Now Makoto knew that midnight was the scariest period of night, and that the rumors about monsters wandering the streets were true. Every day at midnight, the phenomenon known as the "Dark Hour" took place. The sky turned green, the moon looked menacing, and time stopped for almost everyone. Only those who had the "potential" were able to experience that hour. Apparently Makoto was one of them, but so were the Phantom Thieves. They took advantage of the fact that time stopped for everyone else, and used the Dark Hour to run around causing mischief. Makoto was very angered at that thought.
Whenever Makoto had time after school, she trained hard. She needed to get back into shape at her martial art skills, not only because she refused to feel helpless like she did the day she experienced the Dark Hour for the first time, but also because she wanted to chase the Phantom Thieves. Rumors said they were actually students from Syujin High School. Makoto sincerely hoped it wasn't true, but she wanted to find out. And if it turned out that they were indeed her schoolmates, then she felt it was her duty as the Student Council President to enforce discipline and bring them to justice.
Makoto was in her uniform, ready to head to school when her cellphone beeped. She had a new text message.
"Just spam. Great..." Makoto grumbled and deleted the undesired message. "Huh?" She noticed a strange app icon on her cellphone's main screen. Makoto had almost no one to communicate with, and didn't usually pay much attention to her cellphone, but she didn't remember ever seeing that icon.
Makoto tapped the icon and tried to see what the app was about, but an error message greeted her. "Error. No distortions detected. The program cannot execute. Exiting..."
She accessed the app manager and tried to find out more about that program. The first thing she noticed was that the uninstall button was unavailable and greyed out. And the second thing was the date of the app's installation, which was a date Makoto remembered all too well. The day that nearly everything went wrong for her, and ended in her awakening to the Dark Hour. She didn't remember downloading anything to her phone that day, though. Maybe it came with some automatic system update that downloaded while she wasn't looking. And the fact that it couldn't be uninstalled must be because it was an essential component for her phone's operating system to function. That had to be it.
Makoto decided to leave it at that. She put her cellphone away and left her house.
On the way to school, Makoto overheard two students gossiping.
"I've heard that the Phantom Thieves might be students in our school. I wonder where this rumor came from."
"Because of the rehabilitation program, our school is famous for having a lot of delinquents. So, people probably thought that the Phantom Thieves might have come from there." The second boy reasoned.
"I hope the rumor isn't true, though. It's kinda scary. I've heard that the Phantom Thieves steal people's hearts, but that makes no sense. I mean, people'd die if their hearts were removed from their bodies."
The first boy changed the subject. "Speaking of problem students, the other day I ran into that second year transfer student people've been talking about. You know, the one wearing glasses."
At that, Makoto perked up.
The same boy continued. "He looks quiet, but rumors say that he can become violent if provoked. That's why he got detained before transferring to our school. I literally bumped into him on my way to class, and dropped my folder and my books. I froze when I realized who I had bumped into. I was scared thinking that he'd get angry at me. But instead, he stopped and actually helped me pick my stuff up. Maybe he isn't that bad, after all..."
Makoto couldn't help but smile at hearing about that kind gesture. That student could only be talking about Kazushi Miura, the quiet transfer student from class 2-D who had helped her on the day she experienced the Dark Hour for the first time. At first, she had also believed that he was a problem student, because of the rumors she heard and because she saw him in the middle of trouble a few times. But after he helped her in the Dark Hour and she got to know him a bit, her opinion of him started to change. Now she was curious about Miura and wanted to know more about him. Maybe she should look for him and try to engage in conversation with him...
In the afternoon, after a long day taking care of paperwork in Student Council, Makoto was on her way back from school when she witnessed an... oddly cute sight. Kazushi Miura was crossing the street and coming to the same side as her. A black little cat was riding on his back and seemed to be asleep, with its head comfortably leaning against Miura's head. Makoto would have never imagined Miura was the kind of person that would be into cats.
"Hm?" Miura noticed Makoto's stare and stopped walking.
Makoto also stopped walking. "Good afternoon, Miura." She spoke in a low voice to avoid startling the kitty.
"Hello, Niijima-san." He greeted her back, with his voice as quiet and calm as always.
"Um, is that your cat?" Makoto asked him.
On Miura's back, the cat shifted a bit.
"Uh, oh, well..." Miura seemed to freeze for a moment, but answered, "Not really. He's from around here. But he got very attached to me for some reason, and now refuses to leave me alone. I guess I'll have to look after him for the time being."
"Oh." The cat was a he, then. "Does he have a name?"
"Morgana." Miura answered simply.
"Morgana...?" Makoto deadpanned. "But that's a girl's name!"
"Not my fault. It wasn't me who named him." Miura justified himself. "When I found out about the gender, I had the same reaction as you, actually."
"Ah, okay." Makoto was satisfied with that explanation. Since Miura said Morgana wasn't his cat, then the name must have been chosen by Morgana's actual owner, or previous owner, or whatever. "He looks so peaceful over there..."
"He's quiet when he wants to be. But when he wants something very badly, it's a whole different story. He's very curious and likes snooping around. Even if I send him away, he comes back to my home. And he wants to follow me wherever I go. I have to lock him up in my room so that he doesn't follow me to school."
"He really likes you, huh?" And the opposite seemed to be also true. Since Miura didn't usually talk much, the way he went on and on about the cat showed he must like Morgana a lot, too. As adorable as that display was, Makoto recalled Miura's last sentence and regained her composure. "But bringing him to school would really be a problem! I can't let you off the hook if that happens, got it?!"
Miura reached behind and lightly patted the cat. "Morgana, you heard that."
Makoto couldn't help but chuckle at Miura's cute gesture. But her expression became serious again. "Uh, Miura. About the Dark Hour..."
Miura tilted his head a bit. "What about it?"
"I've been trying to find out more information about it, with no luck. I've looked it up on the Internet, but I found nothing."
"You've looked it up too?" For some reason, Makoto hadn't expected he would have had the same idea as her, as obvious of an idea as it was.
"Yeah. Nothing turned up. And you know what's even more frustrating? My creepy correctional officers seem to know about it."
"Your correctional officers?" Makoto recalled her conversation with Miura from the other day. "You mean those ones who put you through some unsettling stuff...?"
"Yeah, them." Miura nodded. "they said that the Dark Hour had already happened years ago but came to an end, and now it started again for a different reason. I asked them what this reason was, but they said it's what I should find out by myself. I looked it up on the Internet to see if I could find something about the time it happened before, but I found nothing."
"What are you going to do about the Dark Hour?" Makoto asked.
"I don't really know..." Miura had a distant look behind his glasses. "You?"
Honestly, Makoto didn't really know what to do about the Dark Hour yet. Her only concrete plan at the moment was trying to find out about the Phantom Thieves, but it was probably best to not tell anyone about that. "I don't really know, either..."
"Persona. It's the name of our power."
"Persona..." Makoto echoed.
"Have you felt anything different? Anything that might be related to your power?"
Makoto shook her head. "No... but I've been honing my martial art skills to be able to take those monsters on. I feel much more confident now, and I'd like to believe that I can fend for myself if something happens during the Dark Hour."
For a split second, Miura seemed a bit worried. "Be careful. And... don't do anything reckless."
Makoto froze. She had actually been considering going out during the Dark Hour and hunting some monsters to check the results of her training, not to mention trying to find the Phantom Thieves. She concluded that revealing her plans was definitely a bad idea. "Yes, I'll be careful." She tried to assure him.
Miura only stared blankly at her, and Makoto couldn't tell if he got convinced or not, but then he changed the subject. "Alright. I have to go now. Lots of homework today."
"Okay. See you around, Miura. Bye, Morgana!"
Morgana perked up upon hearing his name, and glanced at Makoto lazily, with his eyes still half-closed.
As Makoto made her way home, the cute image of Miura with the little cat kept appearing in her head and bringing smiles to her face.
The next day during lunch break, Makoto had to stop an argument between students. Miura was also present. Since He didn't say anything, it seemed as though some people had caused trouble and he ended up caught in the mess because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or at least, Makoto wanted to believe that he was innocent. The other students, though, were a whole different story. They nearly started a fistfight, thanks to one Ryuji Sakamoto.
After Makoto's intervention, the students dispersed.
"Miura." She called, and he turned his head towards her. "Was Sakamoto who started it?"
"No, it was those guys from 2-C. They were bullying a first year student, Ryuji went in, and things heated up."
"Do you know who the first year student is?"
"I don't know his name or his class. I don't see him now. I think he ran off during the commotion."
"I see." Makoto nodded. She would try to track the student down later. "And what were you doing in the middle of it all, may I ask?" She threw him a suspicious glare.
"I was near Ryuji when it happened. That's all."
Makoto was relieved to hear that. She chose to believe that Miura was innocent. Ryuji Sakamoto, on the other hand, was trouble. "You should avoid hanging around Sakamoto. He's definitely a bad influence. Be careful, and don't let him drag you into trouble." Makoto changed the subject. "By the way? How's Morgana doing?"
"Morgana's doing fine. Getting harder to deal with by the day. Today, he almost managed to steal the key from me to avoid being locked up."
"Seriously?" Makoto was having a hard time trying to picture the scene. "Are you sure you need to lock him up? Isn't it enough to just close the door?"
"No. He can jump on the door handle and open it just fine."
"Whoa." Makoto balked and thought twice. That cute little cat didn't seem capable of doing such things. "Is this really true? Aren't you making this up?"
"I wish I were." Miura sighed. "I'd rather have five extra minutes to sleep than have to struggle with Morgana for five minutes every morning. If there's one thing that I've learned during these mornings, it's that underestimating him is a big mistake."
"Uh, well, I'll have to take your word for it, I guess." Makoto shrugged. "Lunch break is almost over. I'll return to class."
Miura nodded, and they went on their separate ways.
Makoto finished training for the day. Despite having tried to convince Miura that she wouldn't do anything reckless, Makoto was determined to attempt to take on a monster that night. She was so confident that she left home around 11:45, and when Dark Hour struck, she was nearing the school. She recalled Miura saying the monsters seemed to come from the school, and that was where she would go. Even though trains didn't work during the Dark Hour, Makoto thankfully lived only a few stations away from the school, and didn't need to ride a train if she didn't mind the walk, which was usually the case.
On the way to the school, Makoto was surprised to see five figures walking in the distance. She quickened her pace to take a closer look, and could tell that four of them were people wearing masks and mostly dark clothes, and the last one was a creature she couldn't identify. Makoto nearly froze on the spot. They had to be the Phantom Thieves! They fit the descriptions from the news, and were moving during the Dark Hour. It had to be them. Perfect! It was her chance to put them in their places! Makoto followed them carefully, and they didn't show any sign that they had noticed her. Coincidentally or not, they also seemed to be heading to the school. What were they going to do there?
When Makoto got to the school's location, she nearly failed to suppress a gasp. At that moment, she had forgotten about the rumor that said the school transformed at midnight, and she was shocked to see a magnificent palace where the school should have been. Makoto took a while to recover from the shock. When she did, the figures she had been following had already disappeared into the entrance.
Makoto entered the palace and arrived at a corridor. A trio of blob monsters similar to the ones that attacked her during her first Dark Hour experience were facing away from her. Makoto snuck behind them and punched one of them. Her punch caught the monster by surprise and threw it against the second monster. Both blobs exploded into black ooze, and only one remained. It charged at Makoto, but she dodged the attack and threw a punch to the monster's side. The impact made the blob skid until it collided with the nearest wall and explode. Makoto smirked. She had done it! She really could take those things on!
Makoto continued on her way, and found the figures she had been following. They were also fighting monsters. Makoto took a step back when some kind of blue energy seemed to come out of their masks and materialized into humanoid creatures, which defeated the monsters with one attack more devastating than the other. One attack was fire and burned the opponent to ashes. The other was a gust of wind that knocked a monster to the ground with such a force that made it explode on impact. The other was an electric jolt that practically fried the monster it came in contact with. And the other was a pillar of ice that froze its opponent to death. Was this the power of the Phantom Thieves?
Makoto was paralyzed in both awe and fear. All her confidence melted away. She had thought she had become stronger and able to fend for herself during the Dark Hour, but she was wrong. The Phantom Thieves were clearly much stronger than her, and also had special powers beyond her imagination. Makoto saw how power might have gone over their heads, and how they might abuse it and think they could do whatever they wanted during that hour when time was frozen to everyone else. They had special powers, and were really above anyone else during the Dark Hour. They were a serious threat. Makoto realized that the mere idea of confronting them was foolish. They had special powers that she didn't have. Not only that. They were a group, while she was alone. And like Miura had said, numbers also make a difference.
"Someone's following us." Came the deep voice of a boy wearing a fox mask.
Only then Makoto realized that she had been spotted.
"Huh? Ms. President?" It was another of their members, a girl in a colorful panther suit.
"Ah!" Makoto startled and gasped. She did her best to look brave. "Y-you are the Phantom Thieves, aren't you?! ... And if you know I'm the Student Council President, then it means that you are also students from Syujin!" Makoto spat out her conclusion, surprised that her brain was still working.
"Ah, oops..." The panther-masked girl threw an apologetic look to the other group members.
"Not everyone here is a student. I'm not, obviously." The voice's owner was a bipedal feline creature. That startled Makoto once again, because she hadn't expected it to be able to talk.
"Yeah. You're a cat, obviously," another member, a boy with a skull mask, said.
That statement clearly angered the creature. "No, I'm not a cat!"
"Then what are you? A yellow mouse?" The boy with the skull mask mocked.
"... No, I'm not!" The bipedal feline seemed to be in a mix between angered and offended. "I'm not a cat, and I'm definitely not a mouse! I'm Mor... uh, Mona! Yeah, just... Mona..."
"Hey, Skull, stop mocking him." It was the girl in the panther suit again.
"But Panther, he's so fun to mess with!" Skull whined.
"It's a touchy subject for him. Not even he knows exactly what he is!" Panther argued.
Makoto was incredulous. Those guys were a band of idiots. Powerful and dangerous idiots, she reminded herself. They seemed to be immature teenagers that thought they could do whatever they wanted as though they owned the world. "W-wait, you mean you're blindly siding with a random mysterious creature that you know nothing about?"
"Everything is mysterious and unknown during this hour." the boy with the fox mask reasoned.
Panther added, "Mona knows a lot about this place, and is the only one that can help us explore it."
The feline creature, Mona, seemed disheartened. "I wonder what I really am... I wish I were a cool and handsome boy... like our leader."
And that reminded Makoto that she had been following a group of five, but she could only see four.
"Ugh, speaking of our leader, we disobeyed orders, didn't we?" The Skull boy looked at the others sheepishly. "He had told us to not move while he took care of his... special Persona stuff."
"You disobeyed orders." The fox-masked boy accused.
"Yeah, you charged at a pack of Shadows and dragged us into the fight!" Mona added.
"I didn't drag anyone! You joined because you wanted to! I didn't need help!" Skull shot back.
"Of course you needed help!" Mona shouted. "Each Shadow was weak to a different element. You'd have a hard time handling them alone! ... If you were even able to handle them at all, that is."
The argument would have gone on and on if a firm and powerful voice hadn't torn through their bickering. "Enough!"
Makoto startled. Her gaze reflexively flew in the voice's direction, and she saw someone stepping out from behind a pillar. A masculine figure in black attire and wearing a bird mask. Makoto froze. By the descriptions on the news, that had to be the group's leader, the Phantom himself. He looked cunning and dangerous, and unlike the others, he didn't seem in the mood to be fooling around.
"Ah! Uh, hey, Joker." Skull laughed nervously and waved to the group's leader, but the Phantom didn't seem very pleased. "Um, sorry. I just wanted to sneak up behind the Shadows like you do. I had only seen one, but there were three, and..."
The Phantom raised one hand, and Skull silenced.
The boy with the fox mask, on the other hand, didn't seem fazed. He merely glanced at the pillar the leader had stood behind until a few seconds ago. "You were listening."
"Uh, how much did you hear?" Skull asked nervously.
"Enough to understand what happened."
"By the way, today we have company." The fox-masked boy reminded the group. "What should we do about her?"
The leader signaled to the others. All group members huddled in a corner and began whispering among themselves.
Makoto watched apprehensively as the Phantom Thieves talked to decide her fate. She considered running away now that she had the chance. But she had been wanting to find them, and they were there right in front of her. She couldn't run away now. It was her chance to put her plan into practice.
The Phantom Thieves finished their discussion and approached Makoto. She froze as all eyes locked on her.
"What are you doing here?" The Phantom's imposing aura was especially intimidating. His voice was powerful and sharp like a knife.
Makoto thought her heart would stop. "I... I... I heard about the rumors, and..."
"To come here at this time of night... you sure like the school, huh?" Skull had a devious smirk on his face. He looked like an animal just waiting for the right moment to jump onto its prey. "Ha ha ha." He laughed mockingly. "Who'd have guessed that the Student Council President was a Persona user?"
"P-Persona...?" Was the only word that managed to leave Makoto's mouth.
"Huh? You don't know?" Skull's smirk momentarily disappeared. "Those things we summon during fights. You saw them, right? Don't you have one yet?"
Persona. Makoto realized it was the keyword Miura had mentioned the previous day. Did it mean that she was supposed to be able to summon a creature like the ones she saw the group summon earlier? Unlike the Phantom Thieves, though, she couldn't do it. Makoto said nothing. She didn't want to admit to those thieves that she was much weaker than them.
"You're conscious during the Dark Hour. You also have one. You just need to awaken it!" Mona chimed in. "If you join us, we can try to help you."
"W-what?!" Makoto balled her fists in anger. "I refuse! I wouldn't join a group that steals things, causes property damage everywhere, and does who knows what else!"
"And it's exactly the 'who knows what else' that is the most interesting part." Skull looked at her mischievously. "You have no idea what you've been missing, heheheh."
Makoto took a step back. What were those Phantom Thieves planning to do to her?!
"Skull, you're scaring her." Panther interjected.
"I can see that. Never thought I'd ever see Ms. Almighty President so scared. It's priceless!"
"You're going too far." The fox-masked boy didn't seem to share the sentiment.
"Inari, you're no fun." Skull sighed. "Ah, fine." He shrugged and looked at Makoto again. "We'll give you one more chance. What will you do, President?"
What was Makoto to do? If she ultimately refused and they concluded she was of no use to them, what would they do to her?
"We're not doing any stealing today," Panther said, as though that fact would change everything. "Come on with us!"
"... Why? Why do you insist so much?" Makoto asked apprehensively.
"We need more members." It was Panther again.
"M-more members? I refuse to contribute to what you're doing!"
"Today we're only checking the place out," Mona said. "Isn't this what you came here for, too?"
"It's safer to be with a group than to be alone." Panther added with a grin. "It should be more fun, too!"
"Fun?! Are you insinuating that causing property damage and stealing is fun?!" Makoto spat in rage.
Panther gasped and her eyes widened. "Th-that's not what I meant! What I wanted to say is... that it's fun to be around friends!"
"Friends...?" Makoto echoed. Were the group members that close to one another? That wasn't the impression she got. Skull and Mona were always bickering while Panther tried to stop them. Fox seemed to act as the voice of reason, but otherwise seemed indifferent towards the other members. Lastly, the Phantom seemed cold and calculating, and didn't hint that he cared much about any of them.
Makoto considered her options. She didn't want to join them. It went against her principles. On the other hand, if she spent more time around the group, she could gather more information on them, and if everything went her way, she might find out who they were, and could take action appropriately. If she awakened to her Persona power along the way, it would be even better since she would have a greater chance at confronting them.
Makoto finally came to a decision. "Um, o-okay. I'll stick around your group for the time being. But it'll be temporary, alright? Just until I get the hang of the basics. I began experiencing the Dark Hour only recently, and am still a bit lost."
"Seriously? You're with us, then?" Skull seemed incredulous.
Makoto realized she still had a chance of avoiding to join them. Their leader hadn't given his opinion yet. He should be the one to give the final word. "If your leader doesn't mind, that is."
"Then, welcome to the group." The leader announced, and crushed Makoto's hopes of not being accepted.
"Does this mean that we'll have to stand you shouting at us the whole time?" Skull grimaced, but shrugged. "Nah, whatever. Welcome."
Mona was excited. "Now that you're in, we have to give you a code name!"
"Hey, wait a minute!" Makoto gesticulated nervously. "I've just said it's temporary!"
"But you need a code name so that we can address you!" Mona insisted. "Hmm... yeah! From now on, you'll be Queen!"
""Huh? That was sudden.
"Hey, spot on! She's angry and demanding like a queen, so..." Skull observed, and earned a glare from Makoto. "See? That's what I mean."
"Err, actually, I was thinking of playing cards," Mona said. "You know, just like joker is also a playing card." He looked at Makoto. "Joker's our leader's code name, by the way."
"Oh." Makoto couldn't imagine why, though. The Phantom definitely didn't seem to be a joker.
"We should get moving. We've wasted a lot of time." The leader urged. "Someone should stay at the back to protect her in case the enemies bypass the front line."
Makoto didn't like to hear that. "I don't need to be protected!"
"You are not only unequipped, but also lack a Persona."
"I've already defeated a few monsters around here. I can fend for myself just fine!" Makoto threw a few punches in the air to make her point.
But the Phantom wasn't convinced. "The enemies beyond here are way stronger than the ones near the entrance. It's too risky to tackle them on without a Persona."
"And why should you care!?" Oh no. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Stupid me! Makoto scolded herself as a thought. Clashing with the Phantom wasn't a good idea at all! She was just asking for trouble! What would he do to her if he lost his temper? Makoto should be thankful that he had let her join the group and that she was undercover now... but her mouth moved quicker than her brain, and the words were out even before she had realized it.
"Because the safety of my group members is my responsibility." His voice was firm and authoritative. "Just to be clear. You aren't getting special treatment here. I'm treating you the same way I'd treat any other member in a similar situation as yours. I don't doubt your abilities, and don't doubt that you can awaken your Persona. But everything is an unknown variable in the Dark Hour, and I would rather not take unnecessary risks."
Makoto was amazed. His answer made perfect sense, and she actually agreed with his reasoning. She could see that he was a good leader. He really seemed to know what he was doing. If it weren't for the fact that he was a Phantom Thief, he would have her respect.
Then, Makoto realized she had been gaping and staring blankly at the Phantom for a while. He was also staring back at her from behind his mask. His aura of authority was strong, and his gaze unwavering. Makoto felt horrible for having caused such a commotion, and for being lectured like that in front of everyone. But she needed to shake these thoughts away and focus on the matter at hand. The Phantom was still awaiting her response. She should confirm her agreement soon before he could lose his patience with her. "Y-yes, I understand." Makoto's voice shook with shame.
"Good." The leader nodded, satisfied.
"Whoa, I thought I was the only one that would ever be lectured like that." Skull commented.
The Phantom's attention turned to Skull. "Good to know you heard this, because the part about avoiding unnecessary risks also goes for you. You are always the first one to get us in trouble."
Skull flinched. "Ugh, yeah, I know. Sorry. I'll try to control myself better."
"I hope so," were the leader's words.
"Okay, I'll stay near her." Panther volunteered and put an end to that discussion.
Makoto was secretly thankful that Panther would be the one to assist her. That girl seemed to be the most friendly member of the group.
"Alright! Now that that's settled, let's move on! Everyone, follow me!" Mona eagerly led the way.
They passed through a corridor and avoided a few enemies. They stopped in front of a door, and the leader took his cellphone out. Makoto was sure electronics weren't supposed to work during the Dark Hour, but that cellphone was somehow working. After a few taps on the phone's touch screen, the door opened and the group entered.
The scenery on the other side was nothing like Makoto had expected. It looked like a huge run-down building with broken objects scattered all over the place.
"... What kind of place is this?!"
"It's the remains of the Palace created by our last target's chaotic mind!" Mona answered from his position at the front. "There are some sections we still haven't explored."
That explanation made no sense to Makoto. She noticed some expensive-looking pieces of porcelain and furniture knocked down in a corner. Objects that looked like should belong to a residence. A mansion, maybe. "Does anyone live here?"
"Only the Shadows, the mindless monsters." Panther pointed at another corridor. "... Like that one there."
Makoto's gaze shot to the indicated direction just in time to see a lion-like beast ramming into more of the furniture and destroying it. She wondered if they would have to fight that monster, but the group at the front headed in a different direction.
Makoto wondered what she had gotten herself into as they avoided more enemies along the way. That place was dangerous. It looked like a huge abandoned mansion overrun by monsters.
The group at the front ran into monsters on the next corridor. They had no choice but to fight, and Makoto witnessed the summoning of Personas and the devastating elemental attacks once again. Another curious thing was that even though the Phantom Thieves got hit by elemental attacks like fire and ice a few times, they seemed to hold up just fine. Not even their clothes seemed to have taken damage at all.
"When our attacks make physical contact with the enemy, like punches, kicks or ramming, we say they're physical attacks." Panther explained to Makoto while they watched the others battle. "Physical attacks depend on our stamina. Well, we call it 'HP,' like in video games, because it's easy to understand. If our Personas use physical attacks too much, we feel physically tired. And there's another kind of attacks, like fire and wind and other elemental stuff. We don't know what they really are, but we just call them 'magic.' Magic depends on our spiritual energy. We just call it 'SP,' for 'Spirit Points.' If our Personas use magic too much, we feel mentally tired. Both our Personas and the Shadows have weaknesses, either to physical attacks, or projectiles, or one of the elements."
Makoto nodded. That explanation really sounded like something from a video game. And that was the big problem. It indicated how the Phantom Thieves viewed the Dark Hour and its dangers. To them, it was just a little game.
A few battles later...
"Grrr!" Skull gritted his teeth in frustration. "Why those things need to be weak to electric? I don't have that much SP! Gimme a break!"
"Go only for physical, then. I'll handle electricity." The leader offered.
Skull straightened up immediately. "And let you have all the action? No way! You already get too much spotlight as it is, Mr. Special." He dug in his equipment and took out a can of something. "At least this way I can have a drink."
"Weird, huh?" Panther chuckled. "We've found out that most soft drinks refill our SP. Go figure." She spoke again once they had resumed their walk. "Our leader is strict, but he's nice once you get to know him. Now that I think about it, both you and he have a strong sense of responsibility and stuff. You might get along well with him."
"I don't know..." Makoto highly doubted it. Her heated argument with him earlier showed she was off to a horrible start in that regard.
"Joker has a lot on his plate. For some reason, he's different. Like, special. While we only have one Persona, he can use many of them."
Just as Panther said that, the group at the front had entered a battle, and the Phantom summoned a different Persona from the one he had been using until that moment.
Makoto felt it was unfair. She didn't have one Persona yet, and he could use many! "Why is that?"
"I don't know. But it must be tough. We have trouble keeping track of the attacks and weaknesses of only one Persona. Keeping track of that and coming up with strategies for each of his many Personas must be hard work."
Another battle started. Makoto gasped in horror as she witnessed the Phantom and Skull shoot monsters with... "Guns...! Your group is armed! How did you even get your hands on those!"
"Hey, c-calm down!" Panther raised a hand. "Those aren't real! They're just model guns... but somehow, they work wonders against Shadows..." She laughed sheepishly.
Makoto looked at the guns again, and indeed, they weren't real guns. Still, to her, that wasn't a reason for laughing. Somehow, the Dark Hour turned normal clothes into resilient armor, and model guns into lethal weapons. This only gave more power to the Phantom Thieves, and more reasons to make them think they were invincible during the Dark Hour.
To Makoto's shock, they showed to be hiding more weapons. The Phantom attacked with an elaborate knife. Mona used a sword. Skull retrieved a huge metal bar from the ground and proceeded to hit the enemy with it, while Fox used a katana and moved like a samurai. It looked as if they were playing movie characters. Anger flared up inside Makoto as she watched them. Model guns could still cause harm to people even though the pellets were made of plastic. Mona's sword and Fox's katana may be imitations, but could still hurt others. A swing from the metal bar Skull was using was also very dangerous, and the Phantom's knife was clearly real. Worst of all. Judging by the smirks that appeared on their faces when their attacks connected, they were having fun. Fun! They didn't seem to be aware of how dangerous their actions were. They thought using weapons was cool, and were enjoying the violence. Makoto didn't approve of that.
Makoto glared at Panther. "I only hope you aren't bringing those things to school!"
"Don't worry. We only use them during the Dark Hour." Panther assured her.
"If I ever catch any student bringing weapons to school, real or otherwise, I'm not going to let it lie, alright?!"
Panther nodded. "Yeah, we know. Joker's very strict about those things too. If you ever catch anyone, it won't be us." Panther seemed confident.
"Hey." Mona bounded to Makoto's location and handed her a pair of brass knuckles. "We've just found this. Joker said you might have a use for it and told me to give it to you."
Makoto glared warily at both Mona and the equipment. She didn't want to join that group of immature and reckless teenagers in their violent methods, but on the other hand, that equipment might help her defend herself from those monsters with more ease. In the end, she awkwardly accepted the brass knuckles. "Uh, thank you." She put them on, and they surprisingly fit nicely.
Mona returned to the front line and the group resumed the exploration.
Another battle took place. The group at the front incapacitated the enemies and circled them threateningly as though holding them hostage.
"Hey, you two back there!" Skull called. "Come join the action!"
"Let's finish those Shadows off!" Panther beckoned Makoto to join the others.
"Huh, weren't we supposed to stay behind?" Makoto asked in confusion.
"It's safe while the enemies are incapacitated. It's also your chance to test your new equipment!"
"Uh, alright." Makoto decided to give it a try.
"Then, here we come! Mwahahahahahaha!" Panther's demeanor changed drastically. An evil look crossed her eyes, and she laughed maniacally as she charged towards the monsters.
Makoto hesitantly followed Panther to the front. Then, she was horrified as the Phantom Thieves closed in to their targets at once. They attacked viciously and with murderous looks on their faces, and Makoto almost pitied the monsters that were pummeled so brutally. That made her forget the group members' friendly facades and remember that, above all, they were delinquents. Young and dangerous delinquents with supernatural powers in their hands, and that probably knew no limits. Makoto was paralyzed for a few seconds, wondering what she had gotten herself into. She sincerely hoped they didn't do anything like that to people at school. No, as the Student Council President, she shouldn't ever allow them to do anything like that at school! Their little game of power needed to end! She was undercover. In a matter of time, she would figure out their identities and put them in their places!
"Aaaaaaaaah!" Driven by rage and newfound determination to stop the Phantom Thieves' plans, Makoto let out a battle cry and punched the monster in front of her several times as hard as she could. By the end of it, she failed to realize that she had been the most violent of them all.
"Whew, what was that!?" Skull nearly shouted once their enemies were no more. "That was awesome!"
"Ha ha ha!" Panther laughed. "But this is also a reminder that you shouldn't get on her bad side."
Skull took a step back. "Yeah, I'll keep that in mind..."
"Awesome! This is our Queen!" Mona sheered.
Makoto had to control herself to not give in to their flattery. They really seemed to mean their compliments to her. At least they seemed oblivious to the fact that she was planning to betray them.
"That was impressive."
And then the Phantom's comment came. The tone of his voice lacked the usual authority. It sounded honest, gentle, and maybe even a bit... proud? Anyway, Makoto was sure she was somehow able to impress him.
"Now you know what I'm capable of." Makoto spoke confidently.
"I never doubted you." The leader had regained most of his composure, but there was still a hint of pride in his voice.
Makoto flashed a devious smirk of her own. This was just the beginning. She was getting more confident that she would become much stronger, and would eventually be able to outsmart them and turn the tables in her favor.
They continued their exploration and gathered a few more items.
"This should be enough for today." The leader announced when they got to a huge room with a strange device in it. "We'll continue the exploration tomorrow."
"Yeah, I'm beat." Skull looked like he was going to collapse.
"That's what happens when you use too much SP." Fox quipped.
"Next time, I'll take over." The leader declared decisively and left no room for argument.
"... Alright." Skull sighed in defeat. "For now, at least we don't need to walk all the way back."
Makoto wondered what Skull had meant by that. Soon, she got her answer. The group used the strange device that was in the room they were in, and got teleported to a place near the exit. Makoto kept wondering how surreal that was. They had walked so much, yet that device transported them back to the exit so easily. It really seemed like a video game, or something from a sci-fi movie. And that was what angered Makoto the most. To the Phantom Thieves, the Dark Hour didn't seem to be much more than a game. They acted recklessly and didn't seem to be aware that they were risking their lives.
"Because the safety of my group members is my responsibility." The Phantom's words replayed in Makoto's mind. Okay, maybe the leader was aware of the danger. But it didn't seem to be the case for the others.
"You'll be coming tomorrow, right?" Mona's voice pulled Makoto out of her thoughts.
"Huh? ... Yes." As much as Makoto didn't want to come, she had to stay near them to learn more about them and put her plan into action.
"Great!" Mona seemed pleased. "We'll meet here at midnight in front of the school, then."
Makoto was adamant about going back home by herself. The last thing she wanted was the Phantom Thieves to find out where she lived. She told them that she would be fine by herself, and they surprisingly didn't insist on accompanying her. The group walked with her for a few blocks before they split ways.
Makoto arrived back in her house without incident. She put her new brass knuckles away, changed into her pajamas, and plopped onto her bed. Her plan of going undercover seemed to have started well, but something still didn't sit right with her. If she kept sticking around the Phantom Thieves, she would eventually have to go on a raid with them. Was she really doing the right thing?
As Makoto tried to fall asleep, she wondered who those Phantom Thieves were. Excluding Mona who was a mystery in itself, there were the four masked humans. Panther and Skull were definitely Syujin students. The fact that they had recognized Makoto as the Student Council President was proof of this. But how could Makoto find out who they were? Skull was clearly a reckless troublemaker, and Syujin was full of this kind of people. Panther was harder to read because her behavior wasn't that glaring. Fox spoke little and was even harder to read. But the biggest enigma was the group's leader, known to the general public as the Phantom, and internally known to his group as Joker. He was very intelligent, strict, a good leader, and could summon multiple Personas. Did they have someone this talented at Syujin? Was he even a student there in the first place? Makoto was mulling over these thoughts when she fell asleep.