The last thing Minako expected upon entering Tartarus was waking up on the floor with a fuzzy brain and no clue how she got there.
However, when her eyes opened, she staring at a hazy ceiling, the stone arches blurring in and out of focus. The floor beneath seemed to shift, even when laying on her back. She failed to remember how she got there or why she got knocked out but those thoughts were tabled in favor of regaining a semblance of composure.
Minako sat up slowly and breathed a sigh of relief. At least something good came out of being randomly dropped within the tower, no Shadows in sight.
“Thank the lord, we're safe." Minako sat up and turned to her side. The boys had been awfully quiet, considering their circumstances. Were they knocked out just like she just was? “Is everyone-”
Another thing she did not expect tonight, her teammates were nowhere to be seen.
Minako sprung to her feet, taking a moment to find her balance. When she managed to, she still didn't spot Junpei or Akihiko. All that greeted her was an empty floor and a new revelation, her naginata was missing, too.
Perhaps they walked off to scout the area, leaving their leader to rest? She cupped her hands around her mouth and raised her voice, praying that would be the case. “Is anyone there? Hello!?”
No answer, just a frightened girl’s words echoing off the walls.
Where were they?
Minako placed a hand over her ear. “Kirijo-san? Are ya’ there?”
Again, no answer. Not even a crackle of static or a strained whisper.
She let her arm drop back to her side. “Does that mean-?” Minako reached for her Evoker and was relieved to find that she at least had something to defend herself with.
However, even if she was able to summon her Persona, how long could she last on her own? Would she have enough energy to fight off hordes of roaming Shadows or would something go wrong? The endless list of scenarios festered like a beehive in her mind.
Minako willed herself to stay calm, talking herself into rationality. The moment she let fear get the better of her, especially in a place fraught with danger, it would be the last mistake she will ever make.
“They’ve gotta be somewhere close by. But I should start looking for Yamagishi first." She paced as she talked. "She's the only one in this place who can't protect herself. Once
“That’s quite a positive attitude, all things considered.”
The lone leader perked up at the sound of a familiar voice. Minako swiveled in the direction it had come from, behind a corner that led into a darkened hallway. No one was there but maybe the voice was feeling shy.
“Is that you, kiddo?” she asked into the void.
As if he were a rabbit, the mysterious boy popped out from behind the corner, a coy grin lighting up the room. He held onto the wall as he stepped further out to reveal himself.
“This is the first time we've spoken outside of your rooms.” He looked around, his smiling disappearing. “And the last we do. This place is. . . creepy.”
Minako nodded and walked towards the boy, her only source of comfort in such a dire straight. “By the way, did you see anyone else around? I’m lost and I can’t find my team.”
The boy shook his head. “I’m sorry but it’s just me. After all, I’m always with you and your brother.” He met her halfway with hands respectfully behind his back. “But if it's any consolation, I can sense them further down the tower and they’re not too far away. You’ll see them again shortly.”
The others were close by. It was another weight lifted off her shoulders.
“Thanks, I feel a little better now.” Minako said, kneeling down to see the boy eye-to-eye. “On another note, did you need to tell me something? Seems like we only see ya’ when bad things are about to happen.”
The boy paused for a moment to consider the statement.
“I wish that weren’t true, but yes, there’s a danger in the air.” He scooted closer so he could keep his voice down. “We don't have much time to talk so please listen carefully. Tonight, there is more than one ordeal you all must face. They are both very dangerous, I fear you can not win the upcoming battle alone.”
It was just as he said a week ago but now the stakes had been raised with two ordeals. Why did it have to come on the night they were rescuing someone?
Minako let out a heavy sigh. “It just had to be tonight.”
The boy remained unperturbed by the bad news. “On the contrary, you’re lucky it happened tonight. The timing was perfect.” He turned away from her and pointed down the darkened hallway he appeared from. “You should hurry. She's waiting for you.”
She had to mean Fuuka. Who else were SEES here to save?
On that note, Minako knew it was time to get moving. Her first mission was to find Fuuka, the next, to meet with the others.
“Got it, kiddo.” She straightened back up, brandishing her Evoker as her new main defense against the Shadows. If possible, she would keep an eye out for a new melee weapon. “We’ll get her out first, then we’ll deal with whatever decides to show up. No more surprises from now on.”
The boy chuckled before going back behind his corner.
“Okay, then the rest is up to you guys.”
A tiny hand poked out once more to give a quick wave.
“Please, be careful.” he said.
The hand vanished in an instant.
“I won’t let ya’ down,” she whispered.
And without hesitation, picking a hall at random, she steeled her nerves and ran off blindly.
Yukari paced the floor of Tartarus’ expansive lobby, clutching her bow tightly to her body. A quiver of newly made anti-Shadow arrows had been haphazardly tossed on the floor and remained unused. “It’s been a while,” she remarked. “What’s taking them so long to check-in?”
Nearby, Mitsuru experimented with her radio in search of any signals from the ground team. Occasionally there would be a crackle of noise, maybe even voices that seemed distant and unclear, but no one had breached the communication barrier to let the girls know about their status.
“I don’t know, Takeba. The transceiver's sensitivity is set to high, too.” Mitsuru tinkered with the dials. Another gurgled round of static, some incoherent words, and still nothing of substance. “Is anyone there? Akihiko? Iori? Arisato?”
Mitsuru sighed, removing her headset and taking a deep breath. “Still nothing, it’s as if they’re too far out of range. Is this the best I can do?”
Yukari stopped pacing once she noticed the senior had stopped running transmissions. It was unsettling to see someone so composed look so defeated.
If she was being honest, Yukari always had a sore spot for the Kirijo heiress. Growing up in the lap of luxury, never knowing what normal was like, it was easy for anyone to be jealous. Throw some good genetics and a decent academic career, she was the full package and ready to jump right into the forefront of the family business.
Now, watching her struggle to find the rest of the team, she was less an icon and more human.
The more Yukari thought about it, the more that she felt guilty for feeling so bitter. Being rich had its own struggles after all: having to live up to monumental expectations, an image crafted from birth, a heavy burden to carry for just one person.
Had Yukari been selfish all this time? If she gave the other girl a chance, could they at least build a better relationship to stand on?
“I know this is gonna be tough, but we need you right now.”
It was time to take the first step.
The archer picked up her quiver to go and sit beside Mitsuru. Once she was close enough, she hunkered down so that they had a reasonable distance between them.
“All of us knew the risks coming in, so it’s not your fault.”
Mitsuru looked up from sulking. Her usually sharpened gaze softened, just enough to appear almost like a normal teenager. Was she really surprised at someone being supportive of her abilities?
In return, Yukari offered a warm smile.
“I remember something that Minako-senpai told me when we were facing our first big Shadow in the first block. We were all fighting for our lives and I was terrified of screwing up. What if I missed? What if I got everyone killed?”
She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them close. The memory of that day haunted her still, even if they had won the battle with her killing shot. It took whatever courage she could muster to relive such an ordeal.
“But she wasn’t afraid. If she was, I didn't know. What I do know is she just smiled and said ‘Don’t worry about us getting hurt. Focus on shooting a bulls-eye. It'll be okay, if you do your part to win.’”
Mitsuru chuckled. “I can imagine she’d give that advice. She always struck me as the niave believer.”
“But it worked," Yukari felt the same pride that had overcome her in that moment return, "And after that, I shot that buzzard down. We didn’t need an all-out attack. And. . . I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ve just gotta do your part and everything will be okay.” Yukari nodded. "If someone like me can do it, you'll do it better."
Mitsuru took a moment to consider her advice before letting a tender smile peer through her iron-clad frown. Her light red lip gloss shimmered in time with the subtle movement.
“Thank you, Takeba.”
It was a small pep talk, and yet it made all the difference.
Yukari felt like she could relate better to Mitsuru, even if they might not line up on everything.
Suddenly, the radio sparked to life.
“Mitsuru, can you hear me?”
Yukari lept to her feet at the familiar and low voice. “Akihiko-senpai? Is that you?”
At least he was okay.
“Damn-. . . -are we?”
And Stupei, fantastic.
Mitsuru threw her headset back on and adjusted the signal to capture their voices. “I hear you, just one second while I pinpoint your location.” A few more turns of the dial and her eyes lit up in realization. “I've confirmed your position. You're higher up than I expected. You're barely in communication range.”
“Yeah, but I think we’re still in Arqa block. It looks almost the same.”
Yukari kneeled down by the radio and picked up a spare headset to better listen in on the conversation and speak to the others. “Is everyone okay? We thought you guys were in trouble.”
“No, we lo-”
Just as quickly as the signal had come along it was beginning to go back to static. They were losing them.
“Akihiko? Akihiko!?” Mitsuru flipped into high gear and started turning any dial she could get her hands on. “Akihiko, come in!”
“. . .-don’t know!” Junpei’s voice came over so loud, the sound became twisted and distorted. “-got separ-!”
Without warning, the radio was silenced.
Mitsuru removed her headset, letting it slip from her fingers and hitting the marble floor.
"What have we done?"
Two floors later and drained from battling Shadows on her own, Minako was beginning to wonder if she would ever make it back to the others.
Fighting with a group had made her oblivious to how difficult it really was to take on enemies one on one. Energy to defeat Shadows could be more easily conserved so that advancing to higher floors was less of a chore and more of an adventure. Plus, there was no hurry to switch between Personas if someone was already covering certain spells.
On lower floors, SEES would split up for a short time to work on individual training if they felt capable enough to take on a solo adventure. Very rarely did the others require additional help but that all depended on the type of Shadow or number of enemies.
However, going on alone was far more taxing and made one appreciate having teammates to watch each other’s backs.
Minako was pushed to the limit of what she thought she was capable of. Switching between Personas had to happen at the drop of a hat but the enemy did not wait or give her that breathing room. More often than not, she’d find herself retreating when confronted with a larger group or jumping behind pillars in a hopeless attempt to evade pursuing Shadows.
Not to mention that Tartarus was much more terrifying when alone.
With an ordeal hanging over the field leader’s head, the stress was mounting every time she had to use a summon. Without a weapon, she had no other way to defend herself.
All it took was one slip up and it would all be over.
Minako had to find the others before she ran out of stamina to fight.
“Junpei! Sanada! Anyone!” She yelled as she practically sailed down another flight of stairs. Her distressed cries were met with silence.
Once she reached the bottom landing, she forced herself to take a moment to catch her breath.
“Please. . .” Minako shuffled towards all wall for support. It was oddly cold but it gave her a chance to sink down and take a few deep breaths. Unfortunately, her lungs barely seemed to do their job. “Please. . .”
The back of her throat stung from over-use.
“I talked to Mitsuru and she agreed someone should stay with Natsuki in case she starts hearing voices.”
Did everyone end up like her?
Were they all scattered like army men on the floor?
What if they never found each other again?
“Apparently I don’t know you either.”
Without anyone around, Minako was afraid. “This can’t be happening.” She closed her eyes to focus on breathing. If anything, that was the one thing she could control.
“It doesn’t fucking matter what you think!”
“God, please. . . I have to get out of here.” she prayed.
“I have to make things right.”
All she could do was pray.
“I have to make things right.”
But would she get an answer?
Minako nearly banged her head against the wall at the crystal clear voice in her head. She had been so used to the radio static of Mitsuru and echoing whispers of her Personas that this new sensation had come as a shock.
This time, it seemed to be a young girl.
“Are you human?”
The voice came again, this time a little more confident. It was as if it were seeking someone out for help.
Was someone nearby?
“Hello? Hello!? ” She stood up and looked around for the source of the voice. “I’m human, who are you? What’s your name?”
“Where am I? Why am I here?”
The girl sounded frightened.
Maybe the person communicating was scared and needed more reassurance?
“If you can hear me, my name is Minako Arisato.” She started walking again. “You’re in a place called Tartarus and you’re here because you accidentally wandered inside. Can ya’ tell me your name?”
“You can hear me? Thank goodness. I thought I was all alone and starting to imagine things.” The girl’s voice let out a shaky sigh. “My name is Fuuka Yamagishi. Are you stuck here too?”
It was her, Fuuka! Alive and well. Not only that, but she appeared to be in better condition than everyone thought, and her ability to communicate was beyond explanation.
But that could only mean she had the potential, and a different version than everyone else.
On the other hand, Minako found it difficult to answer Fuuka's last question.
“Well, not really. I came here with two other people but we got separated.” She paused at a corner and surveyed for any stray Shadows. “You wouldn't have happened to two boys just walking around? They’re both tall, but one’s wearing a baseball cap and the other guy has white hair. Does that ring any bells?”
“No, but I have noticed some irregular movements near my hiding spot. None of the monsters act like that so it could be them.”
Irregular movements, could this girl be like Mitsuru?
“Fuuka-chan, can you see those monsters in your head?”
“Somewhat, but it’s more like I know where they are rather than seeing them. I can also track certain patterns they use while patrolling the area. It’s how I’ve been able to avoid them this whole time.”
So she really was able to see the Shadows and her abilities to track and map out enemy movements were beyond anything SEES had ever seen so far. This girl was shaping up to be a wildcard in her own right.
“Just hang on a little longer, help is on the way.” Once Minako assessed that her path was clear, she hurried down the empty hallway. “I just gotta find those two first. I’m not used to fighting solo-”
Minako had to slam down on her heels at the command. “What the-”
“I sense a group of monsters near your location. If you continue down the hall, you’ll be ambushed!”
Ambushed? But the hallway was clear when she checked.
There was a dead-end with two branching paths about three hundred feet down. Closer to her, Minako had a few other hallways to choose from, but there was no way to tell which one was hiding enemies. Going any further would risk injury in the Shadows intended to jump on top of her.
However, if Fuuka managed to stay safe for ten hours using her abilities, how could her judgment be wrong? If she knew which hallway was the safest route, it would make it easier to get to the lower floors.
Minako chose to put her trust in this newcomer if it meant getting back to the dorm in one piece.
“Alright, so where should I go?” she asked.
“Let’s see. . .” Fuuka hummed to herself before responding. “There’s a path on your left side. Go there and keep walking straight ahead. I’ll scout the area beyond and give you further instructions as needed.”
Minako looked to her left and saw what Fuuka was talking about: a branching hallway that looked to be safe enough. She immediately picked up her feet but maintained a more reasonable pace to save energy.
“Thanks, keep me posted. If I’m close to you, just jump out.”
“Understood, I’ll do my best.”
Looking after someone you would rather see take a running leap into a dumpster was tough work.
Three hours elapsed since the team left Minato and Natsuki to their own devices, yet it had been the longest three hours of the former’s life.
Things were already terrible to begin with: he was pissed off from his fight with Minako, someone had decided to crank up the heating for no good reason, and the soda machine on the second floor dispensed luke-warm drinks. Being angry was one thing, but being hot and miserable on top of it was a death sentence. Not even the icebox in the freezer had anything to solve the last two issues.
Who had the bright idea to disconnect one of the water pipes? Why didn't anyone take notice and put in a request to get it fixed? Did they all get Apathy Syndrome and just forget they had no ice?
So many dumbasses in such a small living space.
Minato eventually had to move out of his room and down to the dining room where it was the coolest. His soda tasted bitter as he tried to distract himself with studying for a test that would never be given. It was difficult to focus when someone’s car alarm decided to go off, dogs howled at the moon, and the neighbors started up a yelling match in the street.
Not even heavy metal music turning his brain into mush at the sheer volume could drown out the inner voice of annoyance.
It was starting to get old.
If only there was someone to talk to.
Someone to vent his frustrations without prejudice.
Someone who knew him best. . .
After trying and failing to complete a page of stoichiometry, Minato finally stopped scribbling away.
He stared at the paper before him, filled with chemical formulas and conversion models, not a shred pride in his hard work. Numbers that always made total sense now floated on a sea of pale blue lines and a white background. Some of them were written incorrectly in his haste to do something with his hands.
It was sloppy work at best and a decent fire starter at worst.
Had he even paid attention to what he had put down or was he simply too wrapped up in his own thoughts to care?
Minato closed his notebook after coming up empty with his question.
That’s when the fight with Minako started to sink in.
Sixteen years together and they never went at each other like that. They fought, as do most other siblings, but it was their situation that forced them to be closer than close. Everything between them was built on trust, a trust that nothing would separate them or drive a stake through their relationship.
The love each had for the other was the solution to the gaping hole left by their parents. It kept them from becoming too obsessed with their deaths or listening to the voices of disapproving relatives.
It was open. It was simple.
Despite Minako holding back what she felt most of the time, she was only trying to help him and yet he pushed her away. Sure, everything he said was straight from the heart, but no one deserved to be belittled or called a dumbass. His actions had been the literal equivalent of looking a gift horse in the mouth. Minato had been too occupied by his own opinions, he forgot that his sister was still a human being doing her best to make the most of her life.
Had he been too harsh?
Did Minako feel just as terrible as him?
Could she ever forgive him?
. . . Of course, she would forgive him. That was just the type of person she was.
Why did that hurt more than if she stayed angry?
“Dammit.” he finally cursed, resting his head on the kitchen table.
Minato came up empty to questions he asked.
The normal lights in the dorm suddenly went out, leaving the Dark Hour alternatives in their place. All white noise and music from Minato’s iPod had cut out to leave only a crippling silence. He had been sitting downstairs for so long that the change had passed him by. The operation to save Fuuka was no doubt beginning.
There was a sound of a door opening and closing from up above. Footsteps hurried closer and closer as if being chased. Natsuki must have been still awake when the Dark Hour came around, and it seemed like she was taking it poorly.
And now Minato had to deal with it.
“What the hell!?” Natsuki stormed into the lobby and went straight towards him. “Hey, you! What happened to the lights!?”
No one had explained the Dark Hour to her, fantastic.
“Just calm down.” Minato shoved himself away from the table to stand up. “This happens every night at midnight. We call it the Dark Hour and it’s how we’re gonna find that girl you locked in the closet.”
Natsuki grimaced at the mention of Fuuka.
“You know, for someone who’s supposed to keep me safe, you’re a huge dick.” She hugged herself and looked away from him with a furrowed brow. “I hate this. I hate everything about this place. I just wanna find Fuuka and tell her I’m sorry.”
Minato matched her disdain. Two could play the bratty teenager game.
“No can do, princess. You’ll get eaten alive the second you step out the door.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “You’re staying here until they find Yamagishi and bring her back. Better get comfortable cause it’s gonna be a while.”
Natsuki threw down her arms and stormed away. Her direction led to the exit. “Then I’ll just go to them.”
Her strides were long and rushed, but Minato was prepared for her to fly the coop.
It only took a few running bounds and he caught her wrist.
“Are you fucking deaf? I said you have to wait to make your fake apology.”
“The hell-” Natsuki was stunned by the action but was soon trying to fight out of his vice-like grip on her. “Let go of me! I have to see her! I need to say I’m sorry!”
Without anyone around to scold him, Minato scoffed. It was the perfect moment to turn this girl into his emotional punching bag.
Admittedly, it was petty, but who was going to stop him? She’d forget everything as soon as the Dark Hour was done.
“Oh, that’s rich coming from the person who put her in this situation. I’d call you a piece-of-shit, but that’s just being nice.” He looked her dead in the eye. “Do you always throw a pity party after one of your victims gets hurt or is this one a special occasion?”
Natsuki gasped and recovered fast enough to respond.
“Fuck you! I know what I did was shitty but you’ve got no idea how I feel!” She advanced on him with fists balled. “I know who you are; you’re the new transfer student that got the highest score in 2-F. Everyone was so impressed with the secret genius, he was just faking it because he’s a ‘little shy’.” Once she was close enough, Minato could see tears trailing down her cheeks. “But you’re just an asshole with a mouth! Why are you so cruel!?”
Her crying had no effect on him, neither did her yelling. For all he cared, she deserved to feel guilty after what she did.
And to insinuate that he had no clue what she was feeling was just the icing on the cake.
“You just answered your own question.” Minato forced her to take a step back by pushing her away. “I am an asshole. People annoy me, so I make fun of them. If they’re mean, I’m mean right back. If I had the choice, I’d rather be alone so I don’t have to listen to half the people in my class spout meaningless bullshit.”
Natsuki shrank away from him. “So what? That doesn’t-” Her discomfort was growing more and more obvious as she looked for the words to say. More tears spilled, most likely out of frustration. “-Do you even know how badly I want to apologize? It’s tearing me apart!”
“All you do is go around trying to please people but ya’ never actually mean it and for what!?”
Minato rolled his eyes, turning toward the front door. “Well, aren’t you just saintly?” He tried to focus on a green sliver of light beamed inside.
“Of course I care but anger solves nothing!”
“All she did was be nice to me, and I made her life hell on earth. Now she’s gone . . . she could be dead.” Natsuki was getting softer the more she spoke. “Why did it take that much for me to realize what I’d done?”
Minato gulped and tried to block out her desperate ramblings that echoed his own thoughts.
"Shut up already."
“Sometimes, I think you’re just a huge dumbass playing hero, but all you are is a glorified parent!”
“It should’ve been me. . .” Natsuki had sunk to the group, her head in her hands. “. . . I deserve it.”
“Just get out. Go run your suicide mission, leader .”
Although he had the biggest reaction to Fuuka’s disappearance, Minato declined to do anything and hid in his room like a petulant child. Minako and the others had decided to roll the dice on a theory that could very well be wrong.
“Fuuka, I wish I could’ve taken it all back. . .”
And he went and called her dumb for trying to fix what was totally shattered.
What kind of hypocrite was he?
Natsuki had completely broken down into quiet sobs on the floor. Her words had finally talked her into hysteria, and Minato had only made things worse. In the end, the bigger monster was him for pushing her over the edge.
“She’s been through enough for one night!”
Looking at her suffering tugged at a place that had never been touched on.
He was never one to be sympathetic towards others, he found it wasted his time and energy. Everyone had their hardships and some of those hardships could have been avoided if the person had done things differently. Some tried to bolster their problems and wear them like medals as if having more suddenly made them better than others.
Now, when all of the girl’s sadness was for the sake of another, it was humbling. All this time, it was all because she wished to make amends. The remorse was laid bare for even someone like him to see.
“Just talk to me and I’ll listen. . .”
He had to make things right.
Minato kneeled down in front of her. She did not seem to notice the change in position or that he had even decided to give her attention.
He took a long and slow deep breath.
“. . . I might not get half the things girls think is normal, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a bully, but I know what it’s like to hurt people.”
Natsuki stopped crying and looked up. Mascara had begun to stain under her eyes and some concealer had rubbed off on her hands. Her bangs that had been neatly combed were now thrown into a state of chaos from running her hands through her hair.
Still, she seemed to be listening, so Minato continued.
“I’m not the best person in the world and neither are you, but at least you’ve got the courage to tell a stranger like me that you were wrong.” He sat down in front of her with crossed legs. “You even wanna break the Student Council President’s rules, risk going outside during a dangerous time, and cuss me out just to apologize. If that ain’t selfless, I don’t know what is.”
Natsuki averted her gaze. Once again, she hugged herself as if she had just been exposed.
“Maybe I was wrong, I might be the only asshole here. When I hurt someone. . . all I did was tell them to take a hike. I stayed bitter and I wasn’t sorry. You’re better than I ever could be.”
Her bottom lip began to quiver. “Y-you. . . why are you doing this?”
“That’s what family does, we keep an eye on each other when things get rocky.”
Minato shrugged, looking towards the front desk.
Hanging next to the window was a pair of keys to Mitsuru’s motorcycle.
There was no one around to tell him no from borrowing them.
“Because I wanna make things right, too.”
What he was about to do was stupid, but he was not the only one making dumb decisions tonight.
Twists and turns took Minako through two more floors, but this time her encounters with Shadows were few and far between. In fact, the journey turned out swift and more streamlined than just running around looking for the next staircase.
Occasionally, fighting was inevitable. There were simply too many enemies roaming the tower that battles were inevitable. But, Minako had time to recuperate and get a jump on her targets, even before they knew she was nearby. She made quick work of the Shadows then continued following orders.
She had Fuuka Yamagishi to thank.
“There are no Shadows in the surrounding area. That monster you faced was the last of them.” The junior hummed at her own the good news. “I also sense your teammates on this floor. If you stay put, you’ll run right into them.”
“Finally, I thought it’d never end.” Minako holstered her Evoker as she walked through the now deserted halls. She pulled off to the side to stand by a window overlooking the city below Tartarus, bathing all surroundings in a greenish glow. “Am I close to you yet? It feels like I’ve been walking around for hours.”
“Yes, I can sense you close by. I can come to you. Please wait where you are and I’ll be there soon.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
“Yes, there’s no danger now that you’re here. Thank you for getting rid of those things.”
Minako smiled. “You’re too sweet.” She leaned against the window and took a well deserved deep breath. “Let me know if anything comes up on the way here. This place can sometimes mess with your sense of direction.”
“I’ll be careful. See you soon, Minako-san.”
Fuuka’s voice cut out.
It still amazed Minako to think that someone had such a strong communication ability without knowing about their power. There was no question that her skills were far more polished compared to Mitsuru, even if the latter had been at this longer than everyone else. The clarity in her voice, Shadow tracking, and range were above and beyond comprehension.
Such thoughts raised some interesting ideas: would Fuuka consider joining SEES as a full-time member?
Their ranks bolstered plenty of combat units, yet lacking in proper support players. Mitsuru's skills, while useful on the lower levels, were limited by distance. Before long, they would need to set up checkpoints to help bridge the gaps, but those checkpoints were subject to attacks. It was safer to keep a guide in the lobby where the Shadows refused to go.
Fuuka already excelled at giving instructions without taking time to formulate a layout of the area. Her cooperation was also desirable for team cohesion, not too bossy but assertive when an action guaranteed a tragic result.
The only problem was whether or not she wished for this type of life. She was an honor student with a bright future, so certain things would come before being a hero. Her family, who still waited for her safe return, what would they say if she moved into a co-ed dorm without explanation? Did Fuuka even want to leave her family behind?
Too many variables to consider. All anyone could do was to let things be until the mission was over.
Besides, Fuuka had enough to worry about for one night.
And so did everyone else. . .
Minako started to twirl her Evoker in order to ease her train of thought. It was clumsy and she would lose her concentration from time to time, but the feeling of something spinning off her finger was a wanted distraction from the events of that evening. The more she zeroed in on the menial task, the more her brain began to gather itself back together as if someone had taken apart a puzzle and put it away for next time.
Soon enough, Minako whirled the mock-firearm around with ease.
“Hehe, this is kinda fun.” She tried a directional change that broke her flow.
Her skills could use some work before she earned the title of a professional gunslinger.
Minako stopped playing with her Evoker and looked up towards the person shouting out her nickname.
Just as she expected, Junpei and Akihiko came running down the hall, the former holding her naginata like a baseball bat.
Why that observation? She was no longer stumbling around on her own!
“Wow, you’re alive!" As they approached, Junpei got a step ahead and offered Minako her naginata with a huge grin. “Never fear, Junpei’s here!”
“You thought I was dead?” she asked when she accepted her weapon.
Junpei shrugged. “Maybe just a little.”
As always, the loveable teen still made no sense.
“What a mess.” Akihiko caught the two’s attention with his somber attitude. “I don't think we should enter Tartarus this way again. Huh?”
Minako and Junpei nodded in unison.
“Totally senpai.” The capped teen looked between the two upperclassmen. “Oh yeah! Did you hear a voice while you were in here? Uh, kinda like-uh. . .”
Junpei and Akihiko both jumped at the sound. “Th-that’s the voice!”
“Where’s it coming from?” the latter asked. “It’s too echo-y in here.”
Minako was less than jumpy, in fact, she looked to where the boys had appeared from down the hall and saw a head of teal hair peeping out from behind a corner. Bright brown eyes watched the group carefully while still holding a curious spark, despite not knowing what she was supposed to be doing. Even though afraid, this girl still held the senior’s gaze.
“Yamagishi?” Minako leaned her naginata against the wall and left the trio to approach the girl hiding behind the corner. “It’s me, Minako-san. We came here to rescue you, remember?”
“Minako-san?” she asked, edging out into the open hall. Her winter uniform was clean and complimented by a blue floral turtleneck, giving away that she had been in there past the change in seasons. “It’s really you. You came to save me.”
Her voice was just as soothing as it sounded before.
Minako nodded and beckoned her over. “Sorry if we’re a little late but there’s no time like the present, eh?”
“Thank goodness, I thought it was all a dream.” Fuuka took the gesture and scuttled over to the group.
Junpei came to Minako’s side, pointing to her than the shorter girl. “Um, am I missing something or what?” He scratched his head. “Do you two know each other? What’s going on?”
Fuuka stopped in front of the three and shook her head. “No, this is the first time I’ve ever officially met her.”
“Wait a second,” Akihiko joined his teammates. “What do you mean ‘officially’?”
Minako forced the boys to take a few steps back from Fuuka. “First, give the girl some space. You’re both gonna scare her off.” Once that was done, she crossed over to the junior’s side so that she had someone to stand by. “Second, she’s not a normal student. She’s just like us.”
Junpei’s eyes widened. “Ya’ don’t mean?”
Minako laid a comforting hand and Fuuka’s shoulder. “When I got lost, I thought I was just running around in circles. I started talking to myself to help keep calm. Then I heard a voice asking if I was human or not. Turns out, it was Fuuka-chan, she could talk to me and even tell where Shadows were on different floors. She helped me avoid any unnecessary battles and led me back to you two without a fuss.”
Fuuka shifted back and forth. “Before Minako-san answered my call for help, I was able to use the same method to keep away from the monsters. If they ever got too close, I would find somewhere to hide and waited until they were gone.”
“Woah, that’s wicked man! You must be a psychic or something.” Junpei gave her a thumbs up. “Akihiko-senpai and I thought we were just hearing things, but it was just you! Now I just feel really dumb.”
Akihiko breathed in awe. “She has the same power as Mitsuru, maybe even stronger since Mitsuru's Persona is more battle-oriented.”
“That’s what I was thinking, too.” Minako said. “Her abilities are incredible and her voice is from so far away. It was like she was right behind me the whole time and always had a lay of the land.”
“I see. . .” Akihiko reached into an inside pocket of his tan blazer and produced a shiny, new Evoker. It was much smaller than his own but just right for someone with more delicate hands, someone like Fuuka. He held it out to the girl so the grip was facing her. “Here, take this. You might need it.”
Fuuka hesitated, eyes darting between the gun and Minako. “B-but that's-!”
“-Think of it as a lucky charm,” he reassured her. “It’s not really a gun, but I can explain later. Getting you out is priority number one.”
The girl accepted the Evoker but had no interest in brandishing the weapon, instead, she held it close to her chest. Her knuckles turned a ghastly white from clutching it too hard. Fuuka reached out for Minako’s arm and held on as tight as she could.
The poor girl was shaking.
“I-I really don’t wanna be here anymore. Could we leave before those monsters sense where we are?” she asked.
“Just hang tight,” Minako let Fuuka cling to her for comfort and looked to the boys. “Is there an access point somewhere close by?”
“Nada,” Junpei replied but remained cheerful. “We’ve still got some time left. It’s barely been twenty minutes into the Dark Hour. We’ll find one eventually.”
And so, the party of four set out in search of the exit.
Riding a motorcycle looked easier in movies and video games.
It was even more nerve-wracking knowing the bike was not yours and the owner would have no qualms in strangling someone who trashed said bike.
And that someone may or may not have their own private detective who knew more than a few ways to hide a body.
No pressure, just be careful and try not to crash.
After some awkward starts and failed attempts to get it right, eventually, Minato and Natsuki were speeding along the empty streets of Port Island. Without any cops able to stop and check them for a license, the city had become one long stretch of road. No pedestrians or stop lights meant no chance for unwanted accidents. They were safe from Mitsuru having to pay ridiculous amounts of money on insurance claims.
As for whether or not she would let Minato off the hook for stealing her motorcycle, that was still up in the air.
“You’re not a bad driver,” Natsuki said as they were crossing the bridge to the next island. They had been using communication units in the helmets they stole from the control room to talk to one another throughout the ride. Mitsuru spared no expense when outfitting her ride. “Are you sure you don’t have a license?”
Minato had to almost agree with her. It was almost scary how quickly he was able to get the hang of driving the thing. His only experience with motorized vehicles came from his visits to his grandparents’ pig farm in Texas, with his grandpa’s supervision.
But despite those visits and even living with them after the accident being some of the best memories of their young lives, they were ripped away by their father’s side of the family. As soon as citizenship was brought up with one of their ethnically purest aunts, they were shipped back "home" before they knew it. Funny enough, that same aunt who tried to keep the siblings as Japanese as possible cast them out the quickest after Minato beat her son in an entrance exam.
The bitch had it coming.
All resentfulness aside, how did steering a four-wheeler translate to a motorcycle with far more kick in its engine? Even if it made a spectacular difference, it was so long ago.
The feeling he got was too familiar. Like a bad case of Deja Vu.
When had he ever done something like this?
Why had he been getting this feeling ever since he came back to Iwatodai?
This year was a crazy one.
Minato still had yet to answer Natsuki’s question. He simply shrugged and kept his eyes glued to the road ahead.
“If I had one, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be getting into Tokyo U with a big middle finger shoved in the administrations face.” He could almost imagine such an absurd picture in all it’s smug glory. “High school’s just not my speed. And there's a fuck ton of idiots.”
For the first time since the two met, Natsuki laughed at his crudeness.
“You really are an egotistical asshole. . . but an honest one. I like that.” She held onto him tighter as they made a sharp veer away from a car stopped in the center of the road. “So if this is the Dark Hour, why’s there no electricity and stuff?”
“Don’t know, don’t care, don't ask me." he said. "I’m more concerned with the Shadows that come out and eat people’s souls until the entire island becomes one giant zombie pit.” Minato slowed them down in order to more gracefully maneuver the bridge’s many obstacles. “All that logistical jargon is more Kirijo’s area of expertise. My sister, Yukari, Junpei, Sanada and I are just foot soldiers, she’s the one holding the leash.”
“Oh. . .” Natsuki trailed off. “. . . Sounds like she forced you to do all this, fighting the Shadows and stuff.”
Her words had an air of truth to them.
There were few people who knew about the Dark Hour, even fewer who could stand up and use the power of Persona. Mitsuru was the type to use what little resources at her disposal, paying any price to gain what was needed to complete agenda. The Kirijo Cooperation was still a business and a business needed a labor force.
It was just business and, in the end, not personal.
However, Minato was no slouch when it came to the art of the trade.
In order for both parties to co-exist, there needed to be an equal exchange of goods. Money, material items, and a fulfilled life were the driving factors that made the world what it is today. No one does anything simply because they had nothing better to do.
The excitement of entering a difficult battle. Curiosity while exploring unknown territory. Pride in knowing your actions make a difference. Everyone in SEES had a reason for why they were there, even if the fate that brought them together was uncertain. Not a soul knew they would end up doing this sort of work, and yet here they were.
Taking a leap outside his sheltered world.
Learning to let others watch his back.
Following a sister into the fire.
That’s why he joined.
That’s why he was going to stay. . .
. . . To fight beside the one he called family.
“That was beautiful.”
Minato mentally slapped himself. Being so wrapped up in his thoughts, he forgot his helmet's microphone was still on. Now some girl with enough makeup to be a model knew all his personal feelings.
Minato exited off the bridge, catching a glimpse of Tartarus before it disappeared behind a taller building. For some reason, it seemed to loom more ominously than previous nights. He was starting to get a bad feeling that something was terribly wrong.
“If you tell anyone what I said, I have no problem using you as bait for the Shadows.” he said.
“No, you won’t.”
“Try me, Britney.”
Minato revved up the gas and speed down an open street.
They were almost there.
Tartarus never had such open areas to the outside, but occasionally there would be a nice view from time to time. With how high they were, the city looked like something straight from a cheesy monster movie set.
“Whoa, check out the moon! I've never seen it so bright.” The group stopped as Junpei admired the city from a large window. “That’s so cool!”
Minako led Fuuka to the boy’s side. “I’ve gotta admit, it does look pretty.” She turned to the younger girl who had her arm more comfortably looped in her’s. “What do ya’ think, Fuuka-chan? Isn’t it lovely?”
For the first time that night, Fuuka was too entranced to be scared. “It’s beautiful. . .” She let go of Minako’s arm and pressed her palms flat against the glass. “I never get to see things this high up where I live and I never have the time to go to an observatory.”
“Dude, me too!” Junpei was more conscious of the fact he was taller when speaking to Fuuka this time. Instead, he slouched to appear less threatening and more friendly. “I used to live on the west side of town with my folks. You could barely see anything with all the skyscrapers getting in the way.”
“My goodness, tell me more!”
Minako let herself relax as both juniors chatted back and forth about how terrible their home views were compared to the tower.
However, it struck her that Junpei lived in such a dangerous area. It was past the Port Island station and a place that was far worse than just some gangs or punks.
Even when she was still living in Iwatodai as a child, she remembered her parents always talking about volunteering at the homeless shelters that dotted the west side. It was mostly because her mother was involved with a shelter with funding from a local church, but her father always dedicated extra time not spent with the family helping her serve meals. They always went together, just in case something bad happened.
Minako always wanted to help them. Volunteering was a good way to humble oneself and get to know another side of the population head-on. She would try to sneak out and follow them at a distance, but never even got past the front door.
It was too risky for bringing a young and defenseless girl.
Why did Junpei live in a place like that?
What was his life like before SEES?
Minako felt a knock on the shoulder.
“You okay?” Akihiko had gotten her attention and was looking at her with a mix of worry and intrigue. “You got quiet all of a sudden.”
Had she been standing there the whole time lost in thought?
Minako promptly gathered herself. “Yeah, just a bit jaded after everything that happened.” She yawned to help gain some feeling back in her senses and turned back to the moon. “Say, does the moon have any effect on the Shadows in here? I swear they were more antsy than usual.”
Akihiko nodded and looked out the window too. “Some research indicates that the Shadows are affected by the phases of the moon. As for why I can’t say.” He crossed his arms. “Of course, the same can be said for humans. Just look at those two, they look like a bunch of little kids.”
Junpei caught wind that he was being talked about. He and Fuuka stopped chatting while the boy had a sly grin on his face.
“That would explain Yukatan's mood swings.” He began to chuckle. “That and a few other things that go on.”
Minako tried to suppress her laughter at the suggestive jab. “I wish that was the only thing, knowing her.” she said back.
It took Fuuka a moment to understand what they were talking about before her face went beet red in realization. “M-Minako-san! Why are you laughing at that!?” She turned to the only other senior among them. “I-Is this normal?”
Unfortunately, Akihiko let out a chuckle of his own. “Sorry, those two can be a bit childish. It’s just how it goes in here.”
What good was fighting beside others if you had no fun in the process?
Once Junpei had calmed down, he sighed and looked back out the window. “Hey, wasn't it a full moon the night we went to the monorail?”
Akihiko stopped smiling at the offhand comment.
“Was it?” he asked.
The tone in conversation shifted.
“I don’t know,” Junpei answered. “What do ya’ think, Minatan? Was there?”
“I think so. . .” She tapped her chin and strained her memory to recall that details of that night. Although she drew a blank on remembering if there was a full moon, some other technicalities slipped through the cracks. “It felt a lot like tonight, that’s for sure. More oppressive and the air was tainted with something bitter.” A slow but steady picture was being put together. “The Shadows were so hostile and acted differently than we were used to.”
Akihiko mulled over her description.
“The Shadows acted differently, more hostile. . .” he mused, seemingly unaware he was being watched by the others. “An oppressive air, bitterness. . . but that could mean anything.”
Minako was now starting to become unsettled.
At the mention of his name, Akihiko perked up and looked to her. “Hey, did you see the moon on the night the dorm was attacked, back in April?”
Another long stretch of time since that crucial day, and this time there were other things Minako had been focused on. Still, she closed her eyes and did her best to recreate that moment when the siblings and Yukari burst onto the rooftop.
“I remember I had a terrible headache when I woke up. Everything felt numb but I ignored it because the others were alarmed by the whole situation. It wasn’t much, but I tried my best to be calm.”
She could feel that headache burning her skull, even as she stood there months later. The pain was forever ingrained.
“That giant Shadow climbed onto the roof. It looked right at us and charged.”
Those knives and swords scraped along the concrete.
“Yukari got hurt and dropped her Evoker.”
A boy with harrowing eyes stared down at the glistening weapon. Minako’s headache got worse as he reached for it carefully. Was he really going to put his life on the line for his older sister?
“Minato picked it up and pushed me aside.”
He aimed the Evoker at his head. He said something under his breath, but it was too soft to here above noise going on around them.
“He summoned Orpheus.”
The gunshot brought her relief and the mighty Persona appeared in front of them. He floated just above the rooftop, capturing the attacking Shadow’s attention.
“Then Orpheus was ripped apart. . .”
Behind that thing which tore Orpheus to shreds from the inside out was a silver outline. Coffin wings accentuated by a greenish glow. Black cloth in stark contrast to the pale light, fluttering as it attacked the Shadow and sliced it to ribbons.
As if hitting the pause button on a remote, the answer was right there
All the while, a full moon illuminated the scene.
Minako opened her eyes and was back in the present. However, the urgency from that night remained with the shocking realization.
“It was full.”
That was why Akihiko asked.
The missing piece of the puzzle.
Every time a big Shadow appeared, there was always a full moon.
“This is bad.” Akihiko placed a hand over his ear. “Mitsuru? Mitsuru, are you there!?”
Suddenly, Minako heard Fuuka gasp.
She whipped around to see Junpei holding his fellow junior steady while she clutched her head.
“What is this thing? It's much bigger than the others.” Fuuka's eyes glazed over as if she were about to cry. “And it's attacking someone downstairs- no two people! They’re in danger!”
“Damnit! Mitsuru!?” Akihiko shouted before he took off running. “Damnit, damnit, damnit!”
His oldest friend was probably being beaten to a bloody pulp in the lobby, their leader could be dead for they knew. Yukari, a sweetheart with a rough exterior, could the Shadows have broken her too? Would they be able to save her before then?
Minako wasted no time to think.
“We’ve gotta help them!” She started after the boxer. “Grab Fuuka and run like ya’ stole something!”
“Aiy!” Junpei swept up the girl bridal style and did his best to catch up. “Hang on tight, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”
Fuuka swung her arms around his neck. “Right!”
For someone who trained with him morning after morning, it was an easy task to catch up to Akihiko. Even with naginata in hand, she found a way to keep from being slowed down. With determination driving her every step, it only gave her the power to go faster, for her legs to push her over the edge.
An access point was within sight.
“We’ll make it in time!” Minako yelled out as they sprinted. “Let’s give ‘em a beat down they won’t forget.”
Akihiko cracked his knuckles.
“They’re gonna be dead before they remember anything.”
The four practically leaped from the main access point as soon as they touched down. Junpei had let Fuuka’s legs go so he could make preparations to fight.
Minako was the first to find her footing and run out to get an idea for what was going on.
She choked on her own tongue at what she saw.
The entire lobby, once pristine marble and a welcome change from the upper floor of the tower, had been turned into a battleground. Small fires caught on and were beginning to fade from lack of proper fuel. Pillars that once supported the glass ceiling above were crumbling or lay in chunks, strewn about like barricades and projectiles used by giants.
Yukari held onto one for dear life, a massive cut running up her right leg. Her bow lay among the ruins with arrows scattered in all different directions.
“What’s going on!?” She cried out, wincing in pain. “Nothing’s working!”
In the middle of it all were two massive Shadows. Unlike the scantily clad demon or the monorail, these were adorned like a King and Queen pairing. The King gripped a mighty sword that was dragged across the ground, resembling an ogre and a bludgeoning club. The Queen was more courtly, holding a scepter high and proud as if it were actual royalty.
What caused Minako to feel unbridled rage was in the Queen’s free hand.
Mitsuru being held like a doll, limp and blood staining half her face.
The two Shadows just stood there, staring at the motionless young woman while a peal of sickening laughter echoed through the air.
Why were they laughing?
Could Shadows even feel a sense of pride?
Did they feel anything except the need to destroy humans and take their souls?
Two Shadows, two ordeals.
“Junpei, make sure Yukari’s safe! Join the fight once you KNOW she’ll be okay!” Minako shouted.
“On it!” Junpei hoped over the broken marble to get to Yukari, his Evoker ready in case there was trouble.
Fuuka, without orders, followed close behind. “I can help too!” she yelled before jumping on top of the debris to leap across the mess. Her own Evoker clutched close to her chest, but her knuckles were no longer a pale white. “I can’t stand by and do nothing!”
For such a small girl, she was able to navigate the minefield of wreckage with ease.
Minako left the safety of the access point once Junpei reached Yukari, Fuuka not far behind. Akihiko was already out in the fight, Polydeuces summoned and brawling with the King while the Queen was left alone. They could not risk Mitsuru’s life in order to kill the Shadows.
The King swung his sword around in a poor attempt to knock the Persona away, but Polydeuces grabbed the blade and let loose a shock that brought the enemy to its knees. The crackle of electricity gave Minako goosebumps, even though she and Akihiko kept their distance to feel out the enemy.
A Persona’s power was based on one’s inner psyche. Even if they were all different in skill and ability, the base on which they all functioned on was always the same. It was dictated by the strength and conviction of one’s very soul. No amount of physical training could prepare someone for such a feat as using their soul.
Such raw power came from a place of strong emotion.
“I’ll handle the Queen!” Minako shouted to Akihiko as he continued to put pressure on the other Shadow. “I’ve got an idea to get Mitsuru, but you’ll have to keep that one busy!”
“Got it!” Akihiko threw her a wave. “Just make sure she’s safe!”
With that, he started a violent assault on the King. The air grew increasingly electrified as he worked to keep the monster at bay.
There was no way he could lose with that hardened resolve to save Mitsuru.
Now it was time for her to apply her own for a daring rescue.
Minako dared to get closer to the Queen, now that it and the King were separated. She advanced forward using the broken pillars to hide from any possible eyes the Queen had on her. She tried to keep in its blind spots while still maintaining a visual on Mitsuru’s prominent red hair.
Once close enough, she cupped her hands over her mouth to amplify her voice. “Kirijo-san, are you okay!? Give me a sign!”
The Queen noticed the field leader’s shouting. It turned while swinging its golden scepter in the same fashion as the King’s sword.
However, Minako was faster on the draw. She forced against her head in time with the attack.
Before she became a human golf ball, a humanoid creature with tiger-like legs and upper body appeared to stop the scepter. Its upper half was protected by oddly shaped armor and made it easy for holding back heavy attacks. A pair of swords hung from a metal belt, perfect for a fight if Minako could get Mitsuru out safely.
“Perfect!” She ducked under the scepter to get in front of the Queen. As she passed by its stubby legs, she sliced the ankles so that the creature became unstable and wavering on the edge of tipping over. “Just hold on a bit longer! I’ve got a plan but I need to check something first!”
“As you wish, young warrior!” Flames erupted from his claws as it dug in for the long haul. The heat was already starting to spread throughout the area. “I will not let this sow defeat the Great Flauros!”
Minako nodded and focused back at Mitsuru. The Queen was preoccupied with regaining control over her weapon to pay any mind to the problem in front of her. Her captive remained still.
From where she stood, Minako took in the full extent to Mitsuru's injuries. Blood splattered half of her face, still bleeding from a gash above her left eye. It probably was not even the size of a pea, but head wounds looked worse than they actually are.
“Hurry, young warrior!” Minako heard Flauros warn in her mind. “I will not be able to sustain this from much longer!”
Minako uttered a quick prayer before getting putting distance between her and the Queen.
“Flauros, knock that thing over and grab the girl she’s holding!” She raised her Evoker so she could resummon the Persona to Mitsuru. “If she gets hurt, I’ll get Igor to erase you! I can’t let her die!”
“Such fire! Your wish is my command!” Flauros chuckled and engulfed the Queen’s scepter in a blazing fire. Her Persona let go of the weapon and the enemy stumbled backward at the change in power. “The girl shall not die under my watchful eye!”
The large Shadow wobbled on unsteady legs.
Deep breath in. . .
The Queen went down with arms stretched to the sky.
Deep breath out. . .
Its grip on both scepter and Mitsuru was loosened.
Deep breath in. . .
The leader of SEES began to fall towards the ground.
“NOW!” Minako shot the Evoker and felt a spasm of energy overcome her spirit. “GO FLAUROS!”
Flauros reappeared in a flash of blue to catch Mitsuru. Once she was secured in its arms, the Persona used the Queen’s downed body as a springboard and lept high into the air towards Minako. It raised a hand at the enemy with a mighty roar.
The Queen was fully consumed in a brilliant blaze of glory. A heatwave hit Minako full force, strong enough that she dropped her naginata to shield her eyes from the intense flare. Ash and smoke burned her lungs despite the precautions.
“A little too much!”
“But now she is surely dead!” Flauros landed in front of her and gave Mitsuru over to her. When the pass was completed, it used its far stronger body to protect them from the worst of the carnage. “Do not fear! I can handle the power of my own flames.”
“My turn!” she heard from nearby. As the flames of Minako’s Persona began to die, Junpei was running in to join the fight with Evoker raised. “Finish this up, Hermes!”
“Good luck, young warrior!” Flauros took his leave in a cloud of blue while Hermes burst forward at breakneck speed and hurled itself on top the smoldering Queen. While using its fin-like arms to slice the enemy’s face, explosions covering all other areas. The heat had someone gotten worse, even after what Flauros had done.
As quickly as it began, Hermes smashed the Queen’s skull one last time, its crown blasted to pieces and dispersed.
The beast stopped writhing.
The Queen was dead.
Junpei pumped a fist in the air. “Woah ho! Take that, your majesty!”
Minako let out a sigh of relief. “That was quick.” She turned back to Mitsuru who was still held close in her arms to protect from the fire.
Not a single burn nor scratch that was not that before.
She looked to where Akihiko had just finished his own fight. The King lay motionless and charred on the ground, Polydeuces and the summoner standing victorious. From the burn marks on the Shadow’s body, it seemed like she was not the only one who Junpei assisted tonight.
The battle was won.
“Thank you, Flauros,” Minako said aloud, repositioning Mitsuru in a more comfortable position on her lap. A hand brushed over her heart where she could feel the steady thrum of the demon’s own beat. It was something she was terrified of at first but soon found it to be a reminder of what she had accomplished. “I’ll put it a good word with Igor next time I visit.”
“It was an honor. Continue to grow, the young warrior of the Fool.”
The voice disappeared, as did the heartbeat. It left her drained from the fight, however short it was.
Warrior of the Fool. . . was that a reference to Nona’s arcana? Perhaps to Minako's ability to call multiple Personas?
In any case, it was nice to have a title, and given to her by a being from another world no less.
“Ugh. . .” Mitsuru shifted and opened her eyes. She tried to sit up, but struggle to do even that simple task. “W-what happened?”
Minako was broken from her thoughts as the redhead stirred. “Easy there, Kirijo-san. You’re hurt pretty bad.” She smiled and helped Mitsuru sit upright. “Sorry if you feel a little sore. My plan might’ve been a little bit bumpy, but at least you’re safe now. We finished the Shadows off.”
“Plan-?” Mitsuru flinched and went to touch the cut on her forehead. “-impossible, they were so strong. . .”
“Mitsuru!” Akihiko ran and slid right next to the other seniors in the blink of an eye. Upon seeing his friend was conscious and breathing, he visibly slumped as if a weight had been taken off his shoulders. “We made it in time.”
“Akihiko. . .” She paused to take a staggered breath but then offered up a smile. “It took you three long enough to get back.”
“She’s fine alright.” Minako shimmed away from Mitsuru to give her some space to move. “Can ya’ get up on your own? You’re probably still shaken up after all that.”
Mitsuru shook her head. “Admittedly, I could use some assistance.”
“I got her. Help me get her real quick.” Akihiko kneeled down and threw her arm his head. He grabbed her waist for extra stability. Minako got on her other side and offered herself as a crutch to lean on. “Up on three?”
He nodded and waited until Mitsuru was ready to go.
“One, two, hup!”
With a combined effort, they had Mitsuru on her feet and being supported by Akihiko. She groaned and swayed from her wounds but soon found her balance without Minako’s intervention.
“How embarrassing,” the heiress muttered yet held no venom in her words. “I suppose my fighting skills could use a tune-up, after all the support work I’ve done these past few months. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the field.”
Minako stepped away from the two with a shrug. “I guess we’ve got some good news for you then!” She started to regroup with the others to check on their status. “I’ll give a full report later, but first, I’ve gotta make sure Yukari’s alright. She looked pretty beat up too.”
“Go ahead, we’ll catch up.”
With an okay from Mitsuru, Minako jogged away from the seniors to the group of juniors sitting on the staircase.
The communication equipment lay strewn about, smashed to the point of no return. When intermingled with sharp stones, it would be easy for anyone to step on one and ruin their shoes. It was difficult to avoid tiny shards of metals, splayed wiring, and damaged headsets but Minako reached the three without getting a single cut.
Yukari was sitting and talking with Fuuka while Junpei resigned himself to dressing the archer’s wound. The first aid kit that kept hidden behind the stairs was laid open, a bottle of rubbing alcohol was half empty from cleaning off her cut while two packs of gauze were already used up. A spool of white bandages had been nearly depleted from covering the surface area of the gash running the length of her calf. The sock that had covered it was torn up and bloody on the tile.
There was no doubt that it hurt. Not even a more powerful healing spell could take away the deep, internal scarring left behind.
For the rest of her life, she would carry that scar and be reminded of what she went through.
If only they had been a second sooner. . . if only Minako were faster, this could have been avoided.
“It’s not as bad as it looks, Minako-senpai.”
Minako looked up from the gash to see a grinning Yukari. She gave the field leader a thumbs up as if she could tell that she was thinking about what happened. “We’re all gonna get scars out of this. Mine’s just cooler than everyone else's!”
Junpei scoffed, closing up the first aid kit. “What kind of line is that? Sounds like an after-school special about life and junk.”
Yukari rolled her eyes. “She looked sad so I tried to make her feel better, Stupei!” She stuck out her tongue. “What were you doing? Pretending to patch me up? I know you’re just trying to look up my skirt or something creepy like that!”
“Hey! I don’t think about that stuff all the time!” he defended. “Besides, I’d be clever and just wait until we got into a fight!”
“I knew it! That’s why I wear compression shorts when we go on missions anyway!”
“It. Was. A. JOKE!”
“You’re gonna make Minako feel weirded out with your JOKES!”
What a charming, considerate girl. If she could extend the same kindness to Junpei, the world would be in sweet harmony.
But she was right, everyone has scars.
“You two are just too funny.” Minako sat down in front of them on her knees. The exhaustion from using her Personas in the tower and again in the lobby was taking a toll on her body. Summoning Flauros was no small endeavor, taking into account its status and her limit on how much she could take in one night. “S’long as we get back to the dorm before the Dark Hour ends, I’ll be more than happy. I’ve barely got anything left in me after my master plan.”
Fuuka smiled at the mention of leaving. “Are we really going back? It’s finally over?”
Minako nodded and stood up.
“Yup, good work tonight everyone. Let’s get ready to move out-”
Without warning, a harsh wind bombarded the group from the direction of the entrance.
“What’s going on!?”
“Someone protect Yamagishi!”
“Get down, they aren’t dead!”
Minako tried to fight against the wind to look where it was coming from. Her legs shook but the will to remain standing kept her from falling down. The Shadows were defeated, so what was causing such a storm? There had to be another enemy!
She found her cause as the wind receded.
“No. . .”
The Shadows stood back up, seemingly unharmed.
“They aren’t dead yet.”
This is my last will and testament before I get murdered by Mitsuru Kirijo.
Let the record show that I'm not sorry for stealing her motorcycle. It was for a good cause.
As for my stuff, I don't know. Just fight to the death over it and whatever.