"Fortunately, we have an advantage this time, since we still have Kaalki and all of the other Miraculous… besides the Butterfly and Peacock of course," Chance reminded them.

"I guess that is a plus," Mona nodded, "It has definitely come in handy so far."

"It seems every time we either take down a Palace or explore a new area of Mementos, we come back with more and more questions," Oracle piped up.

"Questions that we can hopefully answer soon," Joker said, nodding to Mona. He then looked at the Parisians, "Come on, there's one more place we want to show you all before we leave."

"Uh, okay, where?" Beat asked as they all piled back into the Monabus.

"It'll be easier to explain when we get there," Queen said.

"Don't worry, it won't take too long," Panther reassured as Mona sped off and out of the room.

After a while of driving, traveling to lower and lower levels of the catacomb/subway lines, the group finally arrived at a large red and black gate.

"We're here," Joker announced as they slowed to a stop.

As they stepped out, the Parisians couldn't help but feel chills run down their spines. From inside their clothes, Viper and Chance could feel their kwamis shivering slightly.

"And, what exactly is 'here'?" Jack asked, sounding unusually nervous.

Mona burst back into his normal form and approached the barrier confidently.

"Open sesame!" he declared just as the gate unraveled and open.

"Whoa!" Beat gasped.

"A new area has been confirmed in the depths. Updating guidance information."

"Don't believe Mona for a second," Skull chuckled, "That door didn't open thanks to him alone."

"What do you mean?" Viper asked.

"Remember - this is everyone's Palace," Queen reminded the Parisians, "that means that this place is constantly changing. The next time we come here, the tunnels will likely be different again."

"Furthermore," Fox continued, "the more of the public's attention we gather, the more of Mementos we can access."

"Okay, seriously, how big is this place?" Jack exclaimed.

"In honesty…" Joker said, "we're not sure. It can't be too big, but my guess is it'll be some time before we get to the bottom floor."

"...Is this what your second mission is?" Chance realized, "To get to the bottom of this place?"

"That's right. This may be everyone's cognition altogether, but it is also still a Palace," Oracle explained, "And what did we tell you that a Palace has?"

"...A Treasure…" Beat said softly.

"Exactly!" Mona grinned, "Our mission here is to steal the Treasure of Mementos, which is located at the bottom floor."

"Okay… wait, but if this place has a Treasure, then… does that mean there's a ruler here too?" Jack asked. "I mean, we've seen that Shadows of people are here but… someone has to be seeing us as threats right? That's why our clothes changed."

"Yet another question that we do not have the answers to…" Fox lamented.

"There's definitely something else going on with this place," Joker agreed, "But right now, the only way we can learn more is by unlocking more areas and getting further in."

"Agreed. For now, however, we can only do so much. Now then, are we done in Mementos for the day?" Queen asked the team.

"I think so. We've learned a lot, and we should take a break. This new level isn't going anywhere, so we can explore it some other time," joker said.

"All right, let's head back then," Chance said.

"Hey, Chance, maybe try looking into your teacher a bit," Skull suggested, "If what M. Garçon said is true…"

Chance nodded, "You're right, we will!"

"Great! Let's get back, then!" Oracle decided.

Chapter Text

It had been about 2.5 weeks since the Parisian’s first trip into Mementos. It had mostly been peaceful since then. The Board of Governors had indeed fired Principal Damocles, and a member of the Board was holding the temporary principal position until either a new one could either be hired or until they decided to hold elections. 

Hawkmoth had also been mostly quiet, to her semi-pleasant surprise. He was only sending out a couple of akumas a week. Normally this would have worried Marinette and the other heroes, but each akuma he sent out had an amok that accompanied it. It seemed the moth-themed villain was trying to use quality over quantity in his powers for the time being. She’d only had to call one of the temporary heroes twice as well (the first time being Shadow Barb, the second time being Amur).

A couple more of Marinette’s classmates had slowly begun to move down the scale as well. Kim would stop by every few days with the offer to go jogging, Max had asked if she wanted to see a template for a new game he was developing (keyword asked, instead of sort-of-demanded like the last time he was Gamer), and the classmates in the art club were constantly shooting her friendly waves and smiles, though a couple were still hesitant to approach her. 

From what Luka had informed her, shortly after the conversation in the park, Rose and Juleka had called Prince Ali, and had apologized for not thinking to ask him about Lila. The royal didn’t lie and said he was disappointed in Rose’s actions and that she should have known better due to their friendship, but was willing to forgive her as a lot of people tended to name drop him from time to time. Like the others, the two were doing their best to atone for their misdeeds.

Heck, even Adrien had trickled down the scale a little thanks to a couple of text messages the blond would send from time to time to check up on her. Sometimes she responded, sometimes she didn’t.

The one who had yet to move down on the scale - although she had yet to move up as well - was Alya. Although she was finally starting to dial down on her schemes to ‘win Marinette back’ (though it helped that now none of the class was on her side anymore) there had been times that Marinette chose to make herself scarce in order to avoid the Ladyblogger. From what she’d seen on the Ladyblog itself, the only thing that Alya really did was take down Lila’s interviews. She hadn’t posted an apology or taken responsibility for her actions as of yet. Until she did that, Marinette decided it would be best to stay out of Alya’s way.

Marinette had occasionally wondered if the girl should be classified as an 8.5 or 7.5, but then she’d have to find decimal points for the rest of the class; such was an ordeal she did not wish to partake in for a while.

Alongside her activities as Ladybug, the Phantom Thieves had taken on a couple more targets in Mementos, both from Paris and Tokyo. The Parisians got quite the surprise when they saw that Fox’s Persona was different on the fourth trip in. Chance had asked if Fox had more than one Persona like Joker - who since Lila’s Palace had brought out new Personas like Herodotus, Veritas & Sancus - but the Phantom Thieves explained that Kamu Susano-o wasn’t a new Persona, but an evolved version of Goemon. This seemed to be something that happened both naturally and unexpectedly. It was a little hard to explain. Jack had likened it to a Pokemon evolving, which got Oracle to give her an excited thumbs-up.

And just as Marinette had promised, she brought along Ziggy one time. The second the Goat Kwami had woken up, she seemed to immediately recognize where they were, and demanded to know why they were there, looking almost frightened.

After calming the Kwami down, Marinette and the rest of the Thieves explained what they had been doing in the Metaverse, but it didn’t seem to calm the Goat’s anxiety at all. She kept muttering things like not again and the last time this happened ; they were completely unable to get any answers out of her, though.

It didn’t help that she kept shooting strange, almost pitying glances at Morgana as well.

While she didn’t know all of the details, what came as a major shock for Akira in particular is when, while at a Rest Area, Ziggy followed him into the Velvet Room . Though she seemed to have remained out of sight from Igor and the twins, the fact she could see the place at all was quite the scare for the Phantom Thieves’ leader. After they exited, all Ziggy did was stare at him, he couldn’t tell if it was more out of shock or… horror?

Marinette snapped out of her thoughts as she caught the school coming up in her peripheral vision. She kissed Luka goodbye before heading off to greet her classmates.

As per the usual, Nino and Alix walked with her to Miss Bustier’s class, but they couldn’t help but notice the strange buzz within the school. A lot of students were talking in hushed tones, and even some teachers were looking more anxious than usual. Marinette didn’t remember getting any announcements or emails the other night, so if it was anything important, she was sure they’d be informed at some point during the day; even so, the curious looks thrown at them in varying levels of covertness unnerved her.

“Did I miss something?” Marinette asked Nino.

“Not that I know of,” Nino shrugged helplessly.

“Oi! What’re you looking at?” Alix snapped at a group of students, who scurried off as if Alix had transformed into Hawkmoth before their eyes.

The rest of the walk seemed mostly uneventful, with the trio taking their usual seats in class. Marinette blinked in surprise when she saw that Nathaniel had moved a seat closer to her.

Upon noticing that she had arrived, the artist looked up from his sketchbook, glancing between her and the desk. He then got up as if to go back to his seat, but Marinette stopped him, shrugging with a small smile.

The red-head blushed a little before nodding and turning his attention to his drawing again. It seemed to be a very detailed action pose of Mitsubachi, in fact.

She’d have to see if she could snap a picture to send to Makoto… with Nathaniel’s permission, of course. 

Miss Bustier walked into class just as the bell rang, the beginning of one of the expectant smiles she occasionally wore on her face. The rest of class didn’t seem to notice it, but as Marinette had been getting a lot of those lately - coupled with the eavesdropping the night of that interview - she was immediately suspicious.

“All right, everyone, before our lesson, I have an announcement to make!” Caline said with an eager tone, “Don’t worry; it’s an exciting one!”

This made most of the class perk up, but Marinette’s inner alarm bells were blaring in her head. From the cautious looks on Nino and Alix’s faces, they were dubious about what she had planned as well.

“So, as you’re all aware, Principal Damocles unfortunately had to leave the school due to the… incidents that happened a few weeks ago.”

“That’s putting it nicely…” Adrien mumbled to himself; thankfully, nobody heard him.

“So, the Board of Governors has decided to hold an election of the remaining staff at this school to fill the position for the foreseeable future. The students will be allowed to vote on who they’d like to be vice principal, but it’s ultimately the Board’s decision to decide the principal.”

“And…” the teacher continued after a dramatic pause, “I’ve decided to run for either of the two positions!”

“What?!” some of the class - Marinette, Nino & Alix most of all - exclaimed in shock; those who didn’t speak up still were caught off guard.

Miss Bustier looked a little surprised, as if she didn’t expect that reaction in particular, but she recovered quickly. “Now, I know that it’s a sudden announcement,” she amended, “but I hope you’ll vote for me!”

To Marinette and company’s shock, the majority of the class didn’t seem too against the idea. She noticed Rose, Ivan, Mylene, Sabrina and Alya nodding along in varying degrees of eagerness; Juleka, Kim & most of the rest seemed mostly neutral, and Adrien, Nathaniel & Max seemed to be the only ones against the idea at all.

Marinette had another gut feeling about what would happen if her teacher became principal or vice principal. Considering the disaster that had befallen a month or two prior, plus all of the abuse that Chloe had dealt her and the rest of the class that had gone unpunished, she would hate to see that same mindset benign practice on the school as a whole.

She’d told Ryuji once that she was going to listen to her instincts as often as reasonably possible. She knew, however, that if she brought up problems now that Miss Bustier could turn it against her. While she wasn’t entirely sure if the woman would do such a thing - especially as doing so would imply that the Board of Governors would be hiring the new principal - she wasn’t entirely trusting of this sort of situation. Not since Lila, anyways… 

They should take this to the Tokies, Marinette thought. Furtively, she looked at Nino & Alix, who nodded back at her to imply they were thinking the same thing.

School couldn’t have ended faster.

“Principal Elections?” Ryuji asked from the FaceTime chat.

“That’s what Miss Bustier said,” Alix said, “The Board of Governors is apparently letting the students pick the vice principal while they hire the actual principal.”

“You don’t think she’ll actually get elected, do you?” Akira asked.

“While I have my doubts,” Marinette answered, “She puts on a kind face, like, all the time. They might want a smiling, positive face and elect her without too much thought. Mme. Mendeleiev, in my opinion, would be a better candidate, but she’s a bit grouchy; I don’t think the school or the Board would think to elect her first.”

“By ‘school,’ you mean the students, right?” Futaba asked.

“Yeah. Honestly, if I had to choose, it’d be either between Mme. Mendeleiev or M. Buonarroti, the art teacher.” Nino then chuckled, “Imagine if M. d'Argencourt was elected!”

“The fencing teacher?” Luka asked, “He seemed… eccentric.”

“Then again, he ran for mayor once… that’s how he became Darkblade, right?” Nino remembered.

“‘It is now a requirement for all students to know how to properly carry a sword!’” Alix mimicked with a chortle.

Marinette laughed a little, but she quickly recovered and said, “All jokes aside, he would be better than Ms. Bustier.” 

“Right…” Ann said, “Do you guys think it would be good to see if she has a Palace?”

“There’s no harm in checking, even if we don’t actually go,” Morgana pointed out, “After all, the behavior that your teacher has been enabling is something that you all addressed in that Face-To-Face interview remember? Even if she’s not a ‘menace to society,’ small things like this can leave a pretty big impact.”

“Like a chain reaction?” Ryuji asked.

“...yeah, actually,” Morgana said, “Not bad, Ryuji.”

“Speaking of the interview, did I mention that I overheard her saying something unnerving that night?” Marinette asked.

“What do you mean?” Luka asked, “What did she say?”

“Not to sound demanding or anything,” Nino said, “but how come we didn’t hear about this?”

“It was when I was on my way home after picking up Kaalki,” Marinette explained, “Plus, honestly, up until this point, I didn’t think it was really relevant. I didn’t really have a reason to bring it up, you know? And I wasn’t a hundred percent sure it was Miss Bustier. But today I’m certain that it was her I heard.”

“I suppose…” Yusuke shrugged slightly, “In any case, what did you hear?”

“She called us narrow-minded,” Marinette began, “saying some students simply don’t change and that the teachers just have to suck it up. Stuff like that.”

“What?! Okay, what the hell?” Ryuji exclaimed, “Maybe if she actually did her job , we wouldn’t feel the need to bring stuff up like this!”

“Furthermore, if she doesn’t care about the students whatsoever, she shouldn’t be teaching,” Morgana pointed out.

“And I thought the teachers were bad here at Shujin…” Ann sighed. 

“With some exceptions,” Akira corrected, thinking of Kawakami.

“I… I wouldn’t go as far as to say she ‘doesn’t care at all.’ She just seems to prioritize the wrong students. Like she cares more about the bullies than the victims, you know?” Marinette amended, “She thinks that’s the best way to avoid conflict.”

“Miss Bustier has always been like that…” Alix grumbled, “Like that one time on her birthday, Chloe vandalized Marinette’s gift for her, but instead of punishing Chloe like a normal teacher, she said ‘Oh, I’ll just think of both of you when I use this now!’ Ugh! Then she turned into Zombizou, and the rest of the day basically went to shit!”

“Completely missing the fact Chloe didn’t have a part in making the gift,” Alix frowned.

“At least it was because she was protecting Marinette,” Nino pointed out, “Looking back now, if you’d been akumatized…”

“...fuck, man, you’re right,” Ryuji realized.

“I think the world would officially end if Marinette Dupain-Cheng was ever akumatized,” Luka said very seriously, “Even if she wasn’t Ladybug.”

“Luka, I’m not sure whether to feel flattered or scared by that,” Marinette said.


“It’s cool.”

“So do you guys think it’s a good idea to go after this lady?” Ann asked, “As we’ve gone over, even if we don’t, we could bother to check, you know?”

“Any objections first?” Akira asked. When nobody protested, he pulled up the app, “All right, then. What’s her full name?”

“Caline Bustier,” Marinette informed.

“Candidate Found.”

“Oh, lordy,” Nino whistled, “here we go, huh?”

“Not quite yet,” Makoto reminded them, “We still need two more keywords.”

“I know,” Nino amended, “it’s just the fact that she has a Palace at all…”

“Ouch…” Ryuji mumbled, “At least you once thought your teacher was good…”

Marinette swallowed the unexpected bile rising up her throat. She took a deep breath, “So… anyone want to guess what the where and what are?”

“It must be the school again, right?” Luka asked, “That’s the only place that would make sense.”

“Candidate Found.”

“Spot on, Luka,” Futaba said, impressed.

“As for the form of distortion, however…” Luka said, “I have no clue.”

“Um… Kingdom? Castle?” Nino guessed randomly.

“No candidates found.”

“...Dollhouse?” Alix asked, remembering when she described her and Kim as such back in Hawaii.

“No candidates found.”

“I’d bet you good money it has to do with how she sees her students, though,” Ann realized, “You’re onto something, Alix!”

Marinette furrowed her brow, thinking back to all her interactions with her teacher, all of the times she had been encouraged to ‘set a good example’, to show that ‘love overcomes everything’. 

It’s as if she was trying to correct some sort of bad behavior… maybe even rehabilitate them.


“A prison !” she exclaimed, jumping in her seat.

“Candidate Found. Beginning Navigation.”

“Whoa! Wait, hold on!” Ryuji yelped from the screen as Marinette’s room faded away, dragging the four human occupants away.

“We should go after them,” Akira said alarmedly, “Like, now.”

“Right! Let’s go!” Morgana exclaimed, springing up as well. 

With a tap of the app on their end, the seven Phantom Thieves slipped into the Palace after their Parisian teammates.

Chapter Text


With a gasp, Chance’s mouth immediately filled with water, causing her to choke and quickly swim up (or at least where she thought was up).

Fortunately, with a little help from Tikki tugging on her bun’s ribbon, Chance broke the water’s surface, blinking rapidly to get the moisture out of her eyes.

“Chance!” she barely heard Viper yell over a deafening crack of thunder above them. Looking up, Chance saw that the sky above was completely blanketed over with storm clouds, lightning lighting up the sky.

“Over here!” she shouted, trying to swim towards his voice. 

“Guys! Grab that buoy!” she heard Jack shout from the side. Turning blindly in the water, Chance managed to make out the tip of the top of a red buoy rocking back and forth over the waves.

Swimming as fast as she could, Chance somehow managed to make it miraculously to the buoy, Beat, Jack, and Viper right behind her. Coughing and spitting out seawater, the four managed to drag themselves onto some part of the buoy.

“You-” Beat began before coughing more, “You sure the keyword was a prison? This doesn’t look like a prison to me!”

“Maybe it’s underwater?” Jack suggested, “I mean I didn’t see anything, but-”

Before more suggestions could be thrown out, more yells interrupted them. Turning their heads, the Parisians watched in horror as the Tokies materialized above the sea and landed hard in the water. 

“Guys!” Chance shouted, struggling to her feet, trying to keep her balance and wave her hands at the same time to get their attention.

“What the shit?!” they heard Skull exclaim.

“Everyone, swim for your lives!” Mona shouted, as he started doggy-paddling - or would it be kitty-paddling , Chance would have pondered if she wasn’t worrying over the Tokies - towards the buoy.

“H-hey!” Panther exclaimed as she rose above the water, “Wait for us!”

Eventually, all of the Phantom Thieves made their way onto the buoy and managed to catch their breath.

“Y-you sure this is supposed to be a prison?” Skull asked.

“That’s exactly what I asked!” Beat exclaimed.

“I think we’re outside it…” Joker whispered, pointing out into the distance, “Over there!”

Looking in that direction, the team’s eyes came to rest upon the silhouette of some sort of giant fortress on what seemed to be an island.

“You’re shitting me! We have to swim all the way over there?!” Skull complained.

“Tell me about it…” Mona grumbled.

“Can you become a vessel or boat, Mona?” Fox asked in slight desperation.

“If I can, I don’t know how… it’s just a car for now,” the feline thief sulked with flattened ears.

Suddenly Viper jumped off the buoy and back into the water.

“Lu-Viper!” Chance exclaimed in shock as she watched her boyfriend swimming off, almost forgetting to say his code name in her panic. Then she noticed something in the distance.

With a pretty impressive forward crawl, Viper grabbed onto a small wooden boat he had spotted floating aimlessly a distance away. Seeing a rope attached, he latched onto it, and started kicking hard back towards the buoy.

“We may not need to…” Viper said after he returned, his voice raspy with lack of breath.

“Attaboy!” Jack cheered. She would have clapped him on the back, but she didn’t have the energy right now.

“Huh, I guess living on a boat most of your life would make it easy for you to spot one, huh?” Skull gave a small smirk.

“Something…  like that…” Viper wheezed, flashing the team a shaky thumbs up. With that said, the team piled onto the boat.

Once everyone was settled onto the boat, Joker got down to business. “Is this a motorboat, or do we need oars?” he questioned, prompting the team to look around.

“It’s got a motor!” Oracle said from above them. She had summoned Necronomicon mid-fall and had thus been the only one not to go for a swim, though she and her Persona were still drenched from the rain.

Everyone couldn’t help but glare for a moment up at the floating Persona.

“...sorry?” Oracle said sheepishly. 

Beat then felt something while his hand was in the water. “Here’s the cord!” he cried, yanking it up. It took a couple of tries, but eventually the engine roared to life. 

“Okay, now how do we stir this thing?” Queen asked. 

“Put weight on whichever side!” Viper instructed. The team got to work, making their way towards the dark island where the Treasure most likely awaited them.


It took about ten minutes of leaning and nearly falling out of the boat to finally make it to the island. During that time, Jack had used her pointed umbrella - which also doubled as her gun - to keep the rain out of everyone’s eyes. Viper managed to spot a small dock and directed the boat in that direction. He expertly tied the rope to the dock ledge.

Silently, the team stared up at the prison. “...Well, we wanted a prison, and we certainly got one,” Joker said, looking up at it. It looked even more imposing up close, and they could see a lighthouse/watch-tower with a security light marking a path across the island.

“...We sure that this is Miss Bustier’s heart?” Beat asked uneasily, biting his lip.

“Yeah, I have to agree, I honestly wasn’t expecting it to look so… grim,” Jack nodded.

“What were you expecting? Unicorns and rainbows?” Panther quipped. Tikki and Sass both chuckled a little.

“Um… yeah, actually,” Jack admitted, her cheeks a little pink, “She always seems like that type of person, so I expected a more cutesy-morbid fusion, you know?”

“Like a fusion between my sister and her girlfriend when they’re angry?” Viper jested.

“...Not quite like that, but sort of?” Jack winced.

“Well, this is just the outside,” Fox pointed out, “Who knows what the inside looks like?”

As they started walking up the hill, Chance said, “Let’s find out.”

“Right,” Queen nodded, “First things first - finding a way inside.”

“I’m guessing the front entrance is out?” Beat said.

“Obviously! Well, unless you want a horde of Shadows tearing you apart,” Oracle informed them. 

“R-right then…” Beat said, “So how do we get in?”

The navigator answered, “Every entrance is guarded, so we’ll have to take somebody out to get inside,”

“Which one is the weakest?” Joker asked professionally.

“Hmmm… there are two equally weak guards, but the closest one has more enemies on the way,” Oracle replied.

“What do you think, Joker?” Chance asked, “More fights or more distance?”

“...everyone is exhausted from swimming earlier - we should take the other guard.”

“Good idea,” she nodded; with that, the group disembarked from the boat and began making their way towards said entrance.

Making their way to the entrance wasn’t easy. The team had to make sure they weren’t seen by multiple different spotlights and a couple of stray Shadows, both in the form of people and even ferocious-looking watch dogs. 

Barkk wouldn’t get along with those bad dogs, Chance thought to herself, and he gets along with everyone.

“Most certainly not,” Tikki agreed.

“Did I say that out loud?” Chance whispered.

“Nobody heard you,” Tikki appeased her. Chance took a deep breath and continued on with the team.

Eventually, they came to the entrance on the other side of what Oracle had deemed to be the front.

“Are you sure this is any better than the front entrance?” Jack asked Oracle.

“It’s the floor above,” Oracle said as the team noticed the entrance, “You’ll have to find your way up there somehow.”

“Maybe there’s a ladder or a rope somewhere?” Panther suggested, “I mean, guards have to change shifts, right?”

“I think I have a path,” Joker said, catching everyone’s attention, “Let’s go, everyone.”

“Careful, there may still be traps,” Mona warned as they followed him down said path, climbing up a series of ledges. 

Eventually, they reached the proper altitude and made their way towards the Shadow guarding the entrance. Just like the others, it was dressed like a sleazy prison guard. 

“What the… how did you get up here?” the Shadow demanded to know.

“Some security you’ve got here,” Skull taunted, mounting his club on his shoulder.

“Argh! I don’t know why you want to get into this place so bad, but you’re not getting in!” the foe screamed before dissolving into pitch-black material.

“Here we go!” Queen shouted.

When the Shadow finished its transformation, two chocolate-colored leporids in overalls stood there. Joker mentally named them Clever Cottontails.

“Alright, Shaka Zulu - Vicious Strike!” Beat commanded his Persona. The Persona gave a sweeping slash of its iklwa , knocking both Clever Cottontails off of their feet.

“Nice one, Beat!” Panther cheered as the Phantom Thieves surrounded the two Shadows.

“Shall we, Joker?” Skull asked, causing the Clever Cottontails’ fear to increase.

“Let’s talk, shall we?” he grinned.

“Just as we thought - y’all are thieves!” the first Clever Cottontail growled, “Here to steal the Lady Warden’s Treasure, are yuh?”

“You bet we are!” Mona smirked, “Maybe we’ll let you live if you tell us where it is.”

“We serve only the Lady Ward- huh?” the second one cut off when its eyes landed on Chance, “What’re you doing out of your room?” 

“My room?” Chance asked, looking genuinely confused.

“When did Lady Warden allow yuh ta leave yer room, missy?” 

“ think I’m your prisoner, don’t you?” Chance realized quietly. Her face then flashed angrily, and she snarled, “Well, I’m afraid you’re wrong! Joker, may we?” 

“With pleasure,” he nodded gravely; with an All-Out Attack, the duo of foes was torn asunder.

With the two Shadows effectively destroyed, the back entrance was now free and open to enter.

“So Chance is one of the prisoners in here?” Skull asked.

“That makes sense,” Queen pointed out, reminding him, “After all, Caline is her teacher.”

“From the way those two Shadows were talking, though, it sounded like she was… special,” Jack observed.

“They have those in prisons, don’t they?” Panther asked, “Though the meaning can be considered good or bad.”

“True. Why did they only recognize Chance, though?” Viper asked, “Beat and Jack are in her class as well.”

“There’s only one way to find out,” Mona said, walking up the entrance and latching onto the door handle. With an ominous creak, the door slowly crept open.

“...Okay, now this is more like her,” Jack muttered bluntly as the group entered inside.

“Yeah, I’m as much of a fan of kawaii, cutesy things as the next girl, but this is a bit… much,” Panther agreed.

Inside of the prison, while it looked like a run-down, rough looking holding facility, the inside appeared to be the exact opposite. First off, everything was pink and neon hearts were glowing against the walls. Most of the furniture that they could see looked fluffy and very frilly even. It was basically any girly-girl’s paradise.

Chance had a feeling that if Rose were here, she would absolutely love this place, prison or not. She could already see the pixie-cut blonde sinking into one of the incredibly comfy-looking armchairs.

“Again, we’re sure that this place is a prison?” Skull asked.

“The wonders of the cognitive world never seem to end…” Fox murmured.

“It might make sense, since you all thought of her highly…” Queen said quietly, catching the team’s attention, “It can’t be a dark, depressing place since Bustier doesn’t think of it that way.”

“That said, it’s got to be some sort of facade, right?” Panther asked, “I mean… at first glance, most Palaces look a lot more intimidating than this.”

“This is really giving me the creeps, dudes…” Beat said, feeling a little sick to his stomach.

“We’re just going to have to keep going,” Viper said, “We won’t find anything if we just stand here.”

Joker slowly nodded, “Yeah, I agree, let’s go.”

“What about our promise to Chance?” Queen pointed out, “Have we taken the proper measures necessary to ensure that a change of heart is necessary?”

“I mean, I’m fine with it… mostly, anyway,” Chance reassured them, “If I was more unsure about it, I probably would have objected.”

“Even so, Mme. Bustier hasn’t done anything serious yet… has she?” Viper said, his voice unsure.

“Well… she also had the opportunity to do more ,” Jack pointed out, “Like… actually do her job and call Lila’s mom to check these things through? Or actually lecture Chloe when she acted out?”

“It sounds like we’re having disagreements,” Joker said, “I think we should leave for now.”

“Okay, sounds fair,” Chance nodded, “the four of us will keep an eye on her. We’ll let you know if something changes.”

“All right, then let’s skedaddle,” Oracle decided. 

Not long after, the Phantom Thieves had disappeared from the Palace.

Chapter Text

"Hey, Miss Bustier," Marinette heard Nathaniel ask her teacher as she picked up her bag after class. Nathaniel's question made Marinette pause. It was rare for the red-head to be so bold about something, much less approach a teacher, even Miss Bustier, while everyone was still in the room. In all the years that she had known him, Nathaniel was similar to Adrien, as he hated confrontation and tried to deal with things either on his own or privately unless it had anything to do with his comic book.

She noticed that most of the rest of the class had stopped to watch as well.

"Oh, Nathaniel," the teacher smiled as the artist approached.

"I was wondering… if you are elected as principal or vice-principal, what exactly will you do for the school?" he asked, shoulders a little hunched in embarrassment and anxiety.

Ms. Bustier laughed and shook her head dismissively, "Oh, there's no need to worry about that Nathan. Don't let yourself worry about adult stuff. Aren't you and Marc close to finishing your next comic book issue?"

"Er-well, sort of?" Nathaniel's face turned even redder, "I'm having trouble with some of the poses because not a lot of photos are out with the new heroes in them, so…"

"Well, I'm sure you can change their appearance a little," Bustier suggested, "no one will notice, I'm sure."

"No!" Nathaniel blurted out, "I-I mean, no… it just doesn't feel the same. Not as… authentic?"

Miss Bustier pursed her lips, "Well if you're that pressed for time or have a deadline, wouldn't meeting it be more important than a few minor facial expressions or costume details?"

Nathaniel seemed at a loss of words, trying to come up with a rebuttal, but eventually slumped in defeat.

"Just think about it, okay? I know how much this means to you and Marc," Bustier said with reassurance.

Nathaniel just nodded timidly before practically bolting out the room.

Marinette bit her lip. She may have to keep an eye on Nathaniel in case he attracted an akuma.

However, Ms. Bustier also completely deflected the question, turning the conversation almost immediately on his comic. Now of course as a teacher Ms. Bustier should be interested in her students' interests, but it was almost like she was trying to push Nathaniel off of her and force him to focus on something else. She seemed to do that a lot now that Marinette thought about it. She never had really thought about it until now, but… something just didn't sit right with her.

It had been about three days since the Phantom Thieves had entered and exited Caline Bustier's Palace, and as Marinette promised, she, Alix, and Nino kept a closer eye on their teacher to see if there was really a real reason to go after her Treasure. After all, the Tokies themselves informed them, that just because someone has a Palace, did not automatically make them a bad person. And… Ms. Bustier wasn't a bad person. Maybe a little… opinionated and idealistic, but not bad.

But no matter how many times they discussed what they noticed about their teacher, whether among themselves or with the Tokies, M. Garçon's words wouldn't leave Marinette's head. It was clear that M. Garçon blamed Bustier for how his life had turned out, and the way that he described it reminded her disturbingly of how she was being treated.

And he said that there had been others.

"Hey, Nino, Alix," Marinette said, jerking her head towards a corner table of the cafeteria.

Her two friends and fellow Phantom Thieves joined her at the table and sat down before she spoke.

"I know we've been looking at Ms. Bustier for a while, and I'm not really noticing anything that terrible, have y0u two?"

"No not really," Nino shook his head, "she seems… fairly normal."

"Normal for Ms. Bustier, anyway…" Alix muttered, "Why do you ask? You want to call it quits after all?"

"No," Marinette shook her head, "I… I can't get what M. Garçon said out of my head. We're missing something, I can feel it! He said that there were others that have been hurt!"

"Others?" Nino asked, "Like from other years?"

"Or even M. Garçon's own class. I think we should look up what the other members of his class have been doing with their lives, see if they've really been affected by this," Marinette decided.

"Um… no offense Marinette, but unless they're like, in jail - pun not intended - I doubt we'll find much on their personal lives."

"If we have to, we can have Futaba look deeper, but it's worth a try, don't you think?" Marinette asked.

"I guess so," Nino shrugged, pulling out his phone.

"All right," Marinette nodded, "first we need to find what year he attended school, so… Francoise-Dupont archives…"

Marinette scanned through her phone and eventually found the post she was looking for. Lionel Garçon. He graduated about ten years ago so his class…

"Found it!" Marinette said, turning her phone around, "Here's the class picture from that time."

"...Whoa. Ms. Bustier's young." Alix commented in amazement.

"Yeah, seriously," Nino agreed.

"Anyway, there's Lionel, standing in the middle," Marinette pointed him out. Just was standing between a red-head girl and a strawberry blonde boy with a smug grin on his face.

"So we're just going to look up each of these guys one by one?" Alix asks.

"Unless you've got a better idea," Marinette said plainly.

"...All right, I'll take the five dudes in the back," Nino decided.

"Okay, I'll check out the ones in M. Garçon's row. Alix, you got the bottom row?"

"Sure," Alix shrugged as Marinette sent the class photo and list of names to their phones.

For a majority of the rest of lunch, the three researched the students listed, stalking Facebook feeds, and anywhere that these names popped up.

And M. Garçon hadn't been exaggerating.

One girl, Vivianne, was currently doing time for public disturbance and assaulting a police officer.

Another one, a guy this time, Marshall, he was once a police officer, but was discharged dishonorably for disorderly conduct and not following procedure.

Another guy named Morgan wasn't in jail, but they did find him on a sex offenders list for having sex with a prostitute, who was later revealed to be underage.

Two more, Tracey and Landon… were both deceased from drug overdoses.

Those were the ones that they were able to find.

After finding the posts about Landon's funeral on Facebook, Marinette had to stop. Glancing up, she saw that Alix and Nino were in similar states.

"Okay…" Alix said, slamming her phone down, "That's enough of that for me!"

"It seems that almost all of them have something on their record," Nino admitted, "This one chick named Eliza? She's in jail for attempted murder of all things!"

Marinette had to take a minute to calm down. This was… outrageous. Was it really a coincidence that all of these people used to be taught by Ms. Bustier? She didn't think it was. They needed more information.

And fortunately, they had someone that could get that information.

Chance: Hey, Futaba, I'm sending you a list of people that I want you to do some digging on. They're all former pupils of Ms. Bustier. Let me know what you find!

Oracle: Heheheheh… Detective Futaba Sakura is on the case!

"Futaba said she'd look into it… I guess all we can do is wait until she gets some results," Marinette said.

"Speaking of M. Garçon, have you heard if anything's happened to him?" Nino asked, "Didn't Akira say that Yuuki guy would keep us updated on the situation?"

"I haven't heard anything," Marinette shook her head.

"Let's check the Phan-Site, then," Alix suggested, "Maybe they posted a thank you or an update!"

Marinette smiled. That was a good idea.

She quickly pulled up the familiar black and red website and started scrolling through the comments.

"Let's see… oh, here!" she gasped, "It says 'Thank you Phantom Thieves! M. Garçon has resigned as our teacher, but he apologized for his behavior and said he's going to get help to manage his temper and behavior better before he applies to another school. I can't believe you guys are real! Go Phantom Thieves!'"

"Whoa, dude! That's awesome!" Nino exclaimed in excitement.

"How about others?" Alix asked, "Has anyone else said anything like that?"

"There are other notes saying thank you too!" Marinette nodded, "I can see why the Tokies see themselves as their own kind of superheroes… huh?"

"What's up, dudette?" Nino asked, noticing Marinette pausing. Her eyebrows had shot up nearly above her bangs.

"Guys… someone's requested Tomoe Tsurugi on the site."

"Tsurugi-Wait, isn't that Kagami's mom?" Alix asked, leaning forward in interest.

"Yeah, it says: 'Tomoe Tsurugi. Please change her heart.' That's it," Marinette answered.

"That's seriously it? No other explanation or details?" Nino asked.

"Nope," Marinette shook her head. Of course, ever since becoming friends with Kagami, Marinette had interacted with the Tsurugi matriarch a handful of times. From those few interactions, she had deduced that Tomoe was a strict parent towards her daughter and seemed to share a lot of values and traits with Adrien's dad. It was likely one of the reasons why the two families were so close. However, unlike Gabriel, Tomoe interacted with her daughter, personally interacted, practically on a daily basis. The only thing that Kagami ever complained about in regards to her mom is that she wished her mom wasn't so uptight and trusted her more with her social life. She was a growing teenager after all.

Kagami had insisted that she and her mom were on good terms though. Ever since Friendship Day, Tomoe had apparently been more lax with Kagami's schedule, allowing her to spend more time with Marinette and a few other people she managed to befriend as well.

Overall, while Tomoe was certainly strict, Marinette could tell that she cared about her daughter and simply wanted the best for her, hence why she was always pushing Kagami to exceed her limits in her talents. It was normal for a parent to want what's best for their children, wasn't it?

"Should we tell the Tokies about this?" Nino suggested.

"...I don't know. Even the post on the site is vague at best, so we don't know why someone wants Tomoe's heart changed," Marinette said.

"Well, you're friends with Kagami, right?" Alix asked, "Maybe you could ask her? Does she even know that someone has put her mom's name on the Phan-Site?"

"Considering that I just noticed it today, I'm not sure… we have another juice date after school today, so I'll see if I can talk to her then."

"Good idea. Let us know if you learn anything," Nino nodded just as the bell rang to signal the end of lunch.

The trio got up and headed to their next class.

Just like Marinette said, she met Kagami at their usual spot for the juice date. The fencer smiled as Marinette waved to her. It looked like Kagami hadn't been waiting for too long, as Marinette saw the Tsurugi family car, Tatsu, drive off around the corner.

The juice date started out fairly normally. The two girls talked about school, homework and projects, and anything else that would be brought up in conversation. The fencing team was preparing to enter the national competition soon. Marinette smiled. She was sure that with both Kagami and Adrien on the team that they would definitely take home the championship title.

"There's something else you want to talk about, isn't there?" Kagami asked after a lull in conversation.

Marinette jumped and looked down a little. She had nearly forgotten how perceptive Kagami could be too. She was straightforward and blunt, but she was almost as good as Luka at picking up a person's intentions.

"Well…." Marinette started, trying to think about how to say it, "You know how the Phantom Thieves have a website? I heard a French version popped up shortly after Lila's confession."

"Yes. What about it?" Kagami asked, head tilting a little to the side. Marinette must have missed the grimace that always appeared on her face when Lila was mentioned.

"Well… after Lila was exposed, I got curious and looked the site up because a lot of people were wondering if it was really the Phantom Thieves that did it, you know? It's also unknown why…"

"Yes, I suppose it would be strange to seemingly target a random school student," Kagami agreed, "Especially when most of the others they've exposed have been corrupt, influential adults."

"Exactly!" Marinette exclaimed, "Anyway, I looked on the website, and there are already a lot of people being requested for the Phantom Thieves to go after. I saw they've even dealt with some other school's teacher already!"

"Is that so?" Kagami asked in a clearly impressed tone. Then, as if realizing something, her eyes narrowed. "If you don't mind me asking, where are you going with this?"

"Well..." Marinette hesitated for a second longer before deciding to simply say it and see what happened, "...I saw your mom on the site."

Kagami blinked, "...I beg your pardon?"

"Someone, it doesn't say who," Marinette said, pulling her phone up to show Kagami the post, "put your mom's full name as a request on the site. It's just her name and a request to change her heart. That's it. I was… I was just wondering if this was something you should be concerned about or not."

Kagami stared at the phone screen, attempting to appear emotionless, but Marinette could see her eyes were wide in shock.

Eventually, the fencer leaned back and took a deep breath before saying, "I honestly don't know why she'd be on there. My mother hasn't done anything illegal."

"I'm not saying that I think she has," Marinette said, panicking that her friend may be getting the wrong idea, "I'm just… I mean, there must be a reason her name's on there right?"

Kagami shrugged, "If I were to guess, my assumption would be that it would be someone's poor attempt to scare her, or one of her business rivals trying to pin a non-existent crime on her. After all, it doesn't say what she's supposedly done."

Marinette nodded, "I guess that's true… sorry if I offended you by bringing it up, Kagami."

"No, I understand. You were just concerned," Kagami dismissed, "You're a good friend for doing that - I appreciate it. I know that Mother hasn't done anything. She's always been honest and straightforward with all her decisions, whether involving her business or otherwise. Lies will get you nowhere in life - it's best to be honest from the start."

Marinette nodded again. That was a good value, no doubt, and it explained why Kagami had hated Lila so much as well. That girl basically went against everything that Kagami had been taught with her lies and deceptions. Still, even if Kagami insisted that nothing was wrong, she could simply be scared to talk about it, fearing it could get back to her mom somehow.

"Just so you know Kagami, if there is ever something you want to talk about, I'm always willing to listen, no matter how silly it may seem at first."

Kagami slowly smiled and nodded just as Tatsu pulled up to the curb. It seemed the juice date was over.

The two girls waved to each other as the car disappeared down the road with Kagami inside. Once she was gone, and Marinette started walking home herself, she pulled her phone out again.

Chance: We need to talk.

Joker: What's wrong?

Marinette chuckled, finding it amusing that the second she contacts her friends in Japan, they immediately jump to her defense. She was glad to have friends like them.

Chance: Nothing really. I was just hanging out with my friend, Kagami. You guys met her when you were in Paris a few weeks ago, remember?

Skull: Oh, the fencing chick? Yeah, what about her?

Chance: Well, I was looking on the Phan-Site and I found her mom listed as a request on there.

Panther: Tomoe Tsurugi? Really? What did it say?

Chance: Not much. It just gave her name and asked us to change her heart. That's literally all it said.

Oracle: Just pulled the request up. She's right: screenshot

Chance: Kagami said she's not sure why her mom's name is on there. Tomoe hasn't done anything illegal.

Fox: Perhaps not to her knowledge. I knew about Madarame but didn't do anything, that said - perhaps she is in denial, as I once was…

Viper: Do you think Kagami is being abused?

Marinette bit her lip, not liking the direction this conversation was going.

Chance: If she is, I don't think it's physically.

Oracle: Tracking the URL now…

Oracle: oh fuck.

Queen: Where is it from, Futaba?

Oracle: ...It came from the Tsurugi residence, from the looks of it.

Marinette nearly dropped her phone. Someone sent that from Kagami's house? What?!

Jack: You don't think that Kagami's the one that sent that request, do you?

Beat: Calling the Phantom Thieves on her own mom? That seems a bit drastic, doesn't it?

Chance: Hold on! We don't know for certain if it was Kagami or not!

Viper: But who is it, then? One of Tomoe's servants, maybe?

Beat: Somehow I doubt they'd know anything about it… that, or they're sworn to secrecy or something like that.

Skull: That sure sounds like something a rich jerk would do! C'mon, Joker, let's at least look in Mementos! Even if she ain't there, we can train for Bustier's Palace!

Chance: I'm just worried, is all. Sure, Kagami respects her mom…

Chance: ...but there are times when she's seemed to be scared of her as well.

Chance: On Friendship Day, a thing I'm not sure you guys do in Tokyo, Tomoe got akumatized because Kagami rebelled against her.

Chance: For a while, the only contact Kagami had in her phone was that of her mom, and at one point, Kagami downloaded an app in the hopes it would teach her to make friends. Oh, and when I answered the phone for Kagami once, she looked nervous… that said, Kagami went against her mother's orders and participated in a Friendship Day event without Tomoe knowing, so the disobedience thing could have been what caused Tomoe to become Ikari Gozen…

Joker: I think my boyfriend was right, now that you've brought all this up. Even if Tomoe isn't in the Metaverse - which, to be honest, sounds really unlikely - we could train for Bustier's Palace.

Skull: Yeah… even so, we def get it if you don't wanna, Chance.

Chance: I feel sort of bad about this like I'm lying to Kagami… but I'll deal.

Fox: You're a good person, Marinette. Doing this could be what I believe is called paternalism.

Panther: What's that?

Queen: It's when decisions are made for another person without regard to their autonomy because it's "for their own good," right?

Beat: Sounds similar to how Agreste Senior treats Adrien at times, especially with having Lila spy on him… we should target him some time.

Viper: Not the point right now, Nino.

Beat: Right, sorry!

Chance: Let's do it! That is before I lose my nerve…

Marinette knew none of her friends/allies would laugh.

Chapter Text

"Didn't I delete this?"

With a frustrated groan, she dragged the red and black app to the trash can. Only for it to pop back up three seconds later.

She tried it again and garnered the same result. Then she turned her phone off and booted it back up.

Still there.

She groaned and slammed her phone down next to her seat. She'd have to take it to an electronic store or maybe get a new phone if this kept happening.

She decided not to worry about it right now. It didn't seem to be doing anything to her phone itself, so it likely wasn't a virus or any other such negative things.

"I should just focus on getting some mementos for Adrien, Marinette, & Mother," she decided as Tatsu drove away from her.

"Candidate Found. Beginning Navigation."

"So… how far down do you think Ms. Tsurugi is?" Beat asked as the Monabus revved through the catacomb-esque subways.

"Not picking anything up yet," Oracle reported, "she might be in the new area we unlocked a while ago. We haven't had a chance to explore down there yet, right?"

"No, we haven't," Joker nodded, "and from how deep we've already gone, that might be the case…"

"Should we be expecting any unusually freaky Shadows to pop up and ambush us when we get there?" Jack asked.

"Unless we run into the Reaper, it shouldn't be too different," Mona replied.

After a while, the group reached the new area. They'd just made it to the fourth area when Viper suddenly cried, "Stop the bus!"

The Monabus came to a screeching halt, skidding roughly across the tracks, nearly flipping over and throwing most of the Thieves forward a bit before at last coming to a stop.

"What was that for?" Skull gasped once everyone had recovered. Viper only pointed outside the left of the window, face painted with worry.

The sound of light steel clashing with other things greeted the Phantom Thieves' ears before they laid their eyes on…

"Oh, shit!" Skull exclaimed in horror as they spotted an untransformed Shadow smashing the ground where Kagami had just been. She was obviously struggling, despite having her foil in hand.

The two clashed, and after a few tense seconds, her foil snapped in half.

Kagami barely had time to register what happened before instinctively diving out of the way of the Shadow's next blow and scrambling to her feet. Recognizing she could not win, she took off…

...running smack dab into the Monabus with a painful-sounding BUMP .

Seeing that the Shadow was now charging towards them, Chance quickly opened one of Mona's doors and snatched the stunned Kagami by the collar, pulling her inside.

"DRIVE!" she screamed.

Joker didn't need a second prompting. He slammed down on the gas and sped off with a yowl from Mona.

Streaking around the corner, the team found a small rest stop where they'd be safe for a bit. The Shadow seemed to have lost interest in the group about halfway through the chase.

Everyone inside took a moment to catch their breath, their hearts racing in their ears. Nobody was too eager to exit the Monabus, but eventually, they filed out, letting a shakily-breathing Kagami out first.

"Who are you?" was the first thing out of her mouth once they'd all exited the Monabus, "and where are we?"

"Calm down, Kagami, it's me!" Chance cried out reassuringly, removing her mask.

"...Marinette?" Kagami gawked for a second, before taking a good look at the rest of them. "And you're all her friends from Tokyo! It is good to see you as well, Luka, Nino & Alix… interesting clothes you're all wearing."

"Oh thanks… no, wait, what the hell are you doing here? How'd you get here?" Jack exclaimed.

"Weren't you and Marinette literally out getting some juice or something recently?" Beat asked.

"Not the point right now, Beat!" Mona admonished, having transformed back into his… more normal form.

"A black cat…" Kagami said, her attention now transfixed on Mona, "Are you that kitty who helped me during the last mass attack?!"

Mona went about as white as a black cat could.

"Wha-what are you talking about?" he stuttered out, sweating bullets.

"If that's the case, then the rest of you…" Kagami said, looking around at the rest of them, "Well, Luka makes sense, now that I think about it."

"Kwami save me now…" Chance groaned into her hands, before she popped up, "Wait, what do you mean Luka makes sense?"
"You're all the other heroes, are you not?" Kagami inquired, then glanced at Morgana, "Well, except for Chat Noir… unless that's Kitty here."

"Um… no," Mona shook his head, "Different black cat, I'm afraid. My name is Mona."

"...Well, there's no point in denying it now, I guess," Skull admitted, "All right, you got us. Keep it secret, yeah?"

"Of course!" Kagami said seriously, "Mar-"

"Chance," Chance corrected, "Right now, I'm Chance, and these guys have aliases too."

Everyone quickly introduced themselves, and Kagami found herself nodding along.

"She's taking this rather well…" Queen observed.

"When you live in a city where magical moths can turn you into supervillains, not much surprises you anymore," Kagami simply replied.

"...I fuck with you on that," Oracle said bluntly.

Kagami decided to ignore the vulgar phrasing; looking around, she asked, "Where are we now?"

"...Boy, it must have been easier to explain this to us," Jack pointed out, "We all awakened outside of everyone's Palace, so you could just say we were 'in so-and-so's heart.'"

"We're in another reality right now," Viper explained plainly, "One that was created from the public's cognition."

"Cognition? Palace? People's… hearts?" Kagami said, pondering this info, then her eyes widened "Hearts…! Don't tell me you're…"

"Yep. On the nose!" Panther confirmed.

Kagami took a second to process this before speaking. She looked a little overwhelmed.

"It's sort of hard to believe… Chance is one of the nicest people I know, and even if the Phantom Thieves are good people, it's hard to connect Chance and the Phantom Thieves of Hearts like I can connect her & Ladybug."

"I honestly got dragged into all of this by accident," Chance said honestly, rubbing her arm awkwardly, "but… I'm really glad I was. I met these guys, who helped me in ways I'll forever be grateful to them for."

"Chance…" Joker said, "Anyway, we should get you back. It's dangerous for you to be here."

"Before you do…" Kagami asked, "I assume this is how you change hearts. Who are you going for now? I haven't heard about any calling cards as of recent…"
"We don't always need 'em," Skull explained, "our current target is… oh, 'eff me."

The group - minus Kagami - cringed.

"...We were looking into your mom when we found you," Chance admitted, looking a little guilty.

After a few seconds of stunned silence, Kagami recovered and said, "...Change of plans, then. I am coming with you." Some of the Phantom Thieves looked like they wanted to protest, but one look at her face made It obvious that she wasn't going to take no for an answer.

"...Fine," Mona said, remembering Chance telling them how stubborn the fencer was when her mind was made up, "but keep your distance. You're not equipped to fight the same way we are right now, especially with your foil broken."

"Are you serious?!" Jack gasped as Mona transformed back into his bus form.

"She's obviously not going to take no for an answer," Panther pointed out, "Plus, she kind of had to have come in here somehow… if she got in here on her own..."

"Oh crud, the app!" Beat groaned, face-palming.

"An app brought me here?" Kagami said, raising an eyebrow, "...That explains a lot."

"You have it, don't you?" Viper asked as they all piled back into the car.

"If you're referring to a red and black app that refuses to stay in the trash bin and looks like it belongs to a cult of some sort, then yes," Kagami answered as Mona started driving down the tracks once again.

"Now that you mention it, it does sort of have a religious undertone," Fox realized, "A single eye tends to have that effect, like in the Illuminati."

"While that sounds like an enlightening topic of discussion," Queen caught their attention, pointing ahead of them at the red and black vortex, "we're here."

Only Marinette noticed Kagami tense just as they dove into the vortex. She squeezed her friend's arm in reassurance as they landed on the other side.

Mona popped back into his thief form as the Phantom Thieves gazed at the Shadow standing a ways off. Just like her real self, Tomoe was wearing a white shirt, red pants, and had a large bokken in her hands. Though a pair of pitch-black glasses obscured her eyes, should she have removed them, golden yellow eyes would have greeted the group like any other Shadow.

"...That's Mother?" Kagami whispered.

"Not exactly," Queen said, "It is her, but not her at the same time."

"...I don't understand," the fencer admitted.

"This is your mother as she sees herself, if that makes any sense," Fox attempted.

"Sort of like… her dark side, I guess?" Chance added. Man, Jack was right. It was easier explaining this in an actual Palace.

Kagami still looked fairly confused but was now eyeing the figure a little more warily.

"Just stay back, and we'll handle this," Viper said as the Phantom Thieves cautiously approached the Shadow.

Once they got within a couple yards of the Shadow, she whipped out her bokken, holding it out at the ready. "Halt! Who goes there?" she snarled.

Chance tensed. Yep, this was definitely Ms. Tsurugi. It seemed her Shadow was blind too. She wasn't sure whether this would be an advantage to the team or not.

"Tomoe Tsurugi?" Joker said, "We've come to change your heart."

Shadow Tomoe scoffed, "Oh, have you, now? I don't see why you feel the need to target me. I'm an honorable member of society, both in Paris and Japan!"

"Even so, you have a distorted heart," Fox said coolly, "and it is our job to fix that. Though you say Paris & Japan… are you not as honorable in some other place?"

"I don't like what you are implying, young man," she hissed, "Do you think I would waste my time among filthy money-grubbers and deceitful snakes?"

"Well, someone asked us to change your heart," Panther pointed out, "They had to have had a reason for doing this, you know?"

"There are many who do not understand the importance of virtue…" Shadow Tomoe sneered, "I suppose we're not going to settle things with mere conversation, are we?"

"What, do you want to fight us?" Jack said tauntingly.

"Please don't…" Kagami mumbled from the back.

"Kagami?!" Shadow Tomoe gasped softly, "Don't tell me you're with these ruffians! Did you put them up to this?"

Silence befell the room.

Kagami looked mortified and ashamed.

"I… just wanted to help," she mumbled, "I thought they could help."

Chance gasped. So Kagami had been the one who wrote that post. But why? And help her with what?

"I don't need your help, Kagami! Not yours! Not anyone's!" the Shadow screamed.

"Help with what?" Queen exclaimed.

The Shadow ignored the question and continued to glare at her daughter.

"Is this about what we discussed last week? Are you really that selfish that you would compromise an opportunity like this for mundane matters?"

"My friends aren't mundane!" Kagami shouted back.

Shadow Tomoe's look turned murderous, causing Kagami to flinch. "I see… that is how it's going to be, then," she said draconically as she was enveloped in dark energy, "Prepare for punishment!"

"Get back!" Fox exclaimed as the Shadow burst into its new form. Clearly female, the lithe figure of the Polearm-Wielding Woman had her hair held back with a bandana. A naginata was clenched in her hand, which she twirled experimentally before assuming a battle form.

"Friendship? Trust? Don't make me laugh! Such things are ultimately trivial!" the Polearm-Wielding Woman sneered. Fearfully, Kagami took a few steps back as the Phantom Thieves rushed to her defense.

"That's a lie!" Skull retaliated, "Without friends, you won't get anywhere, and even if you could get by without 'em, it would be way harder!"

"Friends are simply people that use you! Once you're no longer of use to them, you'll be discarded! People are only your friends when you have something to offer them!"

"Then you had a bad friend…" Kagami snarled, "Even then, that doesn't give you the right to label others because one didn't turn out!"

"Yeah! One bad apple doesn't mean the whole batch is ruined!" Oracle shouted.

"We're sorry if someone did this to you, but your daughter's right!" Viper said, "We're her friends! We're not using her for anything!"

With a near-feral snarl, the Polearm-Wielding Woman vaulted over the wall of Phantom Thieves and landed right on Kagami, pinning her to the ground.

"What do I have to say to get you to understand?" the Shadow scowled.

" What do I have to say to get you to understand ?" Kagami cried out, struggling against her mother's Shadow Self, "Actually… I don't think it matters anymore - I'm not going to listen to you while you're like this!"


Are you going to let it all end here?

"A-agh!" Kagami suddenly shrieked, her harried struggle increasing tenfold and knocking the Polearm-Wielding Woman off of her. Getting up quickly, she and the Phantom Thieves watched as Kagami wrestled with her hurting head.

For many a time, you have claimed you don't hesitate… so why do you hold back against the one who has done you more wrong than any other?

"Is she…" Jack breathed out. Joker was sporting his usual giant grin, which indicated it was likely so.

We will form a contract now. I am thou, thou art I…

Slowly, unsteadily, Kagami began rising to her feet. The team looked at the scarlet dragon mask that appeared on her face, causing Skull to wolf-whistle.

We shall charge forward, with or without her - the evils that plague this world will learn to fear our righteous fury!

"Excellent…" Kagami said shakily, gripping her mask. Fluidly, she ripped it off with a cringe-inducing crack . As expected by almost all, a blue inferno burst from the ground around her. In the chaos, nobody noticed the Polearm-Wielding Women sneaking away.

The Persona that formed from the flames was a woman with a blue and white battle dress and armor, the fabric seeming to be continuously flowing like water on its own. Around her neck were two long necklaces with a single jewel hanging from each of them. A bow was slung over her shoulder and a tachi sword clipped to her side.

Kagami herself was wearing a dark long-sleeved shirt with a white collar and a red tie, along with a red belt that had a red side skirt cover over a black, pleated skirt with black leggings underneath and black shoes. On her arms were red gauntlets and plain black gloves. On her back was a tsurugi sword, which she immediately drew.

"Whoa, and here I thought Queen was a badass!" Oracle exclaimed with a giant smirk.

"Let's admire her after we take care of these guys!" Jack shouted as two large Shadows emerged around the corner. It seemed all of the commotion attracted them.

"Mazionga!" Kagami shouted before the Shadows even had a chance to transform. With shrieks of pain, they exploded into energy and faded back into oblivion.

"Jeez!" Skull gasped, looking back at the fencer to see the Persona returning its tachi to its sheath.

"Much appreciated, Jingū Kōgō," she said softly as the dragon mask returned to her face. She turned to the rest of the Phantom Thieves, "She couldn't have gotten far, we can still catch her-"

"Hold it," Joker said, snagging Kagami's arm before she could charge down the hall, "We're not going anywhere. Not until you tell us what's really going on."

Kagami scowled, "You heard what she said. Shouldn't that be reason enough?"

"No, Kagami, Joker's right," Chance said, "Yes, now we know you're the one that put that post up on the Phan-Site , but we still don't know why!"

"We can't make a proper decision to go after your mom or not unless we have the full story," Panther explained.

"That is why we came after her in the first place, to try and get answers," Fox explained, "and it seems you're the one that has them, Tsurugi-san."

"Yeah, like what was your mom talking about dud-I mean, Kagami?" Beat asked, "Something about an opportunity?"

Kagami was stubbornly silent, looking down at the ground. Chance recognized that expression. It was the same one Kagami had after she told her as Ladybug that she couldn't use the Dragon Miraculous again (but that had certainly changed, hadn't it?).

"Please, Kagami, help us understand so we can help you," Chance begged as she came closer. Upon getting a better look at her friend though, Marinette saw that her lip was trembling. Only just slightly, but it still was.

Chance realized with a gasp what was wrong. Kagami didn't know you couldn't get akumatized here. And if what her mom was talking about was really that painful that she couldn't risk talking about it without a magic butterfly swooping in to turn you into a monster, it must be something bad.

It was only another painful reminder of how Hawkmoth's reign of terror was really affecting Paris as a whole. It wasn't healthy to keep emotions in like this all the time. Eventually, it would all come spilling out, and likely not without some nasty consequences.

Chance her hands on Kagami's shoulders, "It's okay, Kagami. Hawkmoth can't get us in here. You can cry and scream as much as you need to. He's not going to target you."

These words seemed to the final straw as the next second, Kagami latched onto Chance, burying her face in her shoulder. Chance stumbled from the force of it before steadying herself.

What Chance certainly wasn't ready for was the loud wail that exited Kagami's mouth as she held Chance like her life depended on it.

Okay, it was clear that something else was going on. She had never seen Kagami like this, even when she was in one of her moods. She was normally so composed and calm. Seeing her breaking down like this was… scary.

Chance awkwardly returned the hug, patting Kagami gently on the back.

"We… we should get to a safer location," Queen decided, "Something tells me this conversation will take a while."

"Yeah, you're right, Queen," Mona nodded, before transforming back into bus form.

"There's a rest stop not too far from here," Oracle reported.

"Let's get there. Fast," Viper said urgently as he helped Chance and Kagami into the car. The fencer whined when she felt them move, but Chance held her tighter, showing that she wasn't going to let go. Eventually, they managed to maneuver Kagami to sit on Chance's lap as Mona sped off and out of the distortion pocket. It wouldn't be going anywhere, so they could find it again.

Kagami didn't stop sobbing until they arrived.

Chapter Text

Even after arriving at the safe point, it took several minutes for Kagami to calm down. No one said anything for the duration of her crying; after all, no one really knew what to say concerning this situation.

"Do you want to talk about it, Kagami?" Chance asked after her friend had fallen silent for a few minutes, "We still need to know why you made that request on the Phan-Site."

Kagami took a deep, shuddering breath. "I suppose I owe you all an explanation…"

"You don't have to do it now," Panther said patiently, "after we change your mother's heart, you can tell us then if that would be easier…"

"No, no," Kagami said, adjusting her new mask, "I'll tell you now."

"Does it have anything to do with the opportunity your mom was talking about?" Queen asked gently.

Kagami flinched but nodded.

"Okaa-sama wants to send me to a prestigious boarding school back in Japan. Their fencing team is one of the best in the world. She had been planning it for months before she finally let me know. She told me it was 'for the best.'"

"...hey, Fox, remember that paternalism thing you talked about a while back? This ain't it," Skull said, his voice uncharacteristically soft.

"You don't want to go, though, do you?" Beat asked.

"No! I tried to tell her that too, but she wouldn't… no, she never listened to me!" Kagami exclaimed, before settling into a grumble of, "...but there was more to it than that - of course there was!"

"What do you mean?" Mona asked.

"It was a few days after Lila's whole confession. I overheard her talking to someone over the phone," Kagami explained, "She said things like 'I won't let this happen again,' and 'She wouldn't understand.' Then… she told me that the Agrestes couldn't be trusted anymore, not if they were associated with people like Lila."

"Did… did she tell you to break up with Adrien?" Chance gasped, horrified.

"She did," Kagami admitted, "And she thinks I have. But I haven't. He's the only other person who knows what's going on."

"This sounds almost like paranoia," Fox observed, "Once she realizes someone isn't as honest as they claim, she'll attempt to cut ties with them."

Kagami nodded, "It's been like that for most of my life. Ever since Otou-san died when I was two."

An ominous feeling fell over the original few members of the group. It was similar to the feeling they got that when they learned about Madarame's history with Fox's mom or the truth about Oracle's mother.

"What happened to your dad?" Viper asked carefully.

"It was a car accident," she said, "not only did it kill him, but it cost my mom her sight too. According to some of the senior maids, she was never the same after that… especially after the investigation that followed."

"Investigation?" Queen asked. That was odd. There weren't usually investigations after traffic accidents… not unless there was something else involved.

Kagami nodded, "Apparently, someone had tampered with the car that they were driving that night. No one was ever convicted for it, but a friend of the family became a person of interest during that time. Apparently, Okaa-sama had known her since childhood… it well and truly broke her, if the loss of Father and eyesight didn't do it."

"...I think something like PTSD might be a factor in this as well," Oracle said sadly.

"So, because a childhood friend supposedly caused the crash, your mom doesn't trust any kind of 'friends' of yours?" Jack asked, trying to gain understanding.

"And maybe it's also 'cause she thinks this could happen to you too," Skull asked, "Even if she means well, it doesn't change the fact she's wrong, though."

"Is that why you joined us on Friendship Day?" Chance asked, "Even though your mom told you not to?"

"I thought if I played the games and made a friend, I could show her that having friends wasn't bad. She said I already had Adrien, but… it wasn't the same."

"So that's why you put in that request," Joker realized, "Hearing that you were being sent away must have been the final straw."

Kagami nodded, punctuating her feelings with a bitter laugh, "I'm such a hypocrite. Just hours ago we were talking about honesty and upholding it, but I was practically lying to you the whole time, Chance."

Chance shrugged, unbothered, "Well, that makes two of us. After all, I haven't been completely honest with you either."

"I guess… I was afraid you'd judge me," Kagami admitted, "When I went on the site, I felt like I was accessing the Hell Correspondence from Jigoku Shōjo."

"Oh! I love that anime!" Oracle exclaimed before her expression became thoughtful. "...Huh, never really thought about it like that, but it's kind of similar, isn't it? Except, the price for changing a heart won't be your soul."

"Not that we'd expect any sort of recompense," Viper said, nudging Oracle a little, "So… you're really just trying to help your mom, right? By changing her heart you think your mom will learn to trust your friends and not force you to go to that school."

"I wouldn't mind going to the school, eventually," Kagami admitted, "But I don't want to leave Adrien or any of my friends right now. Friends like you, Chance…"

She gave Chance a look saying that Kagami thought the world of her. "'re once in a lifetime."

A minute or two of awkward silence passed.

"So…" Skull finally said, "I guess we're doing this after all?"

"Now that we know the full story, I think we can decide officially now," Joker agreed, "Anyone with any problems? Speak now or forever hold your peace."

"This ain't a wedding, but I'm definitely up for it," Beat proclaimed.

"Ditto!" Jack piped in, "It's the right thing to do, yeah?"

"So there's no objections, then?" Mona asked, giving the team a once-over. For what would hopefully be the last time, silence befell the group.

"Fantastic!" he said before transforming into his bus form again, "If everyone's ready…"

It didn't take much searching past the pocket where Tomoe's Shadow Self had been located for the Monabus and its current riders to find the Polearm-Wielding Woman. She'd lashed out at anything that she sensed, which included other Shadows. Once they picked up the sound of Shadows being punctured alive, they just followed it in order to find their target.

They spotted her just as she cut a Shadow cleanly in half from the head down.

"...Whoa," Skull whistled as she came into view, "we got a big fight ahead of us."

"We've got this!" Jack smirked, "Time to knock some sense into her."

"...You don't have to fight if you don't want to, Kagami," Chance told her, noticing her friend tense upon approaching Tomoe's Shadow again.

"No," Kagami shook her head, "I got you into this, so it's only fair I help you out of it."

"All right, if you say so," Chance relented.

Everyone cautiously exited the Monabus and approached the Shadow once again.

"We meet again, Tomoe Tsurugi," Joker greeted, catching the bloodthirsty Shadow's attention.

"Come to face your death with honor, have you? Hah - I expected you to run away like the cockroaches you are!"

"Um, weren't you the one that ran away last time?" Panther pointed out.

"Semantics!" the Polearm-Wielding Woman shrieked, "Now die!"

The first one she charged was Fox, who deflected each giant attack strike with relative ease.

"Pathetic!" Tomoe snarled, before choosing to target Viper next. Unlike Fox, who was more used to holding a sword, Viper struggled against the Shadow's strength but managed to roll away before he could get seriously hurt.

Then, to everyone's surprise, Tomoe ducked when Jack attempted to shoot at her from behind with her umbrella gun.

"What the-?!" Jack gasped when she felt a strong kick at her stomach, sending her flying back.

"You're foolish to think I didn't see that coming! It was the most obvious move you could try against a blind woman!"

"Always watching your back, huh?" Queen asked, "I'll admit, that's not a bad strategy. But keep looking back too long and you can't see what the future has in store!"

"Yeah! We get that you want what's best for your kid! But you can't ever let anything happen to her, then nothing will ever happen to her!" Skull protested.

"A life where your entire future is decided for you isn't a life!" Mona agreed, "You have to take risks sometimes, or else nothing will happen!"

"And look where that got me?!" the Shadow shrieked, "I lost everything that day because I wasn't careful enough! I let my guard for barely a moment and my enemy took it!"

"You don't know if Haruhi-san did it, Okaa-sama!" Kagami shouted, "The police never closed the case! It could all be a coincidence!"

"They never cleared her either, last I checked!" Tomoe countered, swiping at Joker, who blocked with his dagger.

"But isn't the phrase 'innocent until proven guilty'?" Beat asked while dodging around another strike, "You could seriously just be jumping to conclusions here!"

"Guys, talking is clearly not helping!" Queen said, before summoning Johanna. "Freila!"

Tomoe shouted in pain as the nuclear attack hit her, and she stumbled back.

"Chance! Let's go!" Viper shouted, standing right next to her.

"Right!" she shouted, charging with her flail, before tumbling out of the way for a Garula to hit Tomoe, followed up by a Kouga from Mulan while Tomoe was off balance.

Kagami watched the Phantom Thieves in amazement. Though they were fighting fiercely, she could still see the compassion in their eyes, their willingness to genuinely help her the woman she called her mother.

For the longest time, she was unable to defeat her mother in anything. Not in fencing, not in arguments, not in anything.

At the time, she had been alone, with nobody on her side.

Not anymore.

Gripping her tsurugi blade firmly, she charged towards her mother. Their blades met, creating an audible clash.

Kagami grunted as she was pushed backward, but before she could stumble back, she felt a weight on her back steadying her.

Skull gave her a giant grin. "We gotcha!" he grinned, before pushing her back up.

"There's a creed we Phantom Thieves have, even if it's gone unsaid until now…" Mona declared, healing the team with Zorro's Mediarama, "Either all of us make it out, or none of us do!"

"Well said, Mona," Chance smirked, twirling her flail. She then swung it out, only for Tomoe's Shadow Self to deflect it easily.

"She must be immune to Physical & Gun attacks, guys!" Oracle called out, "Avoid those if possible!"

"In that case, Persona!" Jack shouted, Atalanta swirling to life, "Freila!"

Just like Queen's attack earlier, Tomoe stumbled, but it wasn't enough to go down for good. Joker decided now was as good a time as any to bring out a Persona he'd gotten a small while ago.

"Tantalus!" he cried, summoning a masculine, malnourished-looking demon holding a small cauldron filled with red chunks of unknown material.

Those who knew Tantalus' story decided they didn't want to know if their knowledge of the Greek myth held any water in this Persona's design.

"Psiodyne!" their leader cried, sending the Polearm-Wielding Woman careening into a wall with a heavy blast of psychic energy. The team's foe shakily got up to one knee after hitting the floor, but she didn't get up any further.

"It's… not possible…" Shadow Tomoe got out, shooting them a deadly glare.

"Maybe by ourselves, you could kick any of our butts," Skull countered, "but it's a different story when we're together!"

"Yeah!" Panther chimed in, "Shall we, leader?"

"I think it should be our special guest's decision… what do you say, Kagami?" he smirked, gesturing to Kagami.

Kagami seemed nervous at first, but when the team gave her confident, reassuring looks, she nodded. Taking the cue, the team ripped into the Polearm-Wielding Woman, walloping her with blow after blow until she reverted back into the normal Shadow Self of Tomoe.

"Had enough?" Beat asked.

Shadow Tomoe was on her knees, her bokken cast just out of reach.

"Ms. Tsurugi, we know you want to protect Kagami, but she's not going to be a child forever!" Chance said, "If you don't let her make mistakes, how can she learn anything from them?"

"'re right," Shadow Tomoe eventually conceded, "I've been quite rotten, haven't I?"

"I suppose you just needed some guidance of your own, Okaa-sama," Kagami said softly, cautiously approaching the Shadow.

"You've become quite the mature young woman in spite of my behavior, haven't you?" Shadow Tomoe sighed, looking up at her daughter.

"I had you to look up to, in many ways," Kagami said honestly, "Things will get better, and with the help of trusted people, I think we'll be alright."

"I suppose you're right… I'm proud of you, taisetsu na musume," she whispered with a smile, before fading away.

Kagami looked stunned. Her mom hadn't called her that in years. She felt another tear trail down her cheek, this time from joy.

"...Interesting," Joker murmured after snatching the object in the light. It was a small bowl that was cracked, but the cracks were filled in with gold.

"That's a kintsugi bowl," Fox said immediately in recognition.

"What's a… Kin-shugi bowl?" Beat sounded out.

"Kintsugi," Fox corrected before elaborating, "Also known as kintsukuroi. It's a type of art where a broken piece of pottery is mended by fusing the cracks together with gold, although silver and even platinum have been used before too."

"Oh yeah! We had some of those on display a while back at the Louvre for a Japanese art exhibition," Jack recalled, "They were pretty cool! There was even a video shown of the creation process."

"Fascinating, but why would this be Tomoe's Treasure then?" Viper asked.

"Kintsugi has a symbolic meaning as well," the artist continued, "It's also called 'The Art of Precious Scars.'"

"Those scars are not meant to be hidden," Kagami picked up, quoting a lesson from years prior, "but should be displayed with pride. The essence of resilience."

"Indeed," Fox nodded solemnly.

"Your mom thought she was doing that by not trusting anyone," Chance realized, "She's said that even though she was blind, she wasn't weak; in fact, she seemed to think of her blindness as a strength!"

"Man…" Skull murmured, "I mean, I get the whole 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' thing, but that's not an excuse to mark everyone as an enemy because of it."

"That shouldn't be the case anymore," Queen said, "but… maybe I can ask Sis about it. If the case was never officially closed, that means the police are still investigating even years later. Maybe they found something else over the years."

"That is if you'd like us to, Kagami," Panther interjected, knowing this was likely a sensitive topic for the fencer.

"I would appreciate it," she replied, "Whoever's responsible is still out there."

"Try to be careful, Queen," Oracle advised, "If you get too nosy, your sis could get suspicious as to why you're so interested in a case that's nearly fifteen years old. And even if you give the excuse of Kagami being a friend of Marinette's…"

"Yeah, I know," Queen nodded, "I'll be careful."

"Sounds good," Mona said, before becoming a bus once more, "Let's get out of here for the day. Chance, Viper, Jack, Beat, I'm guessing you'll explain everything?"

"We're on it, Mona!" Beat said, shooting a thumbs up.

"We'll text you all later!" Chance said just as everyone got back inside and it drove back to the entrance.

Adrien collapsed onto his bed, exhausted.

The akuma and accompanying amok today had been brutal. Especially because he had to try and deal with it alone or the first twenty minutes before Ladybug, Kobra, and to his surprise, the new dragon heroine, Dragonica finally showed up.

They all apologized profusely for taking so long and managed to defeat the enemy shortly after.

The new Dragon was pretty good, although he had suspicions that he knew who it was. Her mannerisms were too similar to Ryuko's to be a coincidence.

A vibration from his phone shook him from his thoughts as he went and answered it.

"Hello, Adrien," Kagami greeted.

"Hey…" he said with a sad smile on his face. He knew his girlfriend only had a few more weeks in Paris. It would be extremely difficult to keep in contact with just the time zones alone, not to mention keeping it secret from Ms. Tsurugi, too. He honestly wasn't sure how much longer they'd be able to keep it up.

What Kagami said next caused him to sit bolt upright in shock.

"I talked with Mother again. And I convinced her to not send me to that boarding school!"

"What?!" he exclaimed, causing Plagg to shriek in surprise and nearly drop his Camembert from the couch.

"Where's the fire?" the Kwami exclaimed until he noticed his holder's face.

"That's amazing Kagami! So you're staying in Paris?"

"Yes," she said happily, "She...she realized that this was a good place for me after all."

Adrien huffed out a laugh, "I'll be honest, Kagami, I'm shocked your mom changed her mind. Especially after her argument with Father. It didn't sound like she was planning to."

"Normally she wouldn't," Kagami said matter-of-factly, "But, I guess the right words can change anyone's heart."

Adrien went still. The way that was worded sent a chill down his spine.

"You mean metaphorically with that, right?" he asked nervously.

"Hm? Oh!" Kagami seemed to realize what she said and backtracked, "Yes, yes. Anyway, Marinette offered to go on a double-date later this week. At the ice rink we went to a while back?"

"Oh!" Adrien gasped. This was a surprise, especially since Marinette suggested it, "Yeah, sure. I'll talk with the Gorilla about it. I'm not sure how Father would feel after your mom's blowup."

"Sounds good. Marinette will give the details later."

"Great! I'm glad you're staying Kagami, I really am," Adrien said honestly.

"Me too. Goodnight, Adrien."

"'Night!" he said before ending the call.

"Blech!" Plagg gagged, "You kids and your romance! Gross!"

"Like you aren't the sappiest thing when you talk about Ladybug's kwami," Adrien shot back with a smirk.

While Plagg sputtered out attempts at excuses, Adrien flew to his desk chair and immediately began typing on the computer.

The familiar site immediately filled the screen and he began to scan through the comments.

He stopped when he found what he hoped he wouldn't.

Tomoe Tsurugi. Please change her heart.

Underneath was a reply comment.

Thank you.

Chapter Text

The following Friday, Adrien couldn't help the feeling of deja vu that practically permeated the air as he stepped onto the ice rink hand and hand with Kagami. Even Marinette was in a good mood as Luka led her around on the ice.

Heck, even the beginning of the day was almost identical to their original ice rink date. Of course, this time the Gorilla had been in on the plan from the beginning so his excuse to get out of the house was more convincing.

There were a few more people around the rink this time unlike last time, meaning Phillipe wasn't skating around trying to convince them to sign up for ice-skating classes and ruin the mood.

"Wow, Marinette, you're a lot smoother on the ice now!" Adrien complimented as Marinette pulled off a small twirl with Luka keeping at a closer distance in case she lost her balance again.

"Thanks!" Marinette smiled, "I've been practicing since last time!"

"Really? That's cool!" he grinned back. Marinette laughed, then shrieked in delight as Luka scooped her up above his head and skated briskly around the loop. The blond's eyes widened - he'd forgotten how strong the older Couffaine was. He was glad that he was Luka's friend and not an enemy.

"Don't worry, I'll protect you!" Kagami grinned as she skated around him. She must have seen his nervous face.

"Wha-hey! That's my line!" Adrien argued as he pushed to catch up with her.

Kagami laughed, "Not with your noodly arms!"

Adrien gasped in mock offense, a hand flying to his chest. She certainly wouldn't be saying that if he was Chat Noir.

If anything changed, the main thing Adrien noticed was that Kagami was much more… open, for lack of a better term. Before her call on Tuesday, she was always proper and well-mannered, bluntly speaking her mind whenever no matter who she was talking to, never mind how the other person was feeling. Now, whenever outside of class or home, she was happier. She had a sparkle in her eye that he'd never noticed before. Of course, he hadn't been to her home as his father was heavily discouraging him from associating with her, so he wasn't sure what the situation was there.

...could it really be because of the Phantom Thieves?

One thing he knew for sure was that Tomoe Tsurugi was a stubborn woman. He argued that she was likely more stubborn than his father sometimes. So for Tomoe to change her mind so suddenly was unnatural. The fact that Kagami wasn't more concerned about this uncharacteristic behavior was alarming as well. But there was no way that Kagami would actually ask the Phantom Thieves to go after her mom, right?

"You okay, Adrien?" Luka asked as he and Marinette skated over.

Adrien blinked. He hadn't noticed that he had slowed down, lost in his thoughts.

"Oh, yeah," he nodded unsteadily, nearly losing balance on his skates.

"Whoa! Hey, let's take a break," Marinette suggested as Kagami finally spun back around.

"Yeah, sounds good," Adrien said a little too quickly before making haste for the closest exit. As his back was turned, he didn't notice his three friends glance between one another concernedly before joining him.

"Are you all right, Adrien?" Kagami asked, sitting down next to him, "You don't look well."

"I-I've just had a lot on my mind," he said anxiously, waving the concern off, "That's all!"

"Want to talk about it?" Luka asked, "It may help a little."

"It's… I don't know…" Adrien muttered, rubbing his arm and biting his lip.

"Adrien, if something's bothering you, we're willing to listen if it helps," Marinette said with a small smile.

After debating in his head for a few minutes, he decided to simply spit it out and see what happened.

"Do you think the Phantom Thieves changed your mom's heart, Kagami? Like, for real?"

There was a long awkward pause, and Adrien nearly changed his mind and decided to tell them to forget about it, when his girlfriend spoke.

"I don't know," she shrugged, "And to be honest, I really don't care. All that matters is that Mother changed her mind, no? And she's better as well."

Adrien was honestly a little shocked by Kagami's response, similar to the one she gave after their phone call. Once again his mind wandered to more… unpleasant thoughts.

"What do you think of the Phantom Thieves, Adrien?" Luka suddenly asked.

Adrien jumped and looked up to see the guitarist and designer staring at him both expectantly and curiously.

"Um… what do you mean what I 'think' of them?" Adrien asked, partially to avoid the question and partially for clarification.

"Well, there are some people that don't think they're even real," Marinette shrugged, "So, do you think they're real?"

"Er, well, I mean," Adrien stuttered, "We live in a city where superheroes and villains exist, so why wouldn't they be real?"

"No reason," Marinette shrugged again, "just had to ask. There are plenty of people that still have doubts, even at school."

Adrien nodded. That was indeed true. He had heard other classes whispering about the 'Akuma Class' and how someone had finally done something about Lila, and how annoying she was with her lies and how the class had been stupid enough to fall for them in the first place.

He knew that Alya was still getting a lot of heat over the situation, both at school and on the Ladyblog. Her traffic had dropped by at least seventy percent and her viewers were constantly criticizing her for her poor journalism and why she never thought to verify the stories before posting them. There was a small hope though, as a couple more loyal followers pointed out that she was still technically a kid, and even experienced journalists made mistakes from time to time, and to cut her some slack about it.

"Well… you really want my honest opinion?" he asked slowly.

"We wouldn't be asking if we didn't," Kagami said.

"Okay, well… It does look like the Phantom Thieves are doing good and helping people, sort of like the heroes here. But… I don't entirely agree with their methods."