Even though the SEES members had defeated Erebus, they soon found out that the time travel craziness wasn't over yet. Just when they had finished their first day after the time loop and slept towards April 2nd, they were summoned to the Velvet room once again. However, to their pleasant surprise, Minako, who they had thought they wouldn't see ever again, was there. But they didn't have much time to celebrate. Their reunion was interrupted by the arrival of a man with a butterfly wing on his mask. He revealed himself as Philemon, Igor's superior, and made them an interesting proposal. He said that, since they were able to prove that the Fall could be stopped, they deserved a chance to go back in time, relive the last year and try to change things for the better. If they chose to accept, they would be sent back in time, with another chance to prevent the Fall, prevent Minako from becoming the Great Seal, and much more. If they chose to decline, though, things would remain as they were and Minako's soul would return to the seal. He left and gave them time to think, and once again, they found themselves debating whether to choose to alter the past or embrace the present.
Philemon and Igor excused themselves from the room and gave the Persona users their privacy. The SEES members were seated on chairs around a table, with Koromaru sitting on the ground near Aigis and Fuuka.
"I'm all up for it." Minako was the first one to voice her opinion. "When the Universe card appeared, right away I knew what would happen to me. Of course, I didn't like it. I wish I could have lived more, gone to college, gotten a proper job, you know, this kind of thing. I hadn't chosen my profession yet, but I was getting to it! I had thought I was supposed to have more time to think about it. But Nyx had to appear and literally force me to decide what to do with my life. It was either becoming the Seal to prevent Nyx from reaching Erebus, or letting her end all life in the world. At that point, I knew I'd die soon, no matter which choice I made. So, between dying to save everyone, and hopelessly dying along with everyone, I chose the first option. But if there were some other path we could have taken to prevent things from getting to that point... if there were another option to stop the Fall, I would've taken it. If Philemon-san is going as far as to give us the chance to go back and change things for the better, it must mean that we have the power to change something significant. So, I don't want to waste this chance."
"In that case... I agree with you." Surprisingly, it was Akihiko who said that.
"Huh?" Yukari smirked at him playfully. "Senpai, what about that talk of not wanting to undo the past?"
"What talk?" Since Minako couldn't see what had happened while the Abyss of Time had been around, she didn't know.
Akihiko's face flushed in embarrassment. "N-nothing! Just a small argument we had. We already got over it."
Everyone else traded knowing looks. The argument had been anything but "small. It had caused them to fight among themselves and nearly kill each other. If Aigis were as robotic as she had been when she awoke on Yakushima, she would probably have given her input and narrated the story as though it were nothing out of ordinary, but now she knew better. Aigis was sure Minako wouldn't like to hear the story, and chose to keep her comments to herself.
"What?" Minako noticed everyone's weird looks.
Akihiko decided to redeem himself. He sighed and began to explain. "Long story short... after your sacrifice, our grief was so strong that our Personas began acting up and got us stuck in a crazy time loop. When we found a way to escape the time loop, we got the option of leaving everything as it was, or going back to the day we battled Nyx to alter the past. Most of us had diverging opinions, and we argued. I didn't want to change the past because it would be unfair to you, after what you did to save everyone. But if you're fine with undoing everything you did, then I won't argue anymore."
Minako felt she was missing important pieces of that story, but now wasn't the time to discuss that.
"Ugh, Tartarus and Shadows all over again..." Yukari looked like she was about to complain, but she added, "Fine, I'll do it. We've come all this far. Might as well follow this through to the end, right?"
"Maybe this time we can save Chidori, too!" Junpei said enthusiastically, then smirked at Akihiko. "Sanada-san, despite what you had said before, you're actually excited about the chance to save Aragaki-san, aren't you?" He didn't give Akihiko time to answer. "Yeah, you are. It's written on your face!"
"I know I was on Sanada-san's side of the argument that time, but I wish I could talk to Aragaki-san again and apologize..." Ken lamented.
"'And I miss his cooking,' says Koromaru-san." Aigis translated.
"This endeavor might be risky, but I believe it is worth trying." Mitsuru gave a faint smile. It was obvious that she had been thinking about the possibility of saving her father.
"We have a problem, though." It was Fuuka. "From what that person said, because of the Universe Arcana, Minako-chan will probably remember everything that happened, but we might not be strong enough to keep a hold onto our memories when our lives rewind."
Ken deflated. "Oh. So it means we might make the same mistakes all over again..."
"Forgetting events is not a new situation to us, however." Mitsuru reminded them. "Even though we had forgotten the Dark Hour-related events after she had sealed Nyx, we remembered everything afterwards. We can do this."
"Yeah, I agree." Minako added. "If Philemon-san is giving this chance to all of us, it must be because he believes we can pull it off. Let's put faith in ourselves!"
"I will do my best to not forget." Aigis had a look of determination in her eyes.
"Then, if... no, when we remember everything, we need to do something to show it, like our promise to meet on the school's roof on graduation day." Fuuka gave her input.
"How about a passphrase?" Aigis suggested. "Some kind of 'code.' Something that only those of us who remember will understand."
"Good idea." Yukari agreed. "To the others, it'll sound like an inside joke or something."
"How about..." Minako closed her eyes in thought. "'Spring mornings are pleasant?'"
"Spring mornings...?" Akihiko was confused.
"Hahaha, not very good, is it?" Minako laughed awkwardly. "I just remembered this sentence from a question from the exams. although it was about winter mornings, since we'll be trying to make sure the next spring will happen, I thought it would make more sense to say, 'spring mornings' instead."
"Oh." Akihiko nodded in understanding. "yeah, it makes sense."
"Gah! Mina-tan, you and your studies!" Junpei complained. "Why did you have to remind me of those? Now I remember I got this question wrong..."
"Then, make sure to remember it when you go back so you get this question right this time." Minako scolded him, but her expression softened and she dropped the seriousness. "Actually, try to remember as much as you can, including the other exam questions, and maybe you can ace the exams, too!"
"Oh, good idea! Why hadn't I thought of this before? Oh, wait. I don't remember the questions even now..."
Yukari sighed. She decided to ignore Junpei and changed the subject. "Okay. We've got the passphrase, but now we need a plan. What can we change?"
"Hmm." Minako's gaze quickly darted between her friends before she spoke. "I was thinking... about Amada-kun's point of making the same mistakes all over again. If we do everything the same as before, we'll get the same result, and our second chance will go to waste. Even if no one else remembers anything right away, we need to find a way to change something. But what?"
"What if we find a way to not kill the big Shadows?" Junpei suggested.
"Maybe." Mitsuru considered the idea. "Now we know that killing the Arcana Shadows won't end the Dark Hour. It will only restore Death's power and cause the Fall to come faster."
"No, this won't work." Minako interjected. "If we don't destroy the Arcana Shadows, they'll keep causing Apathy Syndrome until all people lose the will to live and bring the Fall. It might take a bit longer, but the Fall will come either way."
"I guess you're right..." Junpei sighed, forced to give up on his suggestion.
They stayed silent for a few minutes, until a door opened. Igor, who had left upon Philemon's arrival, appeared from the door, with Elizabeth trailing behind. "My master has already informed me of his proposal," he said.
"We already made our choice, but we still need a plan." Minako looked at the Velvet Room attendant. "Elizabeth, I'd like to look at the compendium for a bit."
"As you wish." Elizabeth produced the book out of nowhere and handed it to Minako.
Minako looked through the whole compendium once, then sighed. No ideas came to mind. She closed her eyes and pulled a random card from the book. She opened her eyes and looked at the card, only to find Thanatos staring out at her. Suddenly, she grinned wildly, looked at her group and exclaimed, "I think I got it!"
Everyone directed questioning looks at Minako. Ken's gaze fell on the card on the girl's hand. "What about that card?"
""You still weren't with us at the time, so you wouldn't have known." Mitsuru decided to explain. "That was the creature that appeared when she summoned her Persona for the first time."
Akihiko added, "Mitsuru and I only saw it through the monitors, but I admit. It was quite... frightening. It went berserk and I got afraid that we may see a repeat of... you know what..." He heaved a sigh and shook the bad thoughts away. "Thankfully, she never lost control of her Personas after that."
"That Persona might have manifested as a result of Death's influence on her." Mitsuru finished the explanation.
"Yeah. Actually, his true form looks a lot like this Persona." Minako indicated the card.
"Death's true form?" Akihiko asked, and got a nod in response. "When did you see it?"
"Huh?" Minako realized she hadn't told anyone. "Ah, right. It was that time, on New Year's eve. He had transformed... or, uh, 'untransformed?' Anyway... he decided to show his true form to me, to convince me that he wasn't human and that I should 'kill' him. It didn't work. It actually had the opposite effect, because it made me remember this Persona. Thanatos, the Persona I had used when the Magician Arcana Shadow had attacked the dorm. Then everything clicked. This Persona had manifested because of the power he ended up giving me. I couldn't control Thanatos at the time, but after New Year's eve, I decided that I'd try to summon him again. That's what I did, and he's never gone berserk again, thankfully."
"Wait wait wait." Junpei raised a hand in exasperation. "You said it was on New Year's eve... when we had to choose if we'd kill Ryoji or not... then, it means that he turned into a monster inside of your room!"
"Ugh, you didn't need to mention that, Stupei!" Yukari cringed at the thought. "But Minako-chan, I wonder how you still could get any sleep after that..."
"Well... he didn't seem to intend to do anything to me." Minako spoke as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. "I actually felt more at ease when I remembered this persona. I like to think of this Thanatos as the symbol of the bond Ryoji-kun and I shared. We'd known each other for a short time, even shorter because I had ignored him a lot at first, but in the end, he proved to be a good friend."
"Okay. But I still don't get it. What's the plan, Leader?" Junpei's question was clearly directed at Minako, even though Aigis was supposed to be their leader now.
"In short, the plan is to make him stop the Fall."
"What?!" Akihiko seemed incredulous.
"Make him stop the Fall...?" Mitsuru repeated.
"Yeah. He was very powerful. He had the power of 13 Arcana Shadows combined, and was practically undefeatable. His purpose had been to summon Nyx and serve as her avatar, so he had the most direct connection to her. My reasoning is this: if we, simple humans, were able to stop Nyx, then imagine what a powerful being like him could have done. And since he has a direct connection to Nyx, he might be able to influence her in some way."
That plan didn't convince Mitsuru. "However, the Death Arcana symbolizes destruction and closure. And as you just said, his only purpose was specifically to bring the Fall. What makes you think he would go against the only purpose of his existence and do the complete opposite?"
Minako seemed confident. "I remember Mr. Edogawa saying that even negative-sounding Arcana have positive meanings, including the Death Arcana."
"You and your studies again...!" Junpei rolled his eyes. "And you're putting your hopes on Edogawa's lessons, out of all things? You've gotta be kidding..."
"They were the most relevant lessons related to Personas and Shadows, in my opinion." Minako countered. "If I were you, I'd make sure to pay more attention to his lectures in the next lifetime."
"Yeah, whatever..." Junpei waved her comment off.
Minako continued talking. "Back to what I was saying, The Death Arcana also has positive meanings. To me, Ryoji-kun showed enough proof of this. He seemed to really regret having to fulfill his purpose. It was clear that he hadn't wanted to do what he did. The problem was that he didn't believe things could be changed. He had implored countless times to us to give up on fighting against fate, and he probably had believed it would be useless to go against his own fate, too. He only understood that nothing was set in stone after the Universe Arcana happened, but then it was already too late. I'm sure he'd have helped us if we'd been able to convince him sooner. If only I had paid more attention to him from the beginning..."
"So, we must go back in time and try to convince him to join our cause." Aigis concluded.
Junpei seemed unsure. "Do you think you can convince him in just one month? He'd stayed with us only from November to December!"
"Not exactly. He had talked to me before."
Junpei was confused. "Huh? hadn't you said you hadn't noticed anything during the time he had been inside you?"
"Yeah, I hadn't noticed anything. He only started talking to me after I arrived in Iwatodai. He appeared to me in the form of a boy in stripped clothing, and only showed up during the Dark Hour. He always came to remind me when the full moon was approaching. But it was only after Ryoji-kun revealed to us about himself and Nyx in December that I realized he and the little boy were the same person."
"He told you that the Arcana Shadows showed up when the moon was full?" Yukari was surprised. "Why didn't you tell us anything?!"
"At first, I had thought it was a dream." Minako justified herself. "By the time I concluded it wasn't, you had already figured out that the big Shadows appeared during the full moon. Anyway, I didn't talk to him much. I had been creeped out most of the time. It didn't help that he only appeared during the Dark Hour, and spoke mostly in riddles. Next time, I need to make sure to talk to him more and not freak out."
Yukari went from surprised to scared. "Um, did all of that happen in your room, too?"
Yukari shook her head nervously. "Ugh, that's creepy! Even after going back in time, I'll have to remind myself to never ever ask what goes on inside your room..."
The SEES members shared a moment of silence. They had made their minds, but weren't quite ready to begin yet.
"Minako-san..." Aigis stood up and walked to Minako's side.
"What is it?"
"I..." Aigis hesitated. "I believe I still haven't apologized to you properly. About what happened ten... eleven," she quickly corrected. "years ago."
"I believe you have," Minako replied with a calm smile, in a way that showed she had no resentments.
"No." Aigis shook her head. "I was fully aware it-he," she faltered again. "was powerful and dangerous. You were only an innocent, defenseless child. You were already suffering because I had dodged that energy ray, and it hit that car, and your parents..." Aigis couldn't bring herself to finish her sentence. "I should have helped you. At least taken you to safety, somewhere far from the battle. But no, instead, I went and sealed him inside you. And the worst part about it all: I didn't think twice. Now, I understand better what being alive means. I don't know what it feels like to lose a parent, but I know how it feels to lose the ones close to me. If it were now, I wouldn't even consider doing something like that to you. Because of my actions, you not only lost your parents, but also had to live with that dangerous Shadow inside you, and practically carry the fate of the world on your shoulders. If I hadn't sidestepped to avoid that attack, your parents might have lived. You wouldn't have to become the seal, and would be having a normal life right now. You would be living the life you wanted. The life you deserve."
"Ai-chan..." It was the nickname Junpei had affectionately given the robot girl, which Minako had also chosen to call her by. "We haven't really talked much about this, have we?" Minako stood up and turned to face her robot friend. "Only now I realize I haven't told you what I think about all this. When I learned what had happened, I was shocked. But I never blamed you. Whenever I thought about you, I remembered the image of you broken with sparks everywhere. I was worried. I hoped you'd come back. And you did. And you changed so much. Now you're a wild card like me, the proof of how much you've changed. I'm really happy that you fully awakened to your emotions. But I digress. About Ryoji-kun. I think it was better to have him here with me rather than wreaking havoc everywhere. He might have destroyed the whole city and killed all of us before we all could even meet. I'm actually grateful that you did what you did. If not for that, we probably wouldn't have the possibility of a second chance at all, or maybe not even the first chance. If things hadn't happened the way they did, if you hadn't left him with me, I think he wouldn't have become our friend, and I wouldn't even had had the idea of trying to convince him to help us. If our newest plan works out, it will be thanks to you, Ai-chan."
"Mi-Minako-san..." Aigis eyes watered.
Minako smiled at the robot girl's display of emotion. She enveloped Aigis in a tight embrace.
"Minako-san, thank you." Aigis hugged her back.
Both remained there for a while, with thoughts of how to put their second chance plan into action buzzing in their minds. After they broke the hug, they remained standing.
"Shall we...?" Minako glanced at the other group members. They silently nodded and also stood up. Minako turned to Igor, who had been patiently waiting for their decision. "We're ready."
"Then, I will perform the time reversal process as per my master's instructions." Igor set twelve cards facing down on the table, arranged in a circle like the numbers on a clock. He snapped his fingers, and all the cards flipped at once, but a strong light came from the "clock" and engulfed all the SEES members before anyone could identify any of the cards. "My young guests, time marches backwards in your world. Until we meet again..." Igor said.
"And remember, everyone! Spring mornings are pleasant!" Was all that Minako managed to say before everything went black.
Chapter 1: Small Letters
He was trapped, in a little human girl's body, out of all places. He couldn't remember who he was. He only remembered that he had an important role to fulfill, but not what that role was. He didn't remember the reason he had been trapped, either. All he wanted was to break free from that prison and remember his purpose. The problem was, he couldn't move. He had no means to break free. His only distraction was to watch the moving images that played before him. Images of that little human girl that he couldn't care less about. At first, she spent the whole time crying, and it was getting on his nerves. He wished he could destroy everything, including her, so that he wouldn't need to see her cry ever again. From the conversations he was able to hear, he gathered that it was because her parents had died. Months passed,. As she made new friends and spent time with them, she gradually got over her parents' deaths. Different expressions found their way to her face, and these were actually quite pleasant to see.
In the beginning, all he thought about was to break free and figure out the purpose of his own existence. Between lapses of consciousness, he kept watching the human girl. No, not 'the human girl.' Minako Arisato, or simply Minako, as people usually called her. Before he had even realized it, watching her had turned into an important activity to him rather than a mere distraction. He often caught himself silently cheering her on when she faced difficult situations, or feeling all warm and fuzzy inside when something good happened to her. Even when he chose to shift his focus away from her, he caught himself thinking about her and the people nearby. It had been getting quite common for him to try to tune everything out and fall asleep, only to awaken to the annoyingly pleasant sounds of Minako and her friends' laughing. While they seemed to be having so much fun, he was so bored and so lonely. He wanted to join in the fun too! It would make for a much welcome pastime until he could figure out his true purpose. If only he were given the chance to escape from his prison and join them... but he couldn't break free. The only thing he could do was watch the events unfold in the form of a sequence of images, similar to what humans referred to as a "movie."
... ... ... ... ...
Years passed, and he continued to watch. Minako had moved homes several times, either because she ended up transferred to a far away school, or because the relatives she was living with were short on money and weren't in condition to care for one more family member. Then, the year 2009 arrived, and Minako decided to live on her own. She was checking possible places for her to move to. That was when the realization struck him. One of the possibilities was Iwatodai City, and he remembered. It was the place where he had been when he got trapped. If he managed to return there, he might remember what his purpose was. He needed to lead Minako there at all cost. That night, he did the only thing that came to his mind: the Dark Hour, the hidden hour between one day and the next, was the period when he had the most semblance of control, albeit very limited. Like always, a coffin formed around Minako and she was unconscious, but he desperately sent thoughts to her and tried to influence her decision of where to go. He had no idea whether it worked, but thankfully, either by coincidence or his influence, Minako decided to go to Iwatodai.
... ... ... ... ...
He had been contemplating the image of Minako dozing off during her trip to Iwatodai. Suddenly, a strange blue butterfly flew by outside the train's window, and he could feel a huge change inside Minako. It looked like she had noticed something, too, from the way her head shot up and her eyes widened. She began muttering incoherently, then checked something - presumably the time - on her cellphone.
A few minutes later, Minako had left the train and was walking toward the dorm where she would be staying. Then, a clock on the wall indicated midnight, and weird things began to happen. The sky changed to a creepy tone of green, all electronic devices stopped working, and all people standing around turned into coffins.
That change in atmosphere was not new to him. What was new was that, as soon as the Dark Hour struck, he felt a dozen strong presences awakening somewhere. Aside from that, he also felt a familiar power surge inside him, and to his surprise, he realized he was finally able to move! His return to Iwatodai had not only awakened the creatures, but his proximity to them also granted him a bit of power during the Dark Hour. Somehow he knew that said creatures had something to do with his current situation, and that defeating them would finally set him free.
However, he wasn't the only one experiencing changes during this Dark Hour. Unlike usual, Minako hadn't turned into a coffin and was experiencing the mysterious hour. He suspected that the strange blue butterfly from earlier had something to do with it. He felt a huge potential in Minako. It seemed like something inside her would awaken soon, and he was sure that she would be the one to defeat those creatures and set him free. He was so excited! Once he had been freed, he'd be able to function outside the Dark Hour, and he'd finally be able to spend time with h-figure out his true purpose. Yes, that was it... but that would have to wait. With the limited power that the Dark Hour now granted him, he was sure he would at least be able to leave his prison temporarily.
He needed to talk to Minako first, and convince her to help him. Somehow, he had known for a fact that if he got her to sign some sort of contract, she would get access to something that would help her hone her power. He didn't know why, but it was just how it worked. If he wanted her to defeat the creatures, he needed to make sure Minako would become strong enough to do it. She would need to awaken to her power, and also get access to the resources to hone it. So, the first step was to make her sign a contract.
Unable to contain his excitement, he waited impatiently until she got to the dorm. When she did, he came out. He assumed the form of a little boy. The form he had idealized years ago, while he watched her playing with her childhood friends. He materialized somewhere out of her sight. He quickly went over his plan again while he waited for her to approach. He needed to be careful. He wished he could convince her peacefully. Ideally, he wished she could become his friend. It seemed so good to have friends, and he wanted friends too. Would she accept him as her friend? It was a bit sad to think that he had been with her for so many years, but she hadn't even known that he existed. However, he had to put his sadness aside because Minako had entered his line of sight. Or rather, he was in her line of sight.
"Welcome. You're late. I've been waiting for you for a long time," was the first thing he managed to say in a long while. To tell the truth, he didn't even remember when was the last time he had said anything, or if he had ever said anything at all. Also, he was surprised by the sound of his own voice. He had no idea that it sounded like that. But more importantly, had Minako heard him? Had she understood what he just said?
He was considering to speak again when Minako stopped walking and turned her head in his direction. She had noticed him! That was good. He couldn't contain his excitement and grinned widely, but she may not have noticed it because of the darkness. He tried to put his excitement in check and focus. Everything was going according to plan. He couldn't mess up now! Little he knew that he hadn't been the only one planning things...
Minako awakened in the train headed to Iwatodai on the night of April 6th, 2009. She blinked sleepily, and tried to assess her surroundings. She noticed she was in a train, but she couldn't even remember where she was supposed to be going. All she knew was that her current situation felt familiar somehow. Suddenly, a shining blue butterfly zoomed past the window, and she jolted awake.
"I... I remember now. Iwatodai... Second time..." She muttered to herself. She checked the date on her cellphone. It was April 6th, 2009, and it was almost midnight. Dark Hour would hit, and she would meet Pharos for the first time... in the second time. "Uh, yeah, right. This is it..." She nodded to herself and closed her cellphone.
The trip happened the same as before. The train got delayed, and Dark Hour hit while she was making her way to the dorm. The eerie green glow of the moon was barely strong enough for her to read the map to the dorm - which she actually didn't need this time around -, and all it accomplished was to make the environment look more creepy. At least it was strong enough for her to see and avoid the pools of blood on the ground.
Minako arrived at the dorm. She entered and closed the door behind her. The Dark Hour's dim moonlight was not enough to provide illumination inside the dorm, and she found herself in nearly complete darkness. The previous time, she had been so shocked after her sudden Dark Hour experience that her entire body shook, she had gotten so disoriented that she had nearly crashed into a wall. However, to her horror, the creepiness of that night hadn't been over yet. A child's voice had suddenly torn through the silence, made her jump, and nearly caused her to drop her suitcases. The shock had made her speech fail, and she had somehow managed to not scream. But that was in the past. This time, she was prepared. She knew the dorm's layout like the back of her hand, and wouldn't have much trouble to navigate it at night. She blindly (but confidently) made her way to the rarely used reception counter, and braced herself for the familiar greeting that was soon to come.
"Welcome. You're late. I've been waiting for you for a long time."
There he was. She couldn't see much because of the darkness. However, she remembered his features clearly from that last day when he unexpectedly appeared to her in the morning to say farewell, and due to that, she could picture him accurately now. The darkness didn't allow her to see his facial expressions, but she felt his penetrating gaze. It had made her flinch the first time, but not now.
Minako would try to talk to him. She wanted to say something. Anything, just to acknowledge his greeting. She was about to voice the excuse about the train's delay, but stopped herself. Even though Minako had expected him to be there, even though she had expected his greeting, she couldn't help but be surprised by the weight of his words. Now that she knew who he was and why he was there, she understood. He had indeed been waiting for her for a long time, but it had nothing to do with how she arrived at the dorm after midnight. He was referring to the long period of ten years he had waited before finally being able to meet her face to face. That realization made Minako's heart tighten. He had waited for her for so long, yet she hadn't so much as noticed he had been there. She simply said, "Sorry," and now, it was he who probably didn't understand what her apology really meant.
"It's fine. What matters is that you're here now!" He seemed cheerful, but he soon recomposed himself, and added in a more serious tone, "Okay, now you only need to sign your name here." He handed her a piece of paper. "It's a contract."
Speaking of which, she needed to do something about that contract. She didn't want to have to become the Great Seal again.
"Um, can I sign it later?" Minako asked.
"No," he said. "You have to do it now."
"I want to read it first, but it's too dark and I can't see what's written in there."
"Don't worry. It just says that you accept to take responsibility for what you do. That's all." He tried to assure her.
"Are you sure that's really all? I want to make sure there's no weird catch. You know, contracts usually have some kind of obscure conditions written in small letters."
"There's nothing like that here," he insisted. "I'm speaking the truth. Don't you trust my word?"
"I don't want to doubt you. But I can't sign it right now. I can't even see where I need to sign..." It was true. When Minako had signed the contract the previous time, she had thought it was necessary to enter the dorm. Despite her hesitation, she had been so scared that she didn't have the will to protest. Minako had shakily and blindly scribbled her name where she had thought was right, and that encounter with Pharos had ended with her not saying a single word to him. This time, it had already been playing out differently. Hopefully she would be able to reason with him, though.
He bit his lip in frustration. He was growing impatient. It wasn't supposed to be so hard, was it? "I can show you where you have to sign."
"Thanks for the offer, but I still want to look at it first. I want to read it with my own eyes." Minako let out a tired sigh. "But it's dark, the lights don't seem to be working, it's late, and I'm tired. Say, would you leave the contract with me for a bit? I promise I'll have made a decision by tomorrow night."
He didn't want to take that risk. What if she refused? What would he do? Convincing her peacefully was proving to be very difficult. He needed to make sure she would sign it, and the only sure fire way, unfortunately, was to lie to her and make her think the contract was related to her stay at the dorm. But she had a point. It was dark, and she really seemed tired. Not to mention that it was her first time fully awake during the mysterious hour, which must have shocked her greatly already.
"Please..." She said in a tired voice.
Suddenly, he felt his power waning. It was a sign that the Dark Hour was about to end. He didn't have much time, and it didn't seem like Minako would give up so easily. "Okay." He relented. It would probably be better to let her read the contract and see that he had spoken the truth. This way, he would gain her trust. "I'll come to get it tomorrow night."
"Thanks." She took the contract and put it in her bag.
Only after he had returned to his prison and the Dark Hour had ended, he realized how much could go wrong. What if she told her dormmates about him? What would she do if they revealed that the dorm actually had no admission contract? What should he tell her? She would be wary of him and his chances of gaining her trust would reduce dramatically. He honestly didn't want to see what she would do. He closed his eyes and allowed unconsciousness to overtake him. Hopefully, he would only wake up during the next Dark Hour, when everything was already said and done.
... ... ... ... ...
It was April 7th, after school. Even though it was spring, there were absolutely no mentions of how pleasant spring mornings are, and Minako couldn't deny that she was a bit disappointed. Yukari, Mitsuru and Junpei didn't remember anything and had acted as if they had never met her. Minako had to accept it, because it was to be expected. She could only hope that they would remember eventually.
Minako had returned to the dorm. She took her time to inspect the contents of her suitcases. No items from the previous timeline had made it. No max Social Link items, no equipment, and none of the money she had collected inside Tartarus was there. This meant she would need to get a part-time job and scour Tartarus for money all over again. Even if her compendium had been preserved, her lack of money also meant she wouldn't be able to summon expensive and powerful Personas for a while.
Minako finished unpacking and putting her belongings in the proper places in her "old new room." She sat down at her desk and took the contract from her bag. It said:
"I, __, chooseth this fate of mine own free will, and accept responsibility for mine own actions."
Now, Minako knew what those words really meant. That contract was basically her death sentence. If she signed it, she would have to accept her fate of becoming the Great Seal once again. That was one of the things she was trying to avoid. She thought about not signing the contract, but then she wouldn't have access to the Velvet Room since only those who had signed a contract of some sort could enter it. And what would Pharos do? Not signing the contract meant a refusal to help him restore his power. If she refused to help him, what might he do to her? He might stop playing nice and try to force her to sign it, maybe by using some of the power he still had and causing her pain. Or he might as well decide to kill her right then and there. Even in the incomplete state he was right now, Minako was sure he was still very powerful. So, not signing the contract wasn't an option.
Minako stared at the letters for a few minutes, then she had an idea. She had returned to the past in order to change things, and it was what she would do. She wouldn't accept that fate anymore. She would change it. And for that, she would change the contract. Her hand hovered over the paper as she thought about the heavy burden she was about to place on her own shoulders. Changing her fate might actually bring the end of the world if things ended up going wrong. Even so, she was determined to do it. Decisively, Minako inserted the words "to alter" in very small letters above the already written phrase, meant to be between "chooseth" and "this," then signed her name in the blank space. It caused the contract to read:
"I, Minako Arisato, chooseth to alter this fate of mine own free will, and accept responsibility for mine own actions."
Minako nodded at herself, satisfied with her handiwork. She had changed the contract, and the small letters were now in her favor. She only hoped Pharos wouldn't mind...
... ... ... ... ...
He had awakened and watched Minako go to school and meet her new friends, then he had gone to sleep again. No mention of the contract until that point. When he regained his senses, it was night. He waited. When Dark Hour hit, Minako was asleep. He materialized in the middle of her room. "... Hi," he began hesitantly.
Minako stirred awake. "Hmm... ah, it's you..." She mumbled sleepily.
She wasn't acting wary, as far as he could tell, but images of her glaring at him angrily and accusing him of lying about the contract insistently appeared in his mind. Even so, he took a deep breath and hoped for the best. "I came to get the contract, like I had said."
"Ah, right!" Minako sat upright, suddenly alert. "I've kept my promise. The contract is ready. It's on my desk. I'll get it for you." She stood up and reached for her desk in the darkness. "Here it is." She managed to locate the paper, took it and handed it to him.
He took the contract from her. He was so relieved when his gaze fell on her signature that he failed to notice the small letters she had inserted. "You signed it!" His overly cheerful tone surprised even himself."See? I was telling the truth about what was written here, wasn't I?" He excitedly waved the contract as he spoke.
"Yeah," she said, even though he had never mentioned the "I chooseth this fate" part.
He stopped waving the paper. "I was trying to be helpful. But since you didn't want my help, I guess it didn't mean much..." He did a hand gesture and made the contract disappear.
I'll make sure to listen to you more next time."
He was glad to hear that. "Okay! If I find out something that I think is useful to you, I'll come and tell you!"
He chuckled. "You thanked me! I wasn't expecting this. In this kind of situation, I'm supposed to say, 'you're welcome,' right?"
Minako giggled at his response. "Yeah, that's right."
"Hmm." He nodded. "Okay. I'll be going now." He spared a glance in the window's direction and added, in a grave tone, "By the way, in two days, the moon will be full. Something dangerous may happen. So, be careful."
"O-okay, I'll keep that in mind. Thanks."
"You're welcome!" He grinned as he proudly used his newly-learned phrase. "I'll leave now. I'll come again another day." And he disappeared.
Minako climbed back onto her bed and was about to lie down when the still unnamed Pharos appeared again in another point of the room, as though he had forgotten to say something. Minako hadn't been expecting him to come back, and nearly jumped. She hoped he hadn't decided to complain about the contract.
"Time delivers all of us to the same end. No one can escape it." He chuckled creepily. "But no matter what happens, I'm always near you. I'll always be watching over you, even if you forget about me."
His message sounded more like a warning rather than a statement, and Minako was reminded of how creepy his warnings could get, especially when he kept disappearing and reappearing from one point to another. Or, in other words, nearly every time he came to visit her.
He disappeared again. Minako waited for nearly one minute, but he didn't come back this time. She let out a sigh of relief and plopped onto her bed. Thankfully, he didn't seem to mind her edits to the contract.
Minako took a brief glance at the space he had previously occupied. Even now, it was a bit hard to believe that he could simply appear and disappear like that. One moment, she could feel his peculiar presence and see his silhouette in the darkness, and the next, he was gone, and had left absolutely no trace to indicate that he had even been there. In the previous timeline, she had asked Yukari if "that kid also lived here," but Yukari had no idea what she was talking about, and Minako had thought it had been just a dream. It had taken various encounters and full moon warnings until she had finally realized his visits were real. This time, though, she was sure his visits were real. She had already managed to talk to him more, which was good. This time, it would be different. Minako strongly believed he had much better chances to stop the Fall than anyone else could ever hope to have. She was betting all her cards on him. He was her last hope, and she would be his guiding star. She would do whatever she could to lead him towards a better future.
Satisfied with the results of their latest interaction, Minako closed her eyes and allowed sleep to embrace her.
He disappeared from the room. He returned to his prison and let Minako have her sleep. He was glad about the way their latest interaction had played out. He only wished he could spend more time with her, preferably outside the Dark Hour. He wondered if she and her friends would be willing to accept him as part of their circle... no, this was not what he should be worrying about. His priority should be to find out his true purpose. Since his purpose was the only reason for his existence, it had to be the single most important matter to him. For now, he had to be content with his achievements so far.
He was relieved that Minako had signed the contract, which meant that she would have to awaken to her power and help him. Now, it was just a matter of playing his cards right. If Minako managed to defeat the twelve creatures, he would be set free. Somehow, he was sure of that. But what if it went wrong and Minako got killed? Since he was trapped inside her, what would happen to him? He didn't want to think about that possibility. He had to make sure Minako would be prepared to fight the creatures, and that she wouldn't get killed along the way. He would watch over her and warn her about the dangers she would have to face. Since he had earned her trust, it would be easier for him to nudge her in the right direction. He was betting all his cards on her. She was his last hope, and he would be her guiding star. He would do whatever he could to lead her towards his desired goals.
There it was again. The sensation of control slipping away from his grasp. But he chose to not care. He had made enough progress for today. Just as the Dark Hour threatened to end and take his limited power with it, he chuckled to himself. He couldn't contain his excitement when he uttered, "And so it begins..."