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Chains

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11/XX/2016: Unknown
Time: Unknown
Location: Unknown

There was a sound of chains. His chains.

He hadn’t even noticed the two men leave as a woman walked into the room where he sat at the table, listening to the rhythmic clinks and clanks of the handcuffs keeping him restrained to his chair. For the first time in his life he began to feel this noise to be soothing. There was a consistency to the way the chains swayed and played their melancholy tune. The tune helped keep his mind clear of the fog it was enshrouded by caused by the drugs that were previously held in the syringes tossed to the floor at his side. The swaying helped him focus on something other than the deep, sharp pain he felt in his thigh. The routine was nice, however, a gentle hand on his left cheek pulled him from his stupor as he looked up to a see a face of worry on the woman’s face, speaking words without sound that gradually became audible to him. He recognised this woman with ease. It was his girlfriend’s older sister, Sae Niijima. The chains began to quiet down. Their rattle in his head slowly decreasing in volume as he tried to focus on what Sae was saying.

“Dammit, just what hell did they do to you? Ren. Are you alright? Please, you need to focus- otherwise, I won’t be able to help. So please answer me, Ren. Can you hear me?” A nod from Ren was all the prosecutor needed before she sat down on the opposite side of the table from him. The look of worry still plaguing her face as she began to speak again. “So it was you the entire time, huh? I’d like to say I had my suspicions, but despite the time I’ve spent with you these past few months, I can honestly say I had no inkling to even assume it was you, yet, seeing you here now, things are beginning to click into place for me. But I still must say that I am absolutely dumbfounded.”

Ren took this moment to chime in. “I tend to have that effect on people. Just in case you haven’t noticed, Niijima-san.” Ren finished with a slight chuckle that was cut of short because of a sharp and sudden pain in his chest. Possibility of a broken rib or two now prevalent.

Sae couldn’t help but let out a breath through her nose as she tried to stifle a small laugh as well. “Usually I would say that jests in this scenario are fairly inappropriate, but even so, seeing that your sense of humor isn’t yet diminished makes me happy. Now then, obviously we have a topic to discuss- and quickly for that matter- Mr. Phantom Thief. How did you and your group pull all of this off? Why did you guys even bother? Why did the incident with Okumura happen? But what piqued my curiosity the most is the how. So I’m going to have you tell me everything from when this all started to how we ended up here in this room together. Of course that means starting off with the former gym teacher at Shujin, Suguru Kamoshida.” As Sae was finishing her statement, she pulled out a packed manilla folder, placed it onto the table, and opened it to reveal a photo of the bastard himself. “You may now begin.” said Sae looking towards the bloodied, bruised, and beaten boy in front of her.

“Well, then we need to take a trip down memory lane to a specific date. April 9th. My first day in Tokyo.” Ren said as he began to recall the memories of the first heist ever done by the Phantom Thieves.

04/09/2016: Saturday
Time: Lunchtime
Location: Shujin Academy

The bell for lunch had just rang sending the school into its usual frenzy as students were trying to either get their food and find a place to eat and gather with friends to enjoy company or they were simply trying to find a place to eat their own food. However, it wasn’t hard at all to notice that a majority of students preferred the former of the two options as it was a hassle for Makoto Niijima to reach the stairs beyond the school bread store. Today was going to be a different day for her as this was the beginning of her investigation regarding the rumors surrounding the gym teacher, Suguru Kamoshida. As she got past the huge number of students and started going up the stairs, Makoto could not help but think that had it not been for Sakamoto-kun’s antics, she would’ve paid no mind to the obvious abuse the volleyball team was going through. ‘No students should be in that state from some mere practice. So I should hurry on up to the roof so that Sakamoto-kun and I can start figuring out how to get the evidence we need and-’ Makoto’s train of thought was suddenly thrown off before she could make her first step onto the second set of stairs by someone calling out to her.

“Oh! What great timing! I was just on my way to go looking for you Niijima-san.” Said Ms. Kawakami, stopping Makoto from going upstairs.

“May I ask what it is you need from me then, Ms. Kawakami?”

“Oh, nothing too huge. It’s just that Principal Kobayakawa wants to talk to you as well as me regarding the new transfer student we’re getting on Monday.” Said Kawakami. She then brought her voice down to a whisper that only the two of them could hear. “More specifically, the you-know-what about him.”

“Ah, I see.” Said Makoto stepping off of the stairs. “Shall we?”

“We shall.” And the two of them walked the few feet to the Principal's office. Kawakami knocked once and immediately the two were told to walk in. Kawakami opened the door, motioned for Makoto to go in first and then walked in as well closing the door behind her. As soon as the click of the door closing was finished, Kobayakawa began talking immediately in a stern voice.

“Now then, I don’t want to keep the two of you for too long so let’s just get this out of the way real quick.” Said Kobayakawa as both Kawakami and Makoto walked up to the front of his desk. “As you both understand, this new transfer student, Ren Amamiya, has an assault record on his case, was subsequently expelled from his school, and I have decided we would take him in for it would help with bolstering the schools reputation. This is good for both of you, as you Ms. Kawakami, will be getting a raise by the end of the year if he is successfully rehabilitated as he will be in you homeroom. And for you Ms. Niijima as a better school reputation would make a letter of recommendation go much farther in helping you get into the college of your choice.” Kobayakawa then stopped and looked at the two of them with a gaze that said these were the basics of the situation and not the main topic of discussion. He went on saying, “So what I have the two of you here for is that I want the two of you here in my office tomorrow by twelve o’clock. Mr. Amamiya will be here to get a run down of his situation so that we can make it clear that this is his last chance. I’ve already told Ms. Kawakami that should he get into trouble, she cannot do anything to protect him, which is where we get to you Ms. Niijima. As you are student council president, I would appreciate it if you could help keep him in check so that he doesn’t get into trouble. Maybe tutor him if you’d please or even simply befriend him so that he may have you as a good influence for the following year. Do you understand, Ms. Niijima?”

“Yes sir. I’ll make sure the transfer student doesn’t get into any trouble while he is here.”

“Good. Then the two of you may go and remember, twelve o’clock tomorrow.” Said Kobayakawa as he started waving the back of his hand towards the door, dismissing them.

Kawakami and Makoto both bowed slightly and made their way out of the room. As soon as the door closed behind them, Kawakami let out what felt like a sigh that had been working its way out for the past hour or so. “Well, see you tomorrow then Niijima-san.”

“Yes. See you tomorrow, Ms. Kawakami.” Said Makoto as she started to walk back towards the stairs. She was late meeting up with Sakamoto now. But before she reached the stairs, a hand on her shoulder turned her around to face Kawakami once more.

“Before you go, I just want to let you know that I wouldn’t worry about tutoring the transfer student. You’ll get to see his student file tomorrow but he’s apparently a pretty smart guy. He has around a 99 percentile average for his grades and would usually make top of his class during school exams.” Said Kawakami, letting go of Makoto’s shoulder when she finished.

“I see. That’s good news then.”

“Yes it is. But I would still consider befriending him like Kobayakawa just got done saying. However, I think you’ll find my recommendation to be one with ‘ulterior’ motives instead of school related ones.” And with that, she winked at Makoto and started walking away back into the faculty office.

Makoto pursed her lips, staring at the teacher in confusion. ‘I wonder what she means by that’ Thought Makoto as she started heading up the flight of stairs before her. ‘Well, I guess I’ll just find out tomorrow. Doesn’t make me any less curious, however.’

As she reached the door to the rooftop Makoto could very easily hear some mumbling on the other side and as she opened the door was immediately met with a, “Where the hell were you!? You said you’d be here like ten minutes ago!” Ryuji Sakamoto was obviously more than a little annoyed by the circumstances, but the annoyance wasn’t without justification. Him and Makoto were supposed to be figuring out a plan on getting dirt on Kamoshida that could be used as evidence regarding the abuse of the volleyball team.

“Sorry about that Sakamoto-kun. I was dragged into Kobayakawa’s office regarding the new transfer student we’re getting this Monday.”

“Oh, right. Forgot we were getting a transfer student. Oh! Is it chick or a dude? Aren’t they gonna be in my grade? What do they look like? Anything I should know about him?” Ryuji just had the mood swing of the century and Makoto had to stifle a small laugh at the sight of this.

“It’s a he. His name is Ren Amamiya and he’s coming here from the countryside.”

“What else do you know about him? I mean, this is like the perfect opportunity for me after all. He hasn’t been around this shit show of a rumor mill school so this is my chance to get to know him so I can, ya know…” Ryuji said quickly before slowing down, looking at the gravel beneath his feet, kicking at it.

Makoto could not help but smile at this. Ryuji saw this as a way to make a friend. One not plagued by the rumors surrounding him that have him pegged as a delinquent. “I’m truly am sorry Sakamoto-kun, but that’s all I know.” ‘I am not going to mention his assault record however. Ryuji can figure that out for himself if the opportunity arises for him.’

“Eh, that’s aight Miss Prez. Anyway, let’s get to the matter at hand.” Ryuji truly was going through the mood swing of the century- starting off from visibly irritated, too excited, to what is now very serious.

“You’re right. So let us hurry then as we don’t have much time left for the lunch period. How did questioning the players turn out for you?” Makoto said, her expression falling to match the same as Ryuji’s. “By the way you look right now, I’m going to assume the efforts went fruitless?”

She was right. Ryuji had found a way to look angry, sad, and undefeated all at the same time. “None of them talked or fessed up. They all said the injuries were practice related or they told me to buzz off, that being the one that happened the most.”

“That’s troublesome, however, I’m sure with some consistency we can finally get some of the students to crack and tell us what’s really happening.” Makoto said looking more determined than before. ‘I will try anything to make sure I can keep these students safe. It’s my duty after all.’ Makoto thought before adding verbally, “Starting Tuesday, I’ll bring in some of the players in to the student council room. Maybe that extra layer of confidentiality would help. I would star Monday, but I wanna spend that time making a list of who to bring in. I’m thinking the first year students would be the best start since they have the least chance of being tangled in the mess.”

Ryuji nodded to that. “Can’t go wrong with ya there. Umm, anyways, the bell for the lunch period is about to ring so we should probably split. I’ll let you go first. But before you go, I just wanna say thanks for actually giving enough of a damn to help out. You’re already doing ten times better than the last prez, Niijima-senpai.” Said Ryuji, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head, an ear to ear grin on his face.

“Yes, and thank you for helping open my eyes to it. Now then, if I don’t see you on Monday, then I’ll definitely be seeing you on Tuesday. Good day, Sakamoto-kun.” And with that, Makoto was turned around walking down the stairs, leaving the roof right as the bell for the lunch period to end rang.

04/09/2016: Saturday
Time: Afternoon
Location: Shibuya

The train ride towards Shibuya had been a welcoming one. Not in the sense of it having a “homey” feel- Ren has never truly felt what homey is to understand that feeling- but in the fact that the silence had been a welcome retreat. Ever since his arrest it was nothing but noise around him. If he was out in public, everyone would stare at him, whisper about him, like some alien object that would explode at any moment, as if the reputation he had built with his peers and his community truly amounted nothing. At home, unsurprisingly, things stayed the same, just this time the drunken insults from his father hit harder, centering around him being a worthless son that his dad was now two hundred percent sure would amount to nothing life. In the end the single father that raised him was just that, a father. He would never be a dad and these recent moments sealed that fate. Ren’s real family ended up being the community he worked so hard with, but even they turned their backs on him. But still, he couldn't be entirely angry with the giant makeshift family he had. Not all of them betrayed him immediately. The principal and a few of his teachers set up Ren’s probationary home and found him an education in Shujin Academy. This was the last of any kindness to him. His dad hadn't even bothered to say goodbye to him before he walked to the train station that would begin the trip that would start the next year of his life. This was his reality, and it was surprisingly easy to accept. Ren didn’t care. Just as long as he didn’t have to be trapped in a concrete room again. Just as long as he could move on with this year without the whispers.

These 'trains’ of thought ended however. Ren’s mind hopping off them as he heard the intercom saying they were arriving in Shibuya. Now it was his physical turn to hop off the train. The silence he welcomed now gone. The sound of the city drowning it with unheard noise. Ren knew however, that he no longer had time to think for the time being. He had to get to his new guardian’s, Sojiro Sakura, house. Ren pulled out his phone, typing the address into his GPS, and started to walk.

The amount of people in his station hadn’t prepared him for the concrete jungle he was about to walk into, however. After stepping out of the station, Ren could feel his gut wrench at the massive amount of people in front of him. Ren knew he would get lost someday in this sea of life. It became a challenge in of itself for Ren, trying to look at his phone to make sure he was going the right way while also making sure he didn’t run into anyone. It was a challenge he was going to achieve success in, however. To Ren, it almost felt like game of Frogger in a way, but this game became odd real quick.

He was in the middle of the street, the lights green giving everyone in the vicinity the go ahead to cross, but something weird was happening. People began slowing down around him, but not like they were fatigued, but like they were being frozen in time. Life continued to slow until everything came to a halt. The world he saw was still in its entirety. That was, until a loud roaring noise began. Ren’s flipped around to face the direction he heard it and saw a roaring blue flame beyond the crowd. What seemed like a face soon appeared in the flame giving Ren a smile that seemed so familiar but terrifying in every aspect it held.

Ren slowly began to shake as he looked in the fiery eyes in front of him. Then it spoke. “I’ve been waiting.” And with that, the blue demon fire dissipated and life resumed, completely unaware of what happened. Not wanting to cause a scene, Ren flowed with the crowd. He grabbed his phone and unlocked it to make sure he was going in the right direction. However, Ren noticed a new app on his phone, right next to his GPS app. It was odd looking, with a red background and a jagged, black, circular thing that sat in the middle. A red eye in the middle of that and a black star for an iris.

‘Huh, odd. I don’t remember downloading this or my phone updating for that matter. So in the trash you go.’ After ‘uninstalling’ the app, Ren went back to his GPS and began to make his way to Sojiro Sakura’s house once more.

Finding his guardian’s house had been a simple enough matter. Even finding Sakura himself was easy enough once he heard from a delivery man that he must be at his cafe. All Ren had to do was follow the strong and delicious smell that permeated the streets of Yongen-Jaya.

Ren was in the middle of reaching for the door handle when the door swung inward, revealing an elderly couple leaving the restaurant. Ren turned to the side to let them pass, gave the two a slight smile and nod before walking into shop.

“Geez. Four hours for just a single cup of joe.” Sighed what must’ve been Sojiro Sakura in the flesh. Ren started to walk towards Sojiro when the man looked up staring at Ren causing him to stop. Sojiro gave Ren a quizzical look before realization dawned upon him. A slight frown replacing the previous position his mouth held. “So you’re ‘him’, huh?”

Ren nodded and gave a slight bow. “Thank you for taking me in Sakura-san.”

“Huh, and manners to boot. Well just because you’re not what I expected doesn’t mean the facts around here change. Go on upstairs, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Ren did as he told and walked up the stairs into the attic-room of the cafe. Ren walked on over to the sofa and placed down his satchel and turned around to face the noise coming up the stairs.

“Listen, I don’t wanna run down of the situation. I already heard. A woman was struggling, trying to get away from a man. You stepped in, he got hurt, next thing ya know, here you are. That’s what you get for meddling in affairs that do not pertain to you.”

“Understood.” Ren muttered, eyes downcast as he remembered the night that changed everything.

“Good. As for your living conditions, this here will be your room.”

There was a very obvious look of surprise on Ren’s face that Sojiro took note of. He gave a slight smirk and asked, “What is it?”

“It’s just umm… Roomy?”

“Hah! That’s one way you could put it kid. Listen, you can clean and organize the place as much as you like. I don’t really care one way or another.” Sojiro’s smirk fell into a frown and he began speaking once more. “As for the rules of this place, don’t go bothering my customers, in fact, I’d rather you not be around them. Also, don’t touch anything downstairs either without express permission. If I find out you did, I’ll kick you out without a single thought, other than the thought of kicking you out that is, and trust me, I’ll find out if you touched anything without my permission.

“Yes sir, understood.”

“Good. Now like I said, you can do whatever you want with this room, I don’t really care. You still have a few hours left before I close up shop as well. After I do, I’ll be back up to give you something. Oh, and if you so happen to stay up here during the work hours, don’t make too much noise please. Thank you.”

Ren nodded as a bell rang downstairs, signifying that someone had entered the cafe. Sojiro took this as his cue to leave, but turned before taking the steps down.

“By the way, your stuff is in that box underneath the shelf.” And with that, Ren’s guardian disappeared downstairs with a, “Sorry about the wait, what can I get for ya?”

Ren also took this as his cue to do something with the room he’d be sleeping in for the next year. So for the next four or five hours, Ren cleaned. He opened up the windows, started dusting, moved the random objects that scattered the floor away into corners of the room where they wouldn’t really be noticed by anyone, but there was a plant that looked half-alive. That however, was an overstatement. The plant looked terribly dreadful, but with some nutrients, the plant would live and would bring some much needed color to the room. Still though, Ren went and sat on the edge of hid bed thinking, ‘Well, if homey feels like anything, I’d bet it’s this.’ The way the soft white lights danced on the dark wood around the room and the smell of coffee and curry wafting from downstairs truly brought in a welcoming feel. A really welcoming feel. ‘Even if my guardian acts like a bit of a hard ass, he seemed like the ideal person to be my guardian for the next year.’ thought Ren.

He smiled that to himself before he heard the sound of feet on stairs. Ren looked up to see a very surprised Sojiro.

“Huh. Didn’t think you’d actually clean the place. Not half bad.” Said a Sojiro that was admiring the handiwork of Ren. “Well, anyways, I didn’t come here to chit chat. Here.” Sojiro said, handing Ren a deep brown leathered notebook. “I’m legally obliged to report on your activities twice a month, so write them down in that book. Just don’t do any ‘Dear Diary’ stuff. That’d be kinda weird.”

Ren nodded to that, a small grin appearing on his face. “Thank you Sojiro-san, and will do.”

“Mm. Also, you should probably head off to bed. We need to be at Shujin by 12 o’clock tomorrow so I don’t want you oversleeping. There, they’ll probably give you a run down of your situation and other unimportant things. But I would take what they say to heart.” Sojiro’s face grew fairly serious once more. “Because if you do end up getting expelled from that school, it’s out on the street for you. Got it?”

Ren’s face matched Sojiro’s face quickly. “Got it. I promise to not disappoint.”

“Good.” Sojiro seemed content with the answer Ren had given him. “Well, alright. I’m going to close up shop.” And with that, the man was turned around, going downstairs. Once Ren heard the bell chime and the door close, he got up and changed into his pajamas. Ren turned off the light, checked his phone, and to Ren’s surprise, that weird app was back.

‘What the hell? I thought I deleted you. Hmph. May as well try again.’ Ren thought to himself while dragging the app down back into the recycling bin on his phone. With that, he plugged his phone in, and started to doze off. The lingering smell of coffee and curry pulling him deeper into sleep.

There was a sound of chains. His chains.

Chapter Text

04/10/2016: Sunday

Time: Unknown

Location: Unknown

 

Ren awoke into a room that he knew he did not fall asleep in. Was he kidnapped? Was he hallucinating? “This feels too surreal to be a dream.” Ren said to himself. He looked around and saw that the walls were covered in blue velvet. Ren got up from the bed he lay on and looked down and saw that he was now wearing a prisoner’s white and black striped garb, shackles that were chained together on his wrists. He looked to his right and saw a door made of vertical iron bars, and an overabundance of iron chains and locks. Ren got up to walk to the door when he felt a weight on his right foot. He looked down and saw another shackle on his ankle. The chain leading back to a massive iron ball. He decided to ignore the fact that he was very clearly restrained thoroughly and walked up to the iron gate, placing both hands on separate iron bars, shaking them before peering through the space in between to a see a man sitting at a desk a few meters in front of him. His eyes slightly bloodshot and bulgey, open wide and staring at Ren. His grin wide and unsettling and he had an abnormally large nose. Ren heard two sets of footsteps and saw two little girls appear on opposite sides of the door. One with her hair put into two buns with a slight grin on her face and an eye patch covering her left eye. The other taking a more serious look on her face, her hair braided into a ponytail of sorts and an eye patch covering her right eye. Ren took in the sight of the two little girls in front of him, dressed up like wardens, then returned his gaze to the unnerving man in front him.

 

“Welcome to the Velvet Room, a place between dream and reality. The look of it is decided by the residents heart. To think yours would take such a look. Truly ironic, is it not? My name is Igor, and to your right, is Caroline. To your left, Justine. They are the Velvet Room Attendants, or for lack of a better term, your Wardens.” Igor said, his voice low and unnerving.

 

Ren looked down at the two small wardens. Justine bowed in a hello while Caroline just yelled out, “You better listen to us inmate! Your Rehabilitation depends on it!”

 

“Rehabilitation? What are you talking about?” Ren asked, his eyes wide with a mix of confusion and fear.

 

Igor spoke up saying, “Fate has chosen you, Trickster, to save the world from absolute Ruin, yet the need to save yourself, become stronger, to be ‘ rehabilitated ’ will also be prevalent in the coming months.”

 

Saying Ren was confused was an understatement, “What the hell are you talking about?! What Ruin? What Rehabilitation?” His words immediately met with the sound of Caroline’s baton smacking the iron bars, causing Ren to flinch in fear of being hit.

 

“You will speak to the Master with respect, inmate !”

 

Ren flinched away from the iron gate while Igor let out a loud, guttural chuckle. “Questions that will be answered in due time. For now, ours has run out. Return to your world for the time being.”

 

Ren blinked, and the room was gone, dissolving into wisps of black smoke around him as he was lulled back into the warm embrace of sleep.

 

04/10/2016: Sunday

Time: Morning

Location: Cafe Leblanc

 

Ren was awake and ready for the following day, but the ‘ dream ’ he had the night before was still perplexing him. ‘It felt like a dream, but it felt so real. And besides, what did that long nosed man mean about rehabilitation and ruin?’ To say the least, it was an odd subject that confused Ren, so he let it be and got dressed for the day. He made sure to wear his uniform exactly like it was meant too, to avoid any sort of rule breaking. This was his last chance after all so he was not going to take any unnecessary risks. He put on his black and red plaid pants, slipping the belt through the hoops. He put on his black socks, pulling them up so that they blended in behind the pants, then slipped on his black, business casual shoes. Ren got up, grabbed his white turtleneck and slipped it on. Even with the thickness of the shirt, the slender, yet very toned physique of the young man remained prominent. Ren grabbed his suspenders, hooked them onto their respective loops on his pants and brought them over his shoulders. Ren grabbed his glasses, put them on, turned on his front facing camera on his phone and had to admit to himself that the uniform didn't look too bad actually. ' Let’s just hope the glasses successfully do what they're supposed too.’ He then grabbed the two pins in a bag right beside his school jacket. One, a smaller white pin with a black 2 on it. Ren decided to pin this on the fold of his jackets collar. The other being a decently sized pin of the school symbol. Ren decided he would put this one on the jackets chest pocket. Then, right as Ren was putting on his jacket to finish the uniform look, he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. He looked in the direction to a see Sojiro in a light pink dress shirt and a white dress overshirt, both with the sleeves slightly rolled up. He also sported black pants a white fedora like hat tilted more in the front. ‘ Huh, he looks like quite the ladies man. ’ Ren finished putting on his jacket and met Sojiro’s face.

 

“Well I see you’re already up and kicking. Good, cause we should probably go now, we’ve only got an hour and a half to get there and with all the incidents and what not, it’s gonna take a while to get there. So taking my car would be the best decision. Food is waiting for you on the counter. Hurry up and eat so we can get going.” Sojiro said without what seemed like a care in the world.

 

“Alright, and thank you for the food.” Ren said, following Sojiro down the stairs.

 

“It’s the least I can do for ya. Anyways, just sit and eat. We don’t have a whole lot of time for chatting.” Sojiro reminded.

 

Ren nodded at this and went to the barstool countertop to start digging into his meal. Ren wasn’t expecting curry for breakfast, but after the smell he experienced just a mere thirteen hours ago, he was definitely not going to complain. Ren sat, grabbed the spoon, got a good balance of rice and curry on, and took the first bite. The curry was in a league of its own it was so good. Ren truly believed that what just happened was him having other curries ruined. Forever. Ren took a look at the coffee before him, wondering if the same thing was about to happen so he placed his spoon down, grabbed the cup, and took a sip. “Oh this is bad. But, oh is this so good.”

 

“Huh? What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Sojiro’s words laced in confusion. Was this an insult? A compliment? Maybe both?

 

“It’s supposed to mean that I think you just ruined all other coffee and curry for me. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but I’m content with the now.”

 

Sojiro couldn’t help but chuckle at the boy before adding, “If you have enough time to admire the masterworks, then you have enough time to eat faster. Now hurry.”

 

Ren did as he was told, having finished the curry and his coffee within the next ten minutes. The after taste of the two flavors combining into something unexpectedly pleasant. Ren looked up at Sojiro who took his plate and mug and put them into the sink.

 

“Don’t think this is going to be a daily occurence, alright? You’re going to have to get your own ingredients so you can make your own meals after I close up shop. I've set aside some space for you in the fridge and there’s a cupboard with the cooking utensils you can use. Got that?”

 

Ren nodded, “Yes sir. Thank you again for you kindness, Sojiro-san.”

 

“Don’t mention it. Anyways, shall we?” Sojiro said while walking to the door.

 

Ren nodded and got up from his seat following Sojiro. As they stepped outside, Ren thought he heard some mumbled complaining about how only women are allowed in the passenger seat of his car, but Ren paid no mind to it.

 

04/10/2016: Saturday

Time: Noon

Location: Shujin Academy

 

As and Sojiro took their first steps into the academy, Sojiro just chuckled to himself, and walked in a slow small circle. Really, we just did a slow twirl. “Hmph. School never changes, huh?”

 

“Probably not much.”

 

“I was mainly talking to myself.”

 

“Oh. Did you go to Shujin when you were in high school, Sakura-san?”

 

“No. They had just started the plans for building it during my third year, so this building is a bit younger than me. Anyways, it’s getting close to twelve, let’s head on up to the principal’s office.” Sojiro said, leading the two of them to the second floor.

 

When they reached the door to the principal’s office, Sojiro stood to the side giving Ren full access, then looked at the boy and motioned his hands as if it say, ‘Well? Knock already.’ , and so Ren did. It was soon followed by a man’s voice saying, “Come in.”

 

As Ren opened up the door and walked in, he was met with three faces. Two women, and one man sitting in between them at a desk. To the left of the man was a girl who wore some brown leather boots, black leggings that blended in well with the black and red plaid skirt she wore. She also had on a similar white turtleneck to the one Ren wore with a black vest on top of it. She had piercing red eyes and short, brown hair. Just by looking at her, Ren could feel his cheeks redden, ‘ Cute.’ And although she appeared to carry some authority with her, he had no idea why she was here. To the right of the man, was a woman who appeared a bit older than the other, but not by much. She wore a long sleeved, yellow sweatshirt and a navy blue skirt that came down to her knees. She definitely looked like a teacher and one that did not want to be here. Then there was the man sitting in the middle. The man was overweight and wore a beige suit that looked several sizes too small for the man. The way his head bulged out of the suit looked really uncomfortable. But despite the way the physique of the man, he held the air of authority in this room. ‘ Yup. He’s the principal, alright.’

 

Meanwhile, going through Makoto’s mind were several things such as, ‘Oh he’s- Oh… This is what Kawakami met.’ She looked over at Kawakami who did the same. All the teacher did was give small smirk, then dropped it while turning her attention back to Ren. ‘How did this guy get an assault record? He doesn’t even look the part of a thug or delinquent. Well, I guess you truly can’t judge a book by its cover. Sakamoto had been enough proof of that for me these past few days.’

 

As Sojiro walked in and closed the door behind him, the principal began to talk to Ren.

 

“So, you must be Ren Amamiya, and you his current guardian, Sojiro Sakura?” Kobayakawa asked this almost expecting confirmation from the two of them but moved on before they could speak. “I am the head of this academy, Principal Kobayakawa, to the left of me…” He motioned his hand in the direction of the teacher. “... Is Sadayo Kawakami. She shall be your home room teacher for the next year while you attend Shujin Academy.” When he was done, she walked up to the corner of the desk and placed down two things. Ren’s student ID and the student manual.

 

“Remember our promise.” She muttered to Kobayakawa moving back into her original spot and position.

 

“Ah, yes. As your circumstances are special, I have promised Ms. Kawakami here that if you get into any trouble, that she will be unable to protect you. Let me be very clear when I say you walk on a thin line, Mr. Amamiya. Be careful to read that manual and follow school rules, or the consequences may be dire for you.”

 

Ren nodded to this only saying, “Yes sir. Thank you for accepting me into this school sir.” While Sojiro snickered at the man, ‘Now that the kid has a record, this is going to be the normal for him. Hopefully he’s good at adapting.’

 

“Hmm. Yes, you should be grateful, there aren’t many other chances for you outside of this. Anyways, moving on, to my right…” Same thing, Kobayakawa started raising his hand in the direction of the brown haired girl. “... Is Makoto Niijima, a third year. She is the Student Council President of Shujin. If you have any problems, please come to her. Also, should you need any help with your studies, she has been instructed to help you with those as well. She has constantly been at the top of her class for exams and should be more than enough to help you when you struggle. This is because you having good scores on your academics will help you in your rehabilitation during this probationary year. Though I do hope that your struggles in studies end up being few and far inbetween as you were top of your class back in your hometown.” Kobayakawa finished this statement, took in a sharp breath and said, “Do you have any questions while we’re here?”

 

Ren nodded his head no as he walked up to the desk to pick up his ID and Student Manual. Though, the movement was ignored, the question was intended for Sojiro. He answered, “Not really, other than can we be done now? I have a shop I need to get back too.”

 

“Actually, I was hoping I’d be able to give Amamiya-san here a tour of the school.” Said Makoto, asking for permission from Sojiro.

 

Sojiro looked at Ren, then back to Makoto, then back at Ren. He rubbed the back of his head and said, “That’s fine, but I’m heading out. Just take the trains home, kid. You know your way right?”

 

“Got there once before. I can do it again.”

 

“Don’t get cocky, country boy. Even natives to the city still get lost from time to time.” Sojiro said with a smirk before leaving the room.

 

Ren pocketed the ID and Manual and stepped towards the doorway, turned around, and then bowed to Kobayakawa and Kawakami. “I know my stance in this school is  shaky at best, but, thank you for giving me this opportunity. I will not waste it.”

 

This took the three others in the room off guard. They didn’t expect him to be grateful. Just a delinquent that didn’t care. “Well let’s not waste anymore time, Amamiya-kun. Let me show you around campus.” Said Makoto, walking towards the door, opening it, then turning and bowing to Kobayakawa and Kawakami. She then gave a look to Ren, as if saying, ‘ Come on, let’s hurry this on up .’

 

Ren didn’t hesitate to follow her. As he walked out back into the hallway, Makoto closed the door behind him.

 

“Well, let’s start on up the third floor.” Makoto said, ushering Ren to follow her up the stairs. Once up, Makoto started speaking again. “If you continue going up the stairs, you’ll end up onto the school roof, which is closed off to students without express permission. On this floor, the first years have their classes, going down the hallway in the middle, however, will give access to three rooms.” Ren followed, listening intently. “On this side…” Makoto raised her arm in the direction of the left of them, “... of the hallway, there are three doors. The first two lead into the library.” She walked over to the first door, pulled out some keys and unlocked it. She took a single step in, flicking the light switch on and waved him in. “Here, you can borrow books, of course, but you may also use the tables or one of the studying blocks to, of course, study and read.”

 

While Makoto was talking, she watched him move down into the fiction aisle, stopping as something caught his eye. “Did you find something you may want to check out this Monday?”

 

“Oh, it’s nothing, just some mystery novel.” Ren answered, pulling out a book on the Gentleman Thief, Arsene Lupin.

 

“Are you a fan of mystery novels?” Questioned Makoto, tilting her head as curiosity flashed across her face.

 

“Yeah. Though I’m really just a fan of anything that catches my eye, I tend to lean more to the mystery side of literature.”

 

“The same speaks true for me. Anyways, let’s move on.” Ren put the book back in its place and followed Makoto out of the library. She turned off the lights, closed and locked the door behind him before she moved down to the third door on this side of the hall, unlocking, opening, and flicking the light switch. Again, waving Ren in, she said, “After School, if you’re looking for me and I’m not in here, I’ll be studying in the library.”

 

“Oh, speaking of…” Ren said turning to Makoto, “... I may actually take up the offer of being tutored. I haven’t gotten any of the most recent curriculum cause of everything that went down.” Ren looked away, his eyes narrowing, sadness threatening to show itself. He shook his head slightly and looked at Makoto. “Is that alright with you, Niijima-senpai?”

 

“Yes, that'd be fine. How does after school, tomorrow, in here sound to you?”

 

Ren gave Makoto a small smile. “That sounds good. Thank you, again.”

 

Makoto smiled back and waved him out of the room. “Anytime. It is one of my duties to help my fellow students after all. Especially you.” After going through the same process of turning off the light, closing and locking the door, Makoto simply pointed at the other room across the hallway. “That’s just the broadcasting room. Nothing important you should worry yourself about. Now then, let’s continue downstairs to the second floor.”

 

When they reached the second floor Makoto began speaking again. “I’m not going to worry about showing you inside the different rooms. This floor is where second year classes are. Your’s is just right there... “ She said while pointing at Class 2-D. “... Obviously, you know where the Principal’s office is, well, right across from there is the faculty office. Now to the first floor.”

 

Again, they walked down the stairs, walked forward a little this time, and stopped. “Here, is where third years, like me, have classes. Down here you can purchase different breads during the lunch hour.” She was pointing in the direction of what seemed like a little shop with a metal shutter brought down. “If you continue down this middle hallway you’ll end up in the practice building, which is where clubs and sports are held. Also, on your way there you’ll walk through the courtyard, which is a pretty popular meeting spot for students. Anyway’s, that concludes our-” Makoto had stopped talking about the tour and started looking at a dark blue haired boy in some gym clothes, holding a small stack of papers. He was walking in the direction of the practice building when Makoto called out to him saying, “Hey!”, as she walked into his direction. The boy jumped a little and turned around to face Makoto.

Now that Ren could get a good look at his face, it did not look pretty. Bruises covered his arms and face, like he just took a beating.

 

“You’re Mishima-san, correct? If you don't mind my asking, what is it you're doing with those papers?” Makoto questioned the blue-haired boy.

 

“Oh, Mr. Kamoshida asked for them in his office as soon as possible.” The boy named Mishima seemed to be really nervous, but this nervousness increased ten fold when he saw Ren.

 

“Kamoshida, huh? Do you mind if I have a look at those papers?” Asked Makoto, but it was more of a demand than a question, but Mishima did not care about it that or simply didn’t notice the tone of Makoto’s voice..

 

“I’m sorry, but I really must be hurrying out of here to give these to Coach.” He looked back at Ren then jumped and just turned and walked away. Although it looked more like a heavily controlled sprint.

 

“That was odd.” Said Ren as he put his hands into his pockets, slouching slightly forward.

 

“Indeed. Speaking of Kamoshida, however, I recommend you stay away from him if at all possible. I have reason to suspect him to be dangerous. He’s the gym instructor, by the way.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind, thanks for the heads up Niijima-senpai. Though, may I ask, how is he dangerous?”

 

“Nothing but mere rumors and speculations. But it’s a gut feeling. Just don’t trust him alright? Especially given your circumstances, it could spell bad news for you.”

 

“I hear you. I’ll try to keep my distance.”

 

“Good. Now then, I do believe this tour to be officially over, so I’m going to head home. I doubt you want to stay either, so let’s get going.” Makoto said, walking out of the school.

 

Ren quickly jogged up to her. As they were walking back to the Aoyama-Itchome station, the two of them were fairly quiet until Makoto had broken the ice.

 

“So, how’s the city been treating you so far, Amamiya-san?”

 

Ren looked at her and shrugged. “They’re are a lot more people of course, but nothing terrible has happened. There’s just a lot of people. Makes me feel claustrophobic even though I’m not.”

 

“That does make sense. It is quite the difference in environment.”

 

“Tell me about it.”

 

“So, which district are you headed to?”

 

“I go to Shibuya where I’ll switch lines and head on down to Yongen-Jaya.”

 

“Huh. I've never been to Yongen.” Said Makoto, and the two ended up spending the rest of their time in silence until the train came to a stop at Shibuya station and stepped off. “Thank you for the tour Niijima-senpai. I guess I’ll see you after school tomorrow then?”

 

“Yes. See you tomorrow Amamiya-kun.” and as the two split apart for the day, Makoto’s first thought was, ‘ That’s what Ms. Kawakami meant. He’s cute. Like really cute.’

 

Ren was in the same boat as her in this regard. When he thought about it, Ren was actually excited to meet up with Makoto after school tomorrow. He stopped thinking about that though, waving the thoughts away, content with just waiting. The train to Yongen pulled up and he hopped on.

 

The ride back was simple enough until they started coming into the station and the train wasn’t slowing down. Around Ren, everyone started screaming and he too wanted too, but his first instinct proved to be more empowering. Ren immediately reached up and grabbed one of the handles with both of his hands.

 

There were people banging on the conductor's door, screaming at him to open up or slow down. Mother's were holding on to their children. Some screaming, others confused by all the noise. And then suddenly, it was over.

 

The sound of screeching steel reverberated through his ears and then there was a crash. The light faded, leaving all that remained in a shroud of darkness.

 

04/10/2016: Saturday

Time: Evening

Location: Cafe Leblanc

 

“Just recently, a train has crashed into the Yongen-Jaya station, leaving three dead, and many in critical condition. According to witness reports, the trains’ conductor was unresponsive when passengers tried to grab his attention, leaving many to believe this is yet another incident in the string of mental breakdowns. Stay tuned as we will be giving more updates to the situation as we get more information.”

 

Sojiro was nervously tapping the ground with his right floor. His left arm wrapped around himself while his right was resting on the left, raised up holding his chin. Sojiro was watching the news about the most recent train crash that just happened. There were three confirmed dead and multiple injuries. It was taking every fiber of Sojiro’s being to not go and look for Ren. ‘He’s probably doing just fine. But there were three dead. What if he was one. Not to mention that there were many in critical condition.’ Sojiro was about to close up shop and head to the station when he heard the bell ring, signifying that someone had walked in. It was Ren and he did not look good. His face was bruised and one of his arms was in a sling. But, he was alive and Sojiro could breathe. He looked up at Ren. “What happened to you?”

 

“I was on the train that just crashed, though I got off really lucky compared to some of the other passengers.” Ren explained.

 

“Are you going to be OK?”

 

“Mm. My face just took a beating into one of the metal poles and my shoulder got dislocated from the force of me holding onto the handle and being thrown about like that. The EMT’s there popped it back in place. They gave me this sling and said I should be fine by tomorrow. It would just feel like I had a very bad bruise.” Although Ren had said this without messing up, his voice was cracking and he was very clearly shaken up.

 

“Alright, well just take it easy, kid. Let me get you some dinn-”

 

“No thank you. I don’t really have an appetite right now. I think I’m just going to head on up to bed if you don’t mind.” Ren said, cutting Sojiro off..

 

Sojiro looked at Ren and nodded. “I understand. Go and get some rest. If you want to go to school tomorrow after that, be sure to wake up early so that you can be on time. The trains are going to be slow now after that.”

 

With that, Ren nodded and went on upstairs and promptly went to sleep. Getting some now needed rest before his first day of school.

Chapter Text

04/11/2016: Monday

Time: Early Morning

Location: Cafe Leblanc

 

‘Yup. I feel like shit.’ Was the first thing that had gone through Ren’s head when he woke up. This did little to deter him from going to school, however. This was his last chance and Ren was not going to fail- there were no other options for him. There was no “home” to go back to. So Ren got up and started getting dressed in his uniform. His glasses miraculously survived last night’s encounter, so he put them on, thus completing his early morning routine, so he started for the stairs.

 

When Ren reached the bottom, he saw that Sojiro was already there, prepping for the days customers. Sojiro noticed Ren as well, as he heard Ren’s footsteps coming down the stairs. “So you’ve decided to go, eh? You should call in a cab before you eat so that it gets here as soon as you’ve finished eating. Something tells me the station isn’t exactly serviceable right now.”

 

“Mm. Thanks again, Sakura-san.” Ren nodded, walking over to the barstool countertop, pulling his phone out to call a cab while his guardian set a plate of white rice and curry in front of him once more.

 

“Just call me Boss. Everyone else does.” And with that, Sojiro was back to working the stove.

 

Ren had found a taxi company that was in servicing hours at the moment with a quick search online and called them to request their services. “Hello, you’re speaking with Hikari’s Taxi Service. How may I help you?”

 

“Um, yeah, I need a ride from Yongen-Jaya to Shibuya Station…” Ren began talking to the service representative, giving the address of where to pick him up at and where he wanted to go. ‘Can’t be going straight to Aoyama-Itchome. My funds definitely cannot handle that right now. Yeah, I should probably get a part time job somewhere then…’

 

Ren finished his phone call with the company, and immediately began working on the oh so delicious curry in front of him.

 

As Ren finished eating and gave Sojiro his plate, his attention was drawn to the television. It was supposed to rain today, but Ren didn’t have time to go digging for his umbrella. He had to get to his taxi. So, Ren said goodbye to Sojiro, grabbed his stuff, and made his way out of the building, down a few side alleys until he reached a street. A few meters to his right, his ride was was waiting for him. Ren walked on up, opened the door, said hi to the man, and they started on down to Shibuya, where Ren would take the train to school for free. The drive itself was completely uneventful, but the forecasted rain had started on the way to Shibuya. Once at the station, Ren hopped out of the car, and paid the driver what was basically his entire wallet, leaving him with nothing more than 300 yen remaining. ‘Yeah, I definitely need a source of cash. But I’ll worry about that later. For now, I can’t be late to school.’ And so Ren made his way to the train, practically sprinting there and still just barely making it in time to get on the train before it departed. Luckily for Ren, this train actually worked properly and didn’t crash.

 

Going up the escalator to get out of the station, Ren could hear the rain pounding on the pavement and when he looked up there was only a wall of water. He grabbed his school bag and held it over his head for what little protection from the rain it could give. “Maybe the umbrella wasn’t a bad idea.” Muttered Ren to himself as he reached the top of the escalator. Beginning to run forward to get out of the rain. ‘ Ugh. My stuff is gonna get soaked if I don’t find some cover quickly.’ Ren thought to himself as he jogged forward, looking around for some sort of protection from the sheets of rain when finally, he found a little alcove near a store that was dry. Ren jogged on over there, stopping, lowered his bag down and tried to wipe away any water he could before it seeped into his supplies. After doing as much as he could, he placed his bag on his shoulder once more and checked the time on his phone. ‘I’ve got thirty minutes left, surprisingly. The school isn’t too far away either. I think I’ll just stay here and wait for the rain to die down a bit.’

 

As Ren was putting his phone away, another came running up besides him, having the same plan to get away from the rain. A girl wearing a jacket with the hood around her face, almost like she was trying to hide it. She didn’t say anything, and just starting swiping her hands on her skirt and jacket, trying to dry herself off slightly. The girl then looked around the corners of the alcove onto the street, as if looking for someone. Then, like she had decided the coast was clear, she stepped back farther into the alcove and took off her jackets hood, revealing voluminous, natural blonde hair done into a set of twin tails. She turned and noticed Ren was staring and gave him a pleasant smile. “Hey.” She said

 

“Um, hi.” Said Ren giving a sort of half wave while she turned back around, facing the street in front of her. Ren wasn’t going to pursue a conversation with the girl so he just went back to his phone. ‘Huh? Why is that weird app back again? It wasn’t here this morning when I called for that cab or when I just checked the time. Where the hell is it coming-’, Ren’s train of thought was cut off by a car pulling up to the side of the road. The window rolling down to reveal a man with some poofy hair that split down the middle and settled on the sides of his head.

 

“Heeey, Takamaki-san. Wanna ride to school?” The man said in a way that demanded more than it did ask. Ren looked at the girl beside him and saw that she had a look of visible discomfort, but, she still accepted the offer. As she closed the door, the man looked at Ren and asked, “You wanna ride too?” But before Ren could answer, he was already driving off. The sound of the tires against wet pavement slowly disappearing as a new sound came out of nowhere behind Ren. The sound of shoes slamming in puddles getting louder and louder. Ren turned to face this new noise and was met with a boy wearing the same school uniform jacket as Ren did, but this one wasn’t buttoned up, revealing a bright yellow shirt with a some black circles and top of those a black, purple, and red star. His pants were rolled up a bit at the ankle, his suspenders hung down at his sides, and he had short, dyed blonde hair. Slowing down, Ren also noticed the boy walked with a slight limp.

 

His breath was short and he was muttering to himself that ended with a clear, “... Damn that perverted teacher.”

 

“Perverted…  teacher?” This caught the boys attention and he turned around to face Ren. A glare in his eyes.

 

“What? You gonna rat me out to Kamoshida or something?”

 

Ren gave the boy a look of confusion before asking, “Who’s Kamoshida?”

 

“How do you not know who Kamoshida is? You go to our school dontchya? And by your pins you’re in the same grade as me. But I don’t recognize you.” Now it was the boys turn to be confused.

 

“I just transferred here. Today is my first day.”

 

“Oh! You’re the transfer student. Huh, you don’t look like you would, but you have that nasty bruise on your face… Anyways, nevermind that. You should try and stay away from that guy. That assholes name is Kamoshida and he’s the gym teacher and coach to the Volleyball team who thinks of the school like his own little effing castle.” The boy said, warning Ren of the man who just drove off.

 

‘Oh yeah, Niijima-senpai mentioned this Kamoshida guy to me yesterday.”

 

“Anyways, let’s just get to class. This rain sucks. My name is Ryuji Sakamoto by the wa-” Ryuji’s words were cut off by a horrid, throbbing headache that both of the boys had experienced. After it washed over, they both stood up and Ryuji shook his head a little before adding, “Eh what the hell? Oh well, it doesn’t matter much right now. Let’s just not be late to school. I know a shortcut through the alleys here. Follow me.” Ryuji began to walk away, motioning for Ren too come follow him.

 

As they made their way through the alleys, Ren noticed something weird was happening. Everything was beginning to take on this reddish hue and the way the water droplets splashed into puddles sounded more “shimmery”. Looking beyond the alleyway didn’t do much to quell Ren’s suspicions either because beyond it, did not look like the the gates and staircase to the school that Ren saw yesterday. Ryuji took notice of this too and sprinted to the end of the alley. Stopping only to look up, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. The school Ren saw yesterday was no longer there, but instead replaced with a grand castle. “... what the eff is goin’ on here? When the hell did this happen? Did we take a wrong turn somewhere?”

 

“I don’t think we did. Look ever there.” Said Ren, pointing to a plaque over there on the wall.

 

“Yeah, well, it says this is Shujin, but last I checked I didn’t go to school at some castle.”

 

“It’d be pretty cool if we did though.”

 

“Hell yeah it would.”

 

The two stood there, still in disbelief at the sight before them. The silence that surrounded them doing nothing to help them in their unease. At least it wasn’t raining on them anymore. Ren was the first to break the silence. “Well, let’s at least check the place out. See what’s going on, ya know?”

 

“Yeah, let’s go.” Ryuji said, taking the lead. Ren placed his hands in his pockets, and followed Ryuji.

 

As the two of them slowly made their way towards the castle, crossing a drawbridge and approaching a giant, ornate wooden door in front of them that the two had to push together to open. The door opened to reveal a grand, open room filled with expensive looking medieval relics. The floor was a tiled checker pattern. Several pillars stood along in the room holding up balconies above the two boys. In the back was a staircase that branched in two different directions and had a painting of the same man from earlier, Kamoshida, standing in a triumphant stance, bare chested with a velvet robe with pink hearts. He had a crown and looked to be gloating down on whoever looked at the painting. The two boys walked to the center of the room where a circular red carpet was laid down. On the walls to the boys sides were doorways leading to more halls.

 

“Where did the school go?” Asked Ryuji slowly turning in a circle, getting a grasp of their surroundings as well, before he stopped and yelled out, “Hey! Dude!”

 

Ren turned to face the direction that Ryuji was yelling and saw a person wearing a suit of armor, sword and shield in hand, walking towards them. The person had a blueish mask covering its face, and behind it was only darkness.

 

“Hey man! Nice cosplay! It really fits the… the whatever it is that’s going on here. Speaking of, what the hell is going on here!” Ryuji was still trying to talk to the thing before them, desperation and fear cloaking his voice. The thing did not respond.

 

Ren could feel the sweat dripping down his face. This was bad. They shouldn’t be here and that armor looked too real to be called cosplay. “Sakamoto, I think we should go. I don’t think that’s a cosplay he’s wearing.”

 

“Well what else would it be.” Ryuji whispered to Ren. Nervousness threatening to show in his voice.

 

“I think we need to go. Now.” Ren said, slowly turning around in a circle to notice that several more things in the same getup were beginning to surround them. The first of the knights was now standing on the edge of the circular rug, staring at the two of them while the others got closer and closer.

 

Ryuji slowly stepped over to the first knight, bringing his hands up in front of him in a futile attempt to get the knight to not do anything rash. “H-Hey man. How about we all just c-calm down here. You a student or something?”

 

“I don’t think this just some prank Sakamoto.” Said Ren as another knight came to stand right beside the other.

 

“You think so? So this shit’s real…” The two knights started closing in on Ren and Ryuji. In response to this, Ryuji went back to Ren, grabbing his shoulder. “C’mon, what’re we waiting for man, We gotta run!”

 

Ren nodded and the two started to make an attempt at running away but the rest of the knights cut them off. One of them slamming Ryuji to the ground with its shield causing him to gasp in pain as he fell.

 

“Gah! You’re gonna break my bones dammit!” Ryuji yelled, trying to get back up when another shield came slamming on his face, knocking him out cold. Ren turned around to run the other way, but as he was turning, he was met with a shield being brought down upon him as well.

 

Everything went black.

 

04/11/2016: Monday

Time: Unknown

Location: Unknown

 

“... Hey… Hey! Wake up!”

 

As the light began to slowly fade back, all Ren could see in front of him was Ryuji, hunched over kneeling on his knee, worry scribbled on his face as he looked upon Ren. Groggily, Ren pushed himself to sit up on the wooden bed he laid upon. “Oh my god. My head hurts.” Ren said, holding up a hand to the front of his head where the knight thing hit him with the shield. Ren took in a few deep breaths, waking up slowly. He turned to Ryuji and asked, “Where are we?”

 

“I dunno. Some sorta dungeon place you’d see in a video game.”

 

Ren nodded to this before adding, “Any idea on how long we were out?”

 

“Nah, man, I just woke up a little bit before you did. How’re ya feeling?”

 

“I’m fine, head just hurts. You?”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine too. Dammit, just what the hell is going on here? Are we on some kind of T.V. set?” Ryuji turned around and made way for the metal gate keeping them from leaving. He kicked the bars a few times making noise then added, “C’mon! I know there are people out there! Let us out already!” Ryuji shook the bars a few times before slumping down and walking back to Ren. “Dammit. Just what the hell is going on here?”

 

Ren was about to reply before a scream came sounding down the halls, sending a chill down his spine. It sounded like it was in pain. The two ran for the door, grabbing onto the bars trying to peer through the gaps to try and see where the noise came from. But all they could see were more walkways, a sewer with a strong current flowing in the middle and branching off mid way through, and on the other side were just more empty cells. “Wh-What the hell is going on here.” muttered Ryuji. Another scream of pain was heard, resonating off the walls of the dungeon. “Whoa... whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa… This is bad. We need to find a way to get out of here.”

 

“Agreed, but there isn’t. Look around Sakamoto. Do you see a way we could get of here? Cause I don’t.” Ren said, raising his voice out of fear.

 

“Hey, man. Just calm down here. Maybe we can hide in those barrels? That works in the movies…” Ryuji said, motioning for the barrels that stood beside them.

 

Ren just stared at Ryuji in disbelief. “Yeah, the movies. That works in the fucking movies. Not real li-” Ren was cut off by the sound of marching. Ren grabbed Ryuji and motioned for him to get away from the gate. “C’mon man, they’re coming.”

 

Ryuji nodded and followed. The two standing, waiting for whatever was gonna come. Four of the knight things came marching around the corner. One of them spoke up saying, “Be glad your punishment has been decided upon! Your charge is unlawful entry, thus, you shall be punished with death!”

 

Another voice spoke up from behind the four guards. A familiar voice. “No one is allowed to do as the please in my castle.” The guards moved out of the way for the man. ‘This is the same man from that painting. And from this morning too, in that car. Is this that Kamoshida guy?’ He wore a Crown upon his head, had poofy hair that split down the middle and rested on the sides of his head, he head bright yellow eyes and his voice sounded odd, like it was saying the sentence ten more times all at the same time. For clothing, he wore a red, velvet robe with pink hearts randomly placed around the entire thing.

 

Ryuji ran to the gate, grabbing the bars and stared at the man, voicing Ren’s own thoughts. “I-Is that you, Kamoshida?”

 

“I thought it was gonna be some petty thief, but, to think it was you Sakamoto? It’s almost like my lesson didn’t stick with you. Oh! And you brought a friend this time… because you can’t do anything yourself.”

 

“Hey! This ain’t funny you asshole!”

 

“Is that how you speak to a king in his own castle? It would appear that you don’t understand your position at all. First, you break into my castle and then, you insult me- the king . The punishment for that is death. Guards!” “Kamoshida” backed up behind the guards as they opened the gate. Ren and Ryuji backed up into the corners of the room, the guards surrounding Sakamoto and Kamoshida stood at the doorway, making sure no one was escaping.

 

Then, with no forewarning, Ryuji ran at the middle guard, ramming it with his shoulder, knocking the thing down. “C’mon! We gotta ru-!” Ryuji was cut off by a guard that just rammed its fist into his stomach, knocking Ryuji onto his knees leaving him gasping for air. “C’mon…  Just run, leave me behind…” Ryuji muttered through the pain.

 

“Oh… running away? What are heartless friend you are. But don’t worry, you’ll get your punishment too.” “Kamoshida” said, motioning for the guards to pin Ren to the wall. “Pfft. Useless trash like yourself isn’t worth my time. Instead, I’ll focus on your execution for now, Sakamoto.” And with that, the other two guards grabbed Ryuji by the arms, hoisting him up off the ground while “Kamoshida” just began wailing on him. A flurry of blows from “Kamoshida” came directed towards Ryuji’s face, and Ren couldn’t do anything to stop it. One final blow towards Ryuji’s head, and the guards let go, making Ryuji topple onto the ground. “Kamoshida” picked Ryuji up by his collar and threw him to the wall, a soft thud followed by a groan came from Ryuji as he slid down.

 

Ren couldn’t do anything as he struggled against the guards holding him against the wall. Ren couldn’t do anything as he watched the boy he just met have a sword leveled at his head by “Kamoshida”. ‘I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything. Ican’tdoanythingIcan’tdoanythingIcan’tdoanything’ These words circulating through Ren’s head as he saw the sword get raised and then everything went black again. A sound of chains echoing in the darkness.

 

“Is it that you can’t do anything, or is it that you won’t do anything? What’s wrong? Are you just going to stand and watch him die? He will if you just stay there. You know, you always have a choice in these matters. You could’ve chose to not do anything that night when that drunk was bothering that woman, yet you did something. You chose to do something despite the consequences and even though you’ve gone through so much hell since then, do you think you should’ve walked away?” A voice spoke to him out of the darkness.

 

Ren dropped his head and muttered, “No. If I could go back and make a different choice that night, I wouldn’t.”

 

The blue fire from Saturday appeared in the darkness. That same demonic smile. “Good. Then if you had the power now to stop what was happening, would you take it?

 

“Of course.” Ren said, now looking into the fire directly.

 

“Very well… I have heeded your resolve. The contract has been sealed. Vow to me. I am Thou. Thou art I. Thou who art willing to perform all sacrilegious acts for thine own justice. Call my Name! And release thy Rage!” The blue fire engulfed Ren and the darkness was gone. A sword was still in the same place where Ren last saw it. Now, agonizing pain was coursing through him. Ren was convulsing and screaming in the hold of these two guards when the voice spoke up again. “Show the strength of thy will to ascertain all on thine own, though thou be chained to Hell itself!” The pain began to focus in on a specific part of Ren’s face when Kamoshida began to speak again with an overly smug grin. “Goodbye, Sakamoto…”

 

“I don’t wanna die…” Ryuji whimpered when a blast of wind emanated from Ren, blowing back Kamoshida and the four guards to the ground and knocking Ryuji back against the wall.

 

A masquerade mask was now covering Ren’s face, the pain still coursing through him but it was all on this point now. Ren needed to get that mask off, so he grabbed it and tried tugging at it only to find that it was attached. But Ren needed it off now, the pain was simply too great, so with one last pull, Ren started tearing off the mask and the flesh it was connected too. Blood pouring down his face as he slowly tore of the mask until it was off. There was a silence before the storm as Ren slumped over, still standing, blood dripping down his face onto the stone, and then another blast emanated from him. Ren had a surge of energy as he picked himself back up, the wound on his face now but all healed as he yelled out one name. “Arsene!” and with that the blue fire completely engulfed Ren’s entire body, a laugh sounding from the flames as they slowly grew bigger and bigger until they detached from Ren. Ren’s clothes had completely changed. He was now wearing a grey tanktop that had angular, black stitching throughout the entire front, and solid grey color without the stitching on the back, the neck line jagged. Over this, he wore a jet black coat that enveloped his entire body. Coming down into three coat tails below his waist and near his knees, the collar was popped along Ren’s jawline and the cuffs were pulled back to reveal him wearing a pair of crimson red gloves. His pants, a similar color of black to the coat that were tucked into a pair of black combat boots. The blue fire was still under Ren, surrounding him in a circles as wisps of this continued to flow into the growing flame behind Ren, which was now taking on a human shape. The wisps began to disappear leaving chains in their wake. The flames on the humanoid shape also began to dissipate leaving behind a smiling demon with two horns, adorned in a victorian, red suit. He had talons for fingers and floated behind Ren, the smile never wavering. Ren grabbed the chains left behind by the wisps and threw them, the demon sending a blast of hot wind forward with its now visible black, leathery wings. The two stood there until the flames died down. All Ryuji could do was stare, open mouthed at the scene before him while “Kamoshida” began to run for a corner in the cell, cowering in fear.

 

The demon looked down at Ren and began to speak. “I am the pillager of twilight- “Arsene”. I am the rebellious soul within you. Should you so desire, I may consider granting you my power to help you through this crisis.”

 

“Give me your power.”

 

“Hmph, very well.” Both Ren and Arsene then looked at “Kamoshida” who was standing up now, glowering at the prisoner who cut his execution short.

 

“Guards! Get them!”

 

Two of the four knocked over guards stood up and exploded into a mess of black and red liquid leaving behind two floating jack-o-lanterns with witches hats on while holding a lantern. With this the battle began.

 

The mask appeared back on Ren’s face. He knew what to do. Ren pulled off the mask, causing it to disappear, and yelled, “Eiha!” and with that, Arsene thrusted at one of the creatures causing a well of black, red, and white energy to appear beneath it as it pushed upwards, causing the creature to disintegrate immediately. The mask reappearing on Ren’s face. Ren looked at the other creature and felt something appear in his right hand. Ren looked down and saw a very real looking dagger, and so Ren ran forward, leaping up off the ground as he brought the dagger up, slashing the creatures face, and as Ren was falling down, he brought the dagger back down for another slash. This did not kill the creature however, and instead it looked at Ren, moving its lantern in a circle as ball of fire appeared in it, launching at Ren, who barely had enough time to backflip dodge out of the way. In retaliation, Ren tore off the mask one more time yelling out, “Ravage him!” and another Eiha was used on the creature. Again, killing it immediately. With this, Arsene disappeared and “Kamoshida” walked up to Ren, glowing at him. “Kamoshida” began to raise his fist while saying, “You little-” but was cut off by a now standing Ryuji that came running at him, shoulder charging him, knocking “Kamoshida” over.

 

“Hah! You like that ya son of a bitch!” Said Ryuji, looking triumphant for knocking the man over.

 

“Not now! Go and grab the keys and toss them to me.” Ren said, motioning Ryuji to the keys as he ran to the door, but stopping to kick Kamoshida in the gut before quickly going on his way to the gate.

 

“Here!” Ryuji yelled out, tossing the keys to Ren, now running for the door as well.

 

Ren caught the keys and began to look for the key to lock the gate, finding it, closing and locking the door. “Yo what was that just now? And what’s with your clothes?” And just like that, the blue flames enveloped Ren once more in a flash, leaving Ren once more to his school uniform. “Whoa! They’re back!”

 

“Let’s not worry about that right now. We gotta go.”

 

Ryuji nodded and the two started running, trying to find an exit.

 

The two of them ran through the corridors of the sewer-dungeon, finding many dead ends, locked gates, even at one point crawling through a hole in the wall in hopes it would lead to the other side. It was hard for either one of them to say they were lost when they didn’t even know where they started to begin with. All hope of getting out seemed bleak until the two of them heard a high-pitched, boyish voice.

 

“C’mon! Ugh, stupid locks! C’mon, c’mon, almost got it… and~ oof! Dammit! I almost had it that time!”

 

“D’you hear that too?” Ryuji asked.

 

“Yup.” Ren nodded in reply.

 

The boyish voice started talking again, but this time it was directed at them. “Is someone out there! I just heard two people! Come over here so I can get a look at you!”

 

“Think we should go find him?” Ryuji asked.

 

“It sounded like he’s locked up too, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. We just gotta hurry in case any of those guards come by.” Ren warned.

 

Ryuji nodded and the two made there way down a smaller row of cells, coming to the end one and finding a cat-monster thing that was barely the height of the middle of Ren’s thigh. “Just, what, even are you?” Questioned Ren.

 

“Don’t ask dumb questions frizzy hair! I’m a human, can’t you see?” The cat thing chided

 

The two boys had completely different reactions. Ryuji yelled at the cat saying, “What the hell are you talking about! Me and this guy are humans. You’re some sorta monstercat thing!” Meanwhile, Ren was looking down and muttered to himself, “My hair isn’t that bad…  is it?” while sifting through his hair with his hands in a hopeless attempt of straightening the unkempt mess.

 

“Ugh, dude, your hairs fine man. Don’t worry about it.” Ryuji said, trying to console his hurt friend.

 

“Yeah! Besides, it kind of fits you.” the monstercat thing added.

 

“Yeah, what it said.”

 

“Hmm. I can agree to that.” Said Ren, his mood picking itself up off the ground with the compliments he’s received. “Anyways, what do you want…?” Ren started, talking to the monstercat thing.

 

“The name’s Morgana, and you guys are gonna help me get outta here!” Morgana said with a joyful cheer in his voice that was shattered when Ryuji said, “Why would we do that? We don’t know who or what you are and we’re too busy trying to find a way out of this place ourselves.”

 

“Well, not that I’m not trying to back you up or anything, but we do know who it is. It just said its name is Morgana.” Ren said, pushing up his glasses as if telling Ryuji, ‘you just got told’.

 

“Dude, seriously, not a good time right now, I thought you said we had to hurry up in case guards showed up.” Ryuji said, scolding Ren.

 

Ryuji was about to walk away when Morgana piped in, “Wait! If you’re trying to get out of here, I can help you guys with that! You just need to get me outta here. Deal?”

 

“You know a way out of here?” Ren questioned Morgana

 

“Yeah I do. But I’ll only show you the way once you let me out!” Morgana yelled, jumping sporadically to try and add emphasis on his deal.

 

Ryuji chimed in, “No way man. We have no idea what this thing is and he could be ly-” but was cut off by Ren.

 

“Sakamoto. We have no other options here really besides let him out on the chance that he does show us how to get out of here or we can continue to wander around aimlessly until we get caught again and actually executed.”

 

“Ugh, fine, you make a good point.” Ryuji said in submission.

 

“Sweet! The keys are right over there on that barrel, if you wanna just come and unlock the gate that would be great~ ” Morgana said, pointing in the direction of the keys. Ren went and picked them up, unlocked, and opened the gate leaving a now ecstatic Morgana free. “Alright! Now let’s get you two out of here as per our deal.” The three then made their way back into the intersection of the hallway. In front of them were more cells and behind them was where Morgana was locked up. To their right was where Ren and Sakamoto had come from and to their left was a drawbridge, unextended. To the side of the bridge was a bust of Kamoshida giving a sickening grin. Morgana was pointing too said bust.

 

“Frizzy hair! You look like the smart one here. What do you make of this?”

 

“Hey! I mean, you’re probably right, but you don’t have to be a dick.” Cried out an annoyed Ryuji.

 

Ren chose to ignore Ryuji and stared at the bust, focusing on it, and then, like it was some second nature, everything in his sight flashed yellow and then everything was dark, except the jaw of the bust. Ren stopped looking at the bust so intently and his sight went back to normal. “Whoa! What was that just now?” Morgana said questioning Ren.

 

“You saw everything go black too and that jaw glow yellow?” Ren asked in confirmation.

 

“No, your charcoal eyes had a bright yellow ring appear in them when you squinted. It was pretty easy to see because your black iris’ made the yellow stand out. Try it again.” Morgana said in amazement. Ryuji turned to face Ren to see what Morgana was talking about as well.

 

So, Ren did as Morgana asked and started squinting in focus, trying to see every little detail of where he looked, and once again there was a flash of yellow and everything went dark.

 

“Woah… What is that?” Ryuji said with awe stricken across his face.

 

“I dunno… Everything just gets darker and certain things glow yellow. Except for you two. You two have a green glow about you.” Ren said, trying to explain what is happening.

 

“So certain things glow yellow, like the jaw of this bust? What else glows yellow then?” Asked Morgana, his green glow now slightly turning orange.

 

“Umm, well…” Ren started turning around and found something on one of the barrels near them. A volleyball. “That volleyball is glowing yellow.”

 

Morgana walked up to the ball, smacked it and it shattered, leaving behind some sort of valuable. “Well, I gotta say that’s one useful skill ya got there. It looks like it helps you find objects of interest. Now then back to the bust, its jaw was glowing, what’re you gonna do?

 

Ren stopped the focusing thing and took a look at the bust and pulled its jaw down. This activated a mechanism that in turn lowered the drawbridge. “Nice job Frizzy Hair! Although you did have a little help, you did good. But now, it would appear we have no other option but to fight.” The drawbridge lowered to reveal a guard waiting on the other side. As soon as Ren noticed it, there was a flash of blue and Ren found his clothes changing once more. “Ah, so you’ve got a Persona, huh?”

 

“A what?”

 

“You know, a Persona. You’re rebellious spirit inside. It’s the reason why your clothes change, kinda like you’re defying the palace rulers authority, ya know?

 

“You lost me at palace.”

 

Morgana just shook his head in disappointment. “Well, it doesn’t matter I guess as long as you can fight. You can at least do that right?”

 

Ren nodded while Ryuji piped in asking, “Ooh, what can I do?

 

“Stay back and not get hurt. Fighting a shadow without a Persona is suicide. Let’s go Frizzy Hair.”

 

Morgana and Ren ran up to the guard, stopping in front of it as it dissolved into that same red and black liquid to reveal a pixie. “Alright! Show me what you can do noobie!” and with that, Ren tore off his mask calling in Arsene.

 

“Ravage her!” Ren yelled out sending an Eiha at the pixie, killing it immediately.

 

“Man, that’s disappointing. I didn’t even get to show you my Persona. But to think you have curse skills. Very rare, indeed. Anyways, let’s get you guys out of here.” Morgana said, taking the lead. Ren looked back at Ryuji as his clothes returned to normal, and the two followed the cat.

 

Before they could get to the exit of the dungeon, however, Ryuji stopped the group, confusion contorting his face. “What the hell? How the eff did this guy get here?” Ryuji asked to himself walking to one of the cells. In the cell held an athlete in the Shujin academy gym clothes. He was laying on the ground, hunched over holding his gut. He looked to be in a lot of pain.

 

“Hey moron, what’re you doing?” Morgana asked, trying to get the group of three to move.

 

“First off, don’t call me that. Second off, we gotta get this guy outta here too, don’t we?”

 

“No, we don’t. He’s not real. He’s just a cognition. This is how the ruler of this palace views him. Even if we were to find the keys and break him out, he wouldn’t go with you guys into the real world.” Morgana explained, feeling sympathetic with Ryuji.

 

“Wait, so he isn’t real? But, I dunno man, I feel like we need to help him out.” Ryuji tried explaining. Emotion driving his words.

 

Ren placed a hand on Ryuji’s shoulder. “Sakamoto, I understand, but right now, we need to worry about us. Worry about whatever this is later.” Ryuji looked into Ren’s eyes and nodded in agreement.

 

“Alright then. Let’s go.” And the three of them made there way out of the dungeon, crossing the room they were in before into the opposite hallway, then veering into a room with seemingly no exit. “Okay cat, what the hell is this supposed to be? I thought you were leading us out?” The two boys now looking at Morgana, waiting for an answer.

 

“Amateurs, just look around and you’ll see your way out.” Said Morgana.

 

Ren did as the cat said and laid his eyes on the vent. Without a second's hesitation, he hopped onto the shelf and kicked the grate off its hinges. “Nice kick dude!” Ryuji exclaimed.

 

“Quiet down, you don’t know if there are guards in here or not. Just go through that vent and cross the bridge while focusing all your thoughts on your desire to leave this place. Do that and don’t come back. Got it?” Morgana explained.

 

“Got it.” Ren nodded, motioning for Ryuji to follow him through the vents. Once on the other side, as Morgana had promised, they were back at the entrance of the castle. The two walked across the drawbridge, concentrating on returning home, when the two of them felt pressure on their heads again, causing them to close their eyes, but it was not nearly as bad as when they entered. When they opened their eyes once more, they were back at that alcove where the two met. The rain had stopped and the sun was out. A voice came from Ren’s phone saying they had just completed their navigation and had returned to the real world. Ren turned around and looked at Ryuji, who smiled back. “We did it.” Ren said.

 

“Hell yeah, we did.”

 

Their little celebration was cut short however, by two police officers walking up to them. Ren immediately went rigid. ‘Just how much time did we spend in there? Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no…’

 

One of the officers started speaking, “Are you two in high school?” What are you two doing out here?”

 

“Uh-uh-umm, we j-j-just were umm…” Ren tried replying before the other officer cut him off.

 

“Are you two on drugs right now?”

 

This was Ryuji’s turn to step in. “Um, no officers. We just overslept from playing video games with each other last night for too long. We were just on our way to school.”

 

“Are you two from Shujin?”

 

“Yes sir.” Ryuji replied. The two officers seemed content and sent the two boys on their way. “What the hell was that all about man? You just started freezing the eff up.”

 

“ I think I’d rather not talk about it right now. Let’s just get to class.” Ren said checking his phone. “Like fast, dude! We’re over five hours late!”

 

“Oh shit!” And the two began to bolt for their school, turning the corner, actually seeing the school this time and not the giant castle from before. Running as fast as they could though, still could not get them there fast enough to beat those who were waiting. Turning the corner of the gate revealed one smug looking teacher and another that looked like steam was about to come out of his ears.

 

“Ah shit, it’s Kamoshida and Ushimaru.” Ryuji muttered to Ren before Ushimaru began to call out to them.

 

“Five hours late! Do you two think the school has time to waste resources on you two! Especially you Amamiya! This will be your only warning.” After his rant, Ushimaru turned around, and walked back into the school. Now it was Kamoshida’s turn to talk as the two boys began their way up the stairs.

 

“Five hours late on the first day, and with Sakamoto of all people. You must really wanna be famous Transfer.” He held out his hand in front of Ren, stopping him from continuing up the stairs as he waited for an answer.

 

Ren shifted his gaze towards his feet, a scowl threatening to show on his face. “Sorry sir. Won’t happen again sir.”

 

“Well at least you have manners, now get to class, the lunch period is about to end.” And with that, Ren made his way up past the front doors and into an onslaught of Ren’s worst nightmare. He stopped in the middle of the hallway, hands folding into clenched fists before he was able to stuff them in his jeans’ pockets.

 

“Is that really him?”

 

“I heard he carries a knife with him.”

 

“Oh I heard, he’s actually killed someone.”

 

“No way, they’re letting someone like that go here?”

 

“My parents will hear about this, and they won’t be happy.”

 

“Him and Sakamoto were both late together.”

 

“Well you know what they say, ‘Birds of a feather, flock together’.”

 

“I heard he’s part of a fight club. That’s probably where he got that bruise on his face from.”

 

Ren stopped listening when he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Ryuji. “Hey man, don’t worry about them. This school loves to spread it’s lies and rumors. I understand that just because it ain’t true, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. C’mon, let’s go upstairs so I can head to class and you can get to the faculty office.” Ren nodded and followed him up the stairs, though, even with feeling everyone stare at him, he felt one specifically burrowing into him. Ren chose to ignore it.

 

As Ren made his way into the faculty office, he saw Kawakami, hunched over some papers looking exhausted. She noticed Ren walk up to her and she put her hand up, palm facing him. “Five hours. You’re five hours late on your first day. I don’t even wanna hear your excuse. So c’mon, let’s get to the class before the bell rings, I want to talk with you about some things before you go in.” Ren nodded and followed her out of the faculty office and to Ren’s classroom where they stood outside the door. “So quickly, before the bell rings, I want to apologize about the rumors. I’m not sure who leaked you’re record, and it sure as hell wasn’t me because I have nothing to gain from it. Honestly, no one I can think of does. Secondly, when you introduce yourself, try to say as little as possible and just go with the, ‘you were sick’ story. Got it? Lastly, I heard you were seen with Sakamoto-kun. I recommend staying away from him. He’s trouble, and though he wasn’t like that when he was on the track team, things cha- Well speak of the devil. Listen, I’ll let you inside when I’m ready to introduce you.” And with that, Kawakami entered the class while Ryuji walked up to Ren.

 

“Hey, meet me up on the roof so we can talk about what happened.”

 

“Can’t, I’m a bit busy after school.”

 

“How!? You just got here and you already have plans after school?” Ryuji said, surprise apparent on his face.

 

“Yeah, I’ve got a tutoring session with the student council president.” Ren explained

 

“Already? Huh, well then meet me there tomorrow during lunch, got it?”

 

“Got it.”

 

Ryuji let out a sigh at this before perking backup and adding, “Oh, before I go, I gave you my name, but you never gave me yours. So?”

 

“The name is Ren Amamiya.”

 

“Well after all of that, I’d say we deserve to be on a first name basis, RenRen!” Ryuji said, a smile plastered across his face.

 

“Okay, Sakamoto.”

 

“Asshole.” Muttered Ryuji, walking back to his class. Ren just laughed to himself as the bell for lunch rang. As students began to flood into the hall, the rumors and stares began, picking up more and more momentum. Ren tried to block them out but it was just so hard. All he did was put his head down, and shove his fists into his pockets. ‘Just how the hell did they find out about my record?’

 

Just a few minutes after the bell rang for everyone to be placed back in their classes, Ren saw the door to his class open and Kawakami waved him in. The two then stood in front of the class and Kawakami started speaking, “This is the new transfer student. He wasn’t feeling well this morning so he waited awhile before he came to school. Please introduce yourself.” Kawakami finished, looking at Ren.

 

Ren bowed slightly and said, “Sorry for being late. My name is Ren Amamiya. I hope we can get along.” Ren finished with a smile.

 

“Sure, he seems nice now, but I bet once you look at him the wrong way, he goes nuts”

 

“Oh totally dude.”

 

“Why is he even here? It’s not like he’s going to do well or even care.”

 

“Eheh heh, umm, you can take the seat back there behind Takamaki-san, Amamiya-kun.” Kawakami said, pointing to a desk right behind the same girl he saw this morning. She was giving Ren this look that he couldn’t understand. He was trying to figure it out as he walked closer when that flash of yellow happened. Takamaki was encased in a yellow-red glow. Looking around, however, the entire class was red, save for Kawakami who gave off a blue glow. Ren snapped out of that thing, whatever it is, and finished the way to his seat. As Ren sat his school bag down on his desk, he heard Takamaki whisper, “Liar…”

 

“Excuse me?” Ren whispered back.

 

“I’m saying you’re a liar. I saw you on the way here this morning.”

 

“O-Oh…”

 

“You think those two know each other?”

 

“What if they’re dating? Oh Kamoshida is gonna be pissed”

 

“That’s Easy Ann for ya.”

 

The whispers only stopped when Ren sat down, and Kawakami began the Japanese lesson.

 

04/11/2016: Monday

Time: After School

Location: Shujin Academy

 

When the bell rang, Ren waited a little bit after the bell dismissing everyone rang before he made his way to the Student Council Room. Going through the halls, there weren’t many students and Ren almost got away without any whispers, but he remembered that book he saw in the library. So, Ren made a quick detour. A quick detour that came with regret and a wall of whispers as he opened the door. Walking through the shelves, he could feel everyone’s eyes on him, watching his every step.

 

“Why the hell is he here?”

 

“Don’t tell me trash like him is actually serious about studying.”

 

“Just hope and pray that he goes away soon.”

 

Ren found the book he saw on Sunday, picked it up, and brought to check out. The student aid almost shaking in fear before she spoke. “U-Umm, y-y-you do realize this is t-t-the library, right?”

 

“I’m checking out a book aren’t I?”

 

“Yeah… I guess you are. Umm, y-y-you can only have-”

 

“One book at a time and can’t check another one out until I check this one in. I should also hurry when I check a book out because someone else may want to read. I know. I was told yesterday.” Ren said, anger leaking through his voice. The stares never ceasing. “Sorry… Didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

 

“O-Oh no, you’re fine. Umm, here’s your book. Please enjoy.” The student aid bowed a little and Ren was on his way. Ren closed the door behind him, took a step to his left and was already knocking on the Student Council Room’s door. ‘Convenient.’ As he finished knocking, he heard the door unlock and open to reveal Makoto, who just looked at Ren and stepped aside to let him in.

 

“I was almost thinking you weren’t going to show up. It took you quite awhile.”

 

“Sorry about that, I waited a little bit in my classroom for the crowds to clear out so I didn’t have to deal with… well, all that.” Ren replied, looking down as he said it.

 

Makoto closed the door behind them, the lock clicking into place. She sat down on one side of the table and motioned for Ren to sit as well. “Yes, I can imagine you’d want to avoid having to deal with any rumors, but, as Student Council President, I will find whoever-”

 

Ren cut her off saying, “Don’t worry about it and just let it slide. Just because the person who leaked my record gets punished won’t change the fact that it got leaked. This is just what I’ll have to deal with now.”

 

“While that is true, Amamiya-kun, I won’t just, ‘let it slide’. You have my promise that I’ll find who did this.” Reassured Makoto, giving Ren a small smile. “But, before we continue, where did that bruise come from? I saw it around noon when you came into school and I’m curious as to what happened. Was it a student?”

 

“No. It was a pole. I was on the train when it crashed into Yongen. My face hit it pretty hard so now I got pole sized bruise on my face.” Ren explained while pulling out his books. Makoto could only stare at him wide eyed. “What?”, asked Ren.

 

“I saw that on the news and I was worried a little but I didn’t actually think… Are you alright?”

 

“Yeah. As far as I’m concerned, I got off really lucky with the injuries I got…” Ren wasn’t meeting her gaze. Ren saw one of the three who died being pulled away on a stretcher. It was a bad crash.

 

“Well, I guess you’re right. Now then, you said you just need to be caught up with the material you missed in the past two weeks?”

 

“Mm.” Renn nodded.

 

“Do you have the assignments?” Makoto added.

 

“Yup. Let me just pull them out real quick.” Ren said, sifting through his bag grabbing the stuff needed.

 

“Good, I could use a little review as well.”

 

The two began studying for well over an hour and half. The two of them blew easily through Ren’s assignments like they were nothing and Ren even helped Makoto with her homework, though, he didn’t really know the equations, he was able to get Makoto in a place where she could remember the formulae. By the time they were set and done, all of Ren’s homework was finished and Makoto’s was almost done as well, but it was getting late.

 

“Thank you for helping me out, Niijima-senpai.” Ren said, giving Makoto a small smile as he put away his books.

 

“Oh please, you didn’t even need me. I’m still surprised that you could even help me with my homework.” Makoto said, motioning for her stuff before she put it away.

 

“Yeah? Well it’s not like I actually helped you or anything. I don’t know what it is you’re going over, after all.” Ren let out a sigh before adding, “Anyways, thank you, I enjoyed this. It was a nice release.”

 

“I’m glad you enjoyed it as well. I never realized how much faster it goes when you’re with someone else.” Makoto said, finishing putting her stuff away. “When do you want our next study session?” She added before Ren could walk out the door.

 

“Hmm, well how does Wednesday sound?”

 

“The volleyball rally is then and I’ll be busy with someone, actually, you’ve already met him by the sounds of it. His name is Ryuji Sakamoto. Though, he doesn’t know he’s going to be helping me out yet.” Makoto let out a small laugh before adding, “How about Thursday?”

 

Ren nodded in agreement. “My schedule is open. See you later Niijima-senpai.”

 

“Have a nice evening Amamiya-kun.”

 

And with that, Ren was off on his back to Leblanc.

 

04/11/2016: Monday

Time: Evening

Location: Cafe Leblanc

 

When Ren opened the door to the cafe and walked in, he saw Sojiro give him this look like Ren just massively fucked up. “You want to explain to me why I got a call from Shujin saying you were five hours late.” Sojiro said in a stern voice, arms crossed, staring at Ren.

 

“Sorry, sir…” Ren said, diverting his gaze to the ground.

 

“Yeah? Well don’t do it again. This is your only chance, and if you get expelled, you know the drill. Eat up, clean the dishes and head off to bed. I’m locking up for the night.” Said Sojiro as he placed down a plate of curry and rice again, then walking straight for the door. Exiting the building, and locked the door. Ren ate his curry, did as he was told and washed his dishes and headed off to bed for the night.


‘It’s been too long of a day. I need this.’ And with that, he passed out on his bed. When he woke up, he found himself locked back up in the Velvet Room.

Chapter Text

04/12/2016: Tuesday

Time: Unknown

Location: Velvet Room

 

“Ah, Trickster. I wish to congratulate you on your recent endeavors.” Spoke Igor with that unnerving smile still plaguing his face as Ren walked to the iron gate, his restraints clinking as he grabbed the iron bars.

 

“May I ask what endeavors you’re talking about?” Asked Ren. Caroline slammed her baton against one of the iron bars Ren was holding onto, smashing his fingers causing him to reel back holding his hand in pain. “What the hell was that for!?” Ren yelled at the small warden in front of him, his face doing little to hide his anger.

 

Caroline matched his expression and yelled back, “Don’t question the master when he congratulates you! You should be grateful for his kindness. He has taken the time to acknowledge your mediocre achievements, after all.”

 

“Calm down Caroline. Our guest meant no offense.” Spoke Igor, transferring his gaze now to the small warden. “Now then, regarding the achievements in which I speak of, I talk of your awakening to your Persona. Not only this, but you have even found your third eye, the sense that allows you to see objects of interest. For this, I congratulate you and ask, did you feel the Metaverse Navigator easy to use?” Asked Igor.

 

Ren gave Igor a look of confusion before asking, “You mean that weird app that keeps appearing on my phone? The one with the creepy eye as a symbol?”

 

“Indeed. That Navigator is a gift from our master, allowing you to enter and leave the metaverse with ease.” Justine explained in her soft voice.

 

“You should be more appreciative inmate.” Sneered Caroline, looking up, glaring at Ren.

 

“Indeed. You also seem to have made an ally during your visit to that palace. I shall give those allies who’ve entered the metaverse with you the application as well. Another gift from me.” Igor said.

 

‘So that’s what happened. That app must’ve opened when I met Ryuji and that’s how we got there.’ Ren nodded to himself before looking back at Igor and asking, “So what’s this about me unlocking my Persona? Morgana said something about that when we were in that place, that, palace? I think he called it?”

 

“Yes. The power of heart and the rebellious soul in a person manifest into the power of Persona. You however, as the Trickster, are given a powerful ability along with your Persona, and I await your finding of it.” Igor explained.

 

“Is that that third eye thing you were talking about?”

 

“No, I’m afraid not. That is special to you and intriguing to say the least. My knowledge on the ability is limited at best. Use it well, however. Now then, I do believe our time together should be coming to a close, Trickster. Return to your world. I await to see what it is you do next.” Igor said, he voice fading as the room slowly turned back into smoke and Ren fell back into sleep.

 

04/12/2016: Tuesday

Time: Early Morning

Location: Cafe Leblanc

 

As Ren came down the stairs, Sojiro was already waiting at his stove while he stirred the pot, glaring at the boy as he came down. “So, are you actually going to be on time today? Or are you going to disappear for another five hours before you get into class?” Sojiro’s voice was low, giving a warning to Ren.

 

“I won’t be late Boss.” Ren said, averting his gaze to his bag.

 

“After yesterday, it’s ‘Sir’ or ‘Sakura-san’ to you. I was kind to you and your situation and with the impression you first gave off, I thought I could trust you a little. But then you go and do that. Realize the situation you’re in and be better. Maybe you’ll gain my trust after that happens. You can start with your midterms to show you’re serious about this.” Sojiro said to Ren, his tone never changing as he filled plate with curry and rice. He placed it on the table and motioned to it while saying, “Eat up and go. The station is back up and running now, so hurry up and don’t be late again.”

 

Ren said nothing, opting to instead think to himself as he ate breakfast. ‘It’s not like I can just explain to him what happened. What kind of nut job would actually believe what happened if they didn’t get to experience it.’ Ren thought to himself as he began on his meal. It was painfully silent through the sound of his spoon clinking against the glass plate and Sojiro getting ready for today’s customers. When Ren finished his meal, he walked to the back of the kitchen and placed his dishes into the sink, nodded at Sojiro and walked out of the building. When the door closed behind Ren, he noticed the sign had yet been flipped over, so he flipped it to open and went on his way.

 

The station, just like Sojiro had said, was completely repaired now, ‘Just a little over a day since the crash as well. The city works fast around here.’ thought Ren as the train to Shibuya pulled up. The double sliding doors opening, and Ren stepped on making his way down to Shibuya Station.

 

As Ren was waiting for the train to the Aoyama-Itchome station, he felt a hand place itself on Ren’s shoulder. It was Ryuji, just giving him a giant ear to ear smile. “Wassup man!” Exclaimed Ryuji.

 

Ren returned the gesture with a smaller smile before adding, “Not much. Um, if you don’t mind…” Ren finished, slightly shaking his shoulder.

 

Ryuji’s face dropped a little as he took off his hand, “Oh. Sorry about that.”

 

“Don’t worry about it.”

 

“Mm. Anyways, I was thinking about yesterday and the more and more I try, the more and more I feel like I’m crazy or that it was just a dream…” Ryuji said while he rubbed the back of his neck, trying to make sense of everything that happened the day prior.

 

“Don’t worry. It happened and if you’re going insane, I’ll be right there with you.” Ren said while chuckling, lightening the mood between the two boys.

 

“Yeah…” Ryuji chuckled back as the smile that Ren was met with slowly started to inch its way back onto Ryuji’s face before a thought crossed his mind and his face dropped again. His eyes narrowing into a glare. “Hey, umm, I wanna try and see if we can go back there so I can try and get a look at those guys’ faces in there.”

 

“Ryuji, they’re not real-” Ren was cut off by Ryuji as he put up his hands in defense.

 

“I know, I know. But going off of what that cat said, that means those are just how that prick Kamoshida views them. So I wanna try and go back and get a look at their faces so we can look for them tomorrow during the volleyball rally.” Ryuji explained.

 

‘Not a bad idea, but wait…’ Ren gave Ryuji a confused gaze as he asked, “What do you mean, ‘we’?”

 

“C’mon man, I could really use your help since you’ve got that Persona thing going for ya and finding the players tomorrow by myself is going to be a huge pain in the ass…” Ryuji pleaded with Ren.

 

Ren thought about this for awhile before turning back to a almost begging Ryuji and answered, “Alright, I’ll help you out. But Niijima-senpai might be using you during the Volleyball Rally tomorrow as well.”

 

“Wait. What? Why?” Ryuji said in confusion.

 

“She said it was about Kamoshida. Probably the same thing we’re gonna do but without the help of that place we went too.” Ren explained.

 

“Oh.” Ryuji’s eyes became downcast as he opened his mouth again, “You know, she’s the only one besides my mom who’s backed me up after my incident with Kamoshida. She’s even started helping me out now, trying to get evidence against him and all that.” Ryuji said.

 

“What happened between you and Kamoshida? If I’m not prying too much.” Asked Ren.

 

“Nah. Though I’ll tell you later, but , only if you tell me your story. Also, I think we should maybe get Niijima-senpai involved too. Yeah, that’s increased risk, but, it feels wrong to just keep on going without her. She’s been behind me this entire time after all.” Ryuji said with a smile as the train to Aoyama-Itchome pulled up.

 

“That sounds fair enough. C’mon, let’s get on.” Said Ren, returning the smile while the two hopped onto the train.

 

04/12/2016: Tuesday

Time: Lunchtime

Location: Shujin Academy

 

When the bell rang and Makoto had gone to look for Ryuji to talk about their soon to be search for students during tomorrows Volleyball rally, she had half expected for him to not be in his classroom. Ryuji tends to eat lunch on the school rooftop despite it being a violation of school rules because he doesn’t want to eat around everyone else. Makoto had let it slide for him and kept her mouth shut about it. What Makoto was not expecting however, was to look through the glass window of the door to the rooftop to see that Ryuji was talking to none other than Ren Amamiya. Naturally curious as to their conversation, she slowly opened the door slightly and started listening in through the crack. ‘Why am I doing this? I could just walk out there and it wouldn’t make a difference, would it?’ Makoto thought to herself before Ryuji began to speak up.

 

“Wait, you think you have a way of gettin’ back to that weird ass place! That’s Awesome! So… um, how?” Ryuji asked Ren while Makoto thought, ‘Weird place? What weird place?’.

 

“It’s an app called the ‘Metaverse Navigator’. I’m pretty sure I had it open yesterday when you and I met, and during that conversation we put in all the right information and then that’s how we got to that castle.” Ren explained and Makoto’s confusion just became even more so. ‘What’s this about a castle? What are these two even talking about? Some kind of mobile game?’ Makoto thought to herself before Ren began speaking again. “However, I think we should probably leave this conversation for after school.”

 

“Why!? We were just starting to get on a roll man…” Ryuji groaned.

 

“I can barely agree with you on that, I just told you how I think we can get back there. And as for why I think we should save the conversation for later- the door cracked open a minute ago. Someone is listening.” Ren explained leaving Makoto wide eyed. ‘Oh. How? How did he notice?’ Makoto thought to herself before standing up straight and just walking through the door.

 

“S-Sorry about that.” Said Makoto, a nervous smile creeping onto her lips. “I came looking for you Sakamoto-kun when-” Makoto was cut off by an ecstatic Ryuji.

 

“O-O-OH! This is perfect! Miss Prez! We’ve got something to show you after school. I promise you won’t be disappointed!” Exclaimed Ryuji, practically jumping up and down like a toddler on Christmas.

 

“Are you sure about this, Ryuji?” asked Ren.

 

‘Their already on a first name basis?’

 

“Yeah, I am. Like I said, leaving her in the dark on this just feels wrong to me, ya know?” Ryuji said, looking at Makoto with a grin on his face.

 

“Alright, that’s ok. But we have to be careful. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do what I did yesterday, today.” Ren said while staring at Ryuji sternly.

 

“What are you two talking about? What is it that you need to show me after school?” Makoto said to both of the boys.

 

“We could try to explain, but it’s just too weird. You gotta see it to believe it.” Ryuji said.

 

Makoto looked to Ren for a better explanation than the vague one she just got, but Ren didn’t give much of a better one when he said, “I’m still having a hard time believing it actually happened.”

 

“What are you two talking about?” Makoto had been confused the entire time and now that she’s involved in the conversation, the confusion just got worse.

 

Ryuji just gave the two of them a smile and said, “Listen, just meet me and Ren in the lobby after school. You’re gonna freak out a bit, but, I think this could really help us with Kamoshida. Ren already told me you’re wanting my help tomorrow during the volleyball rally and trust me when I say this could help us out a lot. Anyways, I’m gonna go use the bathroom real quick. Gotta take a leak.” Said Ryuji as he made his way off the roof, the door closing behind him leaving Makoto and Ren alone together. Makoto didn’t even get a chance to answer. Ryuji had answered for her.

 

Ren was the first to break the silence. “He really is something else. You can’t help but feel happy around the guy.” Chuckled Ren as he put his phone away, shoving his hands in his pockets, and leaning back into the Air Conditioning unit.

 

“You’re not wrong there. So, can you give me an explanation on as to what is going on?” Makoto asked, grabbing her hands behind her back.

 

“I wish I could. Really. The only problem is that I know so little. And even if I knew more, it’s one of those things you can’t explain without easily sounding insane.” Ren chuckled in reply. He smiled slightly, the corners of his eyes creasing and his charcoal eyes sparkling a little in the shade of the massive AC unit as he laughed.

 

“You know. You’re doing little to quell my worries about the whole thing.” Said Makoto.

 

Ren’s face fell into a more serious tone. His eyes narrowed while he said, “Good. It’s going to be dangerous.”

 

Makoto turned to look at Ren and gave him a matter of factly look and said, “I’ll have you know that I know Aikido.”

 

Ren’s face showed a little bit of surprise before falling back into seriousness. They air grew tense as he spoke. “Yeah? Well, judging on what Morgana said to us yesterday, I guess that’s better than nothing.” There was silence between the two after that statement until Ryuji came bounding through the door as soon as the bell signifying the end of lunch rang.

 

“Dammit~” Muttered Ryuji as he slumped over to walk back on downstairs. Ren laughed as he followed behind Ryuji, Makoto just a little bit behind Ren.

 

‘Just what are these two dragging me into?’

 

04/12/2016: Tuesday

Time: After School

Location: Shujin Academy

 

The lobby was bustling full of students as they left for their responsibilities out of the confines of the school. Some had given Ren and Ryuji lingered looks with their glazed, rumor seeking eyes. Many would whisper at the sight of the two boys together, but having Ryuji by his side made Ren feel much more at peace with the reality before him. The two had been waiting for Makoto to show up and it was taking her a surprisingly long time as her classroom was on the first floor. The anticipation of waiting was eating at them because of their goal for the day. Find those volleyball players in that weird place and memorize their faces so that they could find and question those players back in the real world during the volleyball rally tomorrow. Ren and Ryuji had flushed out the plan together and all that remained now was taking Makoto in there, showing her that place, and then the three of them together could work on getting information. ‘Where are you Niijima…’ thought Ren while impatience began to seep into his demeanor.

 

Meanwhile, Makoto was going through an ordeal of her own. She was asked by her teacher to take some paperwork down to Kamoshida in his office in the practice building. However, Makoto was more than slightly nervous at the thought of having to deal with that man.

 

‘This should be simple enough. Just get these papers to him and leave quickly. I can’t have him questioning me about my questioning his players. Just get in and get out.’ Thought Makoto as she entered the practice building. The hall’s were busy with activity as the other half of the student body were now going to their respective clubs and sports. Though, now with Kamoshida, the only sport that meant anything in Shujin was the Volleyball team. As Makoto walked on up to the second floor she saw some of the players heading down to the gym. Many with fear or exhaustion in their eyes. Makoto’s thoughts drifted back to today's lunch as she made her final steps to Kamoshida’s office. ‘I hope whatever those two have planned actually does something productive.’

 

Makoto knocked on the door three times, each making a clear sound. More volleyball players eyeing her as they went into the gym. ‘This has got to stop as soon as it can after all.’ Thought Makoto as she heard that disgusting man’s voice behind the door. “Come in.” He said.

 

Makoto opened the door, leaving it open intentionally as she walked in. Kamoshida began to speak as he swiveled to face her in his chair. “Please close the door behind you- Oh! Niijima-san. And what brings me the pleasure?” he said, his grin widening as he motioned for the door. “I said please, Niijima-san.”

 

Makoto did not oblige and began speaking. “It will not take a long time sir, I just need to hand you these-” Makoto was interrupted by Kamoshida, his words snapping and his eyes narrowing. “It wasn’t a request, Niijima-san.” Makoto nodded and hesitantly closed the door behind her. Kamoshida’s smug grin returning. “So… What is it that you need?” Kamoshida asked as he began to rest his elbows on his knees, bringing up his hands to hold his chin.

 

“I was asked to deliver these forms to you sir, regarding the Volleyball Rally tomorrow.” Makoto said, handing the papers to him and quickly turning around to open the door when Kamoshida spoke again. “Hold on there, Niijima-san. I have something I want to speak with you about and this is the perfect opportunity to do so.”

 

‘Oh no.’

 

“Damn, they couldn’t have sent these in a little faster? The rally is tomorrow after all… Eh, I’ll just deal with it after practice.” Kamoshida said as he placed the papers onto his desk. His gaze shifting back to Makoto as he swiveled to face her again as she turned to do the same with him. “So, why have you been so interested in my players recently, Niijima-chan?”

 

The one thing Makoto did not want to happen was happening right now and there was no way to stop it. Kamoshida had her cornered now but there was something else she noticed, ‘What’s with the ‘chan’ honorific now.’ Kamoshida gave her an amused chuckle before saying, “Well? If you were trying to find a way onto the team, you could’ve just asked me about it.” Kamoshida’s words were laced with much more than malice as he began to stand up. His eyes still taking in the entirety of Makoto’s body before he nodded to himself and started moving towards her.

 

Makoto’s eyes grew wide as Kamoshida approached her. Her pulse began to quicken as she reached for the handle, fully prepared to start running away. Sweat began to form on her forehead when Kamoshida began speaking once more. “There’s no need to look so tense Niijima-chan. With someone of your physique I could get you onto the starting lineup, no questions asked.” Kamoshida was now standing over her, his tall height very apparent as he stared down into the Makoto’s eyes.

 

‘Please back away from me…’

 

The air was still. Everything was silent. Kamoshida’s voice stung like ice that encased the entire room as he spoke. “Of course, you would need some personal, special lessons to get you up to the speed and skill of the rest of the girls’ team. Perhaps we could have our first one right now?” Kamoshida said with slithering words and arms as he raised the back of his hand to Makoto’s cheek. His grin turning into one of malicious intent before he hand was smacked away.

 

Makoto’s heart was pumping as she smacked away Kamoshida’s hand and slammed the door open. She began running as fast as she could down the hallway. She heard nothing as she just ran. Her eyes were wide with fear at the thought of what could’ve happened had she not ran sooner. She didn’t even try to look back as she turned the corner to the hallway out of the practice building. Many students were giving her strange looks as she ran but she didn’t care. Makoto just needed to get away as fast as she could. She only stopped running when she reached the stairs again. She looked behind her to see that Kamoshida had not followed.

 

‘Thank god.’ Makoto thought to herself. She began wrapping her arms around herself as she slid down the wall to sit down. She needed to catch her breath and calm down. Her mind was firing on all cylinders as she tried to console herself. She didn’t even notice the pair of footsteps stop beside her…

 

Ren had decided to go look for Makoto and see what she was up too. He figured that maybe she had got caught up with some student council work and decided to check if she was there. “Wait here. I’m gonna go see if I can find Niijima-senpai, Ryuji.” Ren said to the blonde boy as he headed towards the stairs nearby.

 

“Aight, don’t get lost. I’m kind of tired of waiting now and I don't wanna wait for another person. It’s already been fifteen minutes, man.” Ryuji complained as Ren headed up the stairs. When Ren had decided to go look for Makoto, two things went through his mind as possibilities. Either she was in the Student Council Room finishing up some last minute work before she headed down to meet the two boys, or , she was in the library- like she said she would be sometimes- to study, having completely forgotten about the plans made between the three. Ren did not, however, expect to find Makoto sitting on the floor at the top of the flight of stairs, holding her knees as she looked at the wall in front of her, eyes filled with fear. Ren didn’t have time to process this as he reacted immediately, running up to the top step, kneeling down on one below her. He placed a hand on her shoulder and shook it a little before asking, “Hey, are you okay?” She didn’t answer and Ren chided to himself thinking, ‘Well of course she isn’t okay. Just look at her!’

 

Ren stopped thinking as Makoto drew in a deep breath, shaking as she exhaled. Ren began to speak once more, his voice soft and low. “Hey, Niijima-senpai. What happened?”

 

Makoto looked at Ren, her eyes relaxed as the saw his face. Her face began to return to normal as well, color returning to it, a little too much color as she just stared a Ren, worry stricken in his eyes. Makoto had to look away with a slight blush as she slapped her cheeks a little and looked at Ren. Her tone becoming rigid and her faces’ features becoming angular as she spoke her next words in anger. “I truly do hope that whatever it is you and Sakamoto have planned, that it’s actually worth my time. I need to find information on Kamoshida that can prove the crimes I know he’s committing and if this plan ends up being a detriment-” Makoto was cut off by Ren, his face and tone matching that of his upperclassman.

 

“Don’t worry. We wouldn’t be doing this is we didn’t think it wasn’t going to help.” Ren said while standing up. He extended a hand to Makoto to help her up. She took it, and as he was pulling her up he added, “C’mon, Ryuji and I have been waiting for you.” Ren turned and started down the stairs, with Makoto right behind him. He chose to not pry into what happened. She would bring it up when she was ready, he hoped.

 

Turning the corner at the bottom of the stairs, Ryuji was in the middle of yawning ungraciously as he noticed Ren and Makoto. “Oh, when you said you were going to go look for here I wasn't expecting you to be that fast… Anyways, what were you doing?” He asked Makoto. Ryuji immediately shut up though as Makoto gave him a death glare, her deep red eyes piercing into him as she walked closer. Ryuji decided to not dig deeper and began talking again, albeit, hesitantly. “U-Um, n-n-nevermind, let's just get going. You know what to do, Ren?”

 

“Yeah, I believe so. Let's just get back into that alley where no one can see us.” Answered Ren as he took the lead out of the school.

 

“Cause that doesn't make this any less suspicious…” Makoto whispered to herself, unexpecting an answer, but she still got one.

 

“I know. This must seem sketchy as hell. Especially when it's involved with the guy with an assault record in an alley. But I don't think we want to be near other people, or in their sight for that matter. You'll know soon enough.” Ren said, looking back at Makoto as they finished walking down the stairs to their school.

 

Ryuji was giddy with excitement as they entered the alleyway. His eyes were bright and wide as he stared at Ren waiting for him to do something. Ren looked at the other two, pulled out his phone, and selected that weird app. 'The Metaverse Navigator, huh? Well here goes nothing- oh! There's a history. That makes this easier.’ Ren selected the option and before he hit go, he showed them the screen.

 

“Person, Kamoshida. Location, Shujin Academy. Distortion, Castle? What is all of this, Amamiya-kun?” Makoto asked as she took a step back away from reading the phone.

 

Ren just shrugged and said, “A whole lot of 'I don't know’. You two ready?” He asked.

 

Ryuji, practically jumping in anticipation now. Makoto just hesitantly said, “Sure?” Giving Ren one last weird look before asking, “What’s gonna happen?”

 

Ren just looked at Makoto. A devious glean covering his eyes that was soon hidden under the light reflecting off his glasses. A smirk twitched at his lips as he said one word, “This.” And clicked the button 'depart’. The world around the three began to shift.

 

Makoto grabbed her head and hunched over in a futile attempt to stop the sudden pain coursing through her head. “Aaaagh! What was that!?” She yelled in the process.

 

“Huh, Ya know, I didn’t really feel anything this time around… Maybe after your first time in, it just gets harder and harder to feel anything. Which is a good thing cause that was one killer headache, ya know?” Ryuji said to Ren while looking at the castle.

 

“It’s probably what happens when it’s your first time entering this… Well whatever this place is.” Ren answered Makoto as she picked herself back up. She blinked a few times before staring at Ren in disbelief. “What? Is there something in my hair?” Ren asked as he began to run his fingers through his hair, trying to find something that was ultimately not there.

 

“N-No, it’s just- Is that you Amamiya-kun?” Makoto asked as she looked Ren up and down.

 

“Yeah? Why wouldn’t it be?” Ren said.

 

“Oh dude! Your clothes changed again, just like last time!” Exclaimed Ryuji with a little bit of a pout on his face.

 

“Oh yeah, they did, didn’t they… Hey, do I look any good?” Ren said as he started examining the clothes he wore, a smile starting to spread on his face as he turned to Ryuji, expectant of an answer.

 

‘He does look good.’ Makoto thought to herself.

 

“Wait, you mean to say you actually like that?” Ryuji said, his face exuding jealousy and betraying his words.

 

“What? You jelly?” Ren said, teasing Ryuji while a smug smile began to form on his lips.

 

“O-Okay, I mean it’s a little cool-” Ryuji began.

 

‘I think you mean really cool.’ Makoto thought. She could feel her cheeks warming up and decided to avert her gaze to the now looming castle. She was completely taken aback.

 

“I mean, it actually a lotta cool, but-” Ryuji was interrupted as Makoto began to speak while staring at the castle.

 

“Where’s the school at? It was right here…” Makoto began. She truly thought her eyes were deceiving her until she noticed a plaque on the brickwall in front of the drawbridge. It said two words, “‘Shujin Academy’. But how?” Makoto asked, turning around to face the two boys.

 

“Huh, so it really wasn’t a dream…” Ryuji began while Ren actually attempted to answer her question. “We’re not really sure how. But now do you understand when we said you’d think we were going insane if we had tried to explain this to you?” Ren said as he gestured toward the massive castle in front of them. “C’mon, you two. We don’t know how much different time is here, so we should pick up the pace a little.” Ren said. Ryuji and Makoto both looked at Ren and gave him a firm nod. Their faces and demeanor were serious and determined for information on Kamoshida. Ren led the two across the drawbridge when a familiar voice called out to the three.

 

“What are you two doing back here making all of this commotion!?” Morgana yelled out while his eyes transitioned to Makoto. His eye grew wide in irritation before he yelled out again, “And Why!? Why did you bring someone else with you!? It’s dangerous enough with just the two of you!” Morgana was jumping frantically as he yelled at the two boys before stopping as Makoto spoke up.

 

“Umm, just what are you?” Makoto had asked Morgana, an inquisitive look on her face as she crouched down and brought a hand to her chin as she observed Morgana.

 

Morgana gave her a pleading look as if to say, ‘Noooo! Not you too.’ before saying, “I’m a human! An honest to god human! Now what are you two doing back her when you guys barely got away last time!”

 

“And we’re the ones ‘making a commotion’...” The two boys deadpanned at the same time at Morgana. Ryuji kept on speaking however, saying, “We’re here to get a good look at those prisoners faces.”

 

Morgana looked down at the ground, face palmed, and let out a long sigh before saying, “I already told you their-”

 

“I know they’re not real, cat.” Ryuji interrupted Morgana.

 

“I’m not a cat, you monkey.” Morgana said, glaring at Ryuji.

 

“But you said that that was how Kamoshida views them. So we were planning on finding them so we could memorize their faces so we could confront them in the real world to get answers.” A proud glean washed over Ryuji’s eyes as he explained his ‘expert plan’.

 

Morgana seemed to ponder this for a moment before nodding and saying, “Alright, that's not a bad plan and I’ll help you out because you're gonna need it. But only if Frizzy Hair comes along as well in case we have to fight another shadow or something.”

 

Ren nodded and said, “Well, I’m here, aren’t I?”

 

Ryuji looked at Ren and said, “Thanks man, for coming. You too, Miss Prez. All the help we can get, right? You too, Morgana.” Morgana seemed surprised he was being thanked for this for a split second before he smiled and nodded to Ryuji.

 

“Wait, before we go on, you look like you have answers for me. What is this place? And what’s this about prisoners and the way Kamoshida views them?” Makoto said looking at Morgana in hope for someone who actually knows what’s going on here.

 

Morgana sighed before looking at Makoto and beginning the explanation. “This world that you are in right now is known as the Metaverse. It’s a world caused by the desires of one's heart. If their desires become distorted enough, they begin to develop a palace, like the one you see right now, which is the base of those distorted desires. Basically, this place is how whoever’s palace this is, Kamoshida I think you guys said, views the place.”

 

“So Kamoshida thinks of the school as his own castle?” Ren asked.

 

“Man, I was just trying to make a- what is it? A metaphor? About how Kamoshida viewed the school when I met ya yesterday. I didn’t think that it would lead to this.” Ryuji said while rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“So the only reason this place exists is because of Kamoshida’s cognition of our school? So that would mean that there are other things in here that he sees daily in the real world that would be in here in some way, like people or objects of interest. So that means those prisoners… It disgusts me that he would think of the volleyball team like that.” Makoto said with an even greater determination flaring in her eyes, the red in them almost turning bright scarlet as the fire behind them grew brighter. A voice echoed in her head, ‘So you dare rebel against those who hold the authority over you? Those who order you around? What would that Principal say if he saw you like this? What would your sister say? Will you heed your own resolve or will you choose to ignore it? … Hmm, I await your actions.’ Makoto blinked in surprise at the voice. It was almost like all of time had stopped while it spoke. She continued to listen to Morgana’s words.

 

Morgana looked at Makoto with awe as he said, “Wow, you actually understood that really quickly. But yes, those prisoners are real people on the other side, it’s just how Kamoshida views them. But it’s more than just Kamoshida’s cognition of the place that makes it exist. It’s also the distorted desires. Mix cognition with some really distorted desires and you have a palace.” Morgana finished explaining and then asked the two boys, “Do you two understand at all?”

 

“No, not really.” “Yeah, pretty easy once you think about it.” The two boys said at the same time. Ryuji just stared at him with his jaw dropped open and said, “Dude! You’re supposed to be in the same boat as me here! Don’t betray me like this, man!”

 

“Why would I want to do that?” Ren said with a smirk that was quickly becoming his facial signature. “Anyway, don’t fret too much over it. C’mon guys, let’s get in and out.” Ren said as he walked towards the ventilation shaft they escaped from previously.

 

“Umm, Amamiya-kun, why not just use the front door?” Makoto asked before following him.

 

“Hah! Umm, yeah no. Ryuji and I figured out the hard way yesterday that that is kind of a really bad idea.” Ren said as he hopped up onto the stacks of barrels, kicking off the grate that is now suddenly reattached after he kicked it down last time. “Oh, and before we go in, call me Ren. It’s easier, and, well, I don’t really much care for ‘Amamiya’.” Ren said, his eyes downcast for a second before he motioned for the others to follow him in, Morgana close behind. Makoto looked to Ryuji hoping that he might know why but he just shrugged and followed them into the vent.

 

Once everyone was inside, Ren looked at Morgana and asked, “Alright, are we going back into that creepy sewer-dungeon place?” Morgana nodded in confirmation and Ren began to take the lead this time. He slowly opened up the door and checked through the crack to make sure none of those knights were coming again, and then slowly opened it further, just enough to peak down the other direction of the hallway. Again, there was nothing, so Ren began to lead the three back the way Ryuji, Morgana, and him had come by before when escaping. They traversed the giant entrance with ease, surprisingly, no guards were nearby, and Ren wasn’t going to question the opportunity of movement and continued to lead the group through a door that revealed a spiral staircase that went down. The sound of water rushing made certain to Ren’s memory that this was the way to go as he began to make his way down the stairs with Morgana at his side. However, the simple bliss of it being a quick run without any obstacles came to a close as they reached the bottom of the stairs. Morgana had stopped the group and had them crouch behind some barrels as he pointed out a patrolling guard in their way.

 

“Damn, It looks like we’re not going to be getting through this without a little conflict, so I’m going to take now to teach you something. Frizzy, you see how that guard wears a mask over his face?” Morgana asked and Ren nodded in confirmation. “Well, if you can ambush it and tear off its’ mask, that will temporarily stun the shadow, giving us an advantage in the ensuing fight. Go ahead when you’re ready.” Ren nodded and waited for the shadow to turn around, meanwhile, Ryuji just had a look of excitement on his face.

 

“Oh this is so cool. Ambush the shadow real quick so we can hurry in and strike him first.” Ryuji whispered but Morgana just shot him a cold glare and said, “No. You two will stay back and watch. You don’t have Persona’s, so not only would you be a hindrance, but you would also be running face first into death.” Ryuji was about to look down when Ren made his move, as if he didn’t pay attention to the scolding Ryuji just went through.

 

Ren ran up behind the shadow, jumped onto its shoulders and grabbed the bottom of the mask, tearing it off with ease while yelling out, “Show me your true form!” And he backflipped off the shadow, pushing it in the process as it dissolved into that same black liquid. Ren landed gracefully and was fully standing, tearing off his own mask, calling Arsene’s name as the pyro jack-o-lantern appeared once more. “Cleave Him!” Ren yelled as Arsene swung his arm at the Pyro, causing it to stagger back. As Arsene disappeared and Ren’s mask returned to his face, Morgana hopped up and called upon his Persona, “Zorro! En Guard!” Morgana’s Persona appeared and he looked like a mix between a luchador and a fencer as he swung his rapier in a Z towards the Pyro, causing a gush of wind to appear below it, disintegrating the foe.

 

Makoto and Ryuji came running up to Morgana and Ren with two different looks crossing their faces. Ryuji’s was filled with excitement and hype while Makoto’s looked to be in thought. “Nice job, Rookie! I enjoyed that dramatic spin you put on it.” Morgana said as the two finished walking to them. “Yeah! That was pretty cool man, not gonna lie.” Ryuji said with a smile.

 

“So this is that Persona you guys were talking about…” Makoto began.

 

“Yes. It’s power of the soul of rebellion in one’s heart made manifest.” Morgana said to Makoto as she held her hand to her chin.

 

“So, is it possible for a palace holder to have a Persona, then?” Makoto asked.

 

“No. That would go completely against what both represent.” Morgana answered.

 

“We can talk about this later. For now, let’s check those cells. They’re just up ahead. C’mon.” Ren told Makoto and Morgana as he walked away with Ryuji by his side. Halfway across the bridge though, and Ryuji was running to the cells. He clutched the first one he saw and looked back at Morgana and yelled, “Where the hell are they cat!”

 

“I don’t know! Why are you asking me? And keep your voice down…” Morgana answered but Ryuji seemed to hear none of it as he paced the row of cells looking for more but he saw nothing. ‘They have to be somewhere nearby. They just have to be!’ Thought Ryuji as he started bounding further down the hallway in an attempt to find the prisoners. He heard the others call out to him but Ryuji didn’t pay attention to them. ‘I have to find them.’

 

As Ryuji ran down the hall, he didn't know what to expect. Honestly, he wasn't expecting anything. If it wasn't those guys who were caged up, he didn't care. That was, until he rounded the corner and ran into a group of four shadows that all turned to face Ryuji and he stopped in his tracks. They stared at each other until a shadow in the back pointed his sword at Ryuji and yelled, “Intruder! Get him!”

 

Ryuji turned right back around and started yelling as soon as he saw the others again. “Guys! Guys! They're coming! Four of them!” Ryuji turned around for a second to see one of the shadows turning the corner before Ryuji began running again. “Oh no oh no oh no! Guys! Find somewhere to hide!” Ryuji yelled out once more, his voice cracking as he ran to the others. Morgana led them to a door that seemed to shift in sight. He opened it and ran in with Makoto quickly behind, Ren holding the door open, waiting for Ryuji and praying the shadows he ran into couldn't see where they were going.

 

As soon as Ryuji was in, Ren quickly got in and slammed the door, locked it and held his hand over Ryuji’s mouth as the blonde boy tried to catch his breath. He signaled to the other two to be quiet as they heard the sound of running footsteps past the door. “Where did the intruder go!” One shadow yelled and another responded saying, “I think I saw him go this way!” The sound of running footsteps slowly quieting down and Ren let go of Ryuji, allowing him to breathe harder. It wasn't long before both Ren and Makoto were looking at Ryuji and said in unison, “Ryuji.” “Sakamoto.” “Don't you ever run off like that again.”

 

Ryuji looked down with a somber expression and said, “I know. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t help it. The thought of Kamoshida torturing those guys, real or not, just sickens me and I won’t let it happen any more.”

 

Morgana looked at Ryuji and said, “Listen, I don’t know what happened between you two, but you gotta keep your emotions in check. I’m in the same boat as you. I want revenge on that Kamoshida guy just as much as you do for the torture he’s done to me while I was locked away in here. But you won’t be able to do anything if you’re dead.”

 

“You’re right. I really am sorry guys…”

 

“Don’t worry about it Sakamoto-kun. Just don’t do it again. Okay?” Makoto said.

 

“Okay.” Ryuji returned as he looked up. The look of the room began to shift and for a little looked like a classroom before going back into some sort of storage. “Was that a classroom just now? What is this room?” Ryuji asked Morgana.

 

“It’s what I like to call a safe room. It’s an area the distortion doesn’t affect much, allowing haven for those inside. Here, you can take a quick rest and prepare before going back out there.” Morgana answered.

 

Ryuji perked up at this and pulled out a gun and some medicine before saying, “Speaking about preparation! You know what they say, ‘Preparing is pre- something.’ Huh. Huh?” He said gleefully as he showed the group the items he pulled out his pockets.

 

Watching Makoto, you could easily see a blood vessel pop in her forehead before she asked, “Sakamoto. Why do you have a firearm on you?”

 

Ryuji, however, did not notice Makoto’s demeanor as he was too proud of what he brought. “It’s just a model gun so it only makes noise, but I bought it last night thinking we could fake those shadows out or something, ya know?”

 

“And did you bring this into the school with you, Sakamoto-kun.” Makoto said in a chilling voice that could kill, given the opportunity.

 

Ryuji’s eyes went wide as he made eye contact with a fuming Makoto while Ren was doing everything in his ability to keep from laughing. “U-Um, y-yes ma’am.” Ryuji gulped.

 

The air in the room grew colder as her glare intensified ten fold and she spoke, “Tomorrow. After school. You’re going to help me with some of my most interesting student council work. I look forward to your willing cooperation.”

 

“Y-Yes ma’am. But does the model gun help at all? Will it work on those shadows? Like, scare ‘em or something.” Ryuji asked, still cowering under Makoto’s slowly softening gaze.

 

Morgana just took the model gun and handed it to Ren. “You’ll see when the time arises. For now you’ll hold onto the weapon, Frizzy Hair! And regarding the medicine, in the cognitive world, most of it works differently. This should minorly heal wounds. When needed, just pull it out and squeeze and voila !”

 

Ren nodded to this, still trying to keep himself from laughing at Ryuji. “A-A-Alright… Let’s Gohoho…” Ren began as he started wheezing. The laughter escaping his lips. When Ren had finally calmed down, he slowly opened the door and looked around to see that there were no shadows in their immediate vicinity. So, he motioned for the others to follow as he continued on down the hallway Ryuji had just ran down and back in his angered stupor.

 

As the four continued down the network of hallways trying to find the inmates, there were scant any Shadows. The group had only ran into two, both of which Morgana and Ren defeated with ease. During the second of these two battles, Morgana showed the group the unnatural extent cognition can have on the enemy when he had told Ren to use the model pistol Ryuji gave him on a few Pixies. Ren was reluctant until he pulled the trigger and the model gun didn’t just make a sound, but harm the enemies with an actual bullet causing them to falter in a state of weakness. Morgana explained to Ren at that moment, that when all of the shadows in a fight have been knocked down like that, to attack with everything he had as the shadows would take more damage in their vulnerable state. Morgana had called this an All-Out Attack and it was beautifully violent. When the carnage was done with, the shadows dissipated into the same black liquid as Ren turned to face the others, giving them a smirk as he adjusted his bright red gloves.

 

“Woooooah!” Ryuji had yelled out as he crouched slightly, extending both of his arms at Ren and yelled again, “That peashooter did THAT !”. Meanwhile, whatever death glare Makoto had given Ryuji prior was nothing compared to the one she was giving him now. This was ended quickly, however, as she turned to look at Ren, her gaze not terrifying but still stern as she asked, “Where did you learn to use a firearm? You used it well. Too well…”

 

Ren shrugged at this and added, “My mother was a Police Officer when I grew up. She taught me at a young age because she had wanted me to follow in her footsteps.”

 

This surprised Makoto as she smiled at Ren, however, her gaze was distant. “I see. My father was a Police Officer as well.” Ren gave a small smile and said, “Well, coincidences are known to happen. Anyways, standing around here isn’t going to find us those-” Ren was cut off by a loud scream. It was close and just beyond a door to their right. Ren looked at the other three, nodded to the door and walked towards it.

 

He slowly opened it, looking for possible enemies but finding none, but rather, a hallway that seemed to be enshrouded in a violet light. The hallway extended to another door  with a tacked on drape above it that read, ‘Kamoshida’s Training Hall of Love’. Ryuji was the first to speak, “What kind of bullshit is this?”

 

“Well, we won’t know unless we go in.” Said Makoto as she and Ren both walked to the door. There was another set of screams as they stopped in front of it, Morgana and Ryuji close behind.

 

“Huh. Well this is some fucked up love… C’mon, let’s go in.” Ren said as he opened the door. Nothing could have prepared them for the sight before them, however. The torture the cognitive prisoners were going through was barbaric and levels beyond cruel. Ryuji shoved past Ren and Makoto and made his way to the first set of iron bars to reveal a room with a volleyball net in it. Two prisoners and shadows on each side. The shadows were beating the prisoners as they held onto the net. As the other three made their way closer to Ryuji, he just turned and looked at them, his mouth gaping as he struggled to find the words he was looking for while motioning at the prisoners. “Th-th-this is beyond messed up!” Ryuji yelled.

 

“Hey, how many times do I gotta tell you to keep your voice down?” Morgana chided.

 

“I don’t care! C’mon Ren! Help me get this gate open!” Ryuji snapped back, but before he could grab onto the bars to try and pry the gate open, a prisoner walked up to the group on the other side. He looked defeated as he began speaking to Ryuji.

 

“Just stop… please… it’s useless… just leave us alone…”

 

“Huh! What do you mean? I’m not gonna just-” Ryuji began but another prisoner came up and cut him off.

 

“Just leave us alone. If we stay obedient, we won’t be executed like you guys…”

 

“What do you mean by that! You mean you actually wanna stay in a place like this!” Ryuji exclaimed.

 

“Ryuji…” Ren began, placing a hand on his shoulder giving his friend a soft look. “You know they can’t come with us. It was never the plan to try and get them out.”

 

“I-I know but… Seeing them here… I just…” Ryuji began but a look of defeat began to warp his face as he looked down in sadness.

 

“Hey, just because you can’t save them here, doesn’t mean you can’t save them there. Remember their faces so that we know who to find tomorrow, Sakamoto-kun.” Makoto said, Ryuji just looked up at her, color coming back to his face and nodded.

 

“Are you good? Then hurry up. Something tells me we don’t have much time left.” Morgana added. Ryuji gave a determined look to the three of them and started staring at faces, memorizing them to the best of his ability.

 

The contraptions of torture only seemed to become more vile as the four of them went down the line. In one of the three rooms, prisoners were being forced to run on a treadmill at intense speeds without any water or breaks. Their cries of pain were silent through the heavy panting and occasional sounds of someone vomiting. A voice on the intercom above them kept repeating the same words, “If you cannot keep up with this pace, then you don’t belong on the team. Only those who endure through the worst deserve the glory at the end.” Ryuji only stared at the prisoners on the treadmill through the gaps in the iron bars as he held onto them, his knuckles were white in his intense grip. “It’s just like with the track team. Isn’t it Sakamoto-kun?” Makoto softly asked.

 

Ryuji turned around and wiped away the beginning of some tears, “Yeah… Not as bad though, but that isn’t really saying much… Let’s go.”

 

The next area wasn’t even training, but this, “This is just abuse… Only violence…” Ren voiced, wide eyed at the prisoner who was strung up by his legs in front of a cannon firing volleyball after volleyball at him. Ren turned to look at Morgana and asked, “Hey… if this is based on his cognition- that means he’s doing something similar to the volleyball players in the real world?”

 

Ryuji and Makoto turned to face Morgana, waiting for his answer. “Yeah, something like that…”

 

“So all three of these scenes basically prove that Kamoshida is physically abusing the volleyball teams?” Ryuji asked while staring daggers into the distance.

 

“We didn’t need to see this to know the truth of the situation. Just looking at the players proves he’s doing more than coaching…” Makoto said, giving Ryuji a determined look, her red eyes growing brighter. Ryuji nodded to her, took another look at the strung up prisoner and turned back to the group.

 

“I’ve got their faces memorized. Let’s get outta here…”

 

“Let’s.” Ren said as he turned around to lead the others out the room. Walking past the first of the three cages, he noticed the Shadows and prisoners were gone. He looked back at the other three and said, “Hurry.”

 

As the four backtracked their path through the dungeons, Ren noticed that there were no Shadows in their way or near them. When using the third eye, he couldn’t see them in the distance, and even when they passed the safe room, there were no Shadows. Ren stopped the group before they crossed the drawbridge and voiced he concerns. “Listen, I know we’re so close to being out of here, but we need to be as careful as possible. There have been no Shadows on our way back and when we left that ‘training hall’, in the first cage the Shadows and prisoners were gone already. Wouldn’t we have passed by some Shadows at this point then? I can’t even see any in the distant halls with my third eye. There’s nothing. I just have a bad feeling about this. I feel like we’re walking into an ambush.”

 

“But we have no other way to get out.” Morgana reasoned.

 

“Exactly, but that’s why we should be careful. Just like Amami- Ren, said. Especially you two since you’re the protection.” Makoto said.

 

“Well let’s just get going then. We can deal with that shit when it happens. Right now, we have no other way to go.” Ryuji said.

 

“I know. Just putting a voice to my concerns. You ready to go if we need too Morgana?” Ren asked and Morgana nodded in confirmation. “Let’s go then…” Ren said as he led the group across the drawbridge. As the went back up the spiral staircase, the feeling that something was going to go awry kept eating at Ren’s gut until they reached the door that led back into the entrance of the castle. Ren peered around the corner, looking into the massive room and saw nothing. ‘Thank god.’ Ren thought as he sighed to himself. He started leading the group across the room when the sound of multiple Shadows bursting into existence rang around the group in synchronized chorus. One of which appeared right in front of Ren.

 

He had no time to react as the Shadow shoved it fist into Ren’s gut with an uppercut filled with enough vigor to make Ren vomit stomach acids. The punch was quickly followed by another to the side of Ren’s head, tossing him to the side as he lost consciousness.

 

“Ren! No!” Ryuji yelled out as he began to run for his fallen friend, but, his mad dash for him was cut short by one of the many Shadows ramming him with its shield, causing Ryuji to be flung back towards the main door of the castle. He gasped out in pain, struggling to open his eyes and see the disaster before him.

 

Morgana was on the ground with a boot to his head, thrashing around in a struggled and futile attempt to get up and fight those who surrounded them. “Let me go, you cowards!” Morgana yelled but his voice was silenced by the increased pressure the Shadow was putting onto his head.

 

Makoto was being restrained by two of the Shadows, taking both of her arms and dragging her to Kamoshida as he walked down the stairs in the room, coming out of seemingly nowhere. When he reached the bottom of them, Kamoshida gave Makoto a maniacal gaze, walked up to her, lifted her chin so that they were looking at each others eyes and said, “I’ll deal with you and your disobedience after I deal with these knaves.” Kamoshida let go of Makoto, and walked into the center of the commotion. Morgana was struggling less and less to his left and Ren was slowly regaining his consciousness to Kamoshida’s right. Kamoshida motioned for two of the guards to detain Ryuji and said, “To think that you’d make the same mistake again. I guess it’s true when they say, ‘barking dogs seldom bite’.”

 

Ryuji was on his feet by the time the Shadows stationed themselves in front of him, leveling their swords at his head. Kamoshida stared daggers into Ryuji before he started to burst into laughter. “My, my, how the star runner for the track team has fallen…” Kamoshida’s arrogant gaze was unwavering as he continued to stare at Ryuji.

 

“The hell are you gettin’ at!?” Ryuji yelled out.

 

Kamoshida’s grin grew wider as he spoke, “Why, I speak of the ‘Track Traitor’, who acted in violence, ending his teammates dreams. Oh, I can only imagine the pain of the others who were dragged under the consequences of your… selfish act.”

 

“That’s a lie and you know it!” Makoto yelled out behind Kamoshida. His face turned cold as he slowly turned around to face her.

 

“Maybe the situation isn’t very clear to you. I make the rules here in my castle! So when I say it’s an act of self defense, you should just accept it without a second thought. I’m the king after all and a wannabe queen playing Student Council President like you shouldn’t be butting her head in thinking she can make a difference. Your questioning into my kingly acts has become a nuisance and your crimes are about to outweigh your one use to me, Niijima.” Kamoshida’s grin grew as he stared at Makoto with a fiery anger in his eyes. “I recommend you be quiet, or this will end up worse.”

 

Ren had woken up at this point and started struggling against his restrainer as well. “Hey! Let me go! Arsene- Gah!” Ren screamed in pain as he tried to pull off his mask and summon Arsene but the shadow on top of him stabbed his hand, keeping it latched on to the ground.

 

“Oh! And the already infamous transfer student! How’s your new school life going after the leaking of your record? Ha ha! I gotta say, taking up arms with the track traitor probably isn’t the best way to deal with those rumors. But beyond that, hanging out with a fellow delinquent isn’t going to help with your rehabilitation.” Kamoshida said as he looked at Ren with a malicious mask. “But because you chose poorly, you, along with your friends here are going to die. This is what happens when you associate with the wrong people. You face the consequences with them. But don’t worry! There is happiness even in the wake of death for I am willing to kill you myself today. Revel in glee as your executions are doled out by me, the king! ” Kamoshida ended his speech, gave Ren a terrifying smile as he started walking towards the boy.

 

Kamoshida, shoved the Shadow off Ren, replacing the Shadow’s boot with his own on Ren’s head. Kamoshida took the Shadow’s sword out of Ren’s hand and thrust it back in there. Ren couldn’t do anything but thrash and scream as the blade punctured his flesh and broke his bone as Kamoshida repeatedly stabbed his hand in different angles, twisting it as he brought the sword back up every time, slowly moving up Ren’s arm.

 

“Ren! No!” Ryuji yelled out trying to run and stop Kamoshida but was quickly stopped by the two Shadows in front of him as they shoved him away, leveling their swords as he landed on his back. Ryuji just stared in horror at his new friend as the man he hated most in this world kept on stabbing, and stabbing, and stabbing. Ren’s screams getting louder and louder but weaker as he began to lose consciousness once more from the horrible pain. Ryuji was about to watch Kamoshida shove the blade into Ren’s shoulder when everything stopped around him. Ryuji could see Kamoshida and his maniacal grin, his eyes wide with hatred. He could see Ren in the middle of his slowly weakening struggles, slowly growing too tired to continue with the pain. He could see the shadows as they stared at their respective captives, emotionless in their masks. Ryuji could see Makoto looking at Ren in horror, tears were falling down her face as she tried to do something but couldn’t. Ryuji felt his face in the stillness, and realized he too had been balling as he stared at the slow and strenuous nightmare Ren was going through. He looked at Morgana, who was in a state of shock. Morgana’s eyes were wide and taking in everything, too scared to try and move. And then, everything he saw dissolved into darkness, yet Ryuji was awake.

 

He could hear the sound of the ocean in the still blackness. The sound of seagulls in the distance. He tried standing up, only too feel he was in water as well, sloshing around as he rose to his feet. The blackness remained until a faint blue glow emanated from the water several meters in front of him. Ryuji heard a voice come from the blue, but it also seemed to ring in his head. It said, “So you’re just going to watch? I can only imagine the pain that boy must be feeling right now. This isn’t the first time you’ve seen people suffer from this man before. The only difference is, is that then, you did something about it. You raised your flag of havoc upon that man and you paid the price with a broken leg and a broken team. You were pegged as a delinquent for your actions. You were seen as trash. Your mother took all the blame and even said sorry to you of all people. But even so, if you could go back to that moment with the knowledge you have now, would you change a thing? Would you submit to the established pecking order? Or would you raise your flag of chaos?”

 

“I wouldn’t do a thing different. I don’t regret what I did.” Ryuji said to the voice.

 

“Huh. And yet there you stand…” An image of the entire scene unfolding appeared beside Ryuji in the water. “... There you stand doing nothing. What’s different between now, and back then?” The voice asked. The water began to shake as the air around Ryuji became more tense.

 

“It’s so much the same, but this time there’s a life on the line… No. Lives were on the line last time too. He woulda killed us at the rate he was working us.” Ryuji said, he anger beginning to pulsate off him like a beacon.

 

“Then if you could, wouldn’t you agree that this is the perfect time to wreak the havoc you were shoved down for?” The voice asked once more. As it spoke, it felt like everything shook around Ryuji.

 

“Hell yeah it would!” Ryuji yelled out towards the voice.

 

“You seek power then, correct!?” The blue, glowing water Ryuji saw was now brighter than ever and moved in Ryuji’s direction until it was under him. “Then let us form a pact.” Ryuji was pulled into the water as the voice finished speaking. Everything went back to blackness and when he opened his eyes, the scene he left behind prior had returned. Kamoshida was about to thrust the blade into Ren’s shoulder. The scene began to resume as Ryuji began to feel an intense pain convulse throughout his body.

 

Makoto couldn’t do anything as she watched the boy she met not even a week ago being slowly killed as Kamoshida stabbed him over and over and over again, slowly moving up his arm, closer and closer to his chest. To his heart. Makoto was struggling against her captors as she tried to do everything in her power to stop the cruelty in front of her but their grip was too strong, keeping her held down in place. She had noticed the tears but she didn’t care. Makoto had to do something but couldn’t. Not even Ryuji could do anything to stop the scene in front of the group as Ren slowly began to struggle less and less. Makoto saw the look of despair on Ren’s face as he started tiring out. With every single puncture into Ren’s flesh, Makoto saw the looks of pain begin to falter as Ren began to give up, starting to lose consciousness in the pain. ‘I can’t do anything… It’s like Kamoshida just said… I’m useless… ‘ Makoto thought to herself as she stopped struggling, destined to the fate of having to watch the scene before her unfold, and she couldn’t do a thing. “Is it that you can’t do anything? Or are you just afraid too?”  A voice said as it rang through Makoto’s head. As soon as it was done speaking, the scene before her froze in place. Ryuji was crying with anger in his eyes as he was shoved onto his back, looking at the scene before him. Kamoshida was just about to shove the sword into Ren’s shoulder and no one could do a thing. Not Makoto, not Ryuji, not Morgana, and definitely not Ren. She took in the still scene before her and then it dissolved into darkness.

 

For as far as her eye could see, Makoto saw nothing. Nothing but an endless void of blackness. There was absolutely nothing until the sound of an engine revving made her turn towards the noise. There was nothing there but a blue, glowing orb of some sort of wispy substance. If energy could take a physical form, this would be it. “Because from what I’ve seen, it’s not a matter of can or can’t, it’s been a matter of fear. Fear to go against what you’re told. Fear to deter away from the path set in front of you by others who hold authority over you. Fear of what your sister might say if you caused trouble for her. But you know, one might think it necessary to put aside their fears when someone is dying right in front of them.” As soon as the voice was finished talking, a shimmering mirror into the scene Makoto left behind appeared to her right, showing her once more the situation with an emphasis on the state of Ren. “What would your father say if he saw you just sitting there, doing nothing as an innocent boy was being killed before your eyes?”

 

“He would be disgusted. He would try everything in his power to stop the scene before him. Even if it meant his own death…” Makoto said as she stared into the picture, then back at the blue, glowing wisps.

 

“Hmph. Power revolves around many things. If you had the power to stop what was happening in front of you, would you take it?”

 

“Without a second thought.”

 

“Even if by doing so, you go against the path of what was laid out for you. Even if by doing so, you go against the authority of those higher up than you. Even if by doing so, you were a hindrance to those around you?”

 

“Of course. I refuse to be useless! I refuse to stand still and watch him die!” Makoto had yelled out, motioning at the picture as she yelled at the voice.

 

The wisps disappeared and reappeared once more, encasing Makoto and asked, “Even if it means you will most certainly end up going down the path of strife?”

 

“You already know my answer.”

 

“Then let us proceed with our contract at once.” The voice rang in Makoto’s head and the darkness dissolved back into the scene she left behind like nothing had changed. Everything began moving again and the sword Kamoshida wielded dove right into Ren’s shoulder blade, causing him to scream once more in agony. At that exact moment, a blast of wind emanated from both her and Ryuji, a pain unlike any she had experience up to this point in her life was convulsing throughout Makoto’s body as her restrainers were tossed away and she fell on her knees. The pain kept on getting worse and worse. It felt like her muscles were being torn and torn again as she slowly stood on her feet. As soon as she was standing, there was a throbbing sensation as her now yellow eyes narrowed, everything she felt throughout her body moved into a specific point on her face as a mask formed.

 

The blast of wind that came out of Ryuji and Makoto knocked everything standing off their feet. The Shadows that stood in front of Ryuji were now several meters in front of him lying on the ground. The Shadow that stood on top of Morgana was also flung off of him, allowing Morgana to finally stand. Kamoshida flew a few meters away from Ren, landing on his ass and leaving the sword buried in his shoulder. But Ryuji no longer cared about the turning of tables in front of him. He was in so much pain and just wanted it to go away. He clutched his head as his now yellow eyes narrowed, hoping the pressure on his temples might help the pain but nothing happened. Ryuji began screaming as the voice began speaking again, “You made me wait quite awhile. You know, I have to agree, after all, since your name has been disgraced already, why not hoist the flag and wreak havoc… ? The ‘other you’ who exists within desires it thus… I am thou, thou art I… There is no turning back… The skull of rebellion is your flag henceforth!” The voice rang in his head and all the pain focused into an area on his face where a mask formed. Ryuji instinctively had to get it off as soon as possible. The pain was too much and this was the source. Ryuji took both of his hands and grabbed the right side of his mask and yanked it off, tearing the flesh off with the mask. The mask disappeared into a burst of blue flames and the pain was gone, all that was left was a stinging sensation on his face as blood dripped down from where the mask once was. And then there was another burst of wind and Ryuji was encased in a blue fire, healing the wound on his face instantaneously. The blue flames began to lick their way off of Ryuji, growing larger behind him taking on another form. The flames left behind a new set of clothes. Ryuji now wore a black leather jacket, skin tight and fully buttoned up. His collar was flared, much like Ren’s own set of clothes, but Ryuji had a bright red ascot tied around his neck. He wore matching black leather pants and wore steel knee pads and steel toe boots. On his hands he wore bright yellow gloves and when he reached out to grab something, a lead pipe appeared in his hands. The blue fire behind Ryuji started to grow bigger and started to take the shape of what looked like a beefcake of a man riding a smaller boat like a surfboard. The floating chains around the two clinked and clanked as Ryuji checked himself out and yelled out, “Alright Persona… This effin’ rocks!”

 

As Makoto went to reach for the side of her mask the voice spoke up again, “I am thou, thou art I… You have finally found your own justice… Please, never lose sight of it again. This memorable day marks your graduation from your false self.” And with that, Makoto couldn’t take it anymore, she needed to tear that mask off. She grabbed the edges of her mask and tore off everything it was attached too. All of the skin, the flesh, the mask itself, and as the mask disappeared into a bundle of blue flame and another blast of wind emanated from Makoto, that same blue flame enveloped all of Makoto. It danced across her entire body as it slowly slid off and fell underneath her, picking her up as the blue flames began to form something underneath her. As the flames continued to fall beneath her, they left behind a new set of clothes. A skin tight, black and dark blue leather biking raider suit. It was adorned with spiked shoulder pads and spiked knee pads. She wore white gloves and a pair of spiked knuckles Beneath her, the flames began to take shape of a vehicle. But not just any vehicle, a motorcycle. Makoto’s eyes returned to their natural bright red color as she gripped the handles of the bike. The chains around her clinking as she took in the sight of what she wore.

 

Both Ryuji and Makoto stared at Ren, then Kamoshida as he struggled to get up. Morgana ran in between the two of them and yelled out, “HELL YEAH! Let’s deal with the trash!” Makoto and Ryuji looked at Morgana, then at each other and nodded and yelled out their Persona’s name in unison.

 

“Captain Kidd!” Ryuji yelled.

 

“Johanna!” Makoto yelled and the flames surrounding their persona disappeared to reveal the forms of their personas. Ryuji’s was an undead pirate with a cannon for an arm while he rode his pirate ship like a surfboard. Makoto’s was a neon blue and steel motorbike with a sleeping face on the front.

 

“Kill Them!” Kamoshida yelled out to the Shadows as he got up, running away from the scene. There were five Shadows and only three of them but the odds were in the groups favor as Makoto revved her bike and ran over one of the Shadows before it could take any form, killing it immediately. As soon as she hit the Shadow, she drifted into a turn, using a frei spell on another Shadow as it was forming. Whatever it was going to be would forever be a mystery. Ryuji called on Captain Kidd to send a volley of cannon balls at two shadows, killing them on impact and Morgana called upon Zorro and had his Persona stab the last of the shadows. With that the battle was over, but it was no time for celebration. Ren was in bad shape and losing blood, fast.

 

The three ran to Ren as fast as they could to look at the damage done. It was bad. Makoto removed the sword embedded in his shoulder, causing him to let out a low groan as she did. His arm was completely destroyed. Holes littered the entire limb. Flesh was torn where it shouldn’t have been torn, chunks of bone were in odd places from Kamoshida stabbing and then twisting the sword while still in Ren’s arm. It was bad, and in any normal circumstances, he would’ve lost his arm, but these aren’t normal circumstances. “Is this fixable at all, Morgana?”

 

Morgana nodded in confirmation and said, “Yes, but not in here. It’s too open to attack, we need to get him into the room with the vent. Ryuji can you carry him? Try not to move his arm too much.”

 

“Got it.” Ryuji said as he placed and arm underneath Ren’s leg and another underneath his back and lifted him up.

 

When the four of them entered the room, Morgana began to speak up. “Ryuji, place him on the table over there and Makoto, start placing something in the way of the door in case anything tries to make its way in.” The two did as they were told and as soon as Ren was placed onto the table, Morgana hopped up beside him and summoned Zorro. The Persona looked at Ren and back at Morgana and gave an understanding look. Morgana hovered his hand above Ren’s arm and began to say Dia, over and over again. Every single time Morgana said it, a blue glow enveloped Ren and made him groan in pain as parts of his wounds began to heal. The sound of flesh reconnecting and the snaps of bones being put back in place filled the room until after a minute or so of constant healing spells, Ren was healed up.

 

As Morgana wiped the sweat off his forehead and hopped down, Ryuji and Makoto swarmed Ren. He was passed out from all the stress but he was okay now. Ryuji sat at the table and grasped Ren’s hand. “Morgana… He’s gonna be okay, right?” Ryuji asked.

 

“He should be. When he returns to the real world he’s gonna be dealing with a really sore arm. It’ll probably feel like he broke it and the bruising will be horrible, but he should be fine in a day or two.” Morgana sighed. He looked up to Makoto and Ryuji as they stared down at Ren and said, “Thank you guys. Had you not awakened to your Persona’s when you did, this would’ve gotten much worse. Ren here could’ve died.”

 

“But he didn’t. So let’s not fret over what could’ve happened, no matter how bad it is.” Makoto said as she turned and gave Morgana a soft look.

 

Ten or so minutes passed and nothing was happening. The group was seated around Ren as he lay on the table. His eyes fluttered open and immediately he groaned and clutched his arm. “Hey man… it’s ok, your all good. How do ya feel?”

 

Ren chuckled slightly and said, “Like complete shit… It feels like my arm went through a meat grinder multiple times.”

 

Makoto returned the slight laugh and said, “Colorful…”

 

“I know. That’s why I said it…” Ren said as he slowly began to rise, leaning on his good arm. He looked at Ryuji, then Makoto, then Morgana and said, “Thanks for saving me right there.” while slowly rubbing the back of his neck with his bad arm.

 

“Don’t even mention it, dude.” Ryuji said with a smile.

 

Ren returned the smile and asked, “How long have a been out for?”

 

“Ten minutes, tops. Speaking of time, now that you’re up we should probably get going.” Makoto nodded, getting up and helping Ren off of the table.

 

“Right, I think I’ve had enough of this place for today. I think I’ve had enough of this almost dying shit as well.” Ren said as he used his good arm to get up on the shelf with the vent.

 

When the group was outside the confines of the castle and about to cross the drawbridge and leave the metaverse, Ryuji turned around and asked Morgana, “Wait, what do we do in the real world if we run into Kamoshida after all of this?”

 

“Don’t worry about it. The Kamoshida in this world can’t convey memories to the Kamoshida in the real world. Tell me, did the Kamoshida in the real world say anything about the executions yesterday?” Morgana explained with a follow-up question.

 

“N-No, he didn’t”

 

“Well there’s your answer. Now then, before you guys go, I would like to talk about repaying my hospitality.” Morgana said with a smile on his face as he looked up at the other three.

 

“Huh?” Said Ryuji.

 

“Oh no…” Said Makoto.

 

“Cause this can only be good.” Said Ren as all three of them looked down at Morgana.

 

“Alright! I was super nice about teaching you guys everything and now it’s time to repay the favor. As I said yesterday, the distortions of this world took away my human body and memories-” Morgana began when Makoto interrupted.

 

“You’re an amnesiac?” Makoto said with surprise.

 

“Sadly, yes…” Morgana said while narrowing his eyes and looking down.

 

“I’m so sorry to hear that…” Makoto couldn’t really find the right words. She had no idea how Morgana must be feeling about the whole thing, but Morgana’s face began to lighten up.

 

“Yes, but with your guys’ help, I can get them back.” Morgana said, his happy demeanor returning. “By delving into the depths of Mementos, we can find the source of every-”

 

“Woah, woah, woah, woah. Hold up there, Morgana. I feel bad for ya and everythin’, but we didn’t make any sort of deal like that.” Ryuji said, interrupting Morgana leaving him with his mouth hung open in disbelief.

 

“Even after everything I did to help you guys!?” Morgana said, raising his voice. He then turned to look at Ren and said, “You’re gonna turn your back on me too? Even after everything I did?”

 

“Sorry man, but I didn’t agree to that. So, see ya for now…” Ren said, turning around, pulling out his phone and going into the alleyway. He motioned for the others to follow him and when they were close enough, he tapped the button to return them home. The world distorted around them and the castle disappeared, leaving only Shujin. The sun was still going down and some students were still leaving the school after finishing their club activities. It was probably six in the afternoon. Ren looked at his hand to see that the bruising was already on its way.

 

“Oh man, I’m beat. I’m going to sleep like a rock when I get home tonight.” Ryuji said as he bent down in exhaustion.

 

“I have to agree wholly with you on that. Ren, how’s your arm doing?” Makoto asked.

 

“The bruising is already starting to spread, but other than that I’m fine.” Ren’s eyes were downcast and you could easily tell he was tired after what he just went through.

 

“Ah, that sucks. Sorry man, but hey, at least you’re not dead… heh heh. Anyways, I’m starvin’. How ‘bout we all go and grab a bite to eat at the beef bowl shop on Central. We talked about it this morning but it would give me the chance to tell you my story and you can tell us what’s up with your record, cause I’m sorry man, but you do not have that criminal look. You guys down?” Ryuji asked, extending his arms out to both of them. “My treat.” He added with a smile. Ren nodded ‘yes’ and Makoto took a look at her phone. There was a notification from her sister saying she wouldn’t be home until late or not at all so she shouldn’t wait up for her. Makoto put her phone away and said, “Sure, I have time.” And so the three made their way to the Beef bowl shop on Central street.

 

When the three of them sat down and ordered their meals, Ryuji was already staring at Ren with an impatient gaze. It dug into Ren until he finally said, “I do believe the deal was you’d tell me what was up with you and that asshat before I told you what was up with my record.”

 

Ryuji shrugged his shoulders. “Eh, ya got me there. But it’s not anything interesting. It’s just a story about a shitty son making life harder for his Mom.” Ryuji looked down for a second, contemplating how he was going to start the story until he decided to start with his family. “So, ya see, my family situation isn’t the greatest. Actually, my mothers is the only family I really have. My dad was an alcoholic that used to beat me and my mother until he finally left. Times were tough and I used track as a means to get a scholarship for college so that I wouldn’t be as much of a burden on her. Well, when Kamoshida got hired, our old track coach got fired and Kamoshida was put in charge of us. Except, he didn’t think the track team was worth any effort. His ‘practices’ were just a title he put on what was just physical abuse. Well, looking back, it was obvious Kamoshida was trying to find a way to get rid of us altogether, and he saw me as the perfect person for that. I don’t even know how he figured it out, but he started tellin’ everyone about my parents and I just got so mad that I confronted him about it. Well, it ended up with me getting my leg broken, the track team getting disbanded, I was labeled the ‘track traitor’, and now I walk with this limp. But the worst part of it all, is after my mom and I got home after she apologised for me to the faculty, she said sorry to me . She said she was sorry for being a single mom and how she couldn’t provide me with a father figure. Whole lotta bullshit in my opinion. It wasn’t her fault at all. It was all mine…”

 

“Here’s your orders and thank you for coming. Enjoy your meals.”

 

Ryuji’s mood was lightened considerably at the sight of the food in front of him and started digging in. Makoto didn’t even look at her food and was still watching Ryuji as she said, “In all the time I’ve been helping you out, I didn’t know. I’m truly sorry you had to go through that.”

 

“Yeah? Well, we’re doing somethin’ about it now. Soon, that bastard will get what’s comin’ to him.” Ryuji said with a fire in his eyes. “Anyways, that’s my story, now it’s your turn to tell us about your past.”

 

Ren nodded and said, “Well, a deal is a deal.” Ren took a bite of his food, laughed to himself, and said, “Thank god he didn’t go to town on my right hand. I’d be having a hard time with this if that was the case…” Ren took another bite, looked down, and began speaking. “I was walking home one night. Nothing special about my route, it was the one I always took when I went home. However, it would prove to be an eventful night. On my way home I kept on hearing these cries for help from some woman. It sounded like she was struggling to get away from someone so I hurried on up to try and help. What I found was this drunk dude trying to force the woman into his car so that he could do what he wanted with her. It was pretty obvious what was going on so I rushed in real quick and separated the two of them a tad bit forcefully. Did I mention the dude was drunk? Well he was and he started stumbling until he fell down and landed in a way that scraped his forehead enough to draw blood. As he stood back up, he stared at me and said, ‘ Damn brat! I’ll sue!’ . Well someone in the neighborhood ended up calling the cops, probably because of the noise. I wasn’t worried all that much because I had my alibi in the woman. That was until the man threatened her to say I attacked him. When the cops pulled up and asked her what happened, she did exactly as the man said. I was arrested and thus charged with assault. The dude never showed up to any hearings and I was given one year of probation. After everything happened, my father didn’t do much. He yelled at me and made sure to know that I caused him a huge amount of trouble and that I should be ashamed of myself. I thought I had a pretty good reputation among the community but everyone turned their backs on me. Even the friends I had spent my entire childhood with. My father didn’t even set up my probationary home or new school but rather, the principal of my last high school and some of my teachers got all of that stuff sorted out. And well, one thing and another happens and here we are and now I don’t think I’m all that hungry… Um, sir, can I get a to-go box? Thank you.” Ren finished his story, filled the styrofoam container with his uneaten food and looked at the other two to reveal two very unhappy faces. “What?”

 

Ryuji was the first to speak up when he yelled out, “That’s complete bullshit! You just tried to help someone out and you got punished for it! How much more shitty can that get!”

 

“It’s fine. I’m over it for the most part. I’ve just gotta deal with it now.” Ren said, trying to calm down his spikey haired friend as people were beginning to stare at them now.

 

“I’m sorry Ren-kun, but that is not ‘fine’. That’s just horrible and I’m sorry you went through that.” Makoto said, staring at Ren.

 

“Yeah? Well, it’s not like pointing out the obvious is going to fix it and now that the verdict has been passed, to get that assault off my record will be near impossible. Like I said, all that’s left is to deal with it now.” Ren said with a defeated look on his face that bled into his tone. “Anyways, I’m feeling pretty tired so I’m going to head on home. Don’t want to keep my guardian waiting either.” Ren began to pack up and leave. “See ya…” Ren said as he walked out of the shop and back to Leblanc.

 

“Man, that just pisses me off. How could a guy be that shitty. Why do rotten adults have to be like that.” Ryuji said as he returned to eating his food.

 

“I don’t know. I don’t even know what to do with this new information about him… Hey. Sakamoto-kun?” Makoto began trying to garner Ryuji’s attention.

 

“Just call me Ryuji. After today, I’m gonna tell you the same thing I told Ren yesterday. I’m pretty sure we’re on a first name basis now. So just call me Ryuji. Anyways, whaddya need?” Ryuji asked, a smile prominent on his face as he ate.

 

“Alright… Ryuji. And likewise. But what I wanted to ask was whether or not you’ve learned anything about Ren-kun that would warrant him saying he doesn’t much care for the name ‘Amamiya’.” Makoto asked with an inquisitive look on her face.

 

Ryuji thought about the question for a moment, finished his food and said, “I dunno. When he told me his name it was after everything happened yesterday so I was already calling him by his first name. Though, after his story, I can only imagine it’s probably got something to do with his family. It didn’t exactly seem like him and his old man were on good terms, ya know?”

 

“You’re right. No mention of a mother either…” Makoto said.

 

“Well, he said earlier after he shot those shadows that his mom was a police officer, but that’s all he said. Well, I should probably be heading on home too. My mom will be home soon and I wanna be there when she is.” Ryuji said as the two of them both stood up. Ryuji paid the ticket, looked at Makoto and said, “See ya later, Makoto-senpai, and thanks for coming along with all that weird shit today.”

 

“Have a nice evening, Ryuji-kun, and remember, I’ll be seeing you tomorrow after school.” Makoto said with a smug smile.

 

Ryuji’s face dropped as he said, “Man~ I forgot about that. Ugh~.” And with that, the two were off on their way home.

Chapter Text

04/13/2016:

 

Time: Unknown

Location: Velvet Room

 

The rhythmic sound of his chains woke Ren from his short lived slumber. He once again found himself in the Velvet Room. As Ren rose from the bed he laid upon, he turned to see that Igor was still there and giving him that unrelentless, unblinking smile. Ren walked over to the gate and grasped the bars, looking between them as Caroline and Justine walked into his view as well. Igor began to speak. “Trickster. Tonight is one of glee. You have just barely begun down the road of rehabilitation and already you have ushered two to your cause. Truly remarkable the event of two awakenings happening at once. Now then, before we continue with tonight’s discussion, I must ask, are you getting to be accustomed with your surroundings here in the Velvet Room?”

 

Ren looked at Igor through his confines, took a few seconds to look around his surroundings and said, “Yeah. I guess you could say I’m getting used to the Velvet Cell.” Caroline looked like a blood vessel was about to pop in her head before Igor began to let out a low laugh as he continued to stare at Ren.

 

“As I said in one of our previous conversations, it is truly ironic for your Velvet Room to take such a form. Continuing on, let us now speak of those who awoke to their Persona’s today. As I said before, I shall give these allies of yours the Metaverse Navigator as well so that they may help you on your way to rehabilitation.” Igor said, continuing the conversation. Ren, however, had another thought process in mind.

 

“You keep on speaking of this rehabilitation, but what do you even mean by this?” Ren asked

 

“Understand this Trickster, that I have no intention of withholding information from you- but to explain what you will eventually learn on your own is unnecessary.” Igor said, happy to oblige Ren’s question. “Now then, these peers of yours that have gone through their own awakenings will prove essential to you, but it is more than this. The bonds you’ll create in the coming year will be the key to everything. I do not speak of relationships that are more similar to that of a simple frivolity, but unbreakable bonds with others. They must be a ring of those who would, by morals or strength, lend you their strength. The expansion of this ring will, in return, help you mature as well.” Igor motioned to Justine for her to speak.

 

“Personas are the strength of heart. The stronger the bonds that surround you, the more power your Personas will gain.” Justine said. Igor was now motioning to Caroline, and so she began to speak.

 

“There are countless people in the city who have talents, that a weakling like you doesn’t. You better rack that noggin of yours and get them on your side. We’ll turn that into power.” Caroline explained, but after the twin wardens were done speaking, Ren could only look at them with a confused gaze as he began to speak.

 

“Justine… You said my ‘ Personas’ would gain more power, as in plural. That makes no sense since I thought you can only have one Persona.” Ren asked the twin warden.

 

Justine looked up at Ren a smiled slightly. “As our master just said, it is unnecessary to speak of topics with which you will learn on your own in due time.” Caroline added onto Justine’s statement saying, “There’s a lot you don’t understand yet, Inmate. So don’t act like you already know how this all works.”

 

“Alright, whatever you two say…” Ren said to the twin wardens as he brought his eyes back on Igor. “Is there anything else you want to talk about?”

 

Igor said nothing as the room began to dissolve into smoke around Ren as he was thrust back into his slumber.

 

Time: Early Morning

Location: Cafe Leblanc

 

‘Just what am I being roped into’ Thought Ren as he woke up in the attic of Leblanc. The smell of coffee and curry doing more to wake him up than his own alarm. Ren stood up and began to get dressed for the day. As he took off his sleeping shirt, he looked upon his left arm. The bruises were healing surprisingly well, but something was being left behind in their wake. Tiny scars were plastered around his arm. They weren’t exactly easy to notice but they were still there, and there were many of them. ‘“You should just have bruises” my ass.’ Ren didn’t spend much more time after that worrying about his injuries. He could move his arm without much pain and that’s all that mattered to Ren, so he finished getting dressed in his uniform to find food already waiting at the countertop for him. Ren said his thanks to Sojiro, barely getting a nod in return before his guardian asked Ren a question.

 

“You were out late yesterday. Why?” Sojiro said while cocking an eyebrow at Ren.

 

“I was out with some friends.” Ren said curtly.

 

“Friends already, huh? All right, just be careful. I don’t want you to be around any bad influences.” Sojiro said as he turned back to the pot of curry before him.

 

“Don’t worry. It was the Student Council President and some guy I met yesterday.” Ren said.

 

Sojiro looked up real quick and turned his head to look Ren in the eyes again with a sly glean in his own. “The Student Council President? The girl from when we went to get you oriented?”

 

“The same one.” Ren said as he began to dig into his food.

 

Sojiro just gave Ren a smirk and turned back around and said, “So you took my words yesterday to heart then. Good. It probably helps when you get to study with a cute girl anyways.”

Ren wasn’t expecting those words to come out of Sojiro’s mouth and started choking on his food in surprise. “Don’t be making a mess over there now.”

 

“Yes sir.” Ren said as he grabbed his glass of water and started drinking in order to calm his irritated throat down.

 

“Anyways, hurry up and eat and get goin’.” Sojiro said. Ren nodded at this and began to finish the rest of his food before heading out to the train station.

 

As Ren finished walking up the stairs to wait for the train to the Aoyama Itchome Station, he found Ryuji and Makoto waiting for the train as well. They were talking to each other about something. Ren was walking over to them when Ryuji turned and saw him, waving Ren over and yelling out, “Wassup man!”

 

Ren hurried on over to the two of them and said, “Hey guys. I didn’t interrupt anything, did I?”

 

“No, we were just talking about what to do during the Volleyball Rally.” Makoto explained. “I should be able to get a head start on questioning the players because I’m a third year and we’ve been given the clear to stay out of the rally so that those who want too, can study for any college entrance mock exams. So, Ryuji here was simply giving me some names that I can look into before you guys can join in.”

 

“We’ve got this. We’re gonna bring that asshole down and it all starts today.” Ryuji said with a fire burning in his eyes before it was quickly extinguished as they widened and Ryuji turned to Ren saying, “Oh! You need to give us your number and chat ID too. I wanted to talk to ya last night because that same weird app popped up on my phone.”

 

“Mine as well.” Makoto chimed in.

 

Ren nodded to this and gave both Makoto and Ryuji is information and gaining theirs in return. As Ren was putting his phone away, he asked, “So, as soon as Ryuji and I can leave, where do you wanna meet up so that we can split and look for our guys?”

 

“The courtyard. I would say the Student Council Room but that will be filled with the other members doing their work.” Makoto answered.

 

“Works for us.” Ryuji said answering for both him and Ren before he turned to Ren with a question. “Oh, how’s that arm of yours doing, man?” Ren just looked down and sighed before he rolled up his sleeve as his answer, both of their eyes growing wide at the sight.

 

“Well, it’s healing at least… But if we go back there, a nasty hit isn’t going to ‘just bruise’ . I’m not complaining too much though. I could’ve lost my arm or my life back there, so again, thank you guys.” Ren said as he rolled back down his sleeve and shoved his hands in his pockets.

 

“As if we would’ve just let you die, man…” Ryuji said as he still stared at Ren’s arm while rubbing the back of his own head.

 

“I’m sorry you had to go through that, Ren. We should’ve tried to do something sooner.” Makoto said as their train began to pull up into the station.

 

“Don’t worry about it too much. C’mon. Let’s get on.” Ren said to the other two as he started walking off to the train.

 

Time: Morning

Location: Shujin Academy

 

The gym was bustling with an odd mixture as the Volleyball Rally ensued. As Ren and Ryuji sat in the back of the crowd on a wall, Ren could see the entirety of the emotions being felt. There was excitement and boredom. Kamoshida was giving off an aura of pride as he continued to dominate on the court with his fellow teachers against the Students chosen to be thrust into the pit. The most overwhelming emotion came from the students on the court. Not all of them were Volleyball players but there was still the consensus of fear among them. With every spike made by Kamoshida there was a collective flinch from the students, making the scores easier made by the faculty easier.

 

‘I wonder if…’ Ren thought to himself as he brought his hand up to his chin to look upon the crowd, opening his third eye. The gym became enveloped in shadow and all noise dimmed. Everyone in the room began to glow different shades of different colors. Ren continued to stare out into the crowd, even as the students began to clear out from the court. The faculty was switching out as well while Kamoshida stayed standing on his side of the court. Ren just kept to watching as students and faculty alike started to flow onto the court, one by one until eventually all players were on the court, except the students team was missing a player.

 

Everyone on the court and stands began to find their eyes glued to Ren. Kamoshida’s gaze was the most terrifying. Ren couldn’t see his eyes, but the previously yellow glow he had was turning redder and darker. Ren’s heart began to quicken pace as Ryuji began to shake him out of the trance, making Ren exit his third eye. “Hey man. You okay? You were just sorta staring off into space doing that weird thing with your eyes… “ Ryuji began to quiet down and started glaring at Kamoshida as he walked on over.

 

“Amamiya! I believe your name was called to play? Your teammates are waiting for you…” Kamoshida said, motioning for the students on the court. “...There’s no reason to be nervous now. It’s just a game after all.” Kamoshida said as he shifted his sight back to Ren, extending an arm out to him. Ren took it and was met with an unnecessarily firm grip as Kamoshida pulled him up off the ground. Kamoshida’s face could only spell danger as he turned around.

 

Ren turned to his friend with wide eyes mouthing the words, ‘What the hell is going on!?’ and Ryuji just looked at Ren, shrugged and said, “Sorry man. Ya got called to play.” Ren turned around and let out a somewhat loud sigh as he walked to his teammates.

 

“I feel sorry for his teammates.”

 

“You’re right. They’re going to be thrown around now that the he’s with them.”

 

“Just look at him, He doesn’t even care. It’s like they’re gonna be missing a player.”

 

“Hopefully Kamoshida-sensei accidentally spikes him in the face.”

 

“Oh, that would be great.”

 

“Totally! Put him in his place Kamoshida-sensei!”

 

Ren didn’t acknowledge the whispers as he continued to walk to the court, taking stance. His teammates were all giving him unwelcome stares except for one. A boy with short, dark blue hair. He face was covered in bruises and bandages. ‘Isn’t that the Mishima kid I ran into on Sunday? I think he’s in my class…’ He didn’t look at Ren, but rather kept his focus on the other side of the court. Ren quickly used his third eye and saw the boy glowing grey. Ren could feel immense fear as he stared at the other side of the court. As he stared at Kamoshida. Kamoshida tossed Ren the ball and said, “You’ll serve for your team. Remember everyone, play fair and don’t try to hurt anyone.”

 

“Alright then.” Ren said as he caught the ball. He stared at Kamoshida and Kamoshida stared back. Confidence cloaking both of their gazes until Ren turned to walk into the back right corner of the court.

 

Ren took a second to look at his teammates, nodded to them and then began the serve. Ren took a step forward tossing the ball up, jumped and smacked the ball as hard as he could to the other side, starting the round. Surprise was written all over Kamoshida’s face but was quickly forgotten as he quickly moved to hit the ball up into the air to one of the other faculty, allowing them to hit it over the net.

 

The round went on for a minute or so as the volleyball was smacked around the court. Excitement began to fill the room as this was the most intense match of the day so far. Ren could hear people cheer everytime Kamoshida would hit the ball. He could feel the anticipation in the air as it would fall and one of the students or Ren would quickly hit it back over. The formula repeated itself until the ball was spiked down by one of the faculty. Ren fell to his knees as he slid over to the ball barely getting there in time to hit the ball back up. But Kamoshida was already prepared and in the air by the time the ball was slightly above the net. The ball continued to rise up quickly as Kamoshida brought his hand down, spiking the ball back onto the students court into Ren’s face.

 

Ren’s was laid flat onto the ground in a weird angle as his legs were still in the same position after sliding to hit the ball after the first spike. Ren blinked a little bit as the ball continued to bounce at his side. What little silence there was, was instead plagued by snickering and whispers as Ren shook his head and stood back up. He looked at his teammates and Mishima who were all giving him a wide eyed look. Most were fearful as to the reaction of Ren but Mishima gave a look of sorrow and understanding. “Hey, you alright? That was a pretty nasty hit right there. Sorry about that.” Kamoshida said, walking to the net to meet Ren’s eyes.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Let’s just get on with the game.” Ren said. Kamoshida nodded and smirked to himself as he walked back into his position.

 

“Well, it’s your serve still.” Kamoshida said to Ren. Ren picked up the ball and as he was walking back into his position, he glanced at Ryuji was was absolutely fuming at Kamoshida and doing little, if anything at all, to hide his anger towards the gym coach. Ren was getting ready to serve the ball again. The room quieted down as Ren began his serve. He took a step forward, launched the ball up and smacked it once again as hard as he could to the other side. Beginning the round.

 

The next minute was a blur as the ball was tossed around the court with more speed, precision, and ferocity. Kamoshida was practically the only one playing at this point for the Faculty team, absorbing what spotlight there was for a simple school rally, but Kamoshida was reveling in it. However, the round wasn’t going nearly as well as Kamoshida had hoped. Despite never talking to each other before, something in Ren and Mishima just clicked as they started working together flawlessly against Kamoshida, leaving their fellow teammates to their own wits, waiting for a chance to strike the ball yet thankful for not having too.

 

The round was getting hotter and hotter as tension began to rise as Kamoshida began to grow angrier because the round wasn’t ending fast enough like he thought it would. He would spike the ball but one of the two other boys would be there in just enough time to keep it in the air for the other to quickly get it over to the Faculty side. Or the Kamoshida side, at this point there wasn’t a difference. Ren could see Mishima and he was filled with a confidence that Ren hadn’t seen before. Not in class, not in the halls, and definitely not in this rally. Ren could hear Ryuji cheering Ren on in the background as once again Kamoshida spiked the ball hard near the net but getting it over onto the students side. Ren was barely able to knock it back up but launching it behind him slightly as Mishima jumped up  and spiked it onto the Faculty side before Kamoshida landed. Ren and Mishima scored a point for their team.

 

“Wow. They actually did it…”

 

“Man, Kamoshida looks pissed.”

 

“Can you blame him? He just got a point scored on him by Zero Mishima and the transfer student…”

 

Ren could barely hear the whispers as he smiled at a cheering Ryuji, ecstatic at their goal. Ren turned to face Mishima and give him a high five but Ren could no longer see the confidence drawn all over Mishima’s face. There wasn’t fear anymore either. Just absolute dread as Mishima stared through the net. Ren followed his gaze to see a livid Kamoshida. “Nice job boys…” Kamoshida said behind a malicious grin. His words covered in acid and his eyes staring daggers. “I guess it’s my serve then…” Kamoshida said as he picked up the ball, his sole attention on Mishima now.

 

Ren went back to his usual position, staring at Kamoshida cautiously as he prepared to serve the ball. Kamoshida was staring at Mishima with a grin that could only spell trouble. Mishima simply swallowed a little slightly, and got into his stance in the middle of the court. Ren looked to Ryuji with a concerned look who mirrored to Ren. The two boys nodded at each other, preparing for the worst. But everything happened too fast.

 

Kamoshida launched the ball up from his position in the top middle of the court. He jumped up and slammed the ball down in Mishima’s direction. Ren and Ryuji immediately bolted for Mishima but they could do nothing as the ball went soaring at him, hitting him in the head knocking him out cold. Ren was only able to catch Mishima in his arms before he hit the ground. Mishima was out cold. Ryuji ran up to Ren, now holding an unconscious Mishima. There was fire in his eyes as he turned to face Kamoshida, but Ren used his free arm to stop Ryuji before he could do anything. “Ryuji! Not now…” Ren said sternly.

 

“But-” Ryuji began before Kamoshida stepped under the net and half jogged to the three of them. A fake look of regret and worry was plastered on his face but Ren and Ryuji knew this was entirely intentional. How dare Mishima score a goal on him, after all.

 

“Oh no… Hey! Can we get a nurse over here!” Kamoshida yelled out into the crowd but was met with no response.

 

Ren looked up at Kamoshida and said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got it. Ryuji, help me get Mishima to the Nurse’s office. I have no idea where it is.”

 

“Aight.” Ryuji said as he took hold of one of Mishima’s arms, Ren, the other. The two picked him up and stared daggers at Kamoshida who was already turned around, trying to get some others to take the place of Ren and Mishima. Ren and Ryuji started walking a slowly waking up Mishima out of the gym. The students that surrounded them were doing little to make their whispers unnoticed.

 

“Did you see that?”

 

“Yeah, man. Mishima got fuckin’ pegged.”

 

“You think Kamoshida hit him on purpose?”

 

“Nah. Zero Mishima just sucks.”

 

“Fuckin’ assholes. All of ‘em.” Muttered Ryuji as the two of them carried Mishima to the Nurse’s office. Luckily for Ren and Ryuji, the Nurse’s office was on the first floor. Unluckily for them, even with Mishima’s physique, his deadweight was just a bit too much for the two boys as they struggled down the halls of Shujin, getting wary looks from students as they walked by.

 

Once at the doors for the Nurse’s office, Ryuji just slammed the door open and the two of them continued to drag Mishima to the first bed they saw, flopping him on. “What the! What is the meaning of this!” Yelled out the nurse as she walked up to the side of the bed to get a good look at Mishima, who was slowly but surely waking up.

 

“Volleyball. He got spiked in the face on a serve by Kamoshida.” Explained Ren as the nurse began her examination. She heard the name and looked up at Ren with wide eyes before her face contorted into one of anger before she continued her exam.

 

“Damn that man. It feels like every day I’m getting a member of the Volleyball team that has gone through utter hell in here.” She sighed and her face softened. “Most of the time it’s Mishima here. Thank you boys for bringing him here. Albeit, a bit ungracefully.” She laughed slightly and took a look at Ren, carefully looking over his face before asking, “You weren’t hit with a ball either, were you?”

 

“U-Um, no ma’am. Just fell is all. You don’t need to worry about me. Is he going to be okay?” Ren said, quickly changing the subject.

 

The nurse hesitantly looked away from Ren and back to Mishima. She nodded and said, “I do believe he’ll be fine. A minor concussion does seem likely, however. You boys go along now and again, thank you for bringing him here.” The nurse said, almost shooing them away to the door.

 

“Hey, wait a little. Ya said that everyday you’re gettin’ a volleyball player in here? Can you tell us some names? We’re tryna get some evidence against Kamoshida. There ain’t no way he ain’t abusin’ the volleyball team.” Ryuji said to the nurse, but she only gave a sympathetic look in response before she began to speak.

 

“Sakamoto-kun, I’m afraid I can’t give you names due to confidentiality laws. Even a simple school nurse like me is regulated under such laws.” She put a hand on his shoulder and said, “I know Kamoshida has put you through a lot, but be careful with whatever it is you’re planning. Now get going you two.” She said, successfully getting them out of the room and closing it in front of them.

 

“Aight. Let’s get goin’ then. You gonna text Mizz Pres and let her know we’re ready?” Ryuji said as they started walking away to the courtyard. Ren pulled out his phone and made a group chat between the three of them.

 

Ren: Ryuji and I are ready. We’re heading over to the courtyard right now.

 

Makoto: Alright. I’ll be there in a minute or so.

 

“She said she’ll be here in a minute or so.” Ren said as they pulled into the benched area with vending machines near by for ease of access.

 

“Aight. You want anything?” Ryuji said, walking over to the vending machines.

 

“Yeah, just get me a green tea- Holy Shit!” Ren exclaimed as he pulled out his wallet, staring at the suddenly increased funds in there.

 

“What is it?” Ryuji said giving Ren a confused look.

 

“I only had like three hundred yen in here the last time I checked, now I’m running close to ten thousand.” Ren said, staring wide eyed at his open wallet. “I don’t even know how it got in there…”

 

“So, uhh… You payin’ then?” Ryuji said with an eyebrow raised and a smirk.

 

“Sure thing.” Ren said handing him the cash as Makoto walked into the area with the two boys. “Oh! Want anything Makoto?” Ren said, motioning to the vending machine.

 

“Sure. Just a tea please.” Makoto said as she placed her stuff down on the table, sitting down on one of the benches.

 

“Aight. Here ya guys go.” Ryuji said handing them there drinks. “Now then, ya get anything while we were at the rally Makoto-senpai?”

 

Makoto just shook her head and said, “Sadly, no. Whenever I’d ask one of the players, they’d get really defensive and say that their injuries were only from practicing. How was the rally for you two? Speaking of, you guys are out a bit early. Why?”

 

“It’s quite the tale. Truly. However, this one ended with that Mishima guy getting pelted in the head so hard he was out cold. Ryuji and I dragged him to the nurse’s office.” Ren explained while Ryuji just looked at him wide eyed in disbelief. “What?” Ren asked with an eyebrow raised towards Ryuji.

 

“You just took out the best parts! Dude, you were effin’ amazing out there!” Ryuji exclaimed before turning towards Makoto to retell the story of, the match . “Aight, so get this, Ren gets called on to be on the student’s team. He gets up there and Kamoshida is all like, ‘Your serving for your team.’ while trying to be overly intimidating, right? And then, get this, Ren actually shows Kamoshida that he knows how to play and how to play well. The round went on for about a minute until a last minute spike and the faculty scored. It was awesome though.” Ryuji explained ecstatically. “So, now it was still Ren’s serve since they got scored on and I don’t know what happened between Mishima and Ren, but they just pulled up with some crazy teamwork, leaving everyone else on their team just standing around lookin’ like morons and it was the same for the teachers cause Kamoshida started doing everything himself. The round went on for about another minute and because of the crazy teamwork shit Ren and Mishima were doing, they actually scored a point on Kamoshida. Well, that’s when shit hit the fan cause Kamoshida got absolutely pissed and when he served, he spiked the ball into Mishima’s face and we took him to the nurse’s office and now we’re here.” Ryuji finished telling the story with a smile as he turned back to Ren and asked, “What the hell was that anyway? You just pulled up like a big dick in a locker room.”

 

“Colorful…” Both Makoto and Ren said in unison. But Ren continued on saying, “I was pretty involved with my school back home. I was our top gymnast but I found myself hanging out with the other teams, practicing with them and all of that and filling in whenever they needed me.”

 

“Hmm. Anyways, we have other matters to attend too. I’d recommend we split up so that we can cover more ground and get more info.” Makoto said, standing up looking at Ren and Ryuji.

 

“Aight, I’ll take the first floor, Ren can take the second, and you can take the third floor Miss Pres because the first years are more inclined to trust you and since they’re not completely brainwashed in the bullshit, you could probably get some good info out of them.” Ryuji said to the group.

 

“That’s actually not a bad plan. After all, it doesn’t matter where Ryuji and I go, no one is going to trust us cause we’re the schools ‘delinquents of the year’. So if anyone is going to get any real info, it’s going to be you, Makoto. Though that doesn’t mean we’re not gonna try, of course.” Ren said before continuing. “Anyways, let’s get going. It’s just past lunch now so we don’t have much time left.”

 

“Alright. I’ll text you two when they announce on the intercom that students are free to leave.” Makoto said before the group dispersed.

 

However, the fear of being unable to gain any information became true as Ren roamed the halls of the second floor, questioning any volleyball players he found that were clearly injured and strewn about all over the place. Yet no matter who it was, it was always a different rendition of the same outcome. No matter what he would say, everyone would brush him off or simply be too scared of Ren and walk away. Rinse and repeat the entire process for the next three hours and eventually everyone on the floor was just avoiding Ren. Even the newspaper girl was trying to stay away. But despite the constant troubles Ren was dealing with, one person was at least willing to give some information even though it was a simple slip up. Kamoshida would give special coaching to those he felt needed the extra time. Usually, this was left up to Mishima, which would easily explain the bruises he was constantly plagued by. But as the last hour of the day began to stretch thin, Ren was left with nothing more to do, so he made his way back to the courtyard. Sitting down waiting for the others to get there. However, Ren was met with someone else as he waited. Ann Takamaki. The blonde girl he saw before he went into that castle and the girl who sits in front of him in class.

 

She just walked up in front of him and met his gaze. The two of them stayed like that until Ren broke the silence, “So… Can I help you, Takamaki-san?”

 

“Yes, you can actually. Is it alright if I can talk to you? It’ll be quick.” Takamaki said.

 

“Shoot.”

 

“What’s up with you? Like how you were late on your first day and all that, even though I saw you on the street before school even started.” Takamaki started.

 

“I don’t even have an excuse that you’d believe. Actually, I don’t even have an excuse. It just happened.” Ren deadpanned.

 

“Alright, then why are you asking around for information on Kamoshida?” Takamaki continued.

 

“Simple. I haven’t even been here a week and I know that whatever that ‘teacher’ is doing isn’t training. It just abuse and there’s no two different sides to that coin.” Ren said, meeting Takamaki’s gaze with a slight glare, but tilting his head so that the light hid his eyes on his glasses.

 

“Alright, then what’s up with this weird rumor about you?” Takamaki asked, her barrage of questions was beginning to irritate Ren when Makoto and Ryuji walked up behind Takamaki.

 

“The hell you want with him?” Ryuji asked.

 

“Sakamoto? Why do you even care? You’re not even in our class.” Takamaki said with a bite in her voice.

 

“Eh… well, we just happened to get to know each other.”

 

“Huh… And why are you here Niijima-senpai?” Takamaki said, transitioning her gaze to Makoto.

 

“Because, I’m helping keep my fellow peers and students safe.” Makoto said while returning the gaze with iron behind her eyes.

 

“Alright, then what are you three planning on doing to Kamoshida?” Takamaki asked to the three of them.

 

“Oh, I get it.” Ryuji began as he glared at Takamaki. “You’re all buddy-buddy with Kamoshida after all. You know, if you found out about everything he’s been doing behind your back, you’d dump him right away.”

 

Takamaki gave Ryuji a confused look as she asked, “Behind my back…? Listen, that doesn’t matter. People are already talking about you and Amamiya here and if you’re not careful, they’re gonna lump you with them Niijima-senpai. I don’t know what you’re trying to pull, but no one is going to help you. I’m just warning you. Just in case. That’s all.” Takamaki didn’t leave much more room for discussion after that because she walked off from the group.

 

“Well that was weird…” Ren began while rubbing the back of his neck. “Just so abrupt and… weird. Anyway, since I’m talking I’ll start first. I didn’t learn anything other than that Kamoshida gives special training to those he feels deserves it. Usually that ends up being for Mishima.”

 

“I heard the same. The first years were too scared to talk about practice because they were worried about this special coaching.” Makoto continued.

 

“Well I just got nothing. All of the third years either brushed me off or acted like I didn’t exist.” Ryuji said with his eyes downcast. “So, we gotta question Mishima then?” Asked Ryuji.

 

“Seems like it, but he needs rest right now. That was quite the hit he took this morning.” Ren said right as the intercom turned on, dismissing all students for the day. There wasn’t any time for Ryuji to react. Makoto already had a death grip on his shoulder.

 

“Sakamoto-kun… I do believe I requested your services yesterday.”

 

“Y-Yes m-m-ma’am.” Ryuji said with fear shaking throughout his body.

 

Makoto turned to look at Ren, smiled and said, “You’re welcome to join us if you’d like.”

 

“I think I’ll be fine. I’m just gonna head home and read that book I checked out.” Ren said, returning the smile.

 

“Don’t leave me…” Ryuji whispered but it was quickly turned into a whimper as Makoto’s grip tightened.

 

“See you tomorrow then, Ren-kun.” Makoto said as she began to walk off with Ryuji in tow.

 

“See ya tomorrow Makoto…” Ren said, barely holding in his laughter. ‘Well, I guess this is my cue to leave.’  Ren thought to himself as he began to walk to the lobby. When he got there though, he saw a slouched Mishima walking out of the school so Ren ran up to him real quick, placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “Hey man. How you holding up-” Ren was cut off by Kamoshida, also calling out to Mishima.

 

“Mishima!” He yelled, walking up to the two boys. “Where do you think you’re going? You’ve got practice and you’re never going to get better if you decide to be a lazy ass and skip out.” Kamoshida said, staring daggers into the boy as he turned his head away. The same look of despair never left his eyes after the match.

 

“Hey, don’t you think he should get today off. He took a pretty nasty hit after all.” Ren said as he began to step in between the two. Kamoshida didn’t even acknowledge Ren and just continued to speak to Mishima.

 

“Well, what’s it going to be Mishima? If you exit those doors, don’t even think about coming back. Consider your place on the team void.” Kamoshida said with words laced in malice. Mishima did nothing. He just stood there and turned around. This was answer enough for Kamoshida as he turned around and started walking to the gym with Mishima right behind him.

 

“Just what the hell…” Muttered Ren as he watched the two walk away. Ren just shook his head and said, “Sorry man.” and walked out of the building.

Chapter Text

04/13/2016

 

Evening

Cafe Leblanc

 

The bell chimed its usual song as Ren walked in. Everything was as it usually was. The way the lights shined on the dark oak of the floorboards, countertop, and booths still brought that homey look to the place. The constant smell of Coffee and Curry mixing together to create an enticing cacophony still brought an immediate, quiet growl to Ren’s stomach and was still fresh in the air. That pompous customer was still in his usual booth in the far corner. Some businessmen were in another booth, enjoying a delicious new find in this Cafe while talking about their upcoming work week. And an odd looking woman sat at the bar. She wore heels and black, ripped leggings. A blue dress with a white spider web design with a small black jacket over it. For accessories, she wore a simple bracelet, a choker, and a necklace. She had dark blue hair that came down to her chin with blunt bangs and had distinctive, bright red nail polish on both her finger and toenails. She seemed to have been having a nice conversation before the bells song stopped and she looked at Ren- first with a smile and then an inquisitive look. “What happened to your face?”

 

Ren gave her an unamused look while Sojiro snorted in a failed attempt to hide a laugh. When Sojiro was done, he looked at the kid and said, “I’ve gotta ask the same. It looks like you tried to catch a ball with your face.”

 

Ren gave Sojiro the same unamused gaze, sighed and said, “Volleyball Rally at school today. It was randomly selected students versus some randomly selected faculty and the gym instructor/volleyball coach, Suguru Kamoshida.”

 

“Your gym instructor is that gold medalist olympian?” The woman asked.

 

“Very same one. Anyways, I was a randomly selected student and at the end of the round, I learned face first the power behind one of his legendary spikes.” Ren explained. “Didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would though…” Ren left his sentence hanging in the air as he pulled out his phone to look at his face in the camera. His already unamused face became even more so as he stared at the giant bruise forming around his nose.

 

Ren heard the woman stand up and looked up as she walked over to him. She put her hands on his face and started pressing around like she was examining the damage done. Every once in a while Ren would wince as she put pressure on the bruise but she ignored it, continuing her examination. When finished she said, “Well, I’m sure it hurts as much as you thought it would now. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong besides, well, you face…” Sojiro began laughing again. “ But, if you did take a spike to the face, there’s the possibility that you may have a slight concussion. Here’s my card. If you start feeling dizzy or nauseous, come see me.” And with that, she handed Ren her card, turned around and thanked Sojiro for the meal and coffee, and was out of the building, leaving Ren wide eyed and confused.

 

Sojiro took notice of this and said, “She runs the clinic in the area. Her name is Tae Takemi and she sure is a strange one.” Sojiro sighed before turning back to Ren and saying, “I’ve still got customers in here, so just heat up your leftover beef bowl real quick before it goes bad and take it up stairs.”

 

Ren did just that, heating up his food real quick and heading upstairs. He walked on over to his bed, placed his food down, took a look at his desk and decided to clean it up real quick. As soon as Ren was finished, he transitioned his food to the desk, sat down at it and was about to eat when his phone started going nuts. Ren’s face dropped as his sole attention could no longer be on his food. ‘Who’s texting me at this- nevermind. That makes sense…’ Ren thought to himself as he looked at his phones lock screen seeing four notifications from none other than Ryuji

 

Ryuji: So all we really figured out today is that Kamoshida does special coaching and Mishima is usually the one who gets it?

 

Ryuji: This basically leaves us with nothing!

 

Ryuji: I mean, if Mishima doesn’t tell us anything tomorrow, then we’re basically back at square one!

 

Ryuji: This effin sucks!

 

Ren: Well, we won’t entirely be at square one. We still have that palace we can go into. However, that doesn’t really give us any hard evidence of course. Not like anyone would believe us if we said our evidence is based off a world that shouldn’t even exist. But maybe we can do more in there than we know. I don’t know, but it’d be wrong of us to dismiss that place.

 

Makoto: Ren’s right. We’ve just gotten started after all, Ryuji. Sometimes these things take just a little bit more patience.

 

Makoto: All three of us want to do something about Kamoshida but we just have to wait. Anyways, we still have school tomorrow, so I recommend sleep to be in both of your near futures.

 

Makoto: Goodnight.

 

Ryuji: Yeah, I guess you guys are right.

 

Ryuji: Night.

 

Ren put his phone away and began eating his food, now slightly cold. As he was eating, Sojiro called up saying he was closing up shop. Ren didn’t reply and just finished his food before heading downstairs to throw away the styrofoam containers his food was in. He walked back up to the attic and went to bed, sure that he was going to have another eventful day tomorrow and praying that the rumors wouldn’t get worse because of the second bruise he’s gotten on his face since coming to Tokyo. ‘Maybe coming here was an all around bad idea. The city keeps on injuring me…’

 

04/14/2016

 

Afternoon

Shujin Academy

 

The classroom was filled with a new form of dreariness as Ushimaru continued on with his lesson. Ren found it increasingly difficult to pay attention as his monotone, hoarse voice circulated in his ears. Ren was hearing the words, but he wasn't comprehending them. 'Something about Plato? The three parts of the soul? Didn't I go over that last year in one of my other classes back home?’ Ren thought to himself as he felt his eyes get heavier with each passing second. He had an already tiring day today with the unusually long stares he was getting. Now that he had the ball sized bruise on his face, everyone was sure that Ren was apart of some sort of fighting ring. The whispers were beginning to get to Ren. He was getting tired of it. Tired of the stares. Tired of the whispers he knew were directed at him. Ren just wanted it to stop. He didn’t leave one town full of toxic rumors to enter a school filled to the brim of poisonous ones. They were just so tiring and the less than interesting lesson was beginning to put Ren to sleep. That was, until, he felt his phone vibrating. Ren looked around the classroom and made sure he was okay to check his phone and when he decided the coast was clear, pulled out his phone and held it under his desk so that he wouldn’t get caught. Ren unlocked his phone to see a new text from Ryuji.

 

Ryuji: So I thinkin’ that if we can’t get any information from Mishima, we can always go to Takamaki.

 

Ren: Why’s that? Is it because of the rumors saying that her and Kamoshida are together?

 

Ryuji: No, not that, I don’t really believe any of the rumors that float around this school. I still feel pretty bad about how I snapped at her yesterday. But it doesn’t matter anymore.

 

Ryuji: But what I was actually thinking, is that if we can’t get any info from the players, then maybe we could get something out of someone who knows the players. And Takamaki is BFF’s with one of the starters, Shiho Suzui.

 

Makoto: While this is all very interesting and could very well help us, we are in the middle of class you two. Pay attention please.

 

As soon as Ren read that text, his eyes went wide with fear as Ushimaru yelled out to him saying, “Amamiya! No phones in class!” and threw a piece of chalk at Ren, nailing him directly in the middle of his face, or, as Ren felt it, in the middle of of his bruise. It took everything in Ren to not start cursing Ushimaru out as he continued speaking. “If you’re so confident that you’re willing to stop paying attention in class, then tell me, what were the three parts of the soul according to the Greek Philosopher, Plato!?”

 

“Look at that! The transfer is totally done for!”

 

“Does he even care to pay attention?,”

 

“Just having to be in the same room as him pisses me off. Can’t believe he’s trying to make a scene too.”

 

Ren sighed to himself and answered in autopilot. “Plato divided the soul into three parts. These were named Appetite, Spirit, and Logic” Ren said as he slowly rubbed the part of his face where the chalk pelted his bruise. Ushimaru only grunted in response and turned back to his lesson while the whispers began to grow louder again.

 

“Cocky asshole. Anybody could’ve gotten that right.”

 

“Totally. Ushimaru just told us the answer in his lecture.”

 

“Exactly, so if the transfer had just paid attention then we wouldn’t have had to waste any-”

 

Ren looked up to figure out why the whispers had stopped suddenly and found Takamaki glaring at everyone in the classroom. When they had all quieted down, she continued glaring for five or so seconds then turned to Ren and gave him a small smile before turning around to continue listening in on Ushimaru’s repetitive lecture.

 

After School

Shujin Academy

 

As soon as the bell for class rang, Ren’s phone went off once again.

 

Ryuji: Makoto, meet Ren and I in the courtyard. I’m heading over to his class to help get info out of Mishima.

 

Ren: Just head on down to the courtyard. Two delinquents might scare him. Plus, me and him had that little click yesterday so he might be more inclined to just talk to me after that.

 

Ryuji: Aw man! Aight, whatever you say.

 

Ren nodded to himself and got up from his chair. Everyone in the class was practically gone now to heading to their other responsibilities but Mishima was still sitting at his desk, slowly gathering his things. Ren took this as his chance and walked over to him. Ren made sure to walk to Mishima from the front of the class as to not surprise him and waved as he walked on over. Mishima gave a slightly terrified but mainly confused look as Ren finished walking over. “C-Can I help you, A-Amamiya-san?”

 

“Yes actually. Would it be alright if I could talk to you for a quick second?” Ren said, giving Mishima a gentle smile. Mishima only looked at him with confusion before something dawned on him and his face looked like he was about to have a panic attack.

 

“U-U-Um, I’m sorry, I can’t t-t-today. I’ve gotta go to p-practice!” Mishima said as he started to pick up the pace of gathering all of his school books and supplies significantly.

 

Ren quickly grabbed Mishima’s arm lightly, stopping him from packing up. Mishima tensed up in fear as he looked at Ren. His body relaxed as he saw the gentle smile spread on Ren’s face. “Please. I simply want to make sure you’re doing ok. That was a really nasty hit you took yesterday.”

 

Mishima snorted at this and said, “Like you’re one to talk.” A slight smile started to spread on his face and his body was no longer tense.

 

Ren let go and said, “Yeah? Well, at least I was still conscious after I got hit.” Ren quirked an eyebrow at Mishima as his expression dropped slightly. “Which, speaking of, brings me to my next question. What’s this special coaching that Kamoshida is giving you? Is that where all the bruises are coming from?” Mishima’s eyes went wide again as he turned away and Ren took this chance to use his third eye once more. Ren could see the feeling of fear emanating off of Mishima and it was contagious. Ren quickly stopped focusing when Mishima turned back around. His answer was nothing Ren needed to hear.

 

“Oh, these little marks and bruises? Those are just from practice. Everyone gets them. We do play on a national level, after all. It only makes sense that our practices are going to be intense.” Mishima said with an unconvincing look as he drew his stare to his desk.

 

“No. There’s intense practice and then there’s physical abuse.” Ren said, his voice stern as he looked at Mishima, whom never met his gaze. Ren sighed and placed a hand on Mishima’s shoulder, “People won’t be able to help if you don’t let them, Mishima.”

 

This snapped something in the dark blue haired boy as he looked up at Ren before he left with pleading eyes and said, “Don’t you see though? It’s obvious, but no one is doing a thing about it. Not our parents, not the faculty, not our own friends or anybody for that matter. They just let him walk all over us and no one cares. It’s for our own good in the end, after all.”

 

Ren placed a hand on Mishima’s shoulder once more and squeezed slightly, grabbed his book bag and left without a word. ‘Bullshit. There will always be those who want to help. You’ve just gotta look in the most unlikely of places.’ Ren thought to himself as he made his way down the stairs.

 

The halls were scarce of students as time went on, so when Ren was about to turn the corner and just head to the courtyard, he was confused to see a girl just standing their with a solemn look to her body. She was facing the door and Ren couldn’t really get a good look of her face. She had black hair pulled up into a ponytail and wore a knee brace on her right leg. She wore the Shujin skirt and turtleneck but was missing the blazer. Ren just stopped behind her, waiting for her to move. When she finally started turning around, Ren could see that she had just been looking at her phone, but that wasn’t all he saw. What Ren saw was a girl that seemed to be in his year, battered and bruised, the most prominent being the bruise right above her left eye. Her face looked defeated and her eyes looked dead. When she fully turned around she noticed Ren and jumped a little in surprise before going back to the same demeanor she had before. “Sorry. I’m in the way aren’t I?”

 

“No no, you’re fine. You look like you’ve been having a rough time so I’m not going to try and disturb you.” Ren said with a small smile.

 

“Huh, just as I thought. You don’t seem to be anything like the rumors make you out to be.” The girl said returning the gesture. “I have a friend that’s a lot like you. Rumors surround her pretty heavily because of the way she looks, so I tend to distrust most rumors surrounding anyone. I’m glad I was right again.”

 

Ren said nothing and just kept giving the girl a soft smile.

 

“Well, don’t let those rumors get to you. They can be rough but if you can power through them, then you can do anything here. Anyways, I need to go. Have a nice day, um…”

 

“Ren”

 

The girl smiled and said, “Have a nice day, Ren.” and walked off. Ren turned and watched her as she turned the corner before exiting out into the courtyard. He could see his two new friends waiting for him next to the vending machines as he walked towards them. Ryuji perked up as soon as he saw Ren enter the little alcove and asked, “So, did ya learn anything?”

 

“Yeah. Mishima all but confirmed our suspicions. He tried to tell me it was all from practice, but before I left he stopped me and just said that even despite it being obvious, no one was doing a thing. Not faculty, not friends, no other students, and definitely not parents. Everyone seems to think that what they’re going through is all in the name of success and is worth it, by the sounds of the things.” Ren said.

 

“Dammit!” Yelled out Ryuji as he slammed his fist against the vending machine. Makoto sent him a glare as Ryuji did so and dropped his anger quickly before adding, “So I guess we need to talk to Takamaki then, right?”

 

Ren started saying, “Yeah, I can do that but-”

 

“But we’re going to need another plan. Otherwise, we’re not going to make any more leeway.” Makoto said, finishing Ren’s statement.

 

Ren nodded to this while Ryuji just looked at the two and asked, “And what else can we do?”

 

Makoto and Ren looked at each other and nodded before looking at Ryuji and saying in unison, “We bring the fight to the king.”

 

“I like the way you two think.” Said a familiar voice, leaving all three of them confused.

 

“Uhh, did one of you guys say that?” Ryuji asked, but he already knew the answer as a black cat with a white tipped tail, white paws, a white snout, and bright blue eyes hopped up onto the table. Ryuji just gave the other two a look asking if he was going crazy but he only got wide eyed shrugs in response.

 

“No, you bone head. It was me!” The cat cried out.

 

“Why is the cat talking?” Makoto asked to no one in particular while Ren just stared at the cat.

 

“I’m not a cat! This is just what happened when I came to this world. You know, I had a lot of trouble finding you three.” The cat said.

 

“Wait, you came to our world?” Ryuji asked to himself before he gasped in some sort realization as he walked closer to the cat, bending over slightly and asked, “Does that mean you’ve got a phone!?”

 

“You don’t need one when you’re at my level.” Morgana said and again, Makoto and Ren spoke in unison. “That’s definitely Morgana…”

 

Makoto continued on to ask, “Wait, if you’re a cat, then how are you able to talk right now?”

 

Morgana gave Makoto what looked like a shrug and said, “How should I know?”

 

“I’m pretty sure we’re just all hallucinating right now.” Ren said as he started twirling a strand of hair around with his finger.

 

“I think you’re right. I’m pretty sure we’ve all gone off the deep end today…” Ryuji said.

 

Anyways , it sounds like you guys are having a rough time. I heard something about questioning more people so I’m going to assume that our break-in a couple days ago did nothing. But I know a way you can deal with Kamoshida.” Morgana said smugly. “You two were actually pretty close just a moment-”

 

“Hold up, be quiet.” Ryuji whispered, interrupting Morgana who only gave him an annoyed look. Right as Ryuji was done speaking though, the group of four could hear two teachers walking down the path talking to one another.

 

“I can’t believe we have to spend our afternoon looking for some cat when we’re so busy right now.”

 

“Did you hear a meow just now?”

 

“I think so, it might be down this way. C’mon, check every nook and cranny. The pest could be anywhere.”

 

The group stayed quiet as they heard the two teachers walk to a door, open it, and walk inside. The four of them only daring to breathe when they heard the door close. “Man that was close. We needa take this conversation to a more discreet place. Here Ren, he should be able to fit in your bag, right?” Ryuji said as he picked Morgana up by the nape of his neck.

 

“H-Hey! Put me down!” Morgana said as he struggled in the air. Ren simply nodded to Ryuji and opened his book bag. Ryuji placed a still struggling Morgana in there and Ren zipped it up slightly.

 

Makoto looked at the two boys and said, “Come one. The school roof should be perfect.” She got up and started leading them up the stairs and to the roof. Once up there, Makoto found a desk to sit in and Ryuji leaned back onto the massive AC unit. Ren walked over a little from the doorway and gently placed Morgana down, allowing him to exit the bag. Ren walked back a little while Morgana crawled out, stretched and yelled out, “Don’t be so rough with me!”

 

“Oh, enough of that.” Ryuji groaned. “You said you have a way for us to fight back against Kamoshida. What is it?” He asked, moving on from Morgana’s annoyed beginning.

 

“Alright. So, there are a few things you need to know about Palace’s. You already know where they exist and why they exist, but, there is a way for one to lose said palace.” Morgana began. He looked around at the three others to make sure they were listening before he continued on. “There are cores to these palace’s. It’s the source of all of their distorted desires. Their… treasure, if you will. So, if we can steal that, then the distorted desires of the palace ruler would disappear. They would essentially go under a change of heart. Just because their distorted desires disappear, doesn’t mean their crimes do. The palace ruler would then feel inclined to confess.” Morgana explained.

 

“So how do we steal this ‘treasure’, then?” Makoto asked.

 

“I’ll gladly teach you if you guys help me out. What say you three?” Morgana said.

 

“Our luck’s runnin’ dry lookin’ for witnesses. Guess we have no choice but to go along.” Ryuji answered.

 

Ren pinched the bridge of his nose and said, “If there’s no other way…”

 

And Makoto said, “I want to know more before I agree. I feel like there’s something you’re not telling us.”

 

Morgana sighed and nodded. “Desires are what we need to live. If we do this, it’ll steal his desire to eat, sleep, love… and maybe even live. Kamoshida could die if not given the proper care.”

 

Ren’s eyes went wide and he said, “Whoa, whoa there. I am not killing anyone.”

 

Makoto and Ryuji matched Ren’s expression while Morgana just looked up at him and said, “I said he might die. Aren’t you determined to face those kinds of risks?”

 

“He’s done some pretty fucked up shit. I’ve been the victim of some of it. But I don’t know if he deserves to die?” Ryuji said, his voice was small.

 

“Sheesh. I come all this way and this is what I get… It’s not like anyone will find out!” Morgana reasoned but was met with a cold gaze from Makoto.

 

“That’s not the point. If we just go around doing whatever we want, if we kill him, we’d be no better than Kamoshida. Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Makoto said.

 

“I agree entirely. I think we need to think on this. It’s a bit much.” Ren said, motioning his head around so the afternoon light would reflect off his glasses, hiding the fear in his eyes. ‘We can’t seriously kill the man? Can we?’ Ren thought to himself.

 

Morgana sighed to himself and said, “Fine, but the longer he gets to move around free and still do whatever he wants, the number of victims will only go up. You should make your decision quickly. Isn’t this your only option at this point?” Morgana looked at the three of them and said, “I’ll come back later. Make sure you’ve made your decision by then.” and ran off.

 

Ryuji kicked the ground and yelled, “Dammit! We’re getting worked up over nothing…” Ryuji sighed to himself and said, “I’ll try and see if I can figure out another way… I’m outta here. My mom’s probably home by now. See ya guys.” And with that, he left the roof.

 

Ren looked over to Makoto and asked, “What do you think?”

 

Makoto just looked around before locking her eyes onto Ren’s and answering, “I don’t know. Kamoshida needs to be stopped, but is this how we do it? There’s too many risks but we don’t have many other options left. It’s getting late. You should get going. I’ve still got some Council work to do.”

 

Ren quirked an eyebrow at Makoto and asked, “What about our study session today?”

 

“That’s right, that was supposed to happen today.” Makoto said, giving Ren a slight smile.

 

“Yeah it was.” Ren chuckled. “How ‘bout this? Do your council work real quick and meet me at that diner on Central Street in, say, one hour? We can study there. My treat.” Makoto thought this over before nodding in agreement. “Sweet! It’s a date then.” Ren said as he started walking to the stairs.

 

“What!?” Makoto exclaimed.

 

Ren just turned around, gave her a mischievous smile and said, “Twas only a joke.” Makoto gave him an annoyed look which caused a laugh to escape Ren’s lips as he walked down the stairs, and eventually out of the school.

 

Shibuya Station

After School

 

Ren wasn’t really sure what he was going to do while waiting for Makoto. He could go visit the arcade. He could go to the bookstore. Or , he could help someone who helped him earlier. It wasn’t that hard to notice Takamaki and it was even easier to listen in on her conversation. She was clearly stressed out with whoever it was on the other line and Ren’s curiosity got the better of him so he waited and listened in.

 

“Would you please give it a rest! I told you I’m not up to it!” Takamaki yelled out. “Wait, what…!? That’s not what you promised! And you call yourself a teacher!?” … “This has nothing to do with Shiho! … Wait!” Takamaki yelled out but she was already pulling her phone away from her head, seeing that the caller had already hung up. She stared at the screen with despair in her eyes as she crouched down and started solemnly speaking to herself. “Shiho’s… Starting position…”

 

“Takamaki-san. Is everything alright? What’s going on?” Ren asked, walking closer to her. Takamaki looked up and saw Ren and immediately stood back up and took a step back, putting her arms up in a defensive position.

 

“Wait… were you listening?” Takamaki asked.

 

“It was hard not too.”

 

“Haven’t you ever heard of privacy!?” Takamaki exclaimed as her facial features began to get angular before they suddenly softened once more. “No… Sorry, I was out of line.”

 

“No you weren’t. I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping.” Ren said giving her a gentle smile.

 

“Mm. So how much did you hear?” Takamaki asked.

 

“Something about a friend. Not much else.”

 

“Shiho… Sorry, it was nothing.” Takamaki replied while wiping away the beginnings of tears with her arm. “Nothing at all.” And with that, she turned around and started running away.

 

“Wait! Takamaki!” Ren said, chasing after her. It was easy for Ren to keep track of her because of her bright blonde hair that she pulled up into voluminous twin tails. Ren ran after her into the underground walkway until she stopped next to a pillar a little bit farther off from a smoothie shop. As Ren caught up to Takamaki, she just turned around and stared daggers into him.

 

“Stop following me! Just leave me alone!” Takamaki yelled out but Ren could hear the tears threatening to claw their way out into the public eye.

 

“Takamaki, I can’t do that. Not right now.” Ren said, giving her a determined yet gentle gaze.

 

“Why? Why do you keep on worrying about me?” She asked as those tears from before started to pour out of her eyes.

 

“Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. Ok, let’s get to somewhere safe so you can calm down. Ok?” Ren asked. Takamaki nodded in agreement so Ren grabbed her by the wrist and started leading them out of the underground walkway. He found a staircase leading up so he took it and found himself on Central Street and right in front of him laid Big Bang Burger. “Will this do?” Ren asked and again, only receiving a nod in confirmation. “Okay, c’mon.” Ren said as he led the two of them into the fast food restaurant.

 

Once in, he looked around and saw a table in the corner that seated two and led Takamaki over to it, sitting her down before he walked over to the cashier and payed for two small drinks. He just filled them up with water and walked back over to Takamaki placing it in front of her. Ren sat down on the opposite side and simply waited for Takamaki to speak. He knew she would when she was ready.

 

When she stopped crying, she looked back up at Ren and gave him an angry look before saying, “I have nothing to talk about with you. It was just an argument…”

 

“I’m not an idiot. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that was probably Kamoshida on the other line. And after what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen with that man...” Ren said, giving her a gentle look before he motioned his hand in a gesture that said, ‘please, continue.’

 

Takamaki just looked back down at the table. More specifically a napkin, which she started moving around with the tip of her finger. “You’ve heard the rumors right? About me and Kamoshida? Everyone seems to think that we’re getting it on. You were right. That was him on the other line. I avoided giving him my number for the longest time but I couldn’t hold him back forever. He just got done telling me to go to his place and we both know what that means. But… If I don’t, he said he was going to take my best friend off as a regular on the team!” She yelled out, grabbing the napkin viciously before placing it back down. “I’ve been telling myself this is all for Shiho’s sake, but I can’t take it anymore.” There was silence before the tears began falling once more. “I’ve had enough of this! I hate him so much but I can’t stop for Shiho! She my best friend and I’ll do anything for her in this sorry excuse of a school!” Takamaki stopped for awhile before turning back to Ren and asking, “Tell me, what should I do?”

 

“Well you can’t go over to his place. That’s for damn sure.” Ren said as he gripped his knees.

 

“Hmph. You make it sound so easy. I’m sorry I asked you, it’s not your problem.” Takamaki said. As she looked back down at the table, she asked to no one in particular, “What am I even saying? I’ve never even talked to you before…”

 

“Even so, I’ll always be there to listen if you need it.” Ren said, returning back to his gentle smile.

 

This surprised Takamaki for a little before she returned to the smile. “You’re so weird. Most people just ignore me. I’m beginning to think maybe Shiho was right and that there’s no way those rumors about you are true.”

 

“Don’t believe her. I’m bad to the bone you know.” Ren’s words were masked behind a comforting laugh.

 

“You seemed lonely, you know. Like you didn’t really belong to anywhere. I guess we’re the same in that regard. I guess that’s why it was so easy for me to talk to you.” Takamaki said as she placed her elbow onto the table and laid her head down on her fist. “Is there really no way to help Shiho? I just wish he’d forget everything about me and her… Pfft, as if something like that could ever happen.”

 

Morgana’s words rang in his ears at this statement, ‘The palace ruler would feel inclined to confess.’ Ren thought those words over and looked at Takamaki and said, “You never know. It could happen.”

 

“I wasn’t looking for a real answer you dolt.” Takamaki said as a smile tugged at her lips. “ But , I do feel a bit better now, so I’m gonna head home. Thank you, Amamiya-san.”

 

“Please. Call me Ren.” He said as Takamaki got up from her seat.

 

This surprised her before she smiled and said, “Okay. Yeah, I can do that.” She was just about to walk away before she turned back to Ren and said in a stern voice, “Don’t tell anyone what I told you. I’ll… think of a way to persuade Kamoshida. And thanks, Ren. See ya.” And with that, Takamaki was off. Ren checked his phone and saw that the hour was almost passed so he decided to text Makoto.

 

Ren: You almost ready?

 

Makoto: I’m already on the train to Shibuya.

 

Ren: Alright, I'll get some seats for us real quick. See ya.

 

Makoto: See you soon.

 

Ren walked out of Big Bang Burger and looked around Central Street for the diner, finding the stairs that lead up to the building and walking up them. When he got up there a waitress was already waiting and asked, “How many?"

 

“Umm, two.”

 

“Booth or table?”

 

“Booth, please.”

 

The waitress smiled and nodded and took him to a booth on the far wall and handed him two menus. “Is there anything I can get for you while you wait for your friend?”

 

“Just a coffee, please.” Ren said as he started digging into his bag pulling out the days assignments and getting to work on them. It was less than ten minutes before Ren saw Makoto enter the building. He waved her over and she smiled and walked on by, sitting on the opposite bench of Ren.

 

“I hope you weren't waiting too long.” Makoto said as she started pulling out her assignments for the day as well.

 

“Oh don't worry about it. I saw Takamaki while she was on the phone and it looked like she was about to burst into tears. It was Kamoshida on the other line and he was telling her to come over to his place or he'd stop Suzui from being a regular.” Ren said while taking a sip of his coffee. “So, I took her to that Big Bang place and listened. I hope I helped her out, but her and Suzui’s situation worries me…”

 

Makoto's face dropped slightly and said, “We'll do whatever we can. I just hope it doesn't lead to him dying. Anyways, let's get to work.’

 

Ren nodded to this and they spent the next hour and half together working on their homework, helping each other whenever they could. The diner would fluctuate with business as customers walked in and out of the building. Things were beginning to finally quiet down when they started to pack their things up, having completed everything. Ren took a sip out of his now tenth cup of coffee and looked at Makoto while she was putting her stuff away and asked, “So you learned quite a bit about me on Tuesday, yet here I sit not knowing nearly as much about you. Tell me about yourself?” Ren finished by quirking his eyebrow in her direction. She only sighed.

 

Actually, you just told Ryuji and I about your arrest and a little about the aftermath. You're still quite the blank slate." Makoto said, raising an eyebrow at Ren.

 

Ren put his hands up defensively and said, "Ah, you got me there. But anything will suffice to satisfy."

 

Makoto pondered these words for awhile. "Well, what's there to know?" She asked.

 

Ren sighed at that and started packing his things up. "You seem reluctant to answer." Makoto looked up at Ren with her answer clear in the shine of her crimson eyes. "Don't worry about it. I'm not going to pry where I don't belong at the moment. You only met me, like, what? Four days ago?" Ren asked, looking for no answer as he finished packing up. He got out of the booth at the same time as Makoto, grabbed his bag and said, "See you tomorrow?"

 

"See you tomorrow." Makoto nodded in agreement. Ren walked past a little before she said, "Wait." Ren stopped in his tracks and looked at Makoto with a questioning gaze. "Thank you, Ren."

 

"Mm." Ren grunted in reply, nodding his head once more while giving her a smile, walked out of the diner and began his trek back to Leblanc.

 

Cafe Leblanc

Evening

 

“Well you’re back late. Did you not think about whether or not I have to wait for you to get back before I can close up shop? Sheesh, I need to get to bed.” Sojiro said as Ren walked in.

 

“Sorry, sir.”

 

“Don’t worry about it. Just eat dinner real quick and wash the dishes. I’m closing up shop for the night.” Sojiro said, motioning to some curry on the countertop. He nodded to Ren and walked past him, and out the door, locking it behind him.

 

Ren just stared at the closed door and said, “Goodnight.” The silence permeated everything as he finished his night.

Chapter Text

04/11/2016

 

Lunchtime

Shujin Academy

 

No one else was in the restroom at the current and Shiho was grateful for every second she had alone. She stared at her reflection in the mirror for a while before she felt her phone vibrate. ‘Ann, most likely. Shouldn’t keep her waiting.’ Shiho lightly slapped her face, wincing as she tapped the hidden bruises. She adjusted her knee brace in a futile attempt for it to lessen the pain her leg held. Shiho took one last look in the mirror, made sure her hair was the same as normal- made sure she looked the same as normal- and walked out.

 

When Shiho turned around the corner of the entryway into the women’s restroom, she could see Ann waiting for her down the hall. She was lightly tapping her foot on the ground, twirling the ends of one of her twin tails in her fingers while she stared at her phone. Ann usually did these three actions to distract her from the rumors constantly being spread about her. But Shiho knew who she was. Shiho knew who Ann was beyond all the false slander. That Ann was one of the kindest and most caring souls around and that she was her best friend. Shiho wouldn’t change anything about their relationship. Talking to Ann was nothing more than an action made on a whim back in middle school, in that stupid art class. God, her painting sucked, so Shiho naturally just had to tell her those exact words. Shortly after that, Ann quickly became the sister Shiho never asked for, but the one she would never let go of. Ann was the only thing keeping her tethered and willing her to fight through the onslaught of pain and terror. Ann did so much for Shiho without even realizing it, so it goes without saying that Shiho would do anything to back Ann up. Do anything to protect her and keep her happy. So when the rumors that were fed on nothing but jealousy rose up around her, Shiho was on the frontlines fighting against them. Nothing about them were true yet everyone seemed to take part in them. None of them were true. That was the repeat pattern that was woven into the quilt of lies that only grew bigger and more inviting to fall into.

 

None of the rumors were true and yet, they were so easy to listen too. Usually it was always the same thing. Something about Ann being easy and how she’s apparently in a relationship with Kamoshida, or how Sakamoto is constantly being a nuisance, or about how the Student Council President, Niijima-senpai, was beginning to question Volleyball players and everyone thinks she should just mind her own business. That was the repeated pattern, after all. And when something is said over and over, repeated over and over, pounded into your head over and over- it becomes hard to realize what really is the truth. But Shiho knew better than to fall into that pit, her best friend was one of their victims after all. Shiho knew that Ann was one of the greatest people ever and that she was definitely not in a relationship with Kamoshida. Shiho knew how Sakamoto was wronged, blamed, and mistreated last year by Kamoshida in an attempt to disband the Track Team. Shiho knew that Niijima had simply opened her eyes and realized the truth and was trying to do something about it. ‘More should follow her example and just open their eyes.’ thought Shiho.

 

However, today was a day when those who wove the lies would find themselves with a new thread to add into the spool. His name was already known throughout the school. Ren Amamiya, a transfer student with an assault record who was so crazy, if you so much as looked at him the wrong way, he would kill you. The rumors had said he’s killed a man before and why should anyone doubt them? The fact that her peers were so willing to feed into such insanity disgusted Shiho and she hoped that whoever this Amamiya guy was, that the rumors didn’t get to him too much. It will be hard for him. But Shiho had faith that whatever he was like, that they would pull through.

 

Shiho at this point, was just in the middle of the hallway lost in thought when Ann noticed her. She walked on over to Shiho and said, “Hey, less staring and more answering your phone when I text you. How ‘bout that, huh?” She put emphasis on her last sentence by waving her phone around slightly and smiling at her friend.

 

“Alright, alright. Sorry?” Shiho said holding back a small laugh. “Anyways, let’s go get something to eat and go to the courtyard. We’ve wasted enough time already.”

 

“What do you mean ‘we’?” Ann asked giving Shiho a friendly glare.

 

Shiho returned the expression as they started walking down the stairs to the first floor and said, “Alright, I was trying to be nice to you, but if you want to get technical… I’m sorry you wasted all that time.” This left Ann with her jaw dropped in a playful expression.

 

“Um, excuse me, what?”

 

“You heard me. You could’ve noticed me sooner, but no, you were off staring at your phone.” Shiho said turning her nose up mockingly.

 

“And you were too busy staring at me.” Ann retorted with a little bit of pride in her voice as she felt like she ‘won’ the ‘argument’.

 

“Yeah, cause I was waiting for you to notice me. I’m your best friend, shouldn’t it be easier to notice your best friend in a crowd?” Shiho quickly said back as they grabbed their food from the bread store. Ann pouted at the true winner while Shiho simply stuck her tongue out at Ann in triumph.

 

As the two friends walked into the courtyard and into the alcove with the vending machines, Shiho went straight to one of the benches, plopped down and let out a long sigh. One she hadn’t known she was holding. Ann sat down right next to her and asked, “Are doing okay? These past few weeks, whenever I look at you, you just look more and more exhausted. You’re not overworking yourself, are you?”

 

Ann lightly placed her hand over Shiho’s braced knee. Shiho nodded slightly and said, “Yeah, I’m doing fine. “

 

Ann gave her a look that showed she did not believe a word Shiho had just said. “Is it Volleyball practice? Everyday it seems like you’re getting more and more beat up after your practices. I just want to make sure you’re doing okay, Shiho…”

 

Ann was right. Everyday was hell in that gym and Shiho, along with a few others, were dealing with the wrath of Kamoshida. It was getting astronomically worse now that the Volleyball rally was only two days away and Nationals were coming up. The other regulars on the team were being pulled out for Kamoshida’s ‘special coaching’ and Shiho knew it was only a matter of time before she was next. She felt like she was trapped in a box that was constantly shrinking. She couldn’t escape from it and it kept decreasing in size with every abuse from Kamoshida. But she couldn’t say anything without the ridicule of her peers. She’s seen first hand what those whispers are like to go through and while she fought everyday against them to help her best friend, it terrified Shiho, the thought of being on the receiving end of those whispers. She was so scared of continuing on everyday. Having to deal with Kamoshida everyday. She just wanted the pain to stop and the fear to fade away into oblivion. Shiho wondered why her parents did nothing even though her injuries were becoming clearer and clearer. She could feel her box growing shorter. “I’m doing fine, Ann.” Shiho said while tightening her grip to stop her hands from shaking. Shiho shook her head slightly and said, “Anyways, onto more interesting topics. That transfer student that we’re supposed to be getting but hasn’t shown up yet… What are your thoughts?”

 

Ann shook her head and said, “I’m pretty sure I met him, sort of, this morning. He didn’t seem like the criminal type at all and you know I never believe the rumors here. Even if his record was leaked, just looking at him you could tell there was more to the story. But that doesn’t explain why he still isn’t here.”

 

Shiho nodded to this and said, “Yeah. Him being so late isn’t exactly helping his already crappy image.” Shiho was beginning to calm back down as she looked to Ann, smiled, and asked, “Sooo… what’s he look like if you think you met him?”

 

Ann raised an eyebrow at Shiho and said, “He’s kinda cute. He has some really frizzy black hair that kinda curls and wears these big glasses that look kinda cool. Also, he wears his uniform right down to every student manual direction. He pulls it off pretty well.”

 

“Sounds like quite the looker.”

 

“Yeah, well, he’s supposed to be dangerous and all that, so…” Ann left her sentence hanging in the air for a little while before the two girls just bursted into fits of giggling.

 

‘This. This is what keeps me tethered. Thank you, Ann.’ Shiho thought to herself as the two of them began to dig into their ‘meals’. The two ate in a happy silence before the bell for lunch to end rang. The two of them groaned in unison as they got up from the benches and threw away their trash away. Once up the stairs, the two of them shared a small hug before splitting to go to their individual classes. Shiho saw Ren standing outside the door to Ann’s classroom and thought, ‘Huh. He is a looker.’ before entering her classroom. The day continued on forward as the inevitability of Volleyball practice loomed closer with every second, minute, and hour.

 

After School

Shujin Academy

 

The bell rang and Shiho sat stoically in her desk, waiting for everyone to clear out of her classroom before she left for practice. The classroom cleared out very quickly. Everyone was out in less than a minute and Shiho could hear why. She could hear the whispers and while she didn’t know what they were saying, she knew what they were walking about. The transfer was here now, after all. Shiho waited just a little while longer before she began to slowly pack her things up and head over to the practice building.

 

Once she crossed the way into the damned practice building, the familiar dread and fear was already flooding the halls as her fellow players ran by in frenzied attempts to finish whatever they were doing real quick and get into the gym. Shiho understood the rush and ran to the locker room to get changed as fast as her body would allow. Once changed, she booked it to the gym, getting there as the other starters began to flood in as well. After five minutes, all of the players were in the gym. Kamoshida walked in there, smiled at all of them, and began roll call.

 

Practice for the day had been more brutal than usual. It wasn’t uncommon for Kamoshida to deliberately spike the players constantly throughout the day or simply abuse them if they weren’t up to his standards in a play. Everyone thought that Mishima was going to get called on for his special training because of the beating he was taking in practice that day. Mishima would slip up on a play and by the time he was standing back up Kamoshida was already there thrusting a fist up into his gut, saying something that usually fell into the lines of, “Quit fucking up my plays Mishima are life will get a lot worse for you.” The process was repeated several times and while it would transition from player to player, the abuse always seemed to find his way back to Mishima. His face sagged more and more as practice wore one. What little life there was in his eyes at the beginning of practice was now completely gone. The cycle went on until practice was over.

 

Kamoshida had all of the starting players line up so he could ‘inspect’ them and tell them how they needed to ‘improve’. But everyone knew what was really happening. Kamoshida was looking for his next victim to take under his tutelage. All of the starting line up had been chosen so far, except for three of them. Shiho, Mishima, and- “Hajime! I feel as though you could do with some pointers. Come with me to my office. Everyone else! You’re dismissed!” Kamoshida yelled out to the group.

 

Shiho saw the look of fear on his face as Hajime walked with Kamoshida out of the gym. Everyone knew what he was in for but they were all thankful it wasn’t them. Except for Shiho, who could feel the inevitable grow closer and closer. Her box tightened once more but now she felt something else. The chains started to twine their way around her neck as she stared at a fate that will be soon be hers. The knowledge of knowing it was coming either tomorrow or the day after that was scaring her more than the unlucky lottery it was before. Everything went silent and her breathing quickened in pace as she stood cemented on the gym floor. Shiho had no idea how long she had been standing there, but it had been a long time.

 

04/12/2016

 

After School

Shujin Academy

 

Practice had just finished for the day. Kamoshida started off in a horrible mood and Shiho could only assume it was because of Niijima-senpai’s conversation with him. Shiho saw her as Niijima ran away from Kamoshida’s office. Her eyes were wide with fear and tears were threatening to come bursting out. As soon as Shiho saw this, she knew that practice was going to be worse than it was the day before. But she could never have guessed the cruelty that was thrown around the room. It was less practice and more Kamoshida taking his anger out on everyone of the players. If a player failed to stop the ball from hitting the ground, there was no stopping Kamoshida as he walked over to that player and beating the ever living shit out of them before dropping them and having someone switch places with them. And as time went on, he only got angrier and angrier.

 

Shiho had worked hard to make sure she wouldn’t be on the receiving end of whatever he tried to dole out. Her and Mishima both performed exceptionally in practice today to try and avoid the beatings their peers were receiving, but when time came for everyone to line up, the two of them were singled out.

 

Kamoshida stood over Shiho and Mishima as he decided which one to take for special coaching. He was fuming in anger and you could feel every bit of malice seething through his skin. He wanted to hurt someone badly, but he couldn’t decide who. That was, until a nasty grin spread across his face as he stepped in front of Mishima.

 

“Mishima. You and Suzui-san here did exceptionally well today, but you could use some pointers on your posture. Come with me to my office.” Kamoshida turned around and walked out of the gym. That smile never left his face. Shiho turned to Mishima who had just fallen onto his knees and started shaking. He pulled his hands up to his face and started sobbing quietly. Shiho only watched the scene before her get gradually worse as she backed away. Shiho was now beginning to shake as well. It was her turn tomorrow.

 

Mishima started rocking his body back and forth, whispering to himself through the quiet sobs, “please no… not again. I don’t want to go back there. not again. not today. not ever…” Shiho turned around and started for the doors out of the gym. She could feel Kamoshida’s words tomorrow after the rally as she walked out those doors.

 

‘Suzui-san. I’m disappointed that you didn’t give your all during the volleyball rally today. Come to my office. I’m sure we can think of something to help with those motivation problems.’ Kamoshida’s voice seethed in her head. Shiho had to grab herself before walking into the locker room. She gripped her shoulders until her knuckles were white. “I’m sorry Mishima. I’m so, so sorry Mishima.” She whispered to herself before she walked into the locker room to finish getting dressed out of her gym clothes. When she was done and walked out of the practice building, she could see Ann in the courtyard. Ann noticed Shiho as well and started waving her over to where she sat. ‘Ann…’ Thought Shiho as she started making her way over to her friend.

 

Ann watched Shiho walk the entire way there. The smile she had on before dropping as Shiho grew closer and closer. When Shiho was no more than five feet away from her, Ann just let out a small whisper that was completely unintelligible. Shiho simply looked at Ann. There was no life in her eyes and Ann could see that. Ann patted the seat on the bench right next to her and said, “Shiho, c’mon, rest a little and take a seat.”

 

Shiho did as Ann asked, and as soon as she was sat down, Ann embraced her tightly. Holding her for only a few seconds that felt like a comforting eternity. When Ann finally let go, she took one of Shiho’s hands in her own and turned to face her friend and asked, “Shiho… What’s wrong?”

 

Shiho didn’t attempt to match Ann’s gaze as she gave her ‘answer’. “I-I’m sorry. I just feel so tired. I-I haven’t really been sleeping well lately…” Shiho sighed, still not matching Ann’s gaze. “Whenever I close my eyes, too many things start going through my head. It’s just getting to be overwhelming.”

 

“Shiho…”

 

“With nationals and the rally coming up, I keep thinking, ‘Should I really be on the starting lineup?’” Said Shiho but another line went unspoken in her head. ‘If I get taken off of the starting lineup… then maybe the pain will fade away…’

 

Ann’s grip on Shiho’s hand grew tighter as she tried to force a smile on her face. “Oh, don’t be like that Shiho! Just be confident in yourself. Your skills have been recognized and it’s all because you work harder than anyone else on the team!”

 

Shiho grunted in reply before she said, “Yeah… Volleyball’s all I have, after all…”

 

Ann slowly let go of Shiho’s hand and said, “More importantly, is your leg doing okay? It’s looking a lot more swollen today than it has in the past.”

 

“Hu-Huh? Oh, that’s just because I worked a bit harder today and you know it always gets like this when a meet is coming up.” Shiho said though her answer was less than satisfactory for Ann and she did not follow up with anything else. But she didn’t need to as a dark blue haired boy walked up to the pair and began talking.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, Suzui…” Mishima said. Shiho simply looked up at him and her eyes were wide with fear once more. Mishima was covered in several new bandages and he looked like he was about to pass out. “Sorry, but Kamoshida told me to tell you that he wants to see you in his office.”

 

“Wait, what, why!?” Shiho yelled out slightly, unable to mask the fear in her voice.

 

“I don’t know. He just said he wants you.” Mishima replied. He turned around and was about to just leave before he turned around slightly and said, “I’m sorry.” And then he was gone.

 

Shiho looked to Ann, the fear was etched across her face and it wasn’t erasing. “Ann, I…”

 

“Hey! Don’t worry about it! I’m sure it’s just something about the starting lineup or something…” Ann said, trying to cheer up Shiho but failing to do so. She only got the fear to be less easily seen on her face.

 

Shiho didn’t reply for some time until she just nodded and said, “... yeah. I’m sure you’re right…” Shiho nodded again and tried to smile at her friend. She got up and said, “Well, I better be off then. Bye Ann.”

 

“See you tomorrow, Shiho…” Ann said as she watched her best friend walk back into the practice building.

 

As Shiho walked through the doors, entering the building, her peers were exiting. The day should be over by now for everyone, yet here Shiho was, walking into only god knows what. She stood past the doorway a little, swallowed, and walked forward to the stairs. Once on the second floor, Shiho peered down the hallway to where Kamoshida’s office was. The door was slightly ajar in wait for her. Shiho shook her head real quick and walked to the room. She knocked on the door and opened it. Kamoshida turned around, papers still in his hand and beckoned her to come in.

 

“You can leave the door open. I’ll only need a moment of your time.” Kamoshida said as he turned his attention back to the papers in his possession. Shiho let out a breath of air in relief before Kamoshida began speaking again. “Tomorrow’s the big rally. You and Mishima played exceptionally well during practice today, but, his posture was still off and so he needed some pointers.” His evil smile spread across his face once more before he continued speaking. “Yours was off as well. Make sure that isn’t the case tomorrow during the rally or practice. Nationals are coming up and I need you in tip top shape, so if I have to spend more time after class to make sure you’re learning… I will. Now then, leave and rest for tomorrow.” Kamoshida said, motioning Shiho out of the room. She left and closed the door behind her. Shiho’s heartbeat quickened as she walked through the halls and out of the building.

 

04/13/2016

 

After School

Shujin Academy

 

The rally had gone off without a hitch, almost. Kamoshida had been furious after his match with the transfer student and Mishima. Hell, they actually won a round against him and none of the students had been able to do that thus far. But their win didn’t come without its own set of consequences. For the transfer student, him simply showing that he was competent at the game was reason enough for Kamoshida to spike him in the face. For Mishima, when he and the transfer student had expressed exemplary teamwork, it was then that Kamoshida decided to take his anger out in the game. He spiked Mishima so hard in the face it knocked him out cold. It set a precedent for the rest of the matches for the day and Shiho was so terrified of being spiked, that she played worse than everyone else on her team, flinching whenever the ball was hit. This fear was brought over into practice when everyone got to see the aftermath of Mishima as he sloshed into the gym. His inability to keep focus and play correctly made him the object of Kamoshida’s unsuppressed anger during the match yet he had his eyes on Shiho the entire time and she could feel them burrowing into her.

 

Practice for the day ended and Kamoshida didn’t even have the students line up, he just sent them on their way, except for Shiho, whom he had stay behind. She stood in fear as she watched all of her peers leave as they sent uneasy looks her way. Mishima was the only one who didn’t look at her because he was to busy focusing on actually being able to walk. Kamoshida paid him no mind as he walked up to Shiho. “Suzui, you have disappointed me today. Your performance during the rally was abysmal at best and while watching you today during practice, I must say you are going to need a lot more pointers than on just your posture.” Kamoshida tilted his head forward and swayed it side to side. A look of fake disappointment was plastered on. “Follow me. We have a lot to discuss.” Kamoshida took a step back, turned around and started walking for the door. Once there, he turned back to face Shiho, who still had yet to move from her spot in the gym. She was doing everything in her power to keep from shaking visibly. “C’mon, Suzui-san! I want to go home too!” Kamoshida yelled out. He only continued on to his office when he saw Shiho slowly start to follow behind him.

 

The walk was horrifying for Shiho. The entire time she was slowly walking behind Kamoshida, she could feel her box cramping her up and she couldn’t move. The chains grew longer as they wrapped around every limb and tightened around her neck. ‘please don’t do this… please….’ These words kept circulating through Shiho’s thoughts until they arrived at the door of his office. Kamoshida unlocked it, opened the door, turned and looked at Shiho, and motioned for her to enter. Her mind went blank with fear as she did what she was told. Kamoshida entered shortly after her and closed and locked the door, keeping Shiho alone with Kamoshida.

 

“Suzui…” Kamoshida said out in a disgustingly gentle voice. Shiho turned to face him after hearing her name but before she could get a full look at his face, his fist was already coming down on her head. The blow was sudden and went completely unregistered by Shiho as she fell to the ground, landing on her knees. As she looked up as the deep pain began but Kamoshida wasn’t going to let up. He grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and pulled her back up onto her feet. Kamoshida looked into her eyes and said, “This hurts me more than it hurts you… But you need to learn. I can’t have that kind of play on my team in the Nationals!” He yelled out as he thrusted his free fist into her gut. He repeated the process several times, only getting grunts from Shiho in response. Kamoshida let go of her collar and brought his fist down on her head once more, and again, and again, and then nothing.

 

Pain coursed throughout the entirety of Shiho’s body. No words or sounds came out from her as she laid beside Kamoshida’s feet, struggling to breathe. Kamoshida looked down upon her and spat out, “Learn from this…” and unlocked the door behind him and left, closing it, but keeping it unlocked. Shiho stayed laying down on the floor, tears were rolling down her face while blood from the blows was trickling down from above her eye, into it. ‘Why? Why me? Why anyone? Why can’t the pain just go away…’ She stayed there for a long while before picking herself up, struggling through the pain. She slowly walked to the door and opened it and made her painstaking way out of the school. The sun was all but gone when she exited the school gates and made her way for home.

 

04/14/2016

 

After School

Shujin Academy

 

Shiho and Ann were sitting at their usual bench in the courtyard. The afternoon sun was dancing on their backs, bringing little warmth. No words were spoken between the two friends as Shiho simply stared at the ground and Ann stared at her. The tension filled silence felt like it was about to burst with fear and sorrow until Ann spoke up. “Hey… It’s getting later. Shouldn’t you be heading to Volleyball?”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“Hey-ey, is that bruise above your eye from practice, too?”

 

“Mm.”

 

Again, Ann was scooting in closer to her friend and gripping her hand while staring at her. “Shiho… Are you sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard?”

 

Shiho nodded and closed her eyes. “I-I’m okay. ...Volleyball is the only thing I can do right…” As soon as she was finished speaking, Ann’s phone began ringing but Ann only ignored it. “Hey, are you going to take that?”

 

“No, it’s only my part time job. You’ll always be more important than that.” Ann said, her grip softening.

 

Shiho got up and looked at Ann, who wasn’t letting go of her hand. “I should get going, Ann…”

 

“Shiho…” Ann looked up at her friend with pleading eyes and asked once more, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

 

“Uh huh.” Said Shiho, as she slipped her hand away from Ann’s and started walking away. As she got closer to the door, she heard Ann answer her phone but couldn’t hear what she said. She opened the door and walked through. She watched it close and stood there watching the door. Shiho then pulled out her phone and started watching the time. She was going to wait exactly until she needed to go to practice, that was, until she felt someone standing behind her.

 

She turned around to see her suspicions true and jumped back slightly when she saw the transfer student standing right behind her with a soft gaze. He didn’t seem to be in a rush, but rather was just observing her, solemnly. “Sorry, I’m in the way aren’t I?”

 

The transfer student gave her a small, comforting smile and said, “No no, you’re fine. You look like you’ve been having a rough time so I’m not going to try and disturb you.” His smile did everything it was supposed to and helped calm her down. His smile made her feel safe, oddly enough.

 

“Huh, just as I thought. You don’t seem to be anything like the rumors make you out to be.” Shiho said, returning the gesture. “I have a friend that’s a lot like you. Rumors surround her pretty heavily because of the way she looks, so I tend to distrust most rumors surrounding anyone. I’m glad I was right again.”

 

He said nothing but kept on giving her the same smile he met her with. It was intoxicating. Shiho couldn’t help but feel comfort under its wake. “Well, don’t let those rumors get to you. They can be rough but if you can power through them, then you can do anything here. Anyways, I need to go. Have a nice day, um…”

 

“Ren.”

 

Shiho smiled and said, “Have a nice day, Ren.”

 

As Shiho walked away from Ren, she could already feel the weight of everything being slammed back on her heart. The fear and the pain came rushing back as she walked down the halls and into the practice building. The Volleyball players were still rushing around as usual, trying to finish any of their last minute tasks before heading into the gym. Shiho paid them no mind and rushed down to the girls locker room and got changed for today’s practice. It was now just another day and she thought Kamoshida had no reason to call her to his office today.

 

She felt guilty when she thought about it, but she was just happy that the cycle of pain got reset on her. There would be time for her to heal before Kamoshida was ready to ‘train’ her again. This brightened Shiho’s mood slightly as she quickly became the only one left in the locker room. She slipped on her practice uniform and walked out of the room and into the gym.

 

Everyone was already going on ahead with practice, but, there was no Kamoshida in sight. Instead the assistant coach was taking charge for the moment. Shiho quickly joined her peers, and while they started a bit early, it was like a normal practice. One that they hadn’t had in a long while. As she jogged laps with the other players, she could see some of them smiling and actually enjoying practice, despite it being some simple jogging.

 

Eventually, the team started doing other simple exercises and over the course of the next thirty minutes, nothing bad was happening. Everything was quiet and unusually normal. ‘Not that I want him here… But where is Kamoshida…?’ Shiho thought to herself. Right after that train of thought ended, the assistant coach called out saying that practice was done and everyone was dismissed. ‘Thirty minutes and just simple exercises? Thank god…’ Shiho thought once more.

 

Shiho was just about to leave for the locker room when she turned around real quick and saw the assistant coach walk over to Mishima. He said something to him that Shiho couldn’t hear, but it was obvious that Mishima didn’t like it. His face became sorrowful as the assistant coach turned and left him be. Mishima looked like tears were gonna come flowing out of his eyes at any moment but he just wiped their beginnings away and ran off to do whatever it is he was told. Shiho stared in the direction Mishima ran off in for a while before turning around and going to the locker room.

 

As she was getting changed back in her school clothes, Shiho could feel the box caging her increasing in size slightly, and the chains wrapped around her were lessening their tightening grip. This was a better day than most for Shiho and she longed for the rest to be like this. Though she wished that practice was more Volleyball oriented, she didn’t mind. Shiho had a small smile on her face as she finished getting dressed, grabbed her stuff and walked out of the locker room. When she stepped out of the doorway, she saw Mishima standing outside the door. He perked his head up when he saw her but his expression only grew colder. Shiho dropped the smile.

 

“Can I help you, Mishima-kun?” Shiho asked but Mishima only shook his head in response before looking her in the eyes.

 

“Kamoshida wants to see you…” He said with a sorrowful tone.

 

The box began shrinking faster than Shiho could handle. The chains began to tighten so fiercely, it became hard to breathe. Her heartbeat picked up pace and Shiho had to calm her breathing before she looked at Mishima and said, “I’ve already had to go for the past two days. Why does he want me again…?”

 

“I don’t know.” Mishima said, averting his gaze. “But he said he wants you now. I’m sorry, Suzui-san.” And with that, Mishima was walking away into the boys locker room.

 

Shiho stood there. Her body threatened to throw itself onto the ground and start sobbing but she fought every urge. She turned to the stairs and made her way up to the second floor. Looking down the hallway she could see Kamoshida’s door closed and made her way down the hallway. Every step felt like she was walking through boggy mud. Every step felt like a betrayal to herself. Every part of her body and mind told her to run away and never look back but fear drove her forward. Fear of what her parents might say for disobeying a teacher. Fear of what he would do to her the next day. Fear drove her till she was standing in front of Kamoshida’s door. Everything in her body told her to not knock on the door, but, she did.

 

“Who is it!?” Kamoshida asked on the other side. Shiho said nothing, shaking as she stared at the door. The bruise above her eye began to throb intensely as Kamoshida yelled out once more, “Well!? Answer!”

 

“I-I-It’s Suzui, sir…” Shiho hesitantly said. She heard some rummaging beyond the door before it opened to reveal Kamoshida with a sinister smile on his face.

 

He opened the door completely and stepped to the side motioning her in. “Please, come in and take a seat. I only wish to talk.”

 

Shiho slowly walked in, doing little to hide her fear. She stepped further into the room and heard Kamoshida close the door behind them, locking it. Hearing the clicks of that locking mechanism made everything in her want to panic. She turned to face Kamoshida with fear scrawled all over her face while the grin Kamoshida wore only grew wider and more maniacal. Shiho’s heart felt like it was burst out of her chest it was beating so fast. She could hardly breathe as Kamoshida spoke and dimmed the lights, “You know, your friend, Ann, is a horrible follower of orders. But you’ve always followed my orders. I hope you don’t disappoint.” As soon as he was finished talking he reached out to Shiho, grabbing her arm tightly and pulling her in close. She tried to scream but Kamoshida’s hand was quickly placed over her mouth stopping any noise from escaping. “Now, now. That’s not what you’re supposed to do.” Kamoshida whispered as he used his free arm to pick up one of her legs. He shoved the two of them against the wall and whispered into her ear, “Now then. Let me show you how to have some fun…”

 

Shiho couldn’t stop the tears as her indescribable nightmare played out.

 

04/15/2016

 

Morning

Shujin Academy

 

Shiho hadn’t gone to any of her classes. Instead, she was sitting at one of the desks on the roof of the school. Her phone had stopped vibrating from the endless calls she was receiving from Ann, earlier in the morning. Shiho just sat there. Lifeless after the events of last night. Her eyes held nothing in them as she got up from the desk. Only one thought was going through her mind as she walked over to the ledge of the roof. ‘This will stop the pain…’ These words had been going through her mind ever since she stumbled back into her home the previous night. They kept on repeating themselves as the night dragged on and the morning sun rose. So much so that they were etched in the back of her skull.

 

As she stepped onto the ledge and stared out into the courtyard below her. The ground below seemed to call out to her as she stared. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw students begin to pile up near the windows, watching her as she stared out onto the ground below. Into the abyss. Into a future where there would be no more pain .

 

Shiho looked up at the sky for a small second and whispered to herself, “I’m sorry… Ann. I just can’t do this anymore.”

 

Shiho looked back down at the ground and stared. The box was gone now. All that was left were the chains as they tightened around her neck, suffocating her.. She heard a scream from somewhere and decided to use this as her cue. Shiho pushed herself off. The wind blew in her hair as she closed her eyes and then…

 

There was only darkness.

Chapter Text

04/15/2016

 

Morning

Shujin Academy

 

“Hey Mom!” Yelled Ren as he walked into his mother’s hospital room. Ren was giving her an ear to ear grin as she stared out of the open window. The white curtain blew into the room, flowing with the ocean breeze. Her long, flowing, raven hair waved in unison with the wind as she stared out into the bright scenery. Her eyes matched the beautiful, luminescent blue glow of the ocean and cloudless sky.

 

Ren quickly scurried to the corner of the room where a chair on wheels and a swivel was laying in wait for someone to use. He grabbed the back of and slid it over to the side of his Mother’s bed, riding the chair like a scooter, sticking out his tongue from the corner of his mouth in concentration. When Ren arrived at the side of her bed, he sat down on the chair properly and looked up at his Mother as she turned to look at Ren. Warmth filled her eyes as she gave Ren a comforting smile and took one of his hands in her own. Ren reciprocated the look with a clear giggle. Ren’s Mother stared back out the window for a quick second and then returned her gaze back to Ren with a raised eyebrow and asked, “Where’s your Father?”

 

“He’s still at the Diner.” Ren said, kicking his legs back and forth underneath the chair.

 

“And you came here all by yourself, huh?” Ren’s mother asked once more, giving Ren a more questioning look as her eyebrow raised higher.

 

“Yup!” Ren exclaimed as he raised his fist into the air with childish triumph.

 

Ren’s Mother just closed her eyes, nodded her head a little and said, “Uh huh. Don’t you think you’re a bit young to be walking around town by yourself?”

 

Ren rolled his eyes at his Mother, groaned, and said, “But I’m not even that young~ I just turned ten after all.” Ren finished his statement by crossing his arms and giving a fake pout.

 

His Mother let out a small laugh and said, “I guess it was the 6th just two days ago.” She cupped one of his cheeks in her hand continued to speak, “Buuut- The world is a dangerous place- and you know this. It’s better to be safe rather than not. You should’ve waited for your father, hun.” Ren nudged her hand away as he began to speak.

 

“But work got busy for him and I was sooo bor-” Ren’s excuse was cut short by his mother giving him a glare. “Alright… I’ll wait for Dad next time.” Ren submitted to his Mother’s gaze and she smiled in slight triumph, nodded to Ren, and returned her gaze to the scenery outside the window. Ren looked down and placed his hands on the seat in between his legs as they swung back and forth. He gripped the cushion and sighed before looking back up at his Mother and asking, “Do you feel any better today? At all?”

 

Ren’s Mother ignored the question for a while, continuing to stare at the ocean wave too and fro in a calming sway. She never turned to face her son when she asked, “Sweety. Do you know why I joined the Police Force?”

 

“Huh?” Ren was a little surprised by the question because she completely ignored his, but he answered anyway. “Well, Dad said it was because you felt like everyday was a new adventure.”

 

His Mother gave a gentle laugh and said, “Well, that’s definitely one of the two reasons why. But the biggest one is that I had an overwhelming urge to help those in need. Those who were too weak to go up against those who held power over them. Be it physical or authoritative. Come closer and look at the scene out the window with me.” She scooched over in the bed a little and patted the open space for him to sit in the bed with her. Ren hopped off the chair and shimmied into the space beside her as she wrapped an arm around him and pointed out the window with her other. “I wanted to protect them Ren, so that they could always see the beauty in the world around them. So they could continue on without having everything look so grey in the eye of oncoming horror. It felt wrong knowing I get to see the beauty while others can’t. Do you understand, Ren?”

 

“Yeah. I understand. If you stop the bad guys from hurting those around them, everyone’s happy, right?” Asked Ren.

 

His Mother slowly rubbed his shoulder with her thumb in a rotating motion. Something she’d always do to Ren when they were together to help him relax. “Sort of. Really though, catching the bad guy isn’t always the real goal. The real goal is to instill a sense of courage to the weak, so that they may overcome their fear.” There was a gust of wind when she finished talking, blowing up some flowers. She began to speak again as the petals slowly made their descent. “So that when they fall, they may one day pick themselves back up and bloom beautifully once more.” She smiled and continued to look at the falling petals as Ren turned to face her, and back out the window.

 

They sat there, watching the petals fall. Once the last of them had hit the ground, Ren heard a high pitched scream to his left. Confused, Ren turned to face the direction it came from and saw Ann Takamaki with her hands clasped around her mouth. Tears were running down her face as she ran past him for the stairs. Ren turned to see outside the window and no longer saw the same beautiful scenery, but the courtyard of the school a and sprawled out body on the ground. Ren felt his mother squeeze his shoulder tightly, she was trying to tell him something but he could barely hear it. Ren turned to face her, but was met with Ryuji staring at him. His eyes were wide open as he began to speak. “C’mon man! What the hell are you doing just standing around like that!? We needa get down there!” Ryuji was motioning the two of them to the stairs.

 

Ren blinked a few times and shook his head slightly before nodding to Ryuji. The two of them booked it for the stairs. As they ran down to the first floor, they could immediately see the flood of students who were trying to get out into the courtyard. Their phones were out and everyone was talking loudly but all of their voices merged into one big muddy puddle of incoherent noise. “Hey man! We’re not gonna be able to get through there! We needa go around and through the practice building, aight!? Ryuji yelled out to Ren through the muddled noise.

 

“Okay! What are waiting for then!” Ren yelled out as he began to run through the side halls to the practice building. Ryuji was right behind him as they ran past the oncoming current of students still trying to get a peek at what was going on. Once in the practice building, there were still many students scrambling around, trying to get into the courtyard, but not nearly as many. Ren and Ryuji ran with the current to the door only to find yet another flood of students trying to get through the doors.

 

Ryuji let out a sigh that was quickly drowned out by the volume. He turned to Ren and shrugged and yelled, “Guess we gotta force our way through!” Ryuji immediately started pushing his way through students. Yelling things like, “Sorry!” or “C'mon man! Get outta the way!” Ren followed close behind Ryuji so that the crowd of people wouldn't close back in on the gap created by him. Once past the doors, it was easier to walk around since nobody was moving and everyone had their phone out, taking pictures of the scene before them. Murmurs floated around the courtyard along with the sound of pictures being taken by phones. The only other sound that could be heard were the sobs of Ann Takamaki as she kneeled down next to her friend. “Dammit. What the hell is wrong with these people- Oh my God. Suzui-san? Why the- Why did she-”

 

Ryuji stopped talking when he felt Ren’s hand on his shoulder. Ren was rubbing his thumb against it in a rotating motion as he looked Ryuji in the eye. Ryuji nodded back, took a deep breath and walked closer to the scene. Ren let go of his shoulder and walked closely behind Ryuji. When they got to the front of the crowd, the two boys could see Suzui slowly moving around. She was alive and Ryuji let out a breath in relief. Suzui was trying to tell Takamaki something, put it was just below a whisper. Even Takamaki was having to lean in closer to hear her. She leaned in close to Suzui for well over a minute until she bolted upright with fear in her eyes and said in a strained voice, “Kamoshida… did what?” Ryuji immediately went rigid and Ren had to grab his shoulder once more to calm him down in whatever way he could.

 

Suzui wasn’t able to answer Takamaki as she slowly slipped back into unconsciousness. Takamaki stood up immediately as the EMT’s began to do a quick check on Suzui. She looked like she was about to cry when the EMT’s began to yell out, “She needs to be taken to the hospital! Can anyone go with her!?” There were mumbled responses from several teachers but they were nothing more than excuses. Takamaki quickly wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her jacket and said, “I’ll go.”

 

“Quickly then! We need to get her to a hospital!” The EMT yelled out and Takamaki nodded once more and followed them into the ambulance, taking her seat right beside Suzui, gripping her hand as the door shut. Teachers immediately began to clear out the students in the courtyard. Ren and Ryuji turned around to leave as well when they saw Mishima sprinting out of the area, into the practice building. Ren and Ryuji looked at each other and said nothing as they both gave chase to Mishima.

 

The two of them had to shove past the crowds, gaining dirty looks as they did to follow Mishima as he rounded the corner once inside the practice building. Ryuji was able to get past all of the students and turned the corner just in time to see Mishima run into the boy’s locker room. Ryuji ushered Ren in his direction as he began to run for the door. Ren was slightly behind him as he rounded the corner and saw Ryuji rush into the locker room. Ren got there as quickly as he could and threw the door open to see Mishima backed up against the wall with Ryuji standing in front of him. Though his blonde haired friend did not look angry in his posture. As Ren walked closer to the pair, Mishima noticed him and whimpered slightly as he looked at Ren and Ryuji and stuttered out, “W-What d-d-do you want-t-t with m-m-m-me?”

 

Ryuji took in a deep breath and said, “Why did you run away like that? Seemed awfully suspicious.”

 

“I-I-I don’t know what it is y-y-you’re talking about.” Mishima continued nervously.

 

Ryuji couldn’t contain himself any longer as he slammed his fist against the nearest locker and yelled out, “Bullshit! It’s clear you know something! So just spill it!”

 

Ren added in, “We won’t rat you out for saying anything.”

 

Ryuji nodded to this and said, “You can trust us, man. All we wanna do is help.” Ryuji finished his statement with a sigh as he dropped his posture, going back to his normal stance. “Do you know anything about what mighta happened?” Ryui asked once more.

 

Mishima looked at the two with concern. The fear in his eyes were draining more and more but being filled with a look of guilt as he began to stare at the floor. He began to mumble something but it was entirely unintelligible. When he was finished, Ryuji said, “Hey, umm, do ya mind sayin’ that again? Was kinda hard to hear ya.”

 

“I said, Kamoshida called in Suzui-san yesterday. There was no reason behind it, from what I could tell. But he seemed off that day and when he told me to find Suzui-san and tell her that Kamoshida wanted to see her, he… Oh no. What could he have done…” Mishima started shaking and had to wrap his arms around himself to stop it.

 

Mishima’s words elicited an immediate reaction out of Ryuji as he punched the nearest locker and yelled out, “DAMN THAT BASTARD! I’M GONNA MAKE HIM PAY!” Ryuji ran out of the room, slamming the door open and Ren took one quick look at Mishima who shared the same look of, ‘oh no’ , and ran after Ryuji.

 

Ren ran to the door, shoving it open before it swung back closed and saw Ryuji as he started bounding up the stairs. Ren and Mishima started running after him, getting odd looks from other students as they did. The two boys got to the stairs and started running up them as well, skipping steps as they did. Once on the second floor, Ren saw Ryuji, having already ran to Kamoshida’s office. Ryuji slammed the door open and walked in. Ren bolted it over there with Mishima right behind him and as the two of them got to the door and walked in, Ryuji yelled out, “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO HER! YOU SICK FUCKING BASTARD!”

 

Mishima closed the door behind him and Ren as Kamoshida turned around in his chair and stared at the three boys. “The Track Traitor, the Infamous Transfer Student, and… Mishima?” Kamoshida said, surprise cloaked his voice as he said the name of the third boy. Kamoshida laughed to himself and said, “To what do I owe the pleasure of having you three in here today?”

 

“We know you did something to Suzui-san. Something that made her throw herself off of that ledge.” Ren said as his eyes pierced into Kamoshida’s. The light from the fixture was gleaming off of Ren’s glasses as he activated his third eye. Kamoshida was completely encased in a deep red aura. Ren could feel the malice, even after he quit focusing.

 

Kamoshida laughed again and said, “Those are some pretty heavy accusations, you know. Not only that, but you have nothing to back them up. No evidence, whatsoever.”

 

Ryuji kicked the chair nearest to him, making it slide to the other end of the room. Kamoshida gave the him a death glare as Ryuji began to yell, “Bullshit! As soon as Suzui wakes up, you’re done for!”

 

Kamoshida stood up, using his overbearing height in an attempt to intimidate Ryuji, who in turn stood defiantly and stared at Kamoshida directly in the eyes. “Well, I guess that would work, but the thing is, is that I just got word from the hospital. Suzui is currently in a coma and her chances of recovery are slim.” The three boys all felt their hearts drop as Kamoshida sat back down rubbing the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “It’s a shame really. She could’ve been a star… But in the end, there’s no evidence backing up your slanderous accusations.”

 

“You’re wrong.” Mishima said quietly. This grabbed the surprised attention of Kamoshida and Ryuji as they stared at him. Ren never took his eyes off of Kamoshida as Mishima spoke. “The team can speak out. Speak out about your ‘special training’. Speak out against the torment we go through. My god. I can only imagine what you put Suzui-san through yesterday…” Mishima’s voice lost its power as he finished talking.

 

Kamoshida let out a loud breath through his nose and said, “You know, Mishima, I’m truly surprised that you’re here despite everything you’ve done to the Mr. Amamiya, here.” Kamoshida laughed once more and said, “What? Are you trying to make amends with him after you leaked his record for everyone in the school to see!? Please! Don’t make me laugh!”

 

‘What did he just say? Mishima did what now?’ Ren thought to himself as he found himself turning to glare at Mishima. Mishima stared back at Ren with his mouth hung open as he tried to find the words. Mishima looked like he was on the brink of tears when he finally managed, “It’s not my fault… He made me do it…”

 

“Mishima, you can’t seriously be blaming me of all people for your selfish actions.” Kamoshida clicked his tongue and gazed over the three boys before he turned around, faced his desk and said, “I’ll be reporting you guys at the next board meeting. There, you’ll be expelled without a second thought. Now leave, you’re beginning to annoy me.” He finished this statement with a wave of his hand.

 

Ryuji snapped as he started to walk up behind Kamoshida, winding back his arm. Ryuji starting throwing his fist, yelling out, “WHY YOU BASTAR-” but was cut short as Ren grabbed his arm, preventing him from hitting Kamoshida. “Ren!? Why the-”

 

“Ryuji. Do not do this. Not now.” Ren said, cutting Ryuji off while staring daggers into his eyes.

 

Kamoshida turned his head back a little and said, “Oh? The Transfer Student stopped you? Of all the people… And here I was hoping we’d need another case of ‘Self-Defense’.”

 

Kamoshida continued to laugh as Ren dragged a seething Ryuji out of Kamoshida’s office. Mishima was close behind them, closing the door to Kamoshida’s room as the three walked out. He tried to apologize to Ren once more, but only received silence and soft sadness drifting through the coals of Ren’s eyes. Ren shifted his glasses until the light in the building reflected off of them. He said nothing to Mishima and kept of walking. Mishima knew to shut up and stopped following Ren and Ryuji. He stood in the middle of the hall, wrapped his arms around himself and fell onto his knees while muttering unheard apologies through quiet sobs. Ren let go of Ryuji’s arm as the two made their way to the main building. “Man, I need some time to cool off. Let’s head up to the roof.” Ryuji said as he kicked a trash can he walked by, nearly knocking it over.

 

“Alright. I’m going to text Makoto and let her know where we’re at. The three of us need to talk about what just happened.” Ren said as he pulled out his phone.

 

Ryuji nodded to this as they entered the main building and said, “Yeah. You’re right about that.” The two of them were silent the rest of the way up to roof. Ryuji was stomping ahead while Ren texted Makoto.

 

Ren: Rooftop. Now. The three of us need to talk.

 

Makoto: Why? What happened?

 

Ren: We’ll explain later. Just hurry.

 

And with that, Ren locked his phone, put it in his pocket and made his way up the stairs to the third floor, and then to the roof. Ryuji opened the door for both of them to walk through. Ren walked over to his usual spot, leaning against the air conditioning unit. Ryuji walked over to one of the desks, again, kicking it over as he yelled out in anger. Ryuji paced around while Ren stared at him for a few seconds. Once calm, Ryuji picked the desk back up and sat down in it, resting his head on his arms. Ren slid down onto the ground and laid his head down on his knees. Both were now just waiting for Makoto to join them. But the silence only made Ren’s mind wander. He kept replaying the events that just transpired a few minutes ago in his head but everything came into one thought. ‘My life is over…’ Those words kept running through his mind as the silence became heavier between the two boys, until the sound of the door struggling to be opened drew the attention of the two boys.

 

They watched the door knob as it jiggled around until it finally opened, but just barely. Whatever was trying to open the door wasn’t able to keep it open as the door shut once more. The jiggling of the door knob ensued once more and the two boys began snickering together until someone more capable gabbed the knob, twisted and opened the door to reveal Makoto and an angry Morgana. “How long was I trying to open up that door when one of you two could have just gotten up and opened it for me!?” Morgana yowled out to both Ren and Ryuji.

 

“In our defense, it was kinda funny to witness.” Ren explained but he only got a glare in response.

 

“I don’t wanna hear your excuses after you left me behind!” Morgana yelled out.

 

Ren gave him a look of confusion and asked, “What are you talking about?”

 

It was clear that Ren had no idea what Morgana was talking about. “Are- Are you serious? You seriously forgot me popping out of your desk while that old man was talking in front of the room? It scared you- which was pretty funny- and then we started talking about whether or not you guys decided on stealing Kamoshida’s heart or not.”

 

Realization dawned on Ren. He remembered his weird encounter with Morgana, but with everything going on, it slipped his mind. “Sorry about that. With everything that happened I kind of, just, forgot.”

 

Morgana took a deep breath and said, “Don’t worry. That was a pretty scary scene…” All four of them went silent for a few second and then Morgana said, “I wonder why she jumped…”

 

“It was that fucker, Kamoshida.” Ryuji said through gritted teeth.

 

Makoto looked at Ryuji with her eyes wide and asked, “What did he do?”

 

Ryuji looked away and Ren answered for him. “We don’t know. But, judging by the reactions that Mishima was giving us, we can only assume it- It was bad.”

 

“Wait… I’m confused. What happened to you two after everything went down?” Makoto asked as she moved her gaze from Ryuji to Ren, then from Ren to Ryuji.

 

“Do you wanna explain everything to her, or do ya want me to do it?” Ryuji asked Ren.

 

Ren massaged the bridge of his nose and said, “Go ahead.” He took in a deep breath, exhaled, and laid his head on his knees once more. Ren closed his eyes as Ryuji began to tell Morgana and Makoto the events of what just happened to them in the past thirty minutes.

 

“Alrighty then. After Suzui jumped, we ran downstairs and into the practice building, hoping it would be easier to get through into the courtyard from there. It wasn’t, so we shoved our way on through. When we got up to the front, we just stood there watchin’ Takamaki and Suzui.” Ryuji started. “When the teachers started clearing all of us out of the courtyard, me and Ren noticed Mishima sprinting away. The guy looked hella pale and seriously suspect. So Ren and I gave chase to him, which got us into the locker room. Mishima ended up spillin’ the beans. He told us that Kamoshida was probably to blame after the bastard had Mishima go get Suzui. He said that Kamoshida had seemed ‘off’. As soon as the guy finished talking he kinda started shaking and wrapped his arms around himself and started muttering to himself. I dunno what he was saying cause I got pissed and ran off to Kamoshida’s office.” Ryuji stopped slightly and looked up to make sure that Makoto and Morgana were still listening. “Well, I ran off without Ren or Mishima, but they caught up pretty quickly. Shit went down in that office. Kamoshida said there was no way we could get any evidence to back up any claims of abuse against him cause Suzui is in a coma now. Mishima tried to say that him and the team would back up the claims but then Kamoshida turned it around. We found out that Mishima was actually the one who leaked Ren’s record, though it was apparently on Kamoshida’s orders.”

 

“he still leaked it though…” Ren said quietly to himself and unheard.

 

“After all of that, well, the bastard blew us off and said that we’d be reported at the next school board meeting and that we’d be expelled… After that, here we are.” Ryuji finished his explanation and looked up at Makoto. She had her hand placed on her chin as she thought of something to say but she came up with nothing.

 

There was silence until Ren picked up one of the pebbles littered around the ground he sat on and skipped it across the pavement. He looked to Morgana and said, “I vote for changing his heart. After what happened to Suzui-san today, my mind has already been made up. But now I’m on a time limit. We have little over two weeks until that board meeting and if we don’t do something fast enough, then my life is over and my future, forfeit.”

 

“Ren…” Ryuji began as he stared at his downtrodden friend, but was met with a face hidden behind glasses and hair. Ren didn't reply.

 

“I’m in too.” Makoto said. “I have to agree with Ren. After what happened with Suzui-san… I won’t let the abuse continue. I won’t let there be any more victims.” Makoto said with a fire blazing in her eyes.

 

“I’m in too. That bastard has had this coming to him for awhile now.” Ryuji said, jumping out of the desk and pumping his fist in the air.

 

Morgana hummed in acknowledgement and asked, “Are you guys sure? Even with the risk of him dying?”

 

Ren slowly picked himself up off the ground and stared Morgana directly in the eyes. Morgana’s own widened at the look Ren was giving him. It was desperate. It was scared. But above all, it was merciless. “I choose my future over his.” Ren said in a low, monotone voice. Ryuji and Makoto both gave him surprised looks as he grabbed his supplies and made his way for the door. Ren opened it, looked back and said, “We’ll start today. Let’s meet in the alley in front of the gate after classes end.”

 

Ren walked through the door and back to class, leaving the other three up there. Ryuji looked at Makoto and said, “I’m worried about him. That was kind of terrifying right there and… well, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, but he’s been acting odd ever since Suzui fell. Though it was probably just shock.”

 

“Regardless, I think you two should keep a close eye on him during our infiltration today. He could be a liability if his actions are driven by desperation in the palace.” Morgana said, looking up at the other two.

 

“Got it.” Ryuji and Makoto said in unison.

Chapter Text

04/15/2014

 

Lunchtime

Shujin Academy

 

The bell for lunch rang when Ren reached the second floor. Students who hadn’t stayed out of their classrooms after the incident started flowing out of their respective classrooms. Ren stood watching the flood roam to their places of comfort during the forty minute period. The souls in the sea of cloth and flesh were whispering to each other. Something about Suzui here or something about… ‘Kamoshida has already let the school know of our soon to be expulsions by the looks and sound of things.’ Ren thought to himself as some of the students that walked by and noticed him gave smug looks of glee. Ren clenched his fist as it started shaking, his eyes narrowing. He adjusted his glasses so that his eyes were unable to be seen.

 

Ren stood there, watching and listening to the slanderous filth being thrown at him. He stood there as the first years from the first floor began to walk past him on their own way downstairs. He stood there until eventually it was the teachers turns to filter out of the classrooms they were in at the time, all the while giving him disappointed glances. Ren stood there basking in social hell he was in until a voice called out to him. Actually, it yelled out to him. “AMAMIYA!” The voice yelled, knocking Ren out of his increasingly agitated stupor. All anger left his mind as he began to look around the halls for the voice. His heart sank when he saw his homeroom teacher standing in front of his classes entry. She was glowering as she began to speak in a much quieter, but much deadlier voice. “In class. With me. Now.” Kawakami backed up and motioned to the door with her right hand.

 

Ren stared at her like a deer in headlights for a few seconds before he decided he should be quick, lest he want an early grave. Ren shoved his hands into his pockets and did as Kawakami instructed. Once inside the classroom, Kawakami followed and slowly closed the door. She motioned for the desk in the front and middle of the classroom. Ren obliged to her command as Kawakami stood in front of the chalkboard. Her gaze never allowed Ren to speak. He shifted his eyes to stare at the cold desk, waiting for her to talk. “Amamiya. Care to explain to me why the faculty got an email from Kamoshida saying that he would be reporting you at our next board meeting for physical harassment? Actually, scratch that. Why is Kamoshida going to report you, Sakamoto, and Mishima of all people, for physical harassment at our next board meeting?” Kawakami said coldly to Ren. He never met her gaze and started fidgeting with his hands under the desk. Kawakami spoke again, “Quit looking at the desk and answer me already.”

 

Ren looked up at her and saw that her gaze had softened significantly. Ren took in a deep breath and asked, “Would you even believe what I would tell you?”

 

“Well, Kamoshida is a really big egotistical asshole, sooo, yeah. Probably.” Kawakami said bluntly. This elicited a surprised reaction out of Ren. He definitely did not expect those words to come out of her mouth.

 

Ren blinked and then asked, “Then why do you even care? I thought you had a promise with Kobayakawa that if I messed up, you wouldn’t be able to help me.”

 

Kawakami scoffed at this and said, “I believe there are two other students that are also victim to the situation.” Ren nodded to this in a way that said, ‘ Well, you’re not wrong.’

 

Ren was silent for a minute or two and then he began. “Shortly after Suzui-san jumped, Ryuji and I went down into the courtyard to see the damage, sort of. We’ve been looking into Kamoshida and know that he’s been abusing his players, so when one of the starting lineup is attempting suicide, it’s natural to want to know why. When people started clearing out, we saw Mishima sprinting out of the courtyard. We felt it was suspicious…” Ren told Kawakami his entire recollection of the events pertaining to the last hour of his, Ryuji’s and Mishima’s life. Kawakami just stood there with a stone cold expression as Ren retold the story. When he was finished, silence had befallen between the two of them. The murmuring of students in the hallways penetrated the walls into a indecipherable wave of noise. The two of them stayed silent for about three minutes or so until Kawakami took in a deep breath and walked out of the room. Not a word was said to Ren as the door closed behind her, leaving him alone to his thoughts.

 

Ren stayed seated for a while longer before transitioning himself to his own desk. His book bag was still hanging off the side but it looked like people had been sifting through it. Obviously trying to find something like a weapon or anything of the sort so that their lies could have merit. Ren sat down, let out a deep sigh and took all of his belongings out of the bag to reorganize the now messy remnants.

 

He put away his pencils, his calculator, his textbooks and notebooks all in their respective places in the bag. It took him about a minute or so but the fact that people had gone through his stuff only served to irritate him further on an already shitty day. All that was left was the book he borrowed from the school library, laying face first on his desk. Ren laughed to himself. When he checked out the book, he actually really wanted to read it. But recent events have kept him too busy to do so. ‘Well, now is as good of a time as ever.’ Ren thought to himself as he picked up the book and turned it over so he could look at the cover. ‘Arsene Lupin. The Gentleman Thief.’ It read. Ren took in a deep breath, held it in, and slowly exhaled. Ren thought to himself that he needed something to take him away from here for a few minutes after everything that had gone down. He needed this breather.

 

Ren was about to open up the first page when a voice came from out of nowhere, “So, they made a book about me? Interesting.” The voice said, reverberating around Ren, scaring the shit out of him as he started fumbling around with the book until it fell onto the floor. Ren’s eyes were wide and his heartbeat quickened in pace as he began to look around the room. Ren scanned the room several times until his heartbeat began to calm down. His breathing calmed down. The adrenaline through his system settled and stopped pumping. Ren took in a deep breath, exhaled and spoke quietly, “Who the fuck said that…?”

 

Nothing responded. Of course not, there was no one inside the classroom. But that didn’t stop a muffled chuckle from resonating in Ren’s mind as he hesitantly picked his book back up and started reading until the bell signifying the end of lunch rang.

 

After School

Shujin Academy

 

Mr. Hiruta was in the middle of ending his lecture when the back door of the classroom opened up slowly, revealing a distraught Ann Takamaki. She was about to walk over to her desk when Mr. Hiruta spoke up saying, “Takamaki-san, don’t worry about joining the class. The bell should be ringing here in the next few minutes.” Takamaki nodded to this, took a look at Ren and turned back around to leave the classroom when the bell rung, dismissing classes for the day.

 

Ren put his stuff away quickly, got up out of his desk and felt his phone vibrate. He pulled it out to reveal a message from Ryuji in the group chat.

 

Ryuji: Meeting in the courtyard or something?

 

Makoto: There’s no need to meet up there. Just head over to the alleyway.

 

Ren locked his phone, put it away, slung his school bag over his shoulder and started to walk out of the classroom. Once outside, Ren turned to his right to see Ryuji waiting near the stairs for him. Ryuji waved Ren over and they made their way downstairs. The two boys saw Makoto as she was exiting out the front doors. They made their own way to the doors as well but Ren stopped midway through. Ryuji looked back at him and asked, “What’s the holdup?”

 

“You ever just get that feeling, like someone is staring at you?” Ren asked the dyed blonde.

 

Ryuji just shrugged. “Ain’t everyone always staring at you though?” Ryuji asked as Ren walked in a slow circle, watching his surroundings.

 

“I mean, yeah.” Ren sighed. “But this one just feels… Different? I don’t really know how to explain it.” Ren said right as both of the boy’s phones buzzed. It was from Makoto.

 

Makoto: It shouldn’t take that long to get from the second floor to the alley. Even Morgana is here already.

 

Ren: Sorry about that. On our way.

 

“I wouldn’t worry about it, man. Ya probably just got the chills for what we’re about to do.” Ryuji said. He looked Ren in the eyes with a burning fire. “After all, Kamoshida’s had this one comin’. C’mon, let’s get goin’.” Ryuji said, walking for the front doors. Ren sighed once more and did another quick look around before heading out the front doors.

 

Meanwhile, Ann was watching the two boys behind a corner. ‘So they are doing something. But what are they doing, is the question? AND HOW DARE THEY NOT INCLUDE ME IN ON THIS!?’ Takamaki thought to herself, glaring at Ren as he turned back to follow Ryuji out the door. She began to follow him, as quietly and inconspicuously as she thought she could.

 

Ann pulled over her hood to hide her hair and blended in with the rest of the students as she walked down the steps in front of the school. She saw Ren and Ryuji walk into the alley to meet up with, ‘... Niijima-senpai? And a cat?’ Takamaki shook her head slightly and made her way to the wall of the buildings in front of the school. She edged her way slowly to the corner, peered over to see them slightly, and listened in.

 

The cat let out a meow and Ryuji replied saying, “Our enrollment is on the line. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna be good to go.”

 

“As am I. Kamoshida’s abuse has gone on long enough.” Makoto said.

 

The cat let out another meow and Ren replied saying, “Don’t worry about us. We’ve made up our minds.” Ren then looked at the cat, Makoto, and Ryuji and asked, “You guys ready to go in there?” All of them nodded in confirmation.

 

Ren pulled out his phone and clicked an app that made his entire screen go red and black. “What’re they doing with a phone? A name… a school?” Ann whispered to herself. Then, Ren pressed some button, and Ann had an ear splitting headache.

 

“Gahhh!” She yelled out while reaching up to clutch her head. Ann fell to her knees and saw four figures walk up to her.

 

“What the hell was that- Takamaki?” The one with a skull mask asked.

 

His voice sounded familiar. ‘Could it be…?’ “Sakamato-kun?” Ann asked as she picked herself up. She got her bearings straight and looked over the four standing in front of her. “Is that you Sakamoto-kun? And Ren? And… Niijima-senpai? And what the hell is that thing!?” Ann started freaking out as she started waving her index finger at Morgana.

 

Ryuji laughed at Morgana while he simply stared at Ann and yelled out, “I’m a human! An honest to god human!”

 

“Oh my god! It talked! I-I-It’s a monster cat!” Ann yelled out again.

 

“M-Monster!?” Morgana exclaimed while Ryuji laughed again.

 

“What’s even going on here!? Is that our school!?” Ann yelled out, now transitioning her finger to face the castle.

 

Morgana calmed himself down and looked back up at Ann. Now that we got an actual look at her, he seemed to sway in shock. Morgana shook his head from the minor slip and said, “She probably got dragged along with that app thing.” Morgana looked at Ren pointing to the pocket in which his phone now laid. “It stands to reason that if multiple people can be brought into a palace with one person clicking a button, that it would drag anyone unlucky enough to find themselves nearby.” Morgana hypothesized

 

Ann’s eyes grew wide with some sort of realization. “So… wait. So is this place is somehow connected to Kamoshida?”

 

Ren just shook his head and made his way for the drawbridge leading to Kamoshida’s palace. Ren took a look up at the castle, turned back around, looked at Takamaki and said, “You can’t stay here. It’s too dangerous.”

 

“What do you mean it’s too dangerous? Is this how you guys are gonna deal with Kamoshida? Well I want in.” Ann said, planting her foot down defiantly to Ren.

 

“I’m sorry, Takamaki-san. But Ren’s right. It’s too dangerous and you could get yourself killed.” Makoto said, trying to dissuade Ann from her own words.

 

“Oh? And it’s not dangerous for you guys? And what the hell is up with the weird outfits!?” Ann exclaimed.

 

“Ugh! We don’t have time for this nonsense!” Exclaimed Morgana. Ren and Ryuji simply looked at each other, nodded and moved in on Ann. Ryuji took one arm and Ren walked over and took the other, walking her to the alleyway.

 

“He-HEY! What are you doing!? And where are you touching!?” Ann exclaimed while struggling to get out of the two boys’ grip.

 

“S-Sorry about that!” Ryuji yelled out as the two boys got her back into the alley. They let go of her arms and lightly pushed her further in. She disappeared before she could land and turn herself around. “Whew! Now that that’s taken care of…” Ryuji exclaimed as the two boys turned around. When they turned, they were met with a none too impressed Makoto, however.

 

“Well, that was one way to handle that…” Makoto said, leering at the two boys.

 

“Sorry, we don’t have time though.” Ren said, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“Exactly.” Morgana exclaimed. “With all of that, the shadows have definitely noticed us now. We’ve gotta brace ourselves.” Morgana said, now looking at Ren, smirking. “We’ll be counting on you… Joker.”

 

Ren tilted his head at Morgana at the name he was just given while Ryuji asked, “Joker? Why’d ya call him that? Is it like a nickname or somethin’?”

 

Morgana jumped up while shaking his arms, exclaiming, “Don’t make it sound so lame!” When Morgana landed, he took in a breath, looked back at Ryuji and said, “No. It’s a codename. What kind of phantom thief would use their real name in a heist? I’m not down for that! And , there’s no telling what kind of effect yelling our real names will have on the palace… It’s purely a precaution.”

 

“So, uh… Then why’s he Joker?” Ryuji asked, rubbing the back of his head.

 

“Because he’s our trump card in fighting strength.” Morgana said proudly.

 

Makoto looked at Morgana questioningly. “Why’s that? Isn't he just like the rest of us in terms of fighting strength?”

 

Morgana nodded his head no. “I'm afraid not. His Persona uses Curse skills and those… those are rare.”

 

“What do you mean by skills?” Makoto asked.

 

“Magic, basically. Your personas have skills specific to them. Like my Persona, Zorro, uses Garu, or wind, skills.”

 

“Oh! So that means mine has cannon skills!?” Ryuji exclaimed but only received a Morgana facepalm.

 

“No you bonehead. That was just a physical skill. You haven't used your magic yet.” Morgana explained.

 

“Then what's mine? That, Frei? I think it's called.” Makoto asked.

 

“That's nuclear. Another pretty rare skill set. But , not as rare as Curse, thus, Ren here is Joker. Our trump card.” Morgana explained, again, looking proud. “I just thought of it a few minutes ago. What do you think, Joker?

 

Ren played with a strand of hair for a second then said, “Well… It's more than a little embarrassing. Eheh.”

 

“Yeah? Well it works surprisingly well. Especially with that mask.” Makoto said.

 

“OH! OH! WHAT SHOULD MINE BE!?” Ryuji exclaimed.

 

“Quiet down!” Morgana whispered. He let out a sigh then looked up at Ryuji and said, “I dunno, ‘Thug’?”

 

All of Ryuji's excitement dissipated as he looked down at Morgana. “Oh. I get it. You just wanna get punted.” Makoto quickly jabbed Ryuji in the arm causing him to slightly flinch. “Ow! Ok… sorry.” Ryuji kicked the ground the toes of his boot before he said, “Well if it’s about me, then it’s gotta be this mask. Honestly, I actually kinda like it. So what if we name me after this?”

 

“So, ‘Skull’?” Morgana asked.

 

“Huh. ‘Skull’. I like that.” Ryuji said, grinning happily.

 

“All right, ‘Skull’ it is then!” Exclaimed Morgana before he turned to Makoto and said, “All that’s left is you. What do you think it should be?”

 

Makoto brought her hand to her chin and pondered about the question. “If we’re going off masks, then how about-”

 

“Oh! We could call you shoulder pads! Cause they got them spikes and all that cool stuff.” Ryuji interrupted.

 

Makoto glared at him and then looked down in disappointment. When she finally lifter her head back up to match Ryuji’s gaze she asked, “Why, of all things, is it the shoulder pads you focus on?” Ryuji was about to answer before she put her hand up and said, “Nevermind. Don’t answer. The suggestion has been denied anyways.” Makoto was about to start thinking about the her code name again when Ren spoke up.

 

“Queen.” Ren said.

 

Makoto looked up at Ren, tilted her head and thought about the name for a few seconds before nodding and saying. “I like it. But why Queen?”

 

Ren was silent as he thought about his answer. When he found it, he said, “Well, in Chess, the Queen is by far the most important piece- besides the King, of course. This is because the Queen can go in any direction it wants. It’s a Bishop and Rook combined and when used effectively, your opponent won’t really know what hit them. It’s important by all means. Without a doubt, you’re the smartest person here and therefore can give us the best tactics if need be. You’re the most important piece to the team because of that. So, your codename should be, Queen.”

 

Makoto nodded in approval and said, “Alright. Queen it is then.”

 

“Alrighty then. Whaddya wanna do with this ones codename.?” Ryuji asked regarding Morgana.

 

“What are you thinking?” Asked Ren

 

“Hmm… How about ‘Mona’?” Ryuji suggested.

 

“Well, if Joker finds it easy, then I’m okay with it.” Said Morgana.

 

“I like it. The name fits you well.” Ren said, giving the small not-a-cat-and-definitely-a-human a smile.

 

“Well alright. Then from now on we’re Joker, Skull, Queen, and Mona.” Mona said with a smile. “Remember to use these names when we’re inside a palace. Kapeesh?”

 

“Got it.” Said Skull.

 

“Sounds good.” Nodded Queen.

 

“Then let’s get moving.” Said Joker, as he made his way across the drawbridge, leading the others.

 

“Wait.” Mona said. “Joker, what was that girl's name again?”

 

“Huh? Oh, um, Ann Takamaki.” Joker said stopping mid way on the bridge before continuing with, “Why do you ask?”

 

But the question went completely unnoticed to Mona. He was already in his own world, talking to himself. “Ann, huh? Hmm. Lady Ann~” He cooed.

 

Joker gave Mona a look of disbelief, a look that was also shared between Queen and Skull. Joker’s mouth hung open slightly until he shook his head and said, “Nope. Nuh uh. I’m not even going to ask. Let’s just get in there.” He turned back around and made his way across the bridge.

 

The group of four made their way to the vent they used as an entrance last time and entered the castle. Once in the room, Joker slowly opened up the door leading into the hallway and peered through the expanding crack. What he saw confused him though. Through the hallway, leading into the main entrance of the castle, many guards were standing in attention to something in a triangle formation. Joker opened the door all the way, motioned for the others to come and whispered, “Hey. Something weird is going on beyond the hall. Stay quiet.” The others nodded to this and when they were all out of the room the guards all yelled in unison, “Praise Be To Kamoshida! Death To The Intruders!”

 

“What the hell-” Began Ryuji until that Shadow Kamoshida began to talk to the crowd. The group of four all looked at one another and silently got closer to the doorway to see what was going on.

 

Kamoshida was standing at the top of his stairs, talking to the guards. “Those intruders the other day were quite entertaining. However, I will not allow such trash to ransack my castle! Find them! Kill them on sight!” Kamoshida yelled out to the guards. He then smiled and said, “I will reward those who bring me their heads handsomely…” With that, the guards pounded their shields against their armour three times and then shoved their swords into the air, once again chanting, “Praise Be To Kamoshida! Death To The Intruders!”

 

“Damn it. Hey, Mona. Can’t we just kick this Kamoshida’s ass and call it good?” Asked Skull.

 

“No you idiot. Look at all those guards out there. It’d be suicide. And besides, don’t you wanna make him confess?” Mona hissed.

 

“That is the entire point of why we’re here.” Queen added in.

 

Skull looked at Queen then back and Mona and let out a sigh. “Fine. Then where is this treasure thing that we need to steal?”

 

“It should be somewhere in the depths of the palace. We just need to delve deeper in and find it.” Mona assured.

 

Joker got up from the corner he was pressed up against and made his way for the other door in the hallway. “Well come on then. We have nowhere else to go unless you wanna go for a ride out there.” The others nodded and joined him. The door opened up to reveal what seemed to be an absolutely useless room. There were four tables and each had two benches respectively. It made the already small room feel a bit claustrophobic and by all means, there should have been no reason to guard the room. Yet there was still a guard stationed in the room looking at the fucking wall. It didn’t seem to be doing anything but it still noticed the door being opened.

 

There was no time to backup and hide, so Joker quickly ran up, jumped onto the guards back and tore off the mask. As Joker jumped off the guard, it turned into that back and red sludge once more and then transformed into a smaller woman with brown hair and two, luminescent blue wings keeping her off the ground. Mona, Skull and Queen quickly lined up with Joker. Their weapons were drawn, ready to be used in the new battle.

 

“Wha? You guys are the intruders that King Kamoshida spoke of!?” The shadow yelled out, confusing all except Mona.

 

“Hey, Mona, why can it talk?” Asked Joker as he leveled his pistol at the shadow.

 

“Shadows are born from the souls of humanity, so it stands to reason that they’re able to communicate as well.” Mona explained.

 

“Okay, wow. You’re not even going to pay attention to-” The shadow was cut off as Joker shot it, knocking it down.

 

“Say, Mona, if that’s the case, then is there anything else of note they can do that we should know about?” Joker asked as they all began to surround the dazed shadow.

 

Mona smirked at Joker and said, “Well, if you want, you could extort money and useful items from them.”

 

“Wait, money? How is that possible?” Asked Queen.

 

“I don’t really know. It just works.” Said Mona as the shadow started to slowly get its bearings.

 

“Well that would explain my sudden increase in funds…” Joker said, remembering when he found 10,000 Yen in his wallet when the last time he checked, he had none.

 

When the shadow finally started to realize the situation it was in, Joker leveled the barrel of his pistol in its direction. “Wai- What are you going to do to me!?” It yelled out.

 

Joker tilted his head forward, gave a smirk and said, “Simple. You give us some cash and we’ll let you go. How does that sound?”

 

The pixie gave a little laugh. “Eheh. Well, you see, I don’t actually have anything on me, you see? I usually do though…”

 

“Ah, oh well, time for you to go to hell then.” Said Skull as he smacked his lead pipe against the palm of his hand.

 

“Wait! I can help you if you want! Just please! Don’t kill me!” The shadow cried out.

 

“Sorry, you were just in the wrong place in the wrong time.” Joker said. The pixie looked up at Joker with fear in its eyes until something just seemed to click in the shadow’s mind.

 

“Wow. Talk about confident much? But, you know I’m kinda the same way, in any other situation that is. I feel like we could get along really well.” The shadow began, only receiving a confused look from all four of its attackers. It looked at the floor then back at Joker and said, “Woah, I feel totally different…! What’s going on!? “ The shadow started flapping its wings and raised itself off the ground.

 

“Woah! What’s happening!?” Exclaimed Mona.

 

The shadow looked around and then placed its eyes on Joker and smiled. “Wow, I actually remember now. I don’t belong just to King Kamoshida… I’m actually an existence that drifts among the souls of humanity and from now on, I’ll live within your heart! The name’s Pixie. Nice to meet ya!” Pixie swirled into a light blue substance and formed into a white mask that mimicked the exact same shape as Joker’s. The mask emitted a blue light and began to fly towards Joker. He tried to catch it and stop the thing from hitting his face but as the new mask hit his hand, it dissolved around it. The remnants poured into the mask Joker currently wore until eventually the light disappeared.

 

Joker looked at the others with wide eyes and confusion. “What just hap-” He began until Skull interrupted.

 

“Hey Dude! Look out!” Skull yelled out as he tried to get to Joker but wasn’t fast enough.

 

“Intruders!” The guard yelled out as it bashed its shield against Joker’s back, flinging him across the room. The other three all got in formation to fight the new enemy as it dissolved itself into the black and red liquid, forming into two horses, each having two horns on their heads.

 

Joker slowly got up from the ground and joined the others in battle. There was no cue behind his actions. Joker himself couldn’t explain why he knew what it was he needed to do, or how he knew he could do it. But as Joker ran up right next to Skull, he tore off his mask but another name slid through his lips. “Pixie!” He yelled out. The mask dissolved as it was torn and instead of Arsene appearing behind Joker, the shadow they just encountered before did. “Zio!” Joker yelled once more and the Pixie pointed at one of the two horned shadows, electrocuting it into submission as Skull tore off his mask as well, yelling out, “Captain Kidd! Tear em’ apart!” The same spell was cast on the other shadow as Captain Kidd swung around in his boat.

 

The two shadows were knocked down and the four took their opportunity to lay into the dazed shadows. Within seconds, they were obliterated. The dust in their wake was the only thing left behind.

 

Mona quickly ran to the door and closed it before he looked up at Joker and said, “First off, what just happened? Secondly- what just happened!?  What happened with that shadow we fought before and why did it get sucked into your mask?”

 

“I-I-I don’t know. It just happened.” Joker replied, rubbing his back.

 

“Okay… Then did you just use that shadow’s appearance and skills as another Persona?”

 

“I… think so? Is that not supposed to happen?” Asked Joker as he propped himself against a wall, slowly sliding down until his was sitting upon the ground.

 

“No it isn’t. A persona is directly tied to one's own rebellious spirit. One persona, one person. That’s how this works. This means you have more fighting power and truly makes you our trump card in fighting strength.” Mona said as a smile quickly spread over his face. His cartoon eyes began to gleam. “The fact that you can have more than one persona is quite honestly amazing. I think I’m going to like you a lot more now.”

 

Skull walked over to Joker as Mona was finished talking and extended a hand out to him. “C’mon man. That was pretty nasty hit you took. You alright?”

 

Joker took the offer and got back up with Skull’s help. “Yeah, just wasn’t expecting it is all.”

 

“Well if you’re alright, then we should continue further on in.” Queen said as she walked over to the other door in the room, opening it to reveal a hallway. “Come on. No one is in here.” She said, turning back around to face the others. Joker nodded to her and followed her through the door with Mona and Skull in tow.

 

Mid way through the hallway, there was an odd, spiked gate that was closing off another hallway. It had a deep red carpet flowing to a door on the other side and knight armor sets lined up against the walls, leading to the door as well, closed off from letting wandering eyes see beyond the dark wood. “Whaddya guys think is down there?” asked Skull.

 

“Whatever it is, it can’t be good with this much protection.” Queen replied.

 

“Yes, but that may also mean that this is where we need to go.” Suggested Mona

 

Joker continued walking down the hallway to another door, looked back and said, “Well, it’s obvious we can’t get through there yet. So let’s just keep on going deeper in and see what we can find. Maybe we can find a way to get that gate opened up.” The others nodded to this and caught up to Joker as he opened up the door to reveal a barracks room with three guards patrolling the room.

 

The room was of simple bleak oak design with a hearth burning on the other side. There were long tables lined up in between sets of wooden pillars in the room and many racks of medieval weaponry were littered along the walls. “Get ready for some action everybody.” Joker said as they all ran inside the room, hiding from sight behind decently sized objects.

 

The group of four got through to the other side of the room, intensely fighting the three guards as they patrolled around the room. One of those battles ended up in Joker receiving Bicorn as a new persona. Skull rushed on ahead beyond the next door into a hallway with a hazy door at the end of it before the hallway turned to go down another direction. As the other three entered, Skull pointed at the door and asked, “Hey, ain’t that one of those saferooms you were talking about, Mona?”

 

“Yeah, let’s head on in and rest for a bit.” Mona said, walking up beside Skull as he opened up the door to reveal the room that would shift in and out of focus. For a few seconds, it would have the same checkered pattern on the floor as the entrance to the castle. There would be a sofa to the side and a square table in the middle of the room with four benches placed on either side. Then for another few seconds, it would switch to look like a classroom but with all the same furniture. Truly an odd place.

 

Everyone quickly got into the room and Skull closed the door behind them as Mona hopped onto the table and Joker and Queen sat on opposite sides. Joker looked up at Skull and started twirling his dagger in the air as Skull spoke up. “Damn. Just getting this far has already been a massive pain in the ass.”

 

Queen looked at Skull and said, “Quit complaining. You know just as well as the rest of us that as time goes on, we’re only going to get better and this will be a lot less tiring.”

 

“Yeah, yeah… I know what training-” Skull was cut off mid sentence by the sound of talking guards outside the door. He, along with everyone else tried their best to not make any noise as the guards passed.

 

Their words pierced through the door. “I wonder what the Princess was doing all the way out in the front of the castle, near the drawbridge.”

 

“I’m curious too. But, it doesn’t matter. King Kamoshida is taking care of it now.”

 

The voices of the two guards began to become farther and farther. Their voices quickly became nothing more than muffles mumbles after the second one spoke. But, “Who the hell is the princess?” Asked Skull.

 

“I don’t know.” Replied Mona as he hopped off the table and walked to the door. “But I think I’ll go check what it’s all about. We may learn something.” Mona began to open up the door and then looked back at the others, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

 

Joker nodded and began to start twirling his dagger in the air again before he said, “Don’t get caught.”

 

Mona nodded back and left the room. Mona followed the two guards turn into the barracks as he left the safe room. Quickly and quietly, Mona followed them in only to find that the two guards had disappeared. There was nothing in the room except the objects that littered around the area. There was nothing in the room except the noise of someone struggling against captors. “He-Hey! Let me go already! And what’s with the armor! Why won’t any of you answer me!” The lady yelled.

 

‘That voice sounds familiar.’ Thought Mona as he quickly cut through the barracks to the door into the other hallway. Mona peered in from the doorway and saw two guards dragging the girl from before by her arms. They stood in front of the gated entryway until the speared gate started to descend. Once the gate was opened, the guards began their way down the hallway. Lady Ann began thrashing once more, trying to break free from her captors but found no luck in her struggles.

 

“Oh this is not good.” Mona frantically whispered to himself as he started to make his way back to the safe room with the others. Once at the door, he shoved it open and looked up at the other three with his eyes wide and said, “That girl from before! She’s been taken by the guards into that one room we saw!”

 

“The gated one?” Asked Queen and Mona nodded in confirmation. “Then let’s get going!” She yelled running down the hall with Mona, Skull and Joker close behind her as they made their way through the small distance to that peculiar hallway.

 

Once the four got to the entrance they heard Ann yell out, “Hey! Let me go already! I’m sorry for what I did to that armor thing! So just please let me go!” Her voice was strained through her struggles until there was silence and then another loud series of yelling. “What the hell are you wearing! Is that you Kamoshida!”

 

At the sound of Kamoshida’s name, the four booked it down the red velvet carpet, bursting through the door and out into the open, making themselves very known. They all stopped in the middle of the darkened room. There were guards posted all around and Kamoshida was standing right next to Anni, but this one was different. She wore cat ears and purple lingerie but whatever this Takamaki was, it wasn’t the real one. The real one was strapped up to some golden X. Her legs and arms chained diagonally from each other. Joker took a look around the room and noticed several depictions of girls in skin tight gym shorts. None of them wore a top and they were all on their hands and knees while contorting their bodies into seductive stances.. Their skin was a light purple- really, everything in the room was basically purple- and all of their faces were indiscernible. ‘Is this how he sees the volleyball team? As faceless bags of meat? As mindless sluts?’ Joker shifted his stare back at Kamoshida as Skull began yelling.

 

“Don’t you touch her you bastard!”

 

Kamoshida looked towards the group then back at the real Ann and said, “Well what a surprise. Not one, but five intruders in my castle. I would’ve thought that you four would’ve learned by now to keep out, but alas, your ignorance will cost you your lives. After I’m done dealing with the imposter. Guards!” Kamoshida yelled, swinging his index finger in a circular motion as several guards ran towards Mona, Skull, Joker and Queen, surrounding the four of them while two others posted themselves near the chained Ann.

 

She started thrashing against her bonds as she looked at Kamoshida and yelled, “Just what the hell is this place! And what the hell are you wearing! And who is that and why do they look like me! And what do you mean, 'imposter’ !

 

“I seriously cannot believe you imbeciles thought that this was my Ann.” Kamoshida scoffed at the two guards standing next to the real Ann.

 

“Hey! Answer my question dammit!”

 

Kamoshida laughed at the real Ann and said, “This is my castle. The place of my desires, where I can do whatever I want.” He narrowed his eyes at her as she continued to thrash against her bonds and said, “Tell me. Are you scared?” Kamoshida looked at the fake Takamaki and then back at the real one and said, “You’re such a lively slave. I wonder what it is I should do with you.”

 

The real Ann stopped moving and glared at Kamoshida, yelling out, “This isn’t funny! Cut the bullshit, Kamoshida!”

 

Kamoshida let out a grunt and turned to the fake Takamaki. “The slave has decided to bite back. What do you think should happen, my princess.”

 

‘Princess’ Ann brushed one of her twin tails behind her back and said, “Talking back is, like… totally unforgivable…”

 

“Then an execution it is…” Kamoshida turned back to face the real Ann. A foul grin was spread across his face reaching to the corners of his eyes. “Guards! You know what to do.” Kamoshida yelled out as a guard in shining golder armor appeared out of some of the same black and red liquid the shadows usually appear out of. He looked at the real Takamaki and drew his sword and started slowly walking to her.

 

Skull yelled out again, “DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH HER YOU BASTARD!”

 

“Tch, you four have been earning a bad habit of ruining all of my fun. And besides, I’m not the one touching her.” Kamoshida said as he motioned towards the golden guard and turning back to the real Ann. “I wonder. Should I have him slowly dismember you or tear you apart, piece by piece.”

 

“I SAID, DON’T TOUCH HER!” Skull yelled out, tearing off his mask to summon Captain Kidd. He unleashed a barrage of lightning against the guards posted in front of the four, obliterating them. As Captain Kidd began to meld back into the mask on his face, Skull began to rush to Ann and stop the golden knight but the other two guards ran to cut him off with their shields out.

 

Mona, Joker and Queen ran up next to Skull as he stood in front of the guards, staring down Kamoshida with unkempt rage coursing throughout his body. Kamoshida laughed and motioned for the golden knight to stop his course. He looked back to the real Ann and said, “I bet you’re just like these petty thieves here. You came because you’re pissed at me, huh? But, uh… ah, I forget the chick’s name. But it’s your fault she jumped, you know.” The real Ann gave Kamoshida a wide eyed look. Fear cloaked her eyes as Kamoshida began to speak again. “You see, if you had just listened and gone over to my place when I told you too, then I would have been satisfied. But no, you said you weren’t feeling well so I naturally had to find someone else… It’s all your fault you know.”

 

“You bastard!” The real Ann yelled out. Kamoshida snapped and two more guards appeared right next to her. They had their swords drawn in cross next to her neck and the golden guard began to move in once more.

 

“NO!” Skull yelled out while trying to rush forward and stop the golden guard but was met with a shield to his face by the two guards near the four of them.

 

Kamoshida scoffed at the fallen Skull and said, “Make one more mishap and I’ll kill her where she stands. So just sit back, and watch the show… Maybe I should start with her clothes…”

 

‘Princess’ Ann started giggling and said, “Ew~ You’re such a perv…”

 

“I think I’m going to be sick…” Muttered Queen.

 

As the golden guard began to close in, the real Ann started muttering to herself. “Is this my punishment… for what happened to Shiho?”

 

“TAKAMAKI!” Skull yelled out. Joker, Mona, and Queen felt like they could do nothing. If they moved, she died. If they didn’t, she died.

 

“I’m sorry… Shiho.”

 

“TAKAMAKI! DON’T LET THAT BASTARD WIN! DON’T GIVE UP LIKE THIS!” Skull screamed out.

 

She looked up at Skull but her view was cut off by the golden guard standing a breath away. He brought up his sword, ready to bring it down. Ann could hear Kamoshida laughing and then everything went black.

 

Ann hadn’t gone unconscious. ‘No, I’m definitely awake.’ Ann thought to herself as a woman shrouded in darkness with a red hued outline appeared several meters in front of her. She wore an extravagant dress though Ann could not see the details. She was standing on something, although this was also hidden in darkness. Jazz started playing the background as the woman began to speak. “My, my. What a predicament you have gotten yourself into. You stand on the cusp of death yet you stare at it, doing nothing. You treat it like your punishment for the consequences which you had no control over. You say it’s your fault because you decided you weren’t some bag of meat that could be used, yet really, it’s all that bastard’s fault.” The woman began chuckling for a while and then motioned towards Ann. A pool of light red began to form at her feet. The center began to create a clear photo of the scene she left behind. The golden guard was about to bring his sword down on her. Kamoshida was laughing. Ryuji was screaming at her to try and fight back and the weird cat, Ren, and Makoto were staring with their eyes wide in fear and despair. “Tell me. Does he deserve forgiveness?”

 

“Never.”

 

“Was it your fault that she jumped?”

 

“No.”

 

“And who’s fault was it? Who made her want to die?”

 

“Kamoshida.”

 

“If you had the power to stop him. To shove him in his place and make him grovel on the dirt like the piece of filth he is, would you take it?”

 

“Without hesitation.”

 

The woman laughed and her eyes opened to reveal yellow, cat-like eyes. She let out a laugh again and said, “Then let us form the contract, my dear.”

 

A wave of blue fire came bursting out of the woman and hit Ann. As soon as it touched her the scene changed and Ann was once again looking at the golden guard. Everything was still as the guard began to drop his sword and then the same wave of blue fire Ann saw seconds before came out of her, knocking everyone near her back. The guards, Kamoshida, the fake Ann and her rescuers were all strewn about the ground as an ear splitting headache coursed through Ann’s head. She began thrashing in her bonds once more to try and grasp her head to try and relieve the tension held in there. The pain grew and grew and then the voice from before began to speak in her head. “It’s taken far too long. Tell me… Who was going to avenge her if you don’t? Let’s face it, forgiving him was never an option. Such is the scream of the other you that dwells within. I am thou and thou art I. We can finally forge the contract.”

 

The pain was centered into one point in the center of Ann’s head. She dropped slightly and the words began to flow out of her mouth although she did not will herself to say them. “I hear you, Carmen.” Ann looked up as everyone was getting up off the ground. As she did, the pain flickered away and there was a flash of blue. She felt something on her face and every being in her body told her she had to tear it off right this instant. “You’re right. No more holding back!”

 

Ann opened up her palms and felt a surge of strength through her body. She tugged on all of her limbs, breaking the bonds that held her contained. As Ann stumbled forward, she reached for the mask on her face and Carmen began to speak. “There you go… nothing can be solved by restraining yourself. Understand? Then I’ll gladly lend you my strength.” Ann grasped the mask and pulled as hard as she could. There was another blast of blue fire as the mask came off. Blood poured down her face but was immediately dried and the wound on her face began to heal. Her clothes changed to a skin tight, red leather suit with red, thigh high heels. Her cleavage was fairly exposed and she had a red leather tail attached at the base of her back.

 

The woman from the darkness appeared behind her. She had black hair brought into the same twintails as Ann. She wore a feline mask and her eyes shared the theme. She wore a vibrant red and black dress that went the entire length of her body. Just like Ann’s, her cleavage was fairly exposed. The persona stood upon a man in a business suit but it’s face was that of a heart and she carried a smaller, similar man behind her by its collar.

 

Ann looked around and saw that most of the guards had picked themselves up. She looked at her fake and then at the nearest guard. Ann ran over to the guard, kicked its sword out of its hand, grabbed it then jumped to her fake and cut it down. The fake disappeared into a puddle of black sludge as Ann motioned the blade to Kamoshida and said, “I’m not some toy you get to play around with…” Mona, Joker, Skull and Queen all ran to Ann, standing behind her, ready to fight and back her up. “And believe me when I say, I will make you pay for what you did to Shiho!”

 

“Bitch!” Yelled out Kamoshida as he ran to the doorway, and out of the room. The guards all stood in between him and his attackers. The golden guard led the pack as his subordinates started to fall into the sludge and emerge as their true form. “I will punish you for your insolence!” Yelled the golden guard as it too, fell into the sludge before it emerged as it’s true from.

 

The shadow looked had a obtuse nose and a head too big for its body as it sat on a floating toilet. Carmen dissolved back into the mask that was previously on Ann’s face as Ann pointed to the shadow and yelled out, “I’d like to see you try!”

 

Ann tore off the mask and yelled “Agi!” Carmen appeared behind her and sent a fireball at the toilet demon, thus starting the battle.

 

Joker, Queen and Mona broke off from the group to fight the four other shadows while Skull and Ann stood behind to fight the toilet demon. When the fire subsided, the demon fell to the ground and Skull rushed in with his lead pipe beating his head in with ferocity until it pushed him away and began to slowly rise back up. When Skull landed, he quickly picked himself back up while tearing off his own yelling out, “Captain Kidd! Tear him apart!” His persona appeared behind Skull as it made a wave motion with the ship, turning the canons to face the demon and letting out a barrage of cannon fire.

 

Ann tore off her mask again, sending another spell of Agi at the demon, knocking it down once more. The pattern continued for about a minute of Ann knocking the demon down and Skull rushing up in there to bash in its head with the lead pipe until eventually, the demon dissipated into the black sludge. It never got a chance to truly fight back and when it disappeared, the last sound in the room was Joker plunging his dagger into a lesser shadow, dragging it down as he cut through the shadow from head to toe until it too, dissolved into nothingness.

 

There was nothing but ragged breaths between the five of them as they all grew closer to Ann as she fell onto her knees. Skull was the first to speak up. “Why’d you come here, man? And more importantly, how!?”

 

“Hey is that how you treat a woman?” Mona quickly snapped as he looked over and and continued saying, “Are you alright, Lady Ann?”

 

“Lady Ann?” Ann began before she shook her head and began a barrage of questions. “Wait, what is this thing? Is it alive? How can it talk? And… Where in the world are we?”

 

“J-Just calm down. Everything’s going to be okay; don’t worry.” Mona frantically said.

 

“How am I supposed to calm down?” Ann asked as she used Mona’s head to help herself up. Once she was standing she looked herself over and noticed what she was wearing. Her hands quickly patted around until they found themselves covering up her cleavage. She quickly dropped to her knees and glared at Joker and Skull. “Why am I dressed like this! When did I- Urgh, what’s with this!?”

 

“In all fairness…” Joker began and Ann was quick to glare directly at him but Joker kept on talking. “You look great. Just sayin’.”

 

“Oh we are not dealing with this right now and especially not here.” Queen said, giving Joker the same glare Ann is giving him. “We need to get out of here now. We’ll explain everything once we’re safe, Takamaki-san.” Queen crouched down and grabbed one of her arms.

 

She was about to wrap it around her shoulders when Skull stopped her and said, “Let me. Don’t want you stabbing her arm with your shoulder.” Queen sighed and nodded while Skull crouched down and said, “C’mon. We gotta get outta here. This ain’t a good time to be embarrassed and you can hardly walk. Gimme your arm.” Ann did as she was told and Skull helped her walk through the halls of the castle. Joker and Queen took the lead, scouting ahead to make sure nothing was in their way while Mona stayed behind and watched the groups back.

 

The group was able to quickly get to the room with the ventilation shaft and all of them got through it with slight difficulty trying to get Ann to crawl through without much pain from her exhaustion. Once all were out of the castle, they all walked across the drawbridge and Joker pulled out his phone, pulled out the Metaverse Navigator and took them all back to the real world, giving them all back their real world appearances.

 

They stood in the alleyway and waited until Ann was ready to leave. “Come on everybody. We should head to the station and wait for the next train. Takamaki-san, we’ll explain everything to you on the way there and while we wait for the train. Is that alright?” Asked Makoto.

 

Ann nodded and said, “Please, everyone, call me Ann. Anyways, let’s get going so you can answer my questions.” Ryuji, Ren and Makoto nodded to this as the group made their way to the station. Morgana quickly hopped into Ren’s school bag and said, “Hope you don’t mind me making room in here.”

 

“Why is the cat talking?” Asked Ann as they walked out of the alley. Morgana let out a groan and Ryuji laughed as they started explaining everything to her.

 

The group explained how Ren and Ryuji found the place by accident on Monday, how Ren was the first of the four to awaken to their persona’s and that they found Morgana locked up in one of the cells. They explained how Ren and Ryuji were soon able to figure out how to get back to the castle and because Ryuji felt the need too, they brought Makoto along with them into the castle. Morgana quickly explained the metaverse and how it works. That the castle is how Kamoshida views the school. Ren, Makoto and Ryuji explained how they tried to get information out of students but it proved to be useless and then Morgana appeared out of seemingly nowhere and told them that the castle was the key to getting Kamoshida to confess to his crimes if they stole his desires away. They warned that he could possibly die but Ann agreed that it was a necessary risk. And at the end of it all, they were waiting for the train to come along so that the may all be on their way home. Ryuji ran off to get drinks for everyone and when he came back he asked, “Which one do you guys want?”

 

“Whichever isn’t carbonated.” Ann replied.

 

“Well, they sort of all are…” Ryuji said sheepishly. Ann groaned and grabbed one by random. Makoto followed her example and Ryuji just quickly handed Ren one. The four uncapped the drinks and there was silence with gulps as they all quenched their thirst.

 

When done, Morgana poked his head out of Ren’s bag and asked, “Hey, where’s mine?”

 

“Umm, but you’re a cat.” Ryuji said, receiving a groan in response from Morgana.

 

There was more silence until Ann spoke up saying, “I want in.”

 

“Are you sure?” Ren asked. “There’s no telling just how dangerous it’s going to be. But if it wasn’t obvious already, it will be dangerous. That’s a certainty.”

 

Ann looked at Ren with a fire in her eyes. “If I don’t do anything now that have the ability to help you guys, then I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look Shiho in the eyes when she wakes up. It’ll be too hard.”

 

Ren smiled at her and said, “I’m all for her joining us then.”

 

“As am I.” Said Morgana.

 

“I see no problem with it.” Makoto agreed.

 

And then Ryuji wrapped his arm around and Ann and said, “Welcome aboard, Ann!” There was a ear to ear smile on his face.

 

Ann laughed and slowly took his arm off of her. There was more laughter from the others until Morgana spoke up. “... So, umm… About my living arrangements.”

 

“Nope.” Ryuji said, giving Morgana a silent look that held no room for change.

 

“My apartment complex doesn’t allow pets…” Makoto said, giving Morgana an apologetic look.

 

Morgana’s face began to drop as he looked at Ren and Ann hoping for a better answer, but soon his only option lied with Ren as Ann said, “After the whole ,’Lady Ann’ business, you’re not living with me.”

 

Morgana looked at Ren, his eyes were wide and begging and Ren could only let out a long sigh as the train pulled up into the station. He was silent as they all walked onto the train to Shibuya. After a few minutes, Ren finally said, “I’ll see what I can do. Though in the end, the choice isn’t mine. I can’t guarantee anything. Is that clear?”

 

Morgana let out a breath and said, “Whew, loud and clear, Joker!”

 

“Don’t call me that here. And don’t be so loud. I didn’t pay the pet fee.”

Chapter Text

04/15/2016

 

Evening

Streets of Yongen

 

“You know, this bag is more than a little stuffy…” Morgana mewed from his confines in Ren’s school bag. “Like, really stuffy. Can’t you make a little more room in here?” Ren’s reply was a sigh followed by silence, annoying Morgana. “Hey, why won’t you answer me?”

 

Ren looked over his shoulder with a unamused look and met Morgana’s eyes as he poked his head out of Ren’s bag. “Because it’s a stupid question.” Said Ren, turning his head forward once more as he walked down the narrow streets of Yongen.

 

Morgana was taken slightly aback as he asked, “And how is a question regarding my comfort, ‘a stupid question’? Can’t you just take all of this useless junk out of here?”

 

Ren shook his head slightly and said, “And that’s strike two on your dumb questions. But I’ll oblige in answering what should be obvious. You, are in my school bag. My school bag, get it? That means that what’s in there is necessary for my day to day school life. So no I can’t make a little room in there.” Ren stopped at an intersection on the small streets. To his left there was a second hand shop that looked like it was getting ready to close in the coming hour. To his right, another series of odd entrances to different building or other alleys littered the sides of the street. He let out a long sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb. “Listen. I’m sorry that it’s uncomfortable for you- and that isn’t sarcasm. But if my guardian does end up allowing you to live with me, then may we please not let this be how our relationship starts?”

 

Morgana brought his upper half of his body out of the bag and placed his front legs on Ren’s shoulder, looking over it and around his surroundings. “Yeah. Sorry about that. Anyway, where’s my possible new future home at?”

 

“It’s just down this street. So please go back into the bag. I want to bring it up with him later and not walk in and be all like, ‘Hey! Can I keep this cat!?’.” Ren said as he started walking the few meters to Leblanc Cafe. He stood in front of the door and looked at Morgana, waiting for him to go back into the bag.

 

Morgana nodded and slid back into the confines of the bag as Ren opened up the door to the cafe. The bell rang as he walked through the aromatic wall created by the coffee and curry. The only customer in the store was that pompous regular who sat in the back booth, slowly sipping his coffee like a self proclaimed connoisseur. Sojiro stood behind the counter, wiping down some mugs and putting them away as he slowly got ready to head back home for the night. Sojiro looked at Ren as he walked past the counter, heading for the stairs, nodding at him and saying, “I see those bruises are beginning to heal. Feel anything else except for a bruised face?”

 

Ren gave a small chuckle in return as he reached the first stair and Sojiro smirked, ever so slightly as Ren disappeared into the attic above. Ren walked over to the couch and set his school bag on it, allowing Morgana to wander around the room.

 

“So this is where I'll possibly be sleeping? It's… dusty and it smells old and there's clutter everywhere… Is this some kind of abandoned house!?” Morgana said as he looked around the attic, finishing his statement by pointing his paw at the mess near the shelf across from him.

 

Ren let out a quiet sigh and said, “Yeah, it was a lot worse when I got here. You think the dust is bad now? You should have been here last Saturday. I tried my best to clean but I have no idea where to put this stuff. It's not mine so I can't just throw it away.” He plopped onto his bed and let out a yawn while prodding the healing bruises on his face.

 

“Where'd you get those from anyways?” Asked Morgana as he hopped on to the desk, watching Ren.

 

“First one came from a train crash this past Sunday. As far as I'm concerned, I got off lucky. A total of nine people died in the end and over eighty were severely injured. Some are still in ICU, according to the news, anyways.” Ren replied, pointing at the yellowing bar bruise across his left cheek. He transitioned his finger to the ball shaped bruise in the center. “This one's from Kamoshida. He spiked me during the rally.”

 

“Are those bruises why you have this doctors card on your desk?” Morgana asked, pawing at the card that weird doctor, Takemi, had given Ren just two days prior.

 

“Yep. She runs a clinic in the area apparently and was in the cafe when I came back. She saw my face and did a quick examination of sorts and told me that if I started to feel weird at all to head over to her clinic…” Ren then pointed at the card, “...Or call her.”

 

Morgana gave let out a little hum in acknowledgment right as the sound of footsteps on the stairs drew both of their attentions. Sojiro was walking up the stairs and when he got inside the room, he looked none too happy. He looked at Ren, then at Morgana and then back at Ren and said, “I thought I heard a cat. Just what the hell is it doing here?

 

“It was abandoned and it looked hungry.”

 

“That’s…” Sojiro started before he let out a sigh and continued. “That’s a shame. But this is a restaurant. So animals are no-go.” Sojiro tilted his head forward and twirled the end of his goatee for a few seconds before he met Ren’s eyes and said, “Though, I guess you might stay on good behavior if you’ve got a pet to take care of, so… fine…” Sojiro walked over to Morgana and scratched the cat’s head a little and then spoke again. “However, I’m not gonna take care of it. That’s all on you. My rules for it are that it’s gotta keep quiet during business hours and if it roams downstairs, I’ll toss it out. Are we clear?”

 

“Yes sir.” Ren replied. Sojiro nodded and started walking down the stairs as Morgana’s stomach let out a loud growl.

 

“I guess I am a little hungry…” Morgana said with a hesitating laugh before saying, “The ruler of this place seems pretty understanding. Even though he keeps you cramped up in this dump.”

 

“It’s not that bad. I like the charm.”

 

“Anyways, I guess it makes it easier knowing that to normal people, I just sound like a meowing cat.” Morgana reasoned as the footsteps on the stairs returned to reveal Sojiro once more.

 

He was carrying a plate with some grilled chicken pieces. “I had some left over meat I cooked that didn’t get put in the curry and when it’s stomach growled and it called out in that cute little voice… Well, this is the only time I’ll feed it. The rest is on you.” Sojiro said, setting the plate down on the desk so that Morgana could eat. “Anyways, have you decided on a name yet?”

 

“Yeah. His name is Morgana.” Replied Ren.

 

“Morgana, huh?” Sojiro said with a hint of disappointment laced in his words. “I was kind of hoping that I’d get to name it.”

 

Ren raised an eyebrow and asked, “And what would you name him?”

 

Sojiro stroked his goatee and looked at Morgana. He tilted his head slightly before nodding. Sojiro looked at Ren and said, “Kingsly.” with a confidence Ren had yet to see in his guardian.

 

“Um, what? Do I get a say in this!? Cause my say is NAY!.” Morgana said without any room for debate. But, Sojiro couldn’t understand him.

 

He laughed and told Ren, “I think he likes the name a lot more than Morgana. Just saying. Anyways, I’m going to close up shop and head out. Make sure you wash that dish when Kingsly is done eating.” Ren nodded in agreement and Sojiro let out a huff, turned around, and walked down the stairs and out of the building, locking the door behind him.

 

“I think he already likes me better than you…” Morgana sneered at Ren until his face dropped. “...I’m not excited for being called Kingsly though… Definitely not.” It was Ren’s turn to laugh as he waited for Morgana to begin and finish eating his food, but Morgana had something else on his mind.”You know how you guys wonder what it is that I am? Well, the truth is, even I don’t really know.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t tell me you’re an amnesiac.”

 

“Mm, well sort of. I don’t have any memories of what I am or where I came from. I just know that I exist and that I have other skills.” Morgana said. He looked Ren in the eyes and received a soft look in return.

 

“Is there anyway I can help?” Ren spoke with a quiet voice.

 

“Well, I have a pretty good idea on how to get my memories back and I think the answers lie in the palaces in the Metaverse. The way for me to get my human form back is somewhere in there. I can feel it. Why else would I be able to talk like a human, then?” Morgana then steeled his eyes and spoke his next words with determination. “So I want to propose a deal. You help me get my memories back and I can teach you about infiltration tools.”

 

“So, like lockpicks and stuff?” Asked Ren.

 

Morgana let out a small laugh and said, “I’ll only reveal more details after you agree to the deal.”

 

Ren nodded to this and said, “Of course I’ll help.”

 

“Good. Then yes, I do mean lockpicks and the sort, but there are other useful tools you should learn about.” Morgana’s stomach growled again as he finished speaking. “Huh, I never got hungry in the Metaverse.” Morgana looked to the plate of food and began to eat what Sojiro had provided to him.

 

The night went on for a few more minutes afterwards. Morgana quickly ate his food and Ren took the plate and washed it, along with the other dishes in the sink, to the relaxing tune of Jazz on his phone. The music fit the atmosphere of the silent cafe with its soft white lights and stained glass light fixtures. Ren continued humming the tune as he turned the music off on his phone, walked back into the attic and started putting on his pajamas. He turned off the light and plugged his charger into his phone before laying on the bed, pulling up the covers.

 

There was silence between Morgana and Ren as they waited for the sweet bliss of sleep to wash over their exhausted bodies and minds. Ren’s consciousness faded into darkness as he soon found himself sound asleep.

 

There was a sound of chains. His chains.

 

Their rhythmic clinks against one another slowly drew Ren out of his stupor and into the Velvet Room. His eyes slowly fluttered open to reveal the prison cell he resided in. Slowly getting up from the wooden board he laid upon, Ren looked through the iron bars of his cell and saw Caroline and Justine standing in front, looking through the openings at Ren as he started to get on his feet. Igor was still sitting at his desk with that unnerving, ominous smile of his. Ren walked up to the iron gate, grabbing separate bars and stared back at the master of the Velvet Room. His smile was wider today.

 

“Trickster. The events of the past transpired hours pleases me. You, as the wildcard, have officially awakened to the powers that will make you unique among those whom you’ll fight with. The ability to wield multiple personae is one with endless possibilities that you will find yourself exploring as time passes.” Igor let out a small chuckle and continued. “However, you will not be able to explore these realms of possibility just yet. You must grow stronger as time goes on. Heed this.”

 

Caroline looked up at Ren. “You should take our Master’s words to heart, inmate. There have been several wildcards before you and each of them could wipe you on the ground if they wanted.” Caroline sneered these words, as if she was trying to instill a feeling of mediocrity in Ren.

 

But , as your attendants and wardens, we will be helping you and giving advice along the road of your power.” Justine flipped through the pages of the massive book she held in her hands. “When our master deems everything ready, we shall begin the explanation of our integral role to you.”

 

“Now then, Trickster, is there anything you would like to ask before you leave?” Asked Igor.

 

“What the hell is a ‘Trickster’?”

 

“He who will save humanity from its ruin.” Igor replied.

 

Ren’s grip on the iron bars tightened, he stared directly into Igor’s eyes and asked, “Why me? Why am I this, ‘Trickster’?”

 

“Fate works in mysterious ways, indeed. For this, I do not have an answer for you.”

 

Ren let out a sigh and let his head drop. ‘Just what the hell am I getting into now?’ He stood there for a few seconds before he looked back up at Igor and asked, “Caroline said there were others like me. Who were they? Were they Tricksters as well?”

 

“The title of Trickster is yours alone to hold. It is the status of the Wildcard that you share. The ability to wield multiple personae and use the bonds you’ve forged to create more power. All have been residents of the Velvet Room. This is the link you share.” Igor tilted his head forward slightly and asked, “Is that all?”

 

“You only answered one of the questions though…” Ren muttered under his breath but it was not unheard by Caroline and Justine.

 

“Be grateful you’re even getting answers to begin with, inmate!” Caroline yelled out while her sister stayed silent.

 

Ren let out a small groan and said, “There’s still so much I don’t know, though. This entire evening has left me with knowledge that I have no idea what to do with. I don’t even know what to ask so that I may learn something...” Ren closed his eyes for a second then looked back at Igor. “Fine. I’m ready to go.”

 

Igor nodded and the room dissolved into black wisps of smoke and then everything was dark as Ren fell back into unconsciousness.

 

04/16/2015

 

Early Morning

Aoyama Itchome Station

 

Ren stood among the crowd of people who were also waiting to get on the train line. Some were students in uniforms he didn’t recognise while many others shared the same as him. If it weren’t for the black and red plaid pants they wore and the whispers they would direct at Ren whenever their gaze ran over him, Ren would almost not notice who they were among the muddled pool of blacks and greys of those also heading to their jobs. Faces were indiscernible in the crowd except for two. Ryuji’s dyed blonde hair was easy to pick out among the sea of people. He was waiting for train as well but Ren didn’t feel like making the trek over to him. The other person Ren easily noticed, was the other blonde. The new member of their rag tag group, Ann Takamaki, and she was heading straight for Ren. Ann smiled at him as she closed the distance between the two quickly.

 

“Hey, Ren!” She spoke loudly enough to be heard over the sea of people as she closed the rest of the gap, now standing a few feet away. “How’s it going? You look dead tired.”

 

Ren let out a small laugh. “Yeah? I bet I do. Had a really strange dream last night.”

 

Ann let out a shaky breath and said, “You too, huh? Was yours about that weird palace thing, too?”

 

“Huh? Oh, um, y-yeah. Though the details are a little shaky. I don’t really remember most of it.” Ren said while rubbing the back of his head.

 

Ann nodded in understanding and said, “I can relate to that. But last night, I couldn’t stop thinking about everything that happened.” Her gaze shifted down to the ground slightly and then she let out a nervous laugh. “It’s crazy to think I could’ve died had you all not been there to save me. So, I wanted to thank you. All of you.”

 

Ren shook his head slightly and said, “Don’t thank me. It’s true that while you could’ve died in there if it weren’t for us, you also wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for us. We put you in danger.”

 

“No, that’s not true. I walked in there on my own, after all.”

 

Ren let out a small laugh and said, “Well, then if you’re going to thank anybody, Ryuji did more than Makoto, Morgana, and I.”

 

At the sound of his name, Morgana popped his upper body out of Ren’s bag and leaned over his shoulder so he could see Ann. “While I don’t want to admit it, he’s right, Lady Ann.”

 

Ann was surprised by the sudden appearance of Morgana before she let out a giggle and said, “So, you’re just gonna hang out in his bag and go to school with us?”

 

“Of course. It would be too boring having to stay there with nothing to do all day.” Morgana said. “And besides, I bet this guy could use some help in school!”

 

“I don’t. Truly.” Ren said as he adjusted his glasses so he could rub his eyes. When done, he looked back at Ann and said, “Well, if you want to go thank Ryuji, he’s right over-”

 

“Hey Hey! What’s goin’ on guys?” Ryuji exclaimed as he approached the group.

 

“..there. He’s right over there.” Ren muttered the rest of statement then looked at Ryuji and said, “Not much, really. You?”

 

“Same, man, same. I'm just bored outta my mind right now.” Ryuji said as he looked at Ren and then at Ann and back at Ren. “Oh! Ann! We should all trade numbers so we can keep you in the loop on things. I'll add you in the chat so you can trade numbers with Makoto and all that.” Ryuji said, pulling out his phone and accessing his contacts.

 

“Oh, yeah. That's a good idea.” Ann said, pulling out her phone and beginning to trade numbers with Ryuji.

 

“What's this chat thing?” Asked Morgana as he stared at the two teenagers phones.

 

“Huh? Oh, what're you- eh, never mind. It's like a texting thing all of us can use to talk to each other in one place if we're far away and shit.” Ryuji explained, although slightly confused as to why Morgana was in Ren's bag.

 

“Oh, are you apart of it, Ren?” Morgana asked, turning his head to face Ren.

 

“Of course I am.”

 

“Good. Then I'm gonna ask you to type for me when you're using the 'chat’.” Morgana said.

 

Ren patted Morgana’s head and said, “Probably not going to happen, but I'll keep it in mind.”

 

“Pfft. Fine.”

 

Ann turned to face Ren and get his number as well when the train started to pull in. Ren shook his head and said, “You can just pick up my number from the chat and I’ll do the same. Let’s try and get in the front so the flood doesn’t get in our way.” Ren finished his statement by shaking his bag slightly. “You know the drill.” Morgana let out a groan and slid back into the bag as he started walking towards the mass of people, sliding through them to get into the front of the crowd, leaving behind Ann and Ryuji as the door slid open for the mass of people to walk in.

 

Lunchtime

Shujin Academy

 

The bell for lunch to begin had just rang and the classroom erupted as students got up quickly to get food from the bread store or head to their groups hangout spot. The only people who didn’t get up immediately and erratically were Ann, who was looking at her phone; Ren, who was putting his stuff away for that class; and Mishima, who was sitting still, staring at his desk. He hadn’t moved at all since class began and remained rigid for the entire session of classes. Ren noticed, but he wasn’t about to do anything. He knew why Mishima was like this but Ren felt no reason to try and comfort him. No matter how much Ren wanted to think of Mishima as a victim to the overall situation, he couldn’t get over the fact that Mishima was the one who leaked his record. Mishima was the one who turned his school life into absolute shit. And Ren was not ready to forgive that. Morgana started tapping Ren’s arm from the cubby underneath the table of the desk, pulling Ren away from his thoughts.

 

“Hey.” Morgana whispered. “I need you to put something in that chat for me. I just remembered that I need to talk to you four about something. Preferably right now.”

 

“Alright. Give me a second.” Ren said, pulling out his phone and opening up the group chat with one new member.

 

Ren: Morgana wants to talk to us about something right now. Is the rooftop ok?

 

Ann looked at Ren and asked, “What’s he wanna talk about?”

 

Morgana piped in from the capartment he laid in. “That, Lady Ann, is a surprise.”

 

Ann sighed at the name, still unused to it and both her and Ren looked back at their phones to see a new message.

 

Makoto: What about? And the roof is fine. I’m heading up there now.

 

Ann: He won’t say. Just that it’s a surprise.

 

Ryuji: Aight. Well, I’m on my way up there too then.

 

Ren: Ann and I will see you two there.

 

Ann got up from her desk and said, “C’mon, let’s go.”

 

Ren nodded and grabbed his bag and positioned it so that Morgana could slide in without being easily noticed. Once he was in, Ren strapped the bag around his shoulder and followed Ann out of the classroom. But this was not without a few whispers being directed at the two of them.

 

“You see that? I wonder if they’re together or anything?”

 

“Well, Easy Ann is Easy Ann for a reason.”

 

“I wonder if she’ll be safe around that delinquent. I heard, he once killed someone.”

 

“Well if anything bad happens to her, not only will it give the rest of us girls a chance, but we won’t have to live in constant fear of that guy because he’ll probs be arrested. He’s so scary…”

 

“Oh my god. I can’t believe you just said that but you are so right.

 

Ann clenched her fists and stormed out of the room while Ren stopped at the door. He turned around and saw Mishima staring at him. Ren did nothing as he stared back at Mishima until he adjusted his glasses and walked out of the room and up to the rooftop.

 

Ren wasn’t that far behind Ann when he heard the door slam shut when he was on the staircase between the third floor and the rooftop. When finished climbing the stairs, he could hear Ann on the other side. “Ya know!? I thought I was over those rumors but these ones just took the damn cake!”

 

Ren stood behind the closed door as he heard Ryuji talk. “What were they about this time?”

 

Ann let out a long sigh and said, “Just that same BS, but with Ren as an added twist.”

 

“What were their names? I could talk to them if you want. It’d give me and the student council a chance to really try and crackdown on the rumor mill going around.” Makoto offered.

 

Ren opened up the door and walked through. “Well, I don’t know about Ann, but I don’t think you should worry about it.” He let out a sigh and finished saying, “I can deal with the shit thrown at me.”

 

Ann nodded in agreement as Ren placed his bag down and unzipped it as Morgana hopped out. “Yeah, I’m the same. You just get used to it after awhile. It’s not like any of them are trying anything anyways.” Ann said dejectedly.

 

“I mean, I guess if you’re alright with it. But the matter still stands that I, as the student council president, need to do more to fix this.” Makoto said as she leaned on the AC Unit, holding her hands in front of her skirt.

 

Ryuji let out a sigh and rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry Miss Pres. But these people ain’t gonna change if they don’t wanna change.”

 

“He’s right. That’s just how people work.” Morgana said as he strode to a desk and hopped on top of it. “Anyways, let’s get to the reason on as to why I want to talk to you guys.” Morgana let out a little laugh and looked at the group of four with a gleam in his eyes. “Just because he have our group established now, doesn’t mean that we’re ready to hop into Kamoshida’s palace and steal his treasure. We need to be prepared. One such way to be prepared is to bring in medicine.”

 

Ren looked to Morgana and said, “That’s right. You said last time that medicine works differently in there than in the real world.”

 

Morgana nodded in confirmation. “Exactly. So we need to get out hands on a reliable source of meds to bring in the Metaverse. Luckily for us, I think I have the perfect source. And by “I”, I mean Ren.”

 

“Oh no.”

 

“Oh come on Ren. You have the perfect excuse to get medicine with that face of yours.” Morgana pleaded. “I was thinking we can head over there after school today and see about that.”

 

Makoto stepped in and said, “Wait, what’re you talking about and why does it seem like a bad idea?”

 

Ren chuckled and said, “Because it is a bad idea. After being in that train crash and bruising my face. And after being pelted by that volleyball, and again, bruising my face. A doctor who runs a clinic in my area was eating at Leblanc and did a quick exam on me. Said if I ever started having weird symptoms, to go into the clinic and get checked up to see if I have a concussion or something.”

 

“What’s, ‘Leblanc’?” Asked Ryuji.

 

“It’s where Ren lives. He lives in the attic of a cafe ran by his guardian.” Morgana explained.

 

“That explains the coffee smell.” Ryuji said, nodding his head to Ren.

 

“That doesn’t matter. This is still a horrible idea. What if Ren gets called out and that doctor gets him arrested. He’s on probation, Morgana.” Makoto reasoned.

 

“I mean, that’s true, but we need the medicine in the Metaverse.” Morgana pleaded to Makoto, but she wasn’t budging.

 

Ren let out a sigh and said, “I’ll do it.”

 

Morgana gave Ren a smile while Makoto looked at him dumbfounded. A look shared between Ryuji and Ann as well. “I’m with Makoto on this one. It’s a bad idea, Ren.” Ann said.

 

Ren nodded in confirmation and said, “I know it is. Which is why I’ll be careful and pull out when things get dicey for me. Anyway, moving on to the next topic, what else did you need to talk about Morgana?”

 

The others shook their head in disbelief while Morgana nodded in thanks. “Right, onto other topics. Ryuji, where did you get that model gun from?”

 

“Hmm? Oh, the one Ren uses? I got it from an airsoft shop on Central Street. It’s in an alley and a bit out of the way but it’s pretty cool.” Ryuji explained.

 

“Do you mind taking us there tomorrow?” Morgana asked.

 

“Huh? Why?”

 

“So that we can get you three firearms. Actually, can you two come as well?” Morgana asked, looking at Ann and Makoto.

 

Ann shook her head and said, “Sorry, no. I’ve made plans to go see Shiho for the day tomorrow.”

 

Makoto looked at Ann and said, “Let us know how she’s doing.”

 

Ann smiled at her and said, “Will do.”

 

Makoto smiled back and turned to Morgana. “I don’t have any plans for tomorrow so I’ll be there. Where and when should I meet you?”

 

“How about at the Hachiko statue at around… 10 AM?” Ryuji suggested.

 

“Sounds good.” Makoto nodded before turning to Ren. “What doesn’t sound good is this medicine plan.”

 

“Which is why I’m going to be doing it.” Ren said. “Better me, who already has one foot in a cell than one of you guys who are perfectly fine right now. Legally, that is. Besides, if I do this, no one will be surprised. It’s just the delinquent being the delinquent. And, I’m confident it’ll work anyways. The doctor doesn’t seem like she’d turn me in or something.” Ren reasoned but his words made the other three go rigid while Morgana thought it was sound. “Listen, I know you guys don’t like the idea, but it’s the best we got so far.”

 

Ryuji shook his head at this. “Wait, can’t we just buy some off the shelf pain meds?”

 

“No. Your perception of how good the medicine works dictates how well it will be in the Metaverse.” Morgana explained.

 

Ann, Ryuji and Makoto all looked at each other and sighed in defeat. “Fine, but you better be careful, Ren.” Ann said.

 

Ren nodded and the bell ending lunch rang out. “Let’s not be late to class.” Makoto said as she started walking for the door, Ann and Ryuji close behind her. Ren grabbed his bag and opened it up for Morgana to step in. Once he was settled, Ren zipped the bag back up and started making his way to class 2-D.

 

After School

Streets of Yongen

 

The sun was setting over the skyline of buildings. The light created a bright, beautiful orange against the darkening shadows of the buildings and the few grey clouds in the sky. Students of mismatch walked through the narrow streets along with Ren. Most looked to be in their elementary years, but the similarity remained. The shops along the way had few customers as Ren walked by them, trying to reach his destination at the clinic, near the Movie Theatre in the area. It wasn’t that hard to find the clinic in actuality, but the daunting task of trying to secure an easy passage of meds for the group in the Metaverse was terrifying. Ren could not mess this up and the stakes made him more and more anxious with every step. The confidence he held a few mere hours ago was quickly fading until he stood in front of the steps leading to the clinic. His breathing was quick as he tried to think of a good way to go about his strategy until a vibration in his pocket turned everything in his brain off, thrusting him out of the anxiety filled limbo he had placed himself in. Ren took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly as he pulled out his phone. Morgana rustled his way over Ren’s shoulder so he could see what was going on.

 

Ryuji: Hey, man, are you sure you still want to go through with this?

Ryuji: It seems way too risky to me.

 

Ren: Not like I have anything better to do.

 

Ryuji: YOU COULD ALWAYS HANG OUT WITH ME!

 

Ren: …

Ren: Ok, I may have something better to do. But I’ve got to try and do this.

 

Ryuji: Aight, whatever man. Just make sure you stay safe.

 

Ren: Always do.

 

Ryuji: I call bullshit.

 

Ren took in another deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Morgana, it might be better if you just roam around Yongen. Doubt it would be all that fun for you being stuck in a bag in an examination room.”

 

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Morgana said while exiting the bag completely and hopping onto the ground below. “Find me when you’re done.”

 

“Okay. See ya in an hour or two.” Ren said to the cat as he started walking up the stairs and into the clinic.

 

The lobby was nothing special. The fluorescent lights gleamed a blinding white on the tile. The softest color to look at were the maroon seats. Decorations were sparse in the room with a barely alive plant near the door and several year old magazines were littered across a table near one of the two rows of seats. Ren took a look through the sliding glass window into the room that held the doctor he met on Wednesday. She was sifting through a magazine of sorts and sported the near same outfit she wore then, but instead wore a black dress that stopped mid way through her thighs with a lab coat over it. Ren walked up to the window and Takemi slowly looked up at Ren. Her eyes spelt slight confusion until she nodded confirmation to herself. “What’re you here for?” She asked.

 

“Um. Uh, h-headaches. My head has been throbbing horribly all day today and you said that if anything odd was happening, to come and see you. I was hoping that I could maybe get some pain killers.” Ren explained to Takemi. She raised an eyebrow at him before shrugging and giving him a clipboard with paperwork.

 

“Fill this out and hand it to me when you’re done. Then we’ll head into the examination room and see what’s going.” Takemi said, handing him a pen as well.

 

Ren quickly filled out the paperwork and handed it back to Takemi. She took the clipboard and made her way out of the room she was in. A few seconds later, the other door in the room was opening up to reveal an examination room. Takemi motioned him inside and took a seat at her desktop in the room. “Take your shirt off real quick so I can get a feel for your breathing and pulse.”

 

Ren did as he was told, quickly unbuttoning his school jacket and pulling his turtleneck off of him as Takemi swiveled around to grab her stethoscope. When she turned back around to face him she stopped and stared for a few seconds. “Well I can see why you were able to at least barely go up against an olympian. You’ve got a great physique for someone you age. However…” Takemi motioned to his left arm. “Those scars look recent. And there’s a lot of them.” Her stare transitioned to meet Ren’s eyes but he looked away. Unwilling to give any answer. She let out a small breath and said, “Well, I’m not going to pry if it isn’t my business. Sit on the exam table and start taking slow, deep breaths for me.”

 

Ren did as he was told until she was done prodding his back and chest with the stethoscope. She sat back down on her swivel stool and turned to her computer, quickly putting in some information and saying, “You can go ahead and put your clothes back on.” Ren did just that, sliding his turtleneck back on and buttoning up his school jacket again.

 

“Alright. This is going to be bright but I need you to keep your eyes open so I can see how they react to light.” Takemi said, swiveling around and clicking a small flashlight in her hand. Ren nodded and took off his glasses as she stood up and took the few steps to Ren. She moved Ren’s bangs out of the way with one hand and pointed the flashlight into his eyes with the other. He sat there unblinking for a few seconds until she turned off the flashlight. “Huh…” Takemi said, putting away the flashlight. “Tell me when it hurts if I push down.” Ren nodded and Takemi started prodding around his head with her fingers. Several times she pushed down but Ren gave no reaction until she pressed down into the center of the bruise in the middle of his face. Ren let out a gasp at the sudden slight pain. Takemi let out a small laugh as she sat back down and faced Ren, not bothering to put in any information on her desktop.

 

“So, I believe you said, ‘My head has been throbbing horribly all day today.’ Correct?” Takemi asked and she placed one leg of the other.

 

Ren nodded to this and Takemi said, “Well then it’s probably just due to stress. So the best I can do is prescribe some painkillers, but, I still need to restock those. So I could prescribe you some sleeping pills. Sleep is the best medicine, after all. Are you alright with that?”

 

“That’s fine, yeah.”

 

“Alright, then do you want the sweet tasting one? Or the bitter tasting one?” Takemi asked, leaving Ren confused.

 

“Um, I don’t know. I don’t really care.” Ren said.

 

Takemi let out a small laugh then said, “How about a stinky one then? Actually, they don’t make those. But I do have a better plan. How about we stop beating around the bush and you tell me why you’re really here.”

 

Ren’s eyes widened immediately at those words and his speech was extremely jumbled. “U-Um, w-w-what do you m-m-mean?”

 

Takemi shook her head and massaged the bridge of her nose before she looked back up at Ren and said, “I’m not an idiot. Usually when someone is in pain- like having a horribly throbbing headache- their breathing is sporadic and their pulse may be a little bit off. Yours was perfectly fine. Your eyes are reacting perfectly normal to light than compared to that of someone with a concussion. And you only reacted to me pressing down on your bruise. You’re not in pain and I highly doubt you have a ‘horribly throbbing headache’. Yet here you are. Asking for painkillers you don’t even need.” Takemi let out a long sigh and asked, “Are you here because of the rumors?”

 

This left Ren confused as he asked, “Um, what rumors are you talking about?”

 

Takemi raised an eyebrow at Ren before she said, “So you don’t know about them? Well I guess you are new to the area… I guess it doesn’t matter.” Takemi stopped talking and looked Ren up and down real quick. “Well, I guess high schoolers have it tough these days. Well, fine, I’ll prescribe you some medication.”

 

Ren widened his eyes in surprise. This entire situation did a 270 on him. First he was trying to get medication under the ruse of a concussion that obviously fell through. The entire situation flipped on him and it seemed like he wasn’t going to get the meds. But now he is going to get the meds but she knows he was lying to her? Ren was more than a little confused as Takemi continued to talk. “I’ll only prescribe you medications that will help you recover your health. I suppose it’s fine. You seem pretty earnest and you don’t look like you’ll be any trouble.”

 

Takemi motioned to her computer and said, “This is my private practice. All of the stuff I dispense is completely original. I have a license to create my own formulas and you may have even seen them being sold at various hospitals.” Takemi turned back to Ren and stared him in the eyes. “But it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. So if that’s okay with you, stop by any time.”

 

“Thank you. This will help me greatly.” Ren said while a smile threatened to show itself. ‘How the hell did this work!? I barely said a damn thing!’ Ren thought to himself.

 

Takemi smiled and leaned down slightly. “It’s good to know you’re quick on the uptake. Though I can’t help but what wonder what you’re going to use the medicine for.” Ren slightly looked away and Takemi pulled herself back up. “Well, as long as you don’t cause me any trouble, than it’s not my problem. Now then, off you go.” Takemi finished her statement by waving her hand, shooing Ren away out of the examination room.

 

Ren grabbed his bag and headed out of the room and subsequently, out of the clinic. Morgana was waiting for him at the bottom of the steps. His eyes shined with eagerness, waiting for the news. “So? How did it go?” Ren gave him a smirk and Morgana gasped in excitement. “How? How did you do it!?”

 

Ren laughed slightly and said, “I don’t even know. I barely said a thing.”

Chapter Text

04/17/2016

 

Daytime

Cafe Leblanc

 

Ren was standing in the attic of Leblanc, messing around on his phone, waiting for the text in the group chat that Ryuji or Makoto would eventually send to let him know that they’re on their way. He didn’t want to head over too early even though the three of them had a set time of 10:00, but Ren was beyond bored already with nothing to do. Ren sighed to himself and checked his phone. “8:45. That means at least fifteen minutes before we start heading out.”

 

Or, we could head out right now so that you quit it with the pacing. It’s annoying.” Morgana mewed from his laid disposition on the small couch, a few feet across from Ren.

 

Ren quickly snapped his head to face Morgana’s direction and smiled. “I like the way you think, Morgana! Let’s get lost in Shibuya!”

 

“Wait. What? No.” Morgana quickly said, his eyes widening in fear at the smile Ren had on his face.

 

Ren let out a small laugh as he grabbed his leather bag. “Hey, don’t worry about. It’s not going to be that bad. And besides, there’s a lot more room in this bag rather than my school one. Hop in.” Ren motioned for Morgana to place himself in the now opened bag.

 

Morgana let out a sigh and said, “Fine, fine. But please, don’t actually get lost.”

 

“Hoo. That might be pushing it. I’m not from Tokyo after all… But I’ll try to try my best. Does that sound good?” Ren asked with childish wonder in his eyes at the prospect of finally getting to explore the city he would be spending the next year of his life in.

 

Morgana just shook his head and hopped into the bag. Ren zipped it up halfway as Morgana was making himself comfortable with all the extra space he had compared to the confines of the treacherous school bag he would reside in for a majority of the week. Ren started walking down the stairs and at the bottom, found Sojiro on the other side of the counter polishing some coffee mugs.

 

“You’ve got plans today?” Ren’s guardian asked.

 

Ren nodded in confirmation before saying, “Yeah. Though we’re not meeting up until ten. Figured I’d use the extra time to explore the city.”

 

Sojiro let out a grunt at those words. “Kid. I’ve lived in the city my entire life and even I get lost sometimes. You, country boy, have no chance.”

 

Ren quirked an eyebrow at these words before he pulled out his phone, opening up an actual navigation app and showed it to Sojiro. “I’ve got GPS. I won’t get that lost.”

 

“Smartass.” Sojiro said under his breath as he started back to polishing the mugs. “Well. Get going then. I don’t need you loitering around here when my regulars start walking in. Oh, and is Kingsly going with you?”

 

At the sound of his not-name, Morgana pulled his upper body out of the bag and looked at Sojiro. Glaring slightly as he said, “That. Is. Not. My name.”

 

But all Sojiro could hear were the meows of a chatty cat. Sojiro laughed to himself a little as he looked to Ren and said, “I can’t believe you wanted to name him Morgana. It’s obvious Kinglsy is a much better name. He even likes it too.”

 

Ren smiled at this and said, “Yeah. I guess you’re right. C’mon, Kinglsy. Get back in the bag. I don’t feel like paying the pet fare.

 

“No one ever does.”

 

“You’re betraying me.”

 

Sojiro and Morgana spoke at the same time as Ren let out a small chuckle. Ren was about to start walking out of the cafe when the door opened and the bell rang and two teenagers around the same age as Ren walked through.

 

“Yusuke~ quit complaining and hurry up.” The girl said, dragging her companion in behind her. She had long dark hair with prominent bangs that held a red hair accessory that resembled a rope with a three leaf clover. She wore a dress with a checkered pattern consisting of orange, black, and white squares and black leggings. She had dark green eyes that seemed to sparkle at her companion and brought out her entire look in gleaming beauty.

 

The girl somewhat dragged the boy in, stumbling in the process. Sojiro looked at the teenagers then back at Ren with a confused look, then back at the teenagers right as the boy- Yusuke, the girl called him- began to speak. “H-Hifumi. You know I mustn't be too long and take detours such as these. I need to help sensei prepare for the exhibit next month and I-” Yusuke had long, straight dark blue hair with parted bangs that slightly covered his left eye. His eyes were similar to Ren’s, but a lighter shade of grey compared to Ren’s charcoal black eyes. He wore a long sleeved shirt consisting of three colors. A blue that spanned the upper body and the sleeves, a black that spanned the midsection and a grey etched across the bottom of the shirt. He also wore black jeans and black penny loafers.

 

“Yes, I know. Don't worry, Yusuke. I know you're busy but you need to take a break every once in a while. If you work yourself too hard you'll never find that muse.” The girl interrupted- Hifumi, Yusuke called her. “And if you're in a cozy place like this, you might just find it.”

 

Sojiro’s confusion slowly turned into a soft smile as he looked at the two teens. “What’ll it be for you two?”

 

“Huh? O-Oh, I’m so sorry for creating a disturbance.” Hifumi said, turning to face Sojiro and bowing slightly.

 

Sojiro laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not everyday I get some fresh faces around here.”

 

This elicited a confused look from Hifumi as she asked, “But, I saw an article about it in a magazine in the chapel…”

 

“Bah, that thing was written a while ago. It doesn’t do much for me now. Anyways, what’ll it be?” Sojiro asked again, this time giving Ren a look to start heading out.

 

Ren took the hint and made his way out of the cafe, nodding to the new customers as he walked by them and getting a nod back as he walked through the door. Ren started walking down the street towards the station and as soon as he could hear the click of the cafe’s door closing behind him, Re exclaimed, “You ready to get lost, Kingsly!?”

 

Ren could feel some thuds on the other side of the leather bag. Morgana was swatting at his body as he yelled out. “Don’t you dare start calling me that. And I thought you said you weren’t going to try and get lost!?”

 

Ren let out a little laugh as he entered the station right as the train for Shibuya was pulling in. “I believe I said I would try to try.” Ren reasoned as he stepped onto the train while checking his phone. “One hour left and we meet at Hachiko. What could I possibly do in one hour to get lost?”

 

Noon

Underground Mall

 

Ren was lost.

 

As he merged in and out of the waves in the flood of people in the, what seemed like- because of the amount of people- narrow hallways of the underground mall, Ren was having more than his fair share of troubles as two and a half hours ago he found himself wandering into the depths. His GPS was doing nothing to help him as well because of being underground. He was two hours late to his meeting with Ryuji and Makoto and they were none too happy by the looks of their texts an hour and a half earlier.

 

Ryuji: Ren. What the hell is taking you so long, man!? You’re thirty minutes late!

 

Ren: About that. Do any of you know how to get out of this mall. I’ve been stuck in here for the past hour.

 

Ann:Ohmygodyoudidn’t…

 

Ryuji: Are you being serious right now?

 

Ren: Always.

 

Makoto: Ryuji and I are headed there right now to try and find you.

 

Ryuji: HOW THE HELL DID YOU GET LOST DOWN THERE!?

 

Ren: How do you not?

 

Makoto: Please try to stay in one place, Ren.

 

Ren: That may prove to be difficult.

 

Makoto: I’d assume so. You went into one of the busiest places in Shibuya when you hardly know your way around the area. And, you went there on the busiest day, at the busiest time.

 

Ren: Alright, so I may have messed up a bit.

 

Ryuji: I am going to hit you when I find you.

 

Ren was looking back through the messages sent in the past hour and a half. Having finally found a spot where he could stand still and wait for Makoto and Ryuji near a flower shop. Even though the three were looking for each other, they still must have walked past one another several times, simply not noticing one another due to the sheer amount of people. During the entire time he was lost, Morgana was right on top of it to make sure Ren knew how much of an idiot he was. Ren took a few more breaths as the claustrophobia he had begun to develop began to fade away. He looked up and saw a certain blonde haired boy storming for him. “Freedom!” Yelled Ren in Ryuji’s direction.

 

Morgana was quick to worm his way out of Ren’s bag and express the same sentiments in a much more passive aggressive way. “Yes! Someone who competently knows their way around here!”

 

“H-Hey…” Ren said to Morgana as Ryuji closed the gap and jabbed him in the gut. Ren lurched forward and cradled himself in pain as he slowly looked up to see Makoto quickly coming up as well, jabbing Ren in the arm as she grew near. “Ok. Ok. Can we not abuse me today?” Asked Ren through slightly pained breaths.

 

“No.” Makoto and Ryuji said in unison.

 

Morgana snickered at Ren and said, “What happened to trying to trying to not getting lost?”

 

Ren shook his head at Morgana as he picked himself back up, standing up straight to meet his slightly less fuming friends. “Sorry about that.”

 

Ryuji let out a long sigh and said, “Just please, don’t go around getting lost again, dude. Okay?”

 

Makoto shared the same thought process as she said, “Please. Even I, who’s lived in Tokyo my entire life, get turned around sometimes.”

 

Ren let out a small laugh and said, “Sojiro said the same thing.”

 

“Yeah, but then you just showed off your GPS thing and said that you wouldn’t get lost.” Morgana snidely said.

 

“In my defense-” Ren began but was quickly cut off by Ryuji.

 

“It doesn’t matter anymore dude. This game of hide n’ seek is done now. Let’s get goin’ to the shop.” Ryuji began walking away to a flight of stairs nearby. “If we go this way, Ren, we’ll end up in Central Street. It’s pretty straight forward from there. You should know that much after finding your way home after goin’ out for beef bowls on Tuesday.”

 

Makoto and Ren began following Ryuji as Morgana slipped back inside to Ren’s bag. “Please just tell me that after all this time, you may have some knowledge on the layout to the mall?” Makoto asked Ren as they began walking up the stairs to Central Street.

 

Ren nodded and said, “I believe so. But I won’t be going back on Sunday any time soon. Too many people.” Ren’s words were quickly finished by his own groan as Makoto let out a small laugh.

 

As the three of them emerged from the clusterfuck of a mall, Ryuji pointed to an alley across the shopping street and said, “The shop is in there. It’s pretty tucked and out of the way so it’s kinda like a hidden gem. It’s a pretty cool store if I’m being honest.”

 

“Cause that doesn’t scream ‘suspicion’…” Makoto said quietly to herself.

 

“Well let’s get going. Don’t you guys want to be able to do more damage in the metaverse rather than just stand around here?” Morgana said, poking his head out of Ren’s bag and urging them on to get moving.

 

The group quickly moved across the way into the back alley. It was darker in comparison due to the lack of sunlight. Bikes and trash littered the edges. Turning the corner, there were more bikes in from of them and too their left was a bright neon green sign with one word.

 

UNTOUCHABLE

Underneath the sign was a window with iron bars bolted on, showing off some of the merchandise that could be found inside. Several model pistols and assault rifles were shown to lure the average gun enthusiast in. Of course, these could do nothing more than fire a small plastic pellet but they seemed to look realistic through their boxes nonetheless.

 

“Yeah, for a while I was into those airsoft tournament videos online so I checked this place out and ended up buying that model pistol. I never even used it before all of this palace stuff.” Ryuji explained as they stood in front of the glass doorway, littered with different stickers and advertisements for other model weapons. Ryuji reached for the door handles and looked back real quick, saying, “C’mon. Let's head in.” Ryuji opened the door and walked in with Ren and Makoto in tow.

 

The store was… crammed. The few shelves in the small store were filled to the brim with model guns and a plethora of various melee oriented weapons. Ranging from different daggers, blunt trauma objects, types of brass knuckles, odd whips and other assortments of  curved swords- much like the group's own weapons. But the assortment also bled into different katanas, spears, axes, and even surprisingly realistic looking lightsabers. Whatever this place was, this was more than a model gun shop by all means. This was made even more apparent by the guy at the counter.

 

He looked to be in his forties with grey hair that flowed into sideburns. He had faint stubble and some earrings adorned. The most prominent feature he held was a gecko tattoo near the back base of his neck. He wore a grey cap with yellow ear defenders wrapped around his forehead and a matching long, grey coat with a red peace symbol near the bottom. He also wore a black turtleneck sweater with some denim jeans and black military boots. The man looked up from the magazine he was reading and stared at the three of them for a second or two before letting out a grunt and sifting through his pocket, pulling out a lollipop that he quickly unwrapped and popped into his mouth, continuing his reading.

 

“Well, quit standing around and find something you guys want to use.” Morgana said from Ren’s bag, but as soon as he was finished talking, Ren jottled the bag and glared inside as the man at the counter quickly looked up from his magazine and glared at Ren and his bag. Ren and the man stood there for a short while before the man spoke up. “Are you gonna buy something or just stand around blocking the door?” The man’s voice was gruff, easily matching the intimidating nature of his look.

 

Ren gave a hesitant laugh as he rubbed the back of his hand and started making his way into the mess of merchandise. Ryuji was off looking at several model shotguns while Makoto was shifting through an assortment of auto rifles, half looking for something, half not. Ren made his way over to her and asked, “Anything catch your eye like Ryuji over there?”

 

“Huh? Oh, sort of. But not really. I’m just thinking about what my sister would say if she saw me in here.” Makoto said as she put the auto rifle back down. When it was placed she turned her head slightly as something caught her eye. Makoto’s eyes widened quickly, the deep crimson sparkling brightly as she snapped to see what it was. She then shifted her eyes to look back at Ren then back at the object. Makoto then quickly shook her head and asked, “How about you?”

 

Even though Makoto’s movements barely took no more than three seconds, Ren was easily able to tell what caught her attention. A model revolver that seemed like it would belong in an American Wild West film or some Yakuza movie. Ren raised an eyebrow then smiled as he answered, “Nah. Ryuji pretty much set me up when he handed me that pistol so I’m probably just gonna get Ryuji whatever he ends up picking out.

 

“Hmm. So you’re really just here to return the favor?” Makoto asked.

 

“Heh, yeah, I guess you could say as much.” Ren answered as Ryuji walked up to the two of them with a boxed model shotgun in his hand. Ryuji had a smile plastered on his face as he held the box like itself was the gun and asked, “Don’t this thing just scream, ‘Ryuji’? Only thing is, is that it’s a bit pricey. 7,000 yen I think is a bit much.”

 

Morgana wriggled his way out of Ren’s bag for a moment and said, “Well, the more dangerous it looks, the damage it will do in the metaverse.”

 

“So we can upgrade our supplies in there?” Makoto asked Morgana.

 

“Yep. It just has to look more-”

 

“Is there a cat in here?” The man asked aloud, cutting off Morgana. Ren quickly shook his bag slightly so that Morgana would know to go back inside. Morgana did as he was told and snuggled his way back into Ren’s bag.

 

The frizzy haired teen let out a breath and asked, “You guys ready to head out then?” Makoto nodded but held nothing in her hands while Ryuji shook his head up and down with vigor until his phone vibrated, stopping his excited head banging.

 

He pulled out his phone and unlocked it to reveal a text from his mother. Ryuji let out a sigh and said, “Sorry guys, but I’ve gotta get back home. My Mom needs help with somethin’.” Ryuji looked at the model shotgun in his hands and then back to Ren. “Hey man, do you think you could take care of this for me from now on? It’s a bit of a hassle having to deal with this on top of everything else.” Ren nodded in agreement and Ryuji returned it with a smile, handing him the shotgun and the cash he brought with him. “If you need to find something cheaper, that’s alright because I obviously don’t have enough. Anyways, I’ve gotta get goin’. See ya two tomorrow.” Ryuji ended the conversation, and started walking out the door of Untouchable.

 

“Well, I guess we better check out- Wait! We gotta pick something up for Ann.” Makoto reminded Ren.

 

“Don’t worry, I remembered. I’ve been thinking about what to get her.” Ren said as he cupped his chin with his hand.

 

“Well, why not just get her something like this?” Makoto asked while motioning to the auto rifles she was just previously looking at. “It seems to be simple enough and easy to use.”

 

Ren shook his head in disagreement. “Yeah, but my mother always told me that firearms tend to have personalities that match them. And if I had to describe her personality in the few days I’ve known her, I’d say that she’s ‘All over the place?’... So something that fires really spray and pray-like. Like that scene from the Mafia movie, ‘Scarface’.” Ren turned turned in a small half circle until he laid his eyes on something. A small firearm that said, ‘UZI- A CLOSE RANGE RAPID FIRING MACHINE!’. Ren walked over, set Ryuji’s soon to be shotgun down, and grabbed the smaller weapon. Ren turned back to Makoto and said, “Something like this. Ooh! It’s in the price range too.”

 

“And what exactly is the price range?”

 

Ren picked back up the shotgun and said, “Ryuji just set it with this right here. Anyways, are you gonna pick something up or no?”

 

Makoto shook her head no and said, “I don’t think I’ll be picking anything up today. Nothing really caught my eye.”

 

Ren chuckled a little bit and said, “Well I guess, ‘the wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.’” Ren then started making his way to the counter.

 

The man on the other side looked up, eyeing Ren up and down before he said, “These are some pretty nice choices for a beginner. Why these?”

 

Ren quickly tilted his glasses discreetly so that the light shined off of them. Hiding his eyes as he said, “Because they look real.”

 

The man got his legs off the counter and cocked his head back with a raised eyebrow. “Oh, so you two and that blonde haired kid are plannin’ a nice big bank robbery or somethin’?”

 

“No sir. We just saw some airsoft tournament videos and the sport intrigued us.” Makoto was quick to cut in. The man just eyed her up and down as well before he shrugged and placed his magazine on the counter.

 

“Well you shoulda just said you two were enthusiasts. I’m always up for helpin’ fresh faces.” He leaned in and looked from Makoto to Ren, then back to Makoto and back again to Ren. “You guys are obviously noobs in the business, so some precautions before you buy. Don’t go around pointin’ em at people. Keep em in the bag if you’re outside. And don’t let the fuzz catch wind of you guys havin’ em. I don’t need them comin’ around here.”

 

Ren nodded and cooley said, “Got it. We hate the cops anyway.”

 

The man nodded back, smiled and said, “That right?” He then pulled out a pistol similar to Ren’s from the counter and said, “If you look closely, you’ll be able to tell these’re models. Real guns… feel different. Maybe someday I’ll show you the real good stuff if you expand your craft and become like some of the regulars around here. We all started somewhere, kid. But for now, you get the beginner selection, so what’s basically laying ‘round here. Lemme ring those up for you real quick.”

 

The man started scanning the two model weapons when Makoto’s phone started vibrating as well. “Oh. Sorry, Ren. But it looks like I need to be leaving as well. My sis just texted and I need to head home so I can heat up some food for her before she heads back to work.” And with that, Makoto left the building.

 

The man watched as she left before he transitioned his attention to Ren. “So, is she like your girlfriend or something?”

 

Ren shook his head no before a little flash of smile appeared on his lips momentarily. “Can I actually go grab something to add to this real quick?”

 

“Go ahead.” With that, Ren quickly went back to the revolver Makoto had been eyeing and grabbed it. ‘13,000 yen… Well, with Ryuji’s 5,000 I should just barely have enough to get those three their weapons. That’s a worth in my book despite me going back to broke ass Bob again.’ Ren walked back over to the counter and the man smiled as he said, “You’ve got quite the classy eye. That’ll be 26,000 yen.” Ren handed him the cash and the man began bagging the items and handed them to Ren.

 

With that, the two nodded to each other and Ren was out of the building. As soon as the glass door closed behind Ren, Morgana popped his head out and asked, “What’d you go back and buy?”

 

Ren smiled and said, “‘The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.’ And that revolver was clearly Makoto’s wand. Even if she said nothing caught her eye.”

Chapter Text

04/17/2016

 

Evening

Cafe Leblanc

 

Ren was frozen as ice. His hand was extended and hovering over the door handle of Leblanc but he was unmoving. Ren’s face formed into one that mixed the feelings of ‘oh shit’ and ‘what have I done’. He stood there, in the same unmoving position until Morgana climbed over his shoulder and said, “Hey, what’s the hold up here? Why aren’t you going inside already?”

 

Ren swallowed and dropped his hand, lifting the other, which held the bag full of model weapons. He met Morgana’s eyes with his own wide with terror. “And whaaat do you think I should do about these? I’m glad I stopped myself in time because if I walked into Leblanc with all of this, you’d best know I would not have a place of residence.”

 

Ren began to back away from the door so that the conversation wouldn’t carry through and into the cafe. Morgana’s own eyes began to form the same expression as Ren’s as he snapped his head back and forth between the model weaponry and Ren. “Okay… This may have a been a slight oversight.”

 

“Personally I would say this is just a tad bit more than a slight oversight but that’s not because I’m on probation or anything.” Ren deadpanned.

 

“Hey! Those weapons are gonna end up doing you guys wonders in the metaverse!” Morgana scolded as he hopped onto the ground. “And what do you want me to do about it? I’m just a cat.”

 

Ren’s eyes immediately transitioned from slight unamusement to disappointment as he looked down at Morgana. “Oh. I get it. You’re a cat when it’s convenient for you.” Ren shook his head and walked a few feet down the street. He started focusing and activated his third eye, stepping in a small circle, hoping that anything could be seen that would be beneficial to him. Nothing was shown to him but there was one thing that stood out to Ren in the darkness. A small singular light that was faintly visible in the pitch black and assortment of odd neon colours.

 

Ren quit focusing to see more clearly where the light was being shown. He went down a narrow alley behind Leblanc and found a window that revealed a room, illuminated by a soft white light. This was the attic of Leblanc. Ren’s room, one story above him. This was his way in, but, the window was also locked- probably. Ren hadn’t tried opening it yet. Ren took in a deep breath and looked at Morgana, who stood outside of the alley in the street. “So, I have a kinda stupid idea, but hear me out.”

 

“I’m reluctant but it’s the only thing we have so far.” Responded the black cat.

 

Ren smiled and said, “Well then, I shall reveal my master plan to you.” Ren then placed his bag of model weapons on the ground and pointed up at the window. “This right here is our ticket in. I don’t know if this window is locked, but I can hop up there and open it up if it isn’t. Then, I can slide the model guns onto my bed. If it is locked, well, wanna teach me how to make a lockpick real quick? Can’t use that many materials to make one, right?”

 

“Don’t you need to know how to lockpick something first?” Morgana bluntly asked.

 

Ren shook his head and said, “Nah. I got a lockpicking kit when I was a kid because of this book I read when I was younger about a gentleman thief named… Arsene. Huh… Either way, I loved the book and I actually picked one up from the library a while ago and I’m getting off topic so back to the plan. I picked the skill up pretty fast and would use the kit to break into my house if my dad locked it up after he left for work. Never learned how to make them though. But first, seeing if the window will open without one.” Ren set his right foot on the wall of Leblanc and pushed up and off, immediately pulling up his other foot, placing it on the opposite wall and pushing up and off. Following this process for five jumps, Ren hopped over to the ledge of his window, grabbing the outside edge of it. Pulling himself up, Ren pried his leg in between the opposite wall and himself, keeping him in place.

 

Feeling around on the window, Ren quickly learned that he needed to pull the window out to open it… and that there were no outside locks for him to pick. Grabbing his pencil out of his pocket, he forcefully jammed it underneath the window and pushed the eraser down, pushing the pencil up and down, slowly prying the window open. After treating the pencil like a makeshift car jack, the window finally opened up slightly and Ren slowly pulled it the rest of the way to lessen the groans of the rusted metal hinges. When fully extended, Ren hopped off from his ledge, grabbed the bag of model weapons, looked at Morgana and said, “See? Perfect plan.”

 

Morgana waltzed over to where Ren sat and said, “I think you’re better at being a cat than I am.”

 

The tousle haired boy chuckled slightly and said, “Maybe we switched bodies or something. Either way, let’s get this done real quick. I’m tired.”

 

“Wait. After you mentioned the lockpicks, I want to show you how to make them now.” Morgana said, climbing up Ren’s pant leg and stretching.

 

Ren let out a groan and said, “Fine. How hard could it be anyways?” With the bag of model weapons in hand, Ren went back to getting to his window, following the same process as before. Once at the window, holding himself up with one hand on the ledge, Ren hoisted the bag of model guns and slowly placed them on his bed. Ren quickly hopped back down and dusted his hands off on his pants. The two walked out of the alley and Morgana hopped back into Ren’s bag as Ren picked it up and opened the door into Leblanc.

 

Sojiro was standing behind the counter, polishing some mugs as two businessmen sat in a booth. Their whispers were clearly hearable in the silence and they seemed to be saying nothing but praise for the curry. Ren paid it no mind and nodded to Sojiro, walking for the stairs before his guardian called out to him.

 

“You were out for a long time. What were you up too?” Sojiro asked.

 

Ren turned and answered. “Some friends showed me around Shibuya for the day and that’s about it. I did, however, get lost in the underground mall for an hour or two and that was just a whole debacle.” Sojiro didn’t say anything as he turned around and began coughing. “Anyways, I’m off to bed. Eventful day and all that.” Ren turned back around and started heading up the stairs.

 

Before he rounded the corner, he heard Sojiro mutter through small laughs, “That’s what smartasses get for acting like themselves.” Ren shook his head with a sigh and climbed the rest of the way upstairs.

 

Placing his bag onto the small couch, Morgana hopped out, stretched once more and said, “Are you ready for lesson one in your thief education?”

 

“Wouldn’t this be lesson… four?” Ren asked as he sat in the bench at his desk, inching forward slightly.

 

“Tomato, Tomahto. Same thing. Either way you’re learning something new.” Morgana said, hopping up onto the desk, sitting down and staring at Ren. “To get started, you need your materials. To make a lockpick, we need a tin clasp and some silk yarn. Do you have any of these?”

 

Ren was about to say no to Morgana’s question but… “I might have some. I don’t really know. I’ve been finding weird items in my pockets shortly after we leave the Metaverse. So that’s a giant maybe because I think I may have seen stuff like that among the odd items.” Ren leaned over to his side and grabbed a small box full of odds and ends. Digging through, he found a few of each item that Morgana requested.

 

Ren sprawled them out onto the table and Morgana stretched real quick while letting out a small yawn. “Well alrighty then. Now that you have your supplies, all you have to do to start making a lockpick is…” Morgana began to teach Ren the entire process. There were several failed attempts and few successes while Ren worked near into midnight.

 

After having made three perfect lockpicks, Ren changed into his pajamas, walked into the shop and turned off all the lights that Sojiro had left on after he left. He walked back upstairs, turning the attic light off and hopped onto his bed and went to sleep. Morgana curled up right beside him.

 

???

???

 

Ren’s eyes fluttered open to darkness. He felt nothing in the pitch black and when he tried to move he found that he couldn't. There was nothing to hear but silence as he… existed. And then he began to spin. Spinning and spinning- never stopping as a feeling of weightlessness penetrated Ren’s gut. He could feel his heart beating faster and faster as it forced itself up his throat. Ren’s breathing was fast and shallow as all control was taken away from him in this darkness and then just as fast as it began, the spinning ended. But now there was a small white light in the far distance with a single silhouetted figure sitting on its knees in the middle.

 

The two stared at each other for what felt like minutes until a voice crashed around in the black. It was loud but it did not yell. “And so your story truly begins. I am excited to see how you'll try to find your way through the cesspool of hate, sorrow, guilt and lies. Most of all, I wonder how you'll find your way through the pain.” The silhouette slowly stood up and threw its arms into the air, turning in a slow circle as if it was showing off the room in which the two were currently resided.

 

“You most of all, Ren Amamiya, understand what it’s like for the chains of torment to wrap themselves around your limbs. Your neck. And pull and tighten and oh how hard it can be to breathe when the constrict.” When the last vibrations of the voice had finished, the silhouette cracked its neck towards Ren and if it had eyes, they were burning holes into Ren’s head. Then it snapped it's fingers and a chain flew towards Ren’s neck and wrapped itself around, slowly cutting off any possibility for breathing. Ren wanted to scream out but found that he had no voice. Whether it was because of the chain digging into his neck or the state of being he was in, Ren didn’t know.

 

The only sound left in the darkness was the sound of the chain burrowing into Ren’s flesh. The silhouette stood, staring at Ren with an emotionless stature. There was only one sound in the darkness until a voice broke through. Ren’s voice, but it did not come from him. “If I fail to do what must be done- if I fail to change Kamoshida’s heart, regardless of whether or not he lives- my life is over!” The silhouette snapped and another chain flew towards Ren, wrapping itself around his right leg and pulling with intense force. His leg feeling like it would snap at any moment.

 

There were silence and then Ren’s voice began to sob uncontrollably. “WHY! WHY DID THEY ALL TURN THEIR BACKS ON ME! WAS EVERYTHING I HAD DONE FOR THAT TOWN MADE COMPLETELY VOID WITH THE STATEMENT OF A LIE!?” The silhouette snapped once more and another chain came flying, wrapping itself around his left arm. Instead of pulling, this chain began to grow red hot and started searing burns into his arm. Ren tried to scream but there was no voice. His wasn’t done talking.

 

“I wonder if father actually cares anymore. About me, about the diner, about the world or about his life in general. Oh who am I kidding? Of course he doesn’t. Ever since Mom died, he’s been nothing but barely sober at work and shit faced drunk everywhere else. He abandoned the world after she left. He abandoned his life. He may have been there physically but he was never truly there. He abandoned me . He hasn’t given a damn about me for six years. He died when mother died but at least it seemed like her grave would respond when you spoke to it.” The silhouette snapped again and another chain wrapped around Ren’s left arm and started pulling. He felt like his body was going to start ripping in half.

 

Through the immense pain, Ren could feel the pressure change in the darkness and then his voice began to yell once more. “WHAT THE HELL IS A TRICKSTER!? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO BE SOME CHOSEN FUCK UP WHEN THAT MAN WON’T EVEN TAKE A BREATH OUT OF HIS DAY TO GIVE ME SOME INFORMATION!” The silhouette didn’t snap this time but a chain came flying regardless, wrapping around his neck once more but pulling in the opposite direction, making it even harder to breathe. There was silence and the pressure changed back to as it was before. “It’s only been a week... Why is this happening to me?” Ren’s “voice” was weak as it spoke.

 

There was stillness in the darkness and the only sounds were from Ren’s struggled breathing and the quiet sobs from his “voice” in the background, and then the original voice began to talk once more and the air started shaking. “You’re walking down a very treacherous path, Mr. Amamiya. One that could very easily end in your death or some other form of life ending punishment. After all, you know that there is more than one way to end one. Your father is more than proof enough for that.”

 

When the voice finished talking, the silhouette disappeared and the light followed soon after. The only light left in the darkness was the burning chain and then the light reappeared just a few feet away where Ren was bound. The silhouette slowly formed back into existence. The darkness seemed to flow off its body like liquid tendrils. It slowly tilted its head to the side and continued to stare at Ren with its own faceless features.

 

“Chains never forget. The steel they’re made from will always hold the scars of what they were bound too. They choke, they bind, they slowly sap all life from the soul and they never break.” The silhouette realigned its head and then it smiled with stark white teeth bared against the blackest black. It’s mouth moved as the voice began to speak again, but this time, it did not reverberate through the darkness but was rather right in front of Ren. “Good luck, Ren Amamiya. For the story truly begins now.” When the silhouette was finished speaking, it disappeared and the light followed with it.

 

There was only silence in the darkness until the searing from one of the two chains on Ren’s left arms began to make a very audible graphic screeching sound. Ren could hear screaming in the background grow louder and louder and then it was coming from his own mouth. And then, the chains began to drag him lower and lower, leading nowhere in particular until Ren lost consciousness.

 

04/18/2016

 

Early Morning

Cafe Leblanc

 

There was a quiet, constant ringing in the background that slowly grew louder as Ren woke up. As he was being urged out of his nightmare, more sounds made themselves known. Ren could hear a faraway voice, higher in pitch and extremely familiar. He slowly opened his eyes and looked up, finding the face of his mother sitting over him. Her raven black hair was draped around the edges of her face, darkening it and making her water blue eyes seemingly glow. She wore a soft smile and as Ren stared up at her, the ringing in the background he had heard previously quickly faded away. The two of them sat motionless for a few seconds until the same smile Akari wore started to show on Ren’s own face. “How’s it going sleepless?” She asked.

 

“I dunno. I just had a really bad dream is all.” Ren answered as Akari cupped his cheek with the palm of her hand. Her eyes were writ with worry as she scanned his face for hints of hidden emotion. A few more seconds passed and Akari could find nothing to continue her worries as Ren melted in the embrace of his mother. The nostalgia filled his lungs with happy breathing and his heart with tight gripped sadness.

 

Akari grabbed Ren’s hands and held them tight in her own and said, “Don’t try to be a stranger and be strong for me, honey. I’ll always be here for you when you need to talk to me but I can’t help if you don’t ask for it.” She brought the hands to her lips and gave a light kiss to Ren’s knuckles. “I know you and your Dad are worried about me right now, but if I don’t have much time left, I want to use it to be as close as I can to my family. To your Dad. To you.”

 

As her words started coming to their end, Ren could feel a tear rolling down his cheek. In response, Akari held him up and embraced her son. “I love you, Ren.”

 

“I love you too, Mom.” Ren’s words were forced out of choked back sobs as the two sat upon the hospital bed, embracing one another for a few sorrowful moments until the sound of the door opening and Ren’s father walking in interrupted the two of them. Akari let go of Ren, laying him back down and turned to his father, beaming at him.

 

“Touma. Why aren’t you at the diner?” Akari asked.

 

Touma smiled softly and answered, “Because a certain son of ours went to sleep in the wrong building. Someone has to get him and take him to school.”

 

Akari let out a light laugh, took a look at Ren and beamed at him. “C’mon, sleepyhead. You don’t belong here right now. You gotta get going to school.”

 

Ren blinked a few times and looked to his Dad and back to his Mom and asked, “Wait. What did you say?”

 

“I said, you don’t belong here.” Akari said, her eyes lost their glow and color, settling with a light grey and deadness to them that belonged far away from the living. She smiled down on Ren and the strands of her hair started to fall out of her head in massive quantities. Ren started screaming and tried to get up and run but Akari’s grip on his body was unnaturally strong, keeping him in place.

 

Tears started to fall profusely from Ren’s face as choked sobs made their way out of his throat. He tried to turn and look at his Dad and scream for help but found him slumped over on the ground. A newspaper was held in his hand that was littered with drops of tears; most of which were on a headline that read, ‘ Highly Respected Police Officer, Akari Takada, Passes on April 28th, 2010 to Brain Cancer ’. “NO! It’s not true! They’re lying, Dad! She was fine just yesterday!” Ren cried out to his father but Touma heard none of it.

 

The ringing from before began to show itself once more and it grew louder and louder with vigor until the only noise it made was that of a screech. Ren closed his eyes tightly and padded his hands against his ears, putting on as much pressure as he could to try and block the ear bleeding noise and then… Silence. Ren slowly let his hands slide off of his ears and hesitantly opened his eyes. He could feel his body wrapped into the fetal position on his bed and the streaks of tears sliding from his eyes. With raspy and shallow breaths, Ren opened his eyes up completely to find Sojiro standing over him at the bedside. He was holding Ren’s phone and worry was written all over his face as he stared down at Ren.

 

Sojiro placed the phone back down on the side of the bed and said, “Hey, kid. Are you feeling alright or would you rather stay here for the day?”

 

Ren rubbed his eyes and wiped his tears away. When he looked back up at Sojiro, Ren shook his head and said, “No. I’ll be fine. It was just a really bad dream.”

 

Ren finished his statement with a hesitant laugh when he felt a paw swat at his face. “That seemed like a lot more that a bad dream. I couldn’t wake you up! I had to come get Sojiro so that he could try and wake you up but then you just… Are you sure you’re okay?” Morgana’s face matched Sojiro’s in emotion as he stared at Ren.

 

Ren nodded to him as Sojiro spoke back up. “That is one talkative cat. He even came downstairs and kind of grabbed me to get me to come up here. I guess he’s already pretty attached to you. Good.” Sojiro pat Ren’s shoulder and then gripped it firmly. “If you’re sure you’re okay, get going to school or you’ll be late. I still want to make sure you’re serious about this situation of yours but I’m not going to make the kid I’m taking care of suffer. So I don’t care what you choose to do, just choose it quick.” With that, Sojiro turned around and walked back down into the cafe.

 

Ren looked at Morgana- who was still worried but calmer than he was a second ago- and nodded. Ren then tried to prop himself up with his left arm but immediately regretted doing so as an intense burning pain ran through the limb. Ren gasped out in pain and clutched it as he fell back onto bed. When the pain subsided, Ren took a look at the arm and found all the scars from the past Tuesday heavily swollen and deep red. Whenever he moved the arm it would burn slightly and when Ren put pressure on it it would feel like a branding iron was covering the entire length of the arm. ‘Shit.’ Ren thought to himself.

 

Morgana sat on the bed looking at the arm with his eyes wide in confusion before he asked, “Where did you get that injury?”

 

Ren pushed himself off his bed quickly so that it wouldn’t hurt his arm nearly as badly then answered with, “When we were in Kamoshida’s palace and got ganged on at the entrance and Ryuji and Makoto awakened to their Persona’s.”

 

“Wait. But injuries aren’t supposed to carry over!” Morgana cried out as Ren began to strip out of his sleep wear.

 

“Yeah? Well, the aftermath did. Though I can’t really say I know why this is happening. The arm was fine until now.” Ren said as he started to put on the pieces of clothing belonging to his uniform.

 

Morgana stood up and stretched out across the bed. While hopping off, he said, “Well maybe whatever is happening to your arm, the pain of that caused you to have that nightmare.”

 

Ren stood still, contemplating the possibility as he held his shirt in his hand. ‘Maybe. But no, I know why it’s like this. Because of that place. That… pit.’ Ren shook his head and put his shirt on entirely, tucking it into his pants. “Maybe. But that still doesn’t explain why this happened to my arm in the first place. For some reason, I’m doubting any sort of phantom side effects.”

 

“I guess you’re right about that.” Morgana said as he placed himself in Ren’s school bag. “I miss the other bag already…”

 

Ren laughed lightly at this and said, “Sorry. But c’mon, we can’t be late to school.” Ren finished putting on his jacket, grabbed the Morgana bag and slumped it over his shoulder and walked out of the cafe and to the train station. Starting the new week and his time limit. ‘Kamoshida’s going down no matter what. That bastard is going to get what’s coming to him.’

Chapter Text

04/18/2016

 

After School

Shujin Academy

 

Ren stood beyond the gate of Shujin Academy, placed near half a meter in the alleyway and leaning against the wall as students of all walks of life traversed out of the school building and on with their lives. Ren’s shoulders were slumped forward and his eyes downcast as he watched the stairs, waiting for the others while Morgana shuffled around in his bag. Morgana’s head was protruding from the small opening; his gaze was constantly shifting between the stairs and the solemn look of Ren’s face.

 

The experience he had gone through the night prior had left its mark for the day. Ren hardly spoke as the hours passed by and he constantly seemed to be thinking about something. Though to Morgana, these thoughts were knowledge unknown. Ren's left arm seemed to be slowly getting better but movement still made him visibly shutter in pain. Ann had noticed the shift in Ren's demeanor as well- constantly looking back at Ren during small breaks in the days lectures to check up on him but the same stoic face was her greeting.

 

When the bell had rung- ending the day of classes- Ren had quickly packed his belongings, ushered Morgana into the bag and left without saying a word. Ann had tried to match his pace so she could catch him and ask what was wrong but Ren was gone when she exited the class. Ann’s eyebrows knit together in concentration as she tried to discern the reason behind her newly acquired friend’s atmosphere but there was no theory made. Ann stood there in the hallway as her peers flowed around her and down to the floor below to leave the school or to their respective clubs until Ryuji walked out of his own classroom.

 

As he stepped out, Ryuji looked around in hopes of finding Ren and being able to hang out with him but found Ann in his stead. Ann shook her head slightly and put a smile on as she waved over to Ryuji- who in turn did the same as he walked over to her. “Heya, how's it goin’? Did Ren already head over to the alley?”

 

Ann nodded in reply as she said, “Yeah. Though he's been acting weird all day. You know him better than I do so do you have any idea what's going on? Or did something happen yesterday?”

 

Ryuji shrugged his shoulders as they started walking down to the first floor and said, “I dunno. I've only known the guy a week and I had to dip early yesterday because my Mom needed help with cleaning the house.” As they reached the last step, Ryuji finished his explanation as Makoto entered into earshot of the two. “So if you wanna know everything that happened yesterday, ya'd have to ask Makoto.”

 

“Ask me what?” Makoto asked as she met the blonde duo at the stairs. Ryuji turned to her, waved in greeting and then pointed at Ann.

 

“Oh, it's probably nothing but Ren has just been acting kinda weird today. All depressed and stuff. I was just wondering if something happened yesterday but Ryuji said you'd know more.” Ann explained as the trio began to walk for the front doors.

 

Makoto thought back to her time with Ren yesterday but it wasn't much longer after Ryuji had left that she had done the same. “Sorry, but I couldn't say. I didn't spend much time with him after we left the shop.”

 

“Eh. I wouldn't worry too much about it.” Ryuji said as the three of them walked out of the school. “It's probably something to do with the school or his probation. Maybe those shitty rumors are getting to his head. But I bet he'll be fine.” Ryuji finished his theory as they all found Ren leaning against a wall in the alley.

 

His eyes were downcast as he scanned the constant flow of students from Shujin until he laid his eyes upon his new friends. He stood back up and gave them each a small smile while waving them into the alleyway. As the others entered, Ren began to speak. “We officially only have two weeks to steal Kamoshida’s heart. Two days ago we set up a way for us to get meds in the Metaverse and yesterday we acquired firearms so that we can deal some more damage in there as well. That brings up my next point though. I can’t exactly bring model weapons onto the subway or into school, so we gotta get to my place and pick them up and bring them back here on foot.”

 

“But don’t worry about having to do this every time we’re about to head in the Metaverse.” Said Morgana. “Once in there, they should act like Ren’s pistol or my slingshot and just disappear until we’re in the Metaverse again.”

 

There was a collective sigh of relief between Makoto, Ann and Ryuji which was afterwards followed by Ryuji saying, “Alright! Then where do we need to go?”

 

“Yongen-jaya.”

 

“Oh you have gotta be effin’ kidding me.” Ryuji said as he overdramatically slumped his shoulder forward. “That is way too far away dude.”

 

“Oh it won’t be that bad. It’s not like we gotta walk there and back. We just gotta walk back!” Ann said with a smile that also portrayed her unamusement.

 

Ren gave a small laugh and said, “Sorry. I would’ve just done it myself but I woke up a bit late today.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, Ren. Let’s just get it done as quickly as possible.” Makoto said as Ryuji picked himself back up and Ren grabbed his bag. Ren nodded to this and the group made their way to station.

 

The quick train ride was uneventful, filled with idle small talk about the groups upcoming foray into Kamoshida’s palace and quick checks through their respective social media accounts as the gray and black steel buildings flew by them. Once they had arrived at the Yongen-Jaya station, Ren began to lead them down the narrow streets surrounded by older apartment complexes and retro storefronts until they stopped at a cafe. Cafe Leblanc.

 

“Don’t go inside. I don’t want Sakura-san to get suspicious. I left open the attic window, though. It’s in the alley to the side here.” Said Ren as he led them slightly further down the street into the place he spoke of. He pointed up to the opened window and said, “There. Now I’m gonna hop up in there and grab the model guns and drop them down for ya.”

 

The others nodded and watched as Ren placed his right foot on the wall of Leblanc and his left on the base of the opposite. Pushing off with his right foot and quickly bringing up his left to jump in the opposite direction, Ren quickly reached the window and reached out with his left hand, grabbing the edge of the window forcefully so that he wouldn't fall. As he did this, however, a sharp, burning pain coursed throughout the entirety of his arm. Ren gasped out in pain and pulled himself to the wall, quickly grabbing the ledge with his right arm so that he wouldn't fall.

 

Ren hung still on the window sill for a few seconds while taking in slow, deep, shaky breaths as cold sweat began to bead at his forehead. Ren slowly swallowed and pulled himself up into the window, mainly using his right arm for the job. As he pulled himself in, Ren heard Morgana yell out, “Is your arm still hurting you!?”

 

Ren didn't answer as he quickly pulled out the three model weapons from under his bed and placed them on top of it. As he pulled himself to the edge of the windowsill he heard Ann ask, “What's going on with his arm?”

 

Ren grabbed the model shotgun and looked out the window as Morgana was about to answer Ann's question. “Don't worry about it. It's nothing major.” Ren quickly butted in before Morgana spoke. “Anyways, Ryuji. Catch.” Ren dropped the model shotgun above Ryuji and the dyed blonde easily caught it. Ryuji smiled as he gazed at the unopened box before Ren spoke back up. “That's gonna be the harder one to hide. Read the directions on the box, Ryuji. You can detach the double barrel from the hilt and that should make it easier to hide in your bag. We'll throw the box away in a trash can near the station.”

 

“Gottit!” Ryuji yelled with enthusiasm as he began to tear into the cardboard box. Ren smiled to himself as he looked back at his bed and grabbed the small SMG he had boughten for Ann. Ren peered over the window sill and saw Ryuji pulling out the model shotgun and showing it off to the other three, who all rolled their eyes at Ryuji as he began to figure out how to take the barrel off. Ren smiled to himself quickly and called out, “Ann. You’re next. It’ll be easy to hide. Just take it out of the box and place it in your bag.” Ren pulled the SMG out and placed it above Ann and dropped it.

 

Once caught, she looked it over, smiled and said, “Oh it’s so small! What’s it about small things that look so cute!”

 

“It’s a gun… Ann. How is it cute?” Makoto asked as she looked at Ann with a quirk to her eyebrow. Ann quickly gave a playful little glare and said, “Oh, hush you. Let this little guy be cute.”

 

Makoto shook her head in resignation and looked back up at Ren, who was staring down at the two blondes happily admiring their new gear. “That should be it, right?” Makoto asked, but only got a smirk in return.

 

“Hey Makoto. When’s your birthday?” Ren asked as he slid back into his room and grabbed the model revolver.

 

“Umm, April 23rd- five days from today.” Makoto answered as Ren poked his head out of the window.

 

Hearing this news, Ren smiled to himself and said, “Well talk about great timing. Happy early birthday, Makoto.” Makoto’s face became swallowed by confusion and then realization as Ren pulled out the model revolver she had been looking at yesterday and dropped it above her.

 

Makoto caught the weapon and began looking it over to find out it was the exact same one she was looking at. It was an exact replica from one of her favorite yakuza films. Her jaw dropped open as she looked back up to see Ren sliding his legs out of the window, holding on with his right hand. He asked for them to move out of the way to which all four complied with Ryuji grabbing Ren’s bag. Ren quickly hopped out of the window and landed gracefully but didn’t move as soon as he landed. The sudden stop sent shivers down Ren’s left arm and it took a few seconds for the pain to subside. Ren took in a deep breath that was cut off short by Ryuji. “Hey. Are you sure you’re okay, man? Ann was even saying you’ve been acting all sad and shit today too.”

 

Ann softly smiled at Ren while Makoto gave him an inquisitive gaze. Morgana peered over Ryuji’s shoulder, almost asking if he could talk about the morning if Ren didn’t want too but Ren just shook his head and said, “Just didn’t sleep well is all. Was tired throughout classes but now something exciting is happening. And the arm is just some old wound from when I was a kid acting up.”

 

“Maybe you should get it checked out by a doctor if it’s giving you pain like that.” Ann suggested but Ren just shook his head no.

 

“There’s no need. Anyways, you guys liking the new toys?” Ren asked as he began to walk out of the alley. Ren grabbed his bag from Ryuji as Morgana shuffled back into it and draped it around his shoulder.

 

Ryuji smiled and gave a little laugh as he zipped up his own bag, hiding the detached shotgun. “Hell’s yeah man. Thanks for payin’ the rest of the bill. I’ll pay ya back when I can.”

 

Ren waved his hand in denial as they all began to walk through the streets of Yongen. “Don’t worry about that. Whenever we defeat shadows in the Metaverse, I tend to get some cash along with it. I don’t know why, and I don’t think Morgana does either, but think of it as funding for our infiltration.”

 

“Hey! Don’t just assume I don’t know how it works!” Morgana mewed out as he popped his head out of Ren’s bag. “I mean, I don’t know how it works. But don’t assume I don’t.”

 

Ren laughed to himself and said, “Alright, alright. I got it. Anyways, Ann- good choice or nah?”

 

Ann shook her head in confirmation and said, “Yep! I can really get behind this little guy. What does it do anyways? It said fully auto on the box but I’m not really into guns enough to know what that means.”

 

“It just means that you can hold the trigger down and it will fire a lot of bullets until you let go.” Makoto explained as Ann mouthed the word, ‘Oh’.

 

Ren nodded to this and then turned to Makoto and said, “And you, Makoto. What do you think? Actually, let me ask you this. Did you really think you were being inconspicuous when you found that on the shelf?”

 

“W-w-well-well, no, but I didn’t think you were looking at me.” Makoto stuttered as she gave a hesitant smile to Ren. Her face then dropped and more thankful smile formed at her lips as she looked at Ren and said, “Thank you, however. It’s great.”

 

Ren nodded his head in acknowledgement and then asked, “It’s odd though, that that weapon is the one that caught your attention. It’s something that you’d be more likely to find in a Yakuza film or an American Old Western movie.”

 

Makoto rubbed the back of her head as the cars driving past them on the busy Tokyo streets blew her short hair in different directions and said, “My Dad and I used to watch Yakuza films together. This just so happens to be a replica of one of the guns they used in the first one my dad had me watch with him.”

 

“Huh. No shit?” Ryuji asked as they continued walking down the street.

 

“Yeah. It’s kinda cool that the honor student council president is into Yakuza movies of all things.” Ann added while Ryuji shook his head in agreement.

 

“Well, hopefully it does quite a bit of damage to shadows in the palace.” Morgana added as the afternoon sun shined down on him and Ren, covering them in a bright orange light. Ren smiled to himself the rest of the way back to Shujin. The idle small talk between the group of five reminded him of his time back at Matsushima with his old friends there. But although those ones left him when Ren got charged with assault, these one knew of his record and they still chose to talk to him. Better yet, two of them believed Ren when he said that he didn’t actually commit the crime and the other two simply hadn’t heard his side of the story yet.

 

The smile he held on his face never ceased as they finally reached Shujin and all thoughts on his dream prior were vanished as they all stepped back into the alley across from the school. The others discreetly pulled out their model weapons and stood ready to head into the palace. All that needed to be done was Ryuji putting back together his shotgun. When the two pieces clicked together, Ren pulled out his smartphone, pulled up the Metaverse Navigator and selected everything that correlated with Kamoshida’s palace. He thumb hovered over the navigate button as he looked back at the others. “Ready?” Ren asked as Morgana hopped out of Ren’s bag. They all looked at him and nodded with determination masking their faces. Ren nodded back and tapped the navigation button and the world around them began to change. The light changed into a violet, red, and purple hue and the droplets of water hitting the ground created a ripple on the ground like water where there shouldn’t be any. The school quickly turned into a looming castle and everyone’s outfit changed in a bright flash of blue flame. Ryuji’s shotgun was strapped to back and the girl’s guns were strapped at their hip. Ann’s SMG was connected to a belt around her waist with a little clip that held the firearm while Makoto now had an old fashioned holster attached to her right thigh, holding the revolver.

 

Morgana jumped up into the air and when he landed, pumped his fist in the air with excitement as he exclaimed, “Now you four are looking like real phantom thieves!”

 

“Phantom Thieves? Is that what we’re gonna call ourselves? Like some sorta secret organization in a manga?” Ryuji asked but he answered for himself. “Hells yeah! That sounds freakin’ awesome! Doesn’t that sound awesome guys!?”

 

Ann happily agreed with Ryuji while Ren began walking towards the drawbridge. As he reached the base of it, Ren turned back around and said, “It sounds more ironic. Being the son of cop and being a thief. But yeah, you’re right. It does sound really cool. You just come up with that now, Mona?”

 

Makoto let out a small laugh and said, “I completely agree with you on the irony. But still, cool name, Mona.

 

A smile spread over Morgana’s face as he said, “Yep! You jealous of my genius, Joker?”

 

A small laugh escaped Ren’s lips as he said, “Sure. We can say that if it makes you happy. But let’s get started guys! We’ve gotta lot of castle to cover and not a whole lot of direction on where to go. Just somebody that can sense where it is like a hotter and colder game. So let’s get this done.”

 

The others nodded in agreement and the five of them began to cross the drawbridge. As they took their final steps across, there was a giant flash of blue fire that temporarily blinded Ren as he recoiled back, covering his eyes with his arm in a futile attempt to shield his eyes from the bright blue. When the light subsided, he dropped his arms to find the others looking at him with confusion. Beyond them, there stood Caroline in front of an ethereal blue cell door. Chains flowed around the edges with no beginning or end to them. The small warden turned and looked at Ren then yelled out, “Inmate! In here! The Master has something to show you!”

 

Caroline then slammed the blue cell door with her baton. The sound reverberating through the air as the others still continued to look at Ren with confusion. “You okay, Joker? Why’d you flinch like that?” Asked Morgana as the cell door flew open.

 

Ren just shook his head as Caroline began to impatiently tap her foot on the ground with her arms crossed. “It was nothing. You guys didn’t see the bright flash? Doesn’t matter. Give me a second real quick.” Ren said as he made his way to Caroline. “Can they see you or this door?” Ren whispered to the small warden as he neared her.

 

“Nope. Only those who’ve formed a contract can see the attendants of the Velvet Room and it’s entrances. Now get in, inmate! You’re wasting time!” Caroline answered but as she began yelling at him, she quickly flanked his back, jumped up and kicked him in the base of the back with both of her feet, causing him to tumble forward into the cell door.

 

The others watched Ren trip a little and then stop and stand up straight. Placing his hands in his pockets, Ren became stoic in his posture. “Umm. What do you guys think he’s doin’ standing over there?” Ryuji asked as they all stood and stared at Ren.

 

“I dunno. Let’s go check out what he’s looking at or doing.” Suggested Ann as she began to walk to Ren, but when she reached him, she found that his eyelids were closed yet his eyes were moving extremely fast beneath the veil of skin. “Hey guys. He’s just standing here with his eyes closed. Hey, Joker! What’re you doing?” Ann asked as the others stood next to her, but she received no answer from the boy clad in black.

 

“Look at his eyes. Is he dreaming?” Makoto asked as the four continued to stare in confusion. But as this was all happening, Ren was experiencing something much different beyond the Metaverse and back in the Velvet Room.

 

Caroline now stood beyond the cell door keeping Ren locked up. He walked over, placing his hands on separate iron bars and peered through the gaps at Igor. The same unnerving smile was placed on his face but this time, there was a hitch to it. The smile threatened excitedness as he gazed upon Ren. There was silence until Igor finally spoke up. “Trickster. It pleases me to present a service to you. As you can see, an entrance into this Velvet Room stands out in the safety of the entrance to the Castle of Lust and another will be placed in an area that you would call Central Street. It will be placed discreetly so that you will not attract attention when you feel the need to use our services.

 

“And just what are these services?” Ren asked as his grip tightened on the iron bars under the creepy gaze of Igor. The long nosed man then nodded to Justine, allowing her to explain.

 

“Persona Fusion. As a wielder of the Wild Card, you not only have the ability to use multiple Personae, but also the ability to fuse some of them together to create different, stronger Personae.” Justine explained. “Any Persona you have acquired will be filed in the compendium and can be summoned for a price here when you need something to summon.”

 

“And how does one fuse Personas?” Asked Ren.

 

In response, Caroline slammed the iron bars with her baton and said with a malicious smile, “Watch this. In example for how Persona Fusion works, we’ll be taking your Bicorn and Pixie from ya.” Caroline and Justine both turned around and began to walk towards two massive guillotines. The blade at the top held the same golden ‘V’ symbol that the twins held on their eyepatches.

 

As the Twin Wardens grew near to the machinations of execution, Igor snapped his fingers and Ren felt something being tugged away from him, being pulled away yet he could still feel them. Two masks floated away from Ren’s face and turned into the shadows he had acquired previously. Bicorn and Pixie floated to their respective guillotines and each of the twin wardens threw a navy blue tarp over them. This tarp quickly wrapped itself around the Persona’s as the Wardens then placed them down on the guillotines- the napes of their necks directly underneath the blades.

 

Ren’s pulse quickened immediately at the sight before him. He knew exactly what was going to happen but beyond that, he could feel the utter fear from the Persona’s being readied for execution. Ren could still feel them. Ren began to thrash at the iron bars, screaming out, “What the hell do you think you’re doing!? You’re going to kill them!”

 

Igor gave a low, rumbling laugh as he explained, “New life born from the death of others. This is how the fusion of Personae works and it’ll be your only hope of getting stronger. I’d suggest you steel your resolve and accept this gift with grace. Girls. Get on with it.”

 

Ren’s thrashing against the iron bars increased tenfold as his eyes began to narrow in fear. He could do nothing to stop the atrocity in front of him. The fear from the Persona’s increased and Ren could feel their mental and emotional cries for life until Caroline looked at Justine. The two wardens nodded at one another and pulled the levers of their respected guillotines.

 

Ren felt the sudden screams from his now dead persona’s and then silence. He fell to his knees as the essence of the two old Persona’s began to flow together to form a new one. This new creation was a puddle of green sludge. It introduced itself as “Slime” then turned into the same mask that Ren adorned on his own face. The mask turned around and disappeared. Ren could feel the soul of the Slime in his heart but noticed the definite lack of two others. He slowly picked himself back up, arms shaking and his eyes narrowed onto a singular point on the concrete floor.

 

When Ren finally looked back up, the Twin Wardens had moved to stand beside Igor’s desk. “Return now, to the Metaverse and show us your continued strength. Anything and everything is a worthy sacrifice when associated with your rehabilitation. Keep this in mind.” Igor said. When finished talking, Ren felt himself being pulled away from the Velvet Room and everything went black.

 

When Ren opened his eyes once more, he found three pairs of eyes staring at him with worry. Ren tried to speak but found he had no voice. He began to shake and couldn’t stop as the feeling of fear of death continued to course through his heart until a yelling voice from the right of Ren called out. “IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP RENREN!”

 

Ren heard the bounding of long strides and turned to face Ryuji barrelling at him with full force and speed. Ann tried calling out telling Ryuji to stop but it was too late. Within a second of Ren turning to face Ryuji and the blond haired boy realizing his friend was now back with him, there was no stopping and Ryuji full on tackled Ren to the ground. The two sliding across the stone for several meters until they stopped.

 

Ryuji heard Ren groaning and immediately picked himself back up as the others surrounded Ren, now lying on the floor, trying to catch the breath knocked out of him while grasping his left arm in clear agony. Whether the pain he was showcasing was physical or emotional was a story of its own. His body was clenched up as he held onto his left arm while tears flowed freely from his eyes. “Oh my god, dude! I am so sorry, man!” Ryuji yelled out as he fell back onto his knees trying to console his friend. “D-Did I really hit you that hard man? Oh my god, I am so sorry dude.”

 

Ren let out a shaky laugh and tightly closed his eyes while wiping away the tears. “Don’t apologize, man. That was a nice hit.” The pain in Ren’s arm was still great but the tears were done. He slowly picked himself up into a leaning position on the ground. “And these tears aren’t because of that… No, definitely not. But it feels like a part of me just got killed.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Asked Ann she knelt down right next to Ryuji.

 

Ren looked up at her, to Ryuji, to Makoto and Morgana, then back to Ann and said, “I just watched those two Persona’s I had gotten a few days ago get executed… To form a new one. A… Slime, is it’s name.”

 

“What do you mean by, ‘Executed’?” Asked Makoto.

 

Ren looked into her crimson eyes while his own were still narrowed in fear and despair. “I… I don’t know. But I think I need to do it again soon.” The others shared a look of concern as Ren slowly picked himself off the ground. He let out a shaky breath, dusted himself off and closed his eyes tightly, rubbing his forehead with his index finger and thumb. When he opened them back up, his eyes were returned to their usual cocky laid back feel but Ren’s voice gave way to the lingering sadness he felt as he spoke.

 

“Let’s steal a heart. Shall we?”

 

Ryuji jumped back up, yelling out, “Hell Yeah!” as he did. Standing beside Ren, he grabbed his shoulder and firmly held it as he stared into Ren’s eyes with a face that said, ‘together’ . Ren smiled to this and nodded.

 

Moving forward, Ren led the group though the ventilation shaft and into the Castle of Lust, beginning their first true infiltration.

Chapter Text

04/18/2016

 

After School

Castle of Lust

 

The group of five crawled out of the ventilation shaft and into the sizeable storage room. Eyes from the others were still warily watching over Ren as his own dried. There was a hole in his heart after having those Persona’s ripped away from him and Ren had no idea on how to feel about the new one. Ren’s arm slowly began to throb into a silent background noise as he opened up the first door and began to take the lead- quickly sneaking through previous rooms while the others stayed back and slightly out of ear shot but close enough to watch where Ren was going.

 

As Ren began to quickly sneak past the now closed iron speared gate, Ryuji was the first to speak up. “So are we gonna just keep quiet ‘bout what just happened cause that was hella-”

 

“Odd. I’m pretty sure we all feel the same way.” Makoto cut off as they entered the barracks. Three shadows were patrolling the area while Ren was crouched behind a table. One of the three shadows was slowly approaching his area and Ren was getting ready to ambush. “Can we find another time to talk about it, however? It’s about to get busy fast.”

 

Ryuji and the others nodded as Ren quickly jumped onto the shadow, wrapping his grip under the outside edge of the grey mask and pulling with vigor. Once the mask was off, Ren quickly jumped off of the shadow and into a battle stance behind it as the others found their ways to Ren’s side. The shadow began to convulse while its limbs were bending in unnatural directions until it fell to the floor into a puddle of black and red sludge. From the remnants, another Bicorn flew up and glared at the thieves while snarling in some incoherent Japanese.

 

As Ren stared at the Bicorn, his own eyes grew wide and his breathing picked back up in pace. ‘Y-You’re supposed to be dead. I saw it happen right in front of me!’ Ren thought to himself as the battle sat unmoving. A hand on his shoulder pulled Ren out of his tunnel vision as the standstill between the thieves and the Bicorn continued. Ren didn’t look back to see who it was and shook his head from the fear filled stupor. Ren gripped the edges of his own mask, tearing it off while calling upon Slime’s name. As the green sludged persona appeared next to Ren, he yelled out, “Eiha!” The persona unleashed its attack and the others quickly let loose their own attacks. After which, the Bicorn soon disintegrated into nothingness.

 

The noise from the quick battle caught the attention of the other two shadows in the area and they ran for the group, quickly changing into their true forms as they did. The two shadows lasted no longer than their predecessor as the thieves let loose their attacks. A blast of fire from Ann, some cannonfire from Ryuji. A quick one-two combo from Makoto and her tekko while some slingshot fire and some dagger flourishing from Morgana and Ren finished the battle.

 

As the dust began to settle, Ren turned to Morgana and asked, “How the hell is that possible? Didn’t we already defeat some of those shadows before? How are they still alive?!”

 

“Hey- woah, that’s three questions when I haven’t even answered one!” Mewed Morgana in annoyance. He took a quick breath as he thought the questions over but they were simple for Morgana at best. “Shadows are different. They are born out of the souls of humanity and don’t really have anything binding them to life or death. They simply exist and there are many of them and many of each. You can’t really kill a shadow, Joker. Why is it a big deal, anyways?”

 

“Hey, are you feeling alright, Joker? You’ve been acting weird ever since we got here. What’s going on?” Asked Ann. She started walking closer to him to try and give comfort but Ren quickly turned around so that he didn’t have to face them.

 

Ren’s eyes were distant as he let out a small breath. He looked up, facing the doorway that would continue their infiltration and said, “I’m fine. Ann. And sorry for freaking out on you right there, Morgana. I just thought dead was dead, you know?” Ren shook his head slightly and turned back around to face the others. “Anyway, we probably have a lot of ground to cover and we’re about to start going into unknown areas. Let’s get going and keep cautious.”

 

The others nodded in agreement as Ren turned back around and started making his way out of the barracks and into the continuing hallway. “Mona. What’s going on with him? You wanted to say something earlier but Ren told you not too. So, how about you forget he told you that and just tell us?” Ann asked as they all began to follow Ren the same way they were prior.

 

Morgana let out a sigh and said, “You all need to get better at using the codenames while in here… And even I don’t really know”

 

“Whaddya mean you don’t really know?” asked Ryuji as they all made their way past the safe room.

 

“I… just don’t know. But it shook him up. Badly. Joker was sleeping, but it wasn’t good, if that makes any sense.” Morgana began. As they followed Ren a ways back, Morgana tried to find the words to describe the scene in front of him. “He was tossing and turning all night. I had to sleep on the couch because of it. Luckily, he didn’t make a lot of noise so I easily fell asleep as well. But when morning came around, his phone’s alarm was going nuts but he wasn’t waking up to it. I tried waking him up myself but he wasn’t budging and was just mumbling a ton of gibberish. I think he was having a really bad nightmare.”

 

“So, he’s all on edge like this causa some bad dream?” Ryuji asked with an eyebrow quirked but Morgana just shook his head no.

 

“It gets weirder. But I’ll tell you guys later. Something tells me we’re going to want to concentrate so that we don’t fall.” Morgana said as Ren hopped up onto a ledge in front of them and onto the granite beams above them. He was waiting for the others to catch up as he looked over into the giant entrance of the castle. Below the group were several shadows doing patrols while the number of them down there was completely unnecessary.

 

As the others caught up to Ren and stood near him on the beams, he spoke. “Be careful. If you fall, that’s bad news bears. There’s a door across this way but we’ll need to use these chandeliers to get across. Oddly and luckily for us, they look exactly like platforms.”

 

“It would be safe for us not to make too much noise while on top of them. We don’t want to alert the shadows below us and those chandeliers don’t look the most stable.” Makoto added in to which Ren and Morgana nodded in agreement.

 

“Alrighty. Let’s get to it then.” Ren said, immediately followed up by him hopping onto the first chandelier. Immediately, the hanging piece of decor and lighting began to sway back and forth. Almost losing his balance, Ren grabbed the chains keeping the light piece from falling to keep him from falling. When the chandelier stopped swaying, it started leaning in with Ren’s weight. To counteract this and make the others jumps safer, Ren rotated himself onto the opposite end and tried to spread out as much of his body for weight distribution without letting go of the chains. When secure, he motioned for whoever next to hop on.

 

“I’ll go.” Whispered Ann as she quickly jumped onto the chandelier. Thanks to Ren, the swaying was minimal and she was able to quickly get onto the next fixture, which was much more secure and wouldn’t sway. The others quickly made their own, similar way across, leaving Ren to slowly scooch into a place where he could quickly jump to the next chandelier with ease.

 

Ren made his way to the other side and jumped onto the next fixture. As he did, a burst of red and black sludge made its appearance at Ren’s feet. A shadow quickly formed from the puddle as Ren quickly did a side dodge out of the way, sure to not land on his left arm. When the shadow finished forming, it did a quick double take as it took in its surroundings until it’s eyeless face laid resolute on the others. The shadow began to draw its sword and move to them while yelling out, “Intruders!” As it did, the shadows below all looked up and in unison, gave the same chant. The others tried to get into their fighting stances but found it difficult on the small chandelier.

 

Without thinking, before the shadow could move any closer to the others, Ren quickly got up and shoulder charged at the shadow. Tucking in his head and rearing up his left shoulder, Ren crashed in the shadow, pushing it off the edge, making it fall into the hectic crowd of shadows below. Once it hit the ground and disintegrated back into the same sludge, all of the shadows stopped and looked up simultaneously. The thieves and the shadows all stared at each other for no more than five seconds yet it felt like minutes in the tension filled air. Then, one of shadows lifted its sword into the air and exclaimed, “For King Kamoshida!” and began to run for the stairs so that it would get to the balconies in time. As it did this, the other shadows soon followed suit.

 

Ren quickly looked back at the others and yelled out, “C’mon! We gotta get going!” and started running for the next chandelier as the others jumped one by one onto the one behind him. Checking back to make sure they were okay, Ren jumped over to the next chandelier, causing it to sway intensely. Almost sliding off, Ren quickly grabbed its chains and ran to the other side to help hold it in place. The shadows below were now trying to run past each other, causing them to be held up much to the luck of the misfit thieves.

 

As Ren still rode the chandelier, he looked back at the others after they had gotten onto the one before him. “Don’t wait for it to stop! Just quickly hop on and hop off!” Makoto was the first to jump. As she landed, the entire fixture began to sway violently and Makoto had to hold on for dear life. Once the swaying had become more subtle, she jumped onto the granite beams on the other side.

 

Next to jump was Ann, who followed the near same pattern as Makoto until she got across. Following her was Morgana- who was able to quickly get on and off due to his small figure and size. All that was left was Ryuji, who was hesitant to try and jump onto the still swaying chandelier. “C’mon, Skull! We don’t have time! They’re already getting to one of the closed gates!”

 

With ice cold fear running through his veins, Ryuji jumped onto the fixture but the landing was rough. The weight Ren was trying to put onto the other side became useless as the chandelier quickly jutted out in Ryuji’s direction, causing him to lose balance before he could grab the chains. As Ryuji began to fall off, Ren quickly let one hand go of the chain and ran around to try and catch Ryuji, barely doing so in time.

 

Ren was gripping Ryuji’s necktie in his right hand and while holding them both up with his left. Visible pain flower through and contorted Ren’s face as both of the boys struggled in getting to safety. Ren began to scream out in pain as his grip on the chain slowly began to loosen. Seeing this, Ryuji put all of his effort into gripping Ren’s overcoat, slowly pulling himself up along Ren’s body.

 

Makoto and Ann watched in baited breath as Morgana hopped off the beam and into the next room to find someplace to hide. In the room, was a locked chest and to the left was a shimmering door. Quickly running over to it and opening the door, Morgana found that it was a safe room. With triumphant gleam in his eye, Morgana ran back out room and to the balcony as Ryuji was hopping onto the granite beam. As he did so, Ren stayed back, taking in quick and deep breaths. His eyes spelling a story of pain as shrugged what little off he could and jumped off of the chandelier. Missing the beam entirely, Ren was barely able to make it onto the balcony as the shadows got the gate open and began to run for the thieves.

 

As Makoto, Ryuji, and Ann jumped off of the beam, Morgana yelled out, “In here! Safe room!” All of them ran to follow Morgana into the other room and saw him holding the safe room door open. All four ran in as fast as they could and Morgana quickly closed the door behind them. As he did, the sound of metal feet clashing against the tile filled the room outside quickly.

 

All of them found someplace to quickly sit down at and catch their breath but before long, Ren was up and tearing off his jacket, leaving nothing more than his grey angled tank top. The near week old scars on his left arm were bulging and could be easily seen throbbing. Ren’s breath was fast and shallow as he spoke slowly, “Morgana… Is there anything… Anything you can do… To help.”

 

Ren sat down at the table in the middle of the room and gingerly placed his arm onto the table as Morgana hopped onto the table and the others gathered around. “I-I don’t know if anything will work. Real world injuries don’t heal in the metaverse.”

 

“But this isn’t a real world injury.” Ren said. His voice was small and held a slight plead for relief.

 

“Yes, that may be true, but we healed it in the metaverse. After that,  it shouldn’t have followed you into the real world. Not only that, but it started acting up this morning. I don’t know if it’s a real world injury or a metaverse one anymore!” Morgana exclaimed in a panic as Ren continued to groan in pain. His face planted into the table.

 

“Well can’t you at least try! Would medicine work!?” Exclaimed Ryuji as he quickly grabbed Ren’s overcoat and began to sift through the pockets to try and find some of the painkillers Ren may have boughten but found none. “Ren! Where are the meds!?”

 

“I forgot to buy them.” Ren groaned while the table muffled his voice.

 

“What do you mean you forgot to buy them!?” Ryuji exclaimed.

 

“Don’t yell at him! At least he was able to get a way for us to buy medicine!” Makoto yelled at Ryuji as she tried to examine the arm as well.

 

“ZORRO! DIA!” Yelled Morgana as his persona appeared behind him, swiping his sword into a giant Z. Soon, there was a bright blueish green glow in the room surrounding Ren’s arm. As it did, immediate relief came. The swelled scars began sink back and the throbbing stopped. Another spell and the scars completely sunk back into place and any signs of irritation vanished.

 

Ren took in a shaky deep breath and looked back up at four watchful pairs of eyes. With a gravelly voice, Ren said, “It worked. Should have just done that quicker. Heh.” Getting up from his seat, Ren walked to Ryuji and grabbed his overcoat. “When I talked to Doctor Takemi and set up the whole buying medicine thing, I forgot to buy any from excitement. We’re lucky for that because if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to buy all of those weapons.” Slipping on his coat, Ren walked over to a couch on the side of the room and plopped down, letting loose a deep sigh while pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

There was a minute of silence until Ann let out a hesitant laugh and said, “Well… that was… intense.”

 

Ryuji laughed along with Ann as he sat at the bench along the table. “You can say that again. You feelin’ alright, Joker?”

 

Ren laughed at the simple question as he stared at the others. He didn’t answer as Makoto also sat down at the table. His mother appeared right next to her and sat down with everyone in the group. She had a smile on her face as she stared at Ren. There was no background moment. Just his mother staring at him in her own beauty. Ren smiled back at her, confusing Makoto who though he was smiling at her. “Yeah. Just need a minute.” Ren answered as Makoto returned the smile she thought she was receiving. “Hey, Mona. Thanks.”

 

“Anytime, Joker. But, hey. That entire scene caused a lot of disturbance. I guess we could keep on going, but it would be dangerous.” Morgana said as Ren continued to take slow breaths.

 

“Yes, but while I do agree with you, wouldn’t it be just as dangerous to try and go back?” Asked Makoto. After which, she looked at Ren then back at Morgana and said, “And we have to take Ren into account right now.”

 

“Personally, I think we should keep goin’ on. We barely made any progress today, after all.” Said Ryuji, who received a smirk from Ren, a slight glare from Makoto and Morgana and a hard slap to the back of the head from Ann. “OW!”

 

“Did you not just hear what Makoto just said!? Ren is in bad shape you idiot!” Exclaimed Ann.

 

“Don’t worry about me. I’m… fine now.” Said Ren, his words muffled by contained chuckles of amusement. “You know, it’s kinda funny, that I’d been dealing with that all day and the circumstances had been so weird in leading up to it but it was just fixed. Just like that with a snap and a spell and boom. And now it’s healing…” Ren trailed off as he continued to look his arm up and down, imagining the sight of it before beneath the black leather. “Mona.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“What do you think the implications are that I could face if these injuries follow me into the real world. What are the implications if they follow us into the real world?” Asked Ren. When he looked back up at the group, his mother was gone and the others were looking at Morgana for his answer.

 

“Yeah, yeah… If that ends up happenin’ to all of us, wouldn’t that be real bad?” Ryuji added as a nervous tick slowly began to form in his foot as he tapped the tiled floor.

 

“Well… I would be worried. Yes. That’s why you guys, and myself included, obviously need to try our hardest to not get hurt. But, Joker- the situation leading up to your pain was so bizarre.” Morgana said calmly.

 

“What does you mean by bizarre? What was so bizarre about his situation.” Asked Ann as Ren’s eyes became downcast.

 

He began twirling his hair as Makoto spoke up. “No. Mona was trying to tell us everything that happened this morning but we had to deal with the chandeliers.”

 

“Joker. Whatever happened this morning, your arm started hurting after it all happened. This isn’t normal.” Morgana warned, his eyes writ with worry while Ren scoffed.

 

“Mona. I threw the word ‘normal’ out the window a week ago when I awakened to Arsene. Of course none of this is ‘normal’. My question isn’t about the pain I had to deal with just recently. No- we just found a solution to that if it ever pops up again. What I want to know, is why did my injuries from Tuesday even follow me into the real world to begin with.” Ren said. He dropped his hand from his hair and folded his hands together on his lap and leaned forward. “But you don’t know the answer. So for now, I’ll accept that. Maybe one day we’ll figure out why and hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”

 

There was silence for awhile after Ren was done talking. The only noise in the safe room lied outside from the constant running footsteps on the tile from frantic shadows. This was the only noise until Ann spoke up, asking, “Hey, Ren. What did it feel like? And what actually happened to you this morning?”

 

Ren took a look at Ann the slid his left arm out of the sleeve of his coat. Any signs of irritation or inflamed injuries were gone. Just week old scars. “Burning. But not like it was on fire. Like it was encased in a white hot metal sleeve and any sudden movements meant touching that metal.” There was more silence as Ren thought of his answer for Ann’s second question. Slipping his arm back into the coat’s sleeve, Ren answered. “I… guess I had a really bad dream. It’s been a stressful week and I guess it’s starting to catch up to me. Hell, I’ve got bruises on my face to show this week caught up with me faster than I think.”

 

Morgana hopped off the table and walked to Ren. Looking up at him, Morgana said, “That was some bad dream then. You were freaking out. What could have been so bad?”

 

Ren let out a quiet laugh and asked, “What is this? A therapy session?” But no one joined him in laughter. Ren’s eyes narrowed as he let out a long sigh and said, “Personally, I’m not comfortable talking about it. So I’d rather not. So please don’t ask.”

 

There was more silence until Ryuji cleared his throat. “Well, whatever it is, man. Just know that we’re here for ya. Anytime.”

 

“You’ve only known me for a week.”

 

“And you barely met me when you decided to risk your ass and save mine.” Ryuji quickly snapped back. “I doubt you’re alone here, bro. I’m pretty sure all of us here have some sorta messed up past so you’re not alone. Doesn’t matter if it’s only been a week or not.”

 

Ren smiled at this as he got up from the couch, stretching out his limbs to make sure none of them hurt and when no pain revealed itself, he said, “Thanks, man. I’ll try to keep that in mind. But I don’t really hear any footsteps outside anymore and I personally want to cover more ground today. What do you guys say?”

 

“I’m down to get further in. I wanna take that bastard down as soon as we can.” Said Ryuji with a wide smile as he got up from the bench.

 

Mona looked Ren up and down then nodded to himself. “If you’re feeling better, then I agree.”

 

“I’m with Ryuji. The faster we get rid of that asshole the better.” Ann said, standing beside Ryuji.

 

Ren turned to Makoto who was still looking at Ren with worry plastered over her face. “Only if you’re feeling up to it, Ren. We still have time. We don’t need to do it all today. Remember that.”

 

To this, Ren nodded and his gaze steeled, “I know. But two weeks is a lot of time for him to cause more harm. The faster. The better.”

 

To this, Makoto nodded in agreement as she stood up to join the others. “Then let’s get going.” She said as Ren started walking for the door, and opened it up. The sound of metal footsteps against marble had long since faded into nothingness as the group made their way into the room prior.

 

Before, none of them had any chance to take in their surroundings. The moment definitely didn’t call for it and all of them needed to hide. So when everyone had made their way back into the room, the appearance of a gleaming gold chest caught most of them by surprise except for Morgana. “Joker. This is why I wanted to teach you how to make lockpicks. Go ahead and see what’s inside!”

 

“Got it.” Ren said, soon cutting his way across the room while pulling out one of three lockpicks made the night prior.

 

“Wait. You know how to- Ah, never mind.” Ryuji said, curiously eyeing Ren while watching him pick the lock. A few seconds passed and Ren was able to bust the lock open, leaving Ryuji wide eyed with his jaw dropped as the hatch slowly glided open in shining gold light. When the light faded, both boys stared with confusion and sad acceptance.

 

“Hey, Mona. I thought you said there’d be something valuable in here.” Ren said sadly.

 

“Uh, there should be.” Morgana said bluntly.

 

“Well, what did you find anyways?” Asked Ann. Ren and Ryuji responded by slowly turning around with disappointment riddled across their faces as Ren held a black rock in the palm of his hand. “You found… A rock?”

 

“Well that’s saddening.” Makoto said.

 

“Tell me about it. Let’s just get goin’, guys.” Said Ryuji, quickly heading to the doorway out of the room, peaking around the corner and finding no shadows. “C’mon. It’s clear.” The others quickly joined Ryuji and began to traverse the halls of the castle once more.

 

As the group was walking down yet another hallway that looked just like the last, Ren got closer to Ryuji and said, “Hey, man. There might be something of value out of this rock.”

 

“Oh yeah? What?”

 

“Well maybe, I can drive it.” Ren said with a straight face.

 

With an equally straight face, Ryuji said, “Nah man. You’d need a boulder. Pioneers used to ride those babies for miles. Not pebbles like that.”

 

“Oof. I guess you’re right…” Ren said with fake sadness. One second. Two seconds. And soon both boys were struggling to contain their laughter while being shushed by the other three.

 

When they were finally able to control themselves, Ryuji playfully shoved Ren and said, “Man, I’m glad you’re feeling better and all now. But all that shit happened not that long ago, dude. Take it easy and get better.”

 

Ren took in a deep breath and slowly let it out while saying, “... yeah. But don’t worry about me. Let’s worry about this.” The thieves stood in front of a closed gate. It’s pull ring held a round hole below and was raised, looking like it could be lowered yet still reachable. But when Ren tried to pull on it, the mechanism wouldn’t budge.

 

“So we’ve got to find some sort of key or solve a puzzle, I’m assuming, to get through here?” Asked Makoto.

 

“Yup. A treasure is never impossible to reach so there should be something around the area we need to do or find to get through here.” Answered Morgana. “Though we need to be careful. Shadows are patrolling the area. We can’t have another stunt like the one before. Otherwise, we’re gonna have to run all the way back to a new safe room or escape this castle all together.”

 

“Then let's get goin’.” Ryuji said. The group began to move in agreement, traversing through the jointed hallways and slaying the occasional shadow until they had reached an unlocked door. Ann slowly opened it up and found nothing but stacks upon stacks of books on shelves.

 

“Hey, what are we supposed to be looking for anyway? Because I don't think we'll find it in here. There's just a lot of books.” Ann said as the rest of the thieves filtered in.

 

“Don’t think anything is normal in a Palace, Panther.” Said Morgana. “When it comes to opening a lock, it could be as simple as needing a key or a pick. Or needing to do something completely abnormal.”

 

“Hey, maybe we need to pull on a random book and it'll reveal a secret door. Like in the movies!” Ryuji suggested.

 

“This is a world based around perception, after all.” Makoto reasoned while Ryuji began to vigorously pull books off of the shelves. Meanwhile, Ren had activated his third eye and started to look around the room for anything that could be of some use or help. It wasn’t that hard to find the neon blue book facing him on the other side of the room.

 

Having found the glow, Ren quit focusing and walked over to the book. It was unlike the others in placement, where the rest had all been neatly placed into the shelves, this one was facing outwards making the entire order different. Its title was placed clearly on the front cover. “The Slave Book… That’s. An odd title. Skull, stop. I’m pretty sure I have what we need.” Said Ren, quickly showing the others what the book in his hand before shoving it in one of his pockets.

 

“So, do we wanna go and check if the door is opened then?” Asked Ryuji, to which Ren nodded his head, no.

 

“There wasn’t anything attached to the book. But it’s important. The third eye says that much.” Ren explained, leaving Ann and Makoto fairly confused.

 

“What’s this third eye, Joker?” Asked Makoto.

 

“It’s a little thing I picked up after obtaining Arsene. It lets me see objects of interest and someone’s current emotional stance… With colors. I don’t really know. It’s kind of weird but I’m not going to question it. It helps.” Ren quickly explained as they made their way out of the small library. “But it doesn’t matter right now. I’m going to assume we need to find more objects like that book.”

 

“Wait. Its name is the slave book? Would you mind if I took a look at it?” Makoto asked to which Ren nodded and handed her the book as they rounded another corner. Makoto began to flip through the pages as they all roamed through the halls and what she found sickened her with every page. “Guys. These are dossiers on most, if not all, of the male students and faculty at Shujin along with some of his own personal thoughts. But there are some students missing. While I don’t know everyone at the school, there are key people missing. Key examples being Principal Kobayakawa, Mishima Yuuki, and then you two, Ren Amamiya and Ryuji Sakamoto.”

 

Makoto was done speaking when they had reached a new door. Some movement could be heard in the other room. “Do you think that the missing pages could be elsewhere?” Ren asked in a barely heard whisper.

 

“I couldn’t say. All I know is that following the pattern of the people in the book, you two should be in here. So should Mishima and Kobayakawa. But neither of you or them are.” Makoto whispered back to which Ren nodded and Morgana began speaking up.

 

“We can talk about this later, but there’s definitely a shadow in there. We need to get in there and deal with it quickly.”

 

The others nodded to this and Ryuji said, “Alright, I’ll bust in there and wack him really hard and then Ren can do his stylish mask ripping thing.”

 

“You think I’m stylish?” Ren asked but Ryuji didn’t hear as he burst through the door. The shadow jumped up in surprise as it turned to face the sound but found a lead pipe making contact with its face. Immediately after, the shadow felt a pair of boots on its shoulders and a hand wrapped around it’s mask, pulling hard while the voice above him yelled out, “Show us your true form!”

 

A quick battle ensued between the thieves and the shadow, ending as soon as it started with Ren obtaining Silky as a new persona. “I don’t think I’ll never not be jealous-” Ryuji began but was quickly cut off but Ann yelling out, “Found it!”

 

She quickly cut across the room to a book placed just like the previous one had been. This one was called, “The Queen Book. I don’t know if I want to look through this one…” Ann said as Makoto quickly made her way over and opened it. The two girls began to quickly look through the book before slamming it closed. When they both turned around, faces of anger were happily worn on their faces. “That pig!” Exclaimed Ann.

 

Makoto handed both books to Ren and said, “Hold on to them and don’t look at the Queen Book.”

 

“What’s in it?” Asked Ren.

 

Makoto shook her head and balled her hand into a fist as she spoke. “It’s similar to the dossiers in the Slave Book but instead of a quick description of the person, it’s measurements of the girls who go to school and some of the female faculty. Below them are vivid descriptions of what he’d like to do to each.”

 

“But just like the other one, some pages are missing. Like mine, Queen’s, Ms. Kawakami’s, and… Shiho’s.” Ann said as she walked closer to the rest of the group. To this, Ren stared at the book with an extreme anger floating through his eyes. He remembered the woman he had tried to save that night and how even after what Ren tried to do, the man still got away with what he wanted and forced that woman to testify against him.

 

Ren closed his eyes and shoved the two books in a pocket. “Let’s get going. If this follows the pattern I’m thinking, then there’s only one book left.”

 

“Slaves. Queens. Man, that only leaves one book left and I’m sure it’s all about him! That bastard thinks of himself as a goddamned king!” Ryuji was fuming along with the others as he yelled out.

 

“Which is why we’re going to steal his heart and do something about that monster.” Said Morgana as he walked to the busted down door. “C’mon you guys. We’ve got a book to find.”

 

The thieves walked out of the room and began to traverse through the maze-like halls again while also taking out shadows in their way until they reached another closed door. There was no sound inside so Ren quickly walked in. The book they were looking for was right in front of him in the same position as the others so Ren quickly walked over and grabbed it while whispering to himself while slipping the book in the same pocket as the others, “A bastard like you deserves no acknowledgment.”

 

As Ren stepped out, Morgana spoke up once more and said, “There was a pretty big hallway near the gate. If we need to place those books anywhere, it’s there.” In agreement, the thieves made their way back to the gate and into the massive hallway that Morgana has spoken of. Shadows laid dormant at the end of it but paid no mind to the group in front of them. To the thieves right was a fairly ornate door that seemed to be important. Thinking this, Ren made his way over and opened the door into a grand library that was easily five times the size of the previous three.

 

Without a word said, the group quickly spread out to find where books might be placed. The room was filled with silence as a multitude of hands glided across shelves and books, looking for any clues until Ann yelled out, “That bastard!”

 

“What is it, Panther?” Ryuji quickly asked as he made his way over to her while the others continued looking.

 

Ann quickly shoved the book against her breasts and yelled out, “Don’t you even THINK about looking at this! But, I found my book. It’s the same as the Queen Book, but there’s a lot more on what he’d want to do…” Ann shook her head and and placed the book back where it was and began looking. “Makoto Niijima… Sadayo Kawakami… But no Shiho Suzui. But there’s an open spot. Joker! Toss me the Queen Book!”

 

“Got it!” Yelled out Ren as he pulled the book out, tossed it across the room to which Ann caught it. She shoved it in the empty space and an audible click reverberated throughout the room. “I think it worked.” Ren said.

 

“Joker! The King Book!” Makoto yelled out as she stood in front of an empty space next to a wall of different metallic covered books, mainly gold.

 

Ren tossed her the book and sarcastically said, “I bet that one was hard to figure out.” Makoto shoved the book into the space and another click sounded through the room. Ren turned back around and began to look through the books next to him. They were older and seemed to be cheaply made. There was a missing space but Ren wanted to make sure. Then, he found the book with his name on it. Ren instinctively reached out to it but stopped himself just short. “It’s probably all lies, anyway.” Ren whispered to himself and one other.

 

Morgana lightly tapped Ren’s leg and said, “It’s going to be alright, Joker. Now place that book so we can get going and change his heart faster.” Ren nodded to this and placed the Slave book in the empty space.

 

This time, instead of a click, a hidden door flew open, revealing a darkened room. The only light inside was being emanated from lit candles. The thieves all walked in slowly and carefully. Their faces contorted from one of caution to anger and disgust as their eyes adjusted to the dim room, revealing pictures of Shiho placed around the walls in the room and all over the table.

 

There was a book placed on a simple granite pedestal on the wooden table, titled, “Shiho Suzui: A Night to Remember…” Ann said as she picked up the book. She flipped to the first page and just like the other books on the girls, there were her measurements, but instead of a entry detailing what Kamoshida would like to do to Shiho, there was a single entry detailing what he did. Ann flipped to the second page and a picture laid in the papers fabric of Shiho pinned against the wall. What could be assumed to be Kamoshida’s hand was wrapped around her neck. “oh my god…” Whispered Ann as she began to flip through the pages. A play-by-play scrapbook of Shiho’s nightmare was shown to the thieves.

 

Ann began to cry, her tears falling on the pages as she flipped through them. Ryuji placed a hand on her shoulder while clenching his other in unison with his teeth. His eyes spelled death for Kamoshida.

 

Makoto walked over to Ann’s other side and shared Ryuji’s entire expression as they looked through the book. Morgana hopped down from the table and walked out of the room, a look of disgust and sorrow was writ on his face while Ren walked over to a shelf in the corner. There was an olympic medal and map within. Ren grabbed the map and rolled it up, stuffing it in his pocket along with the medal. Looking back at the others, Ren walked back over to them and grabbed the book from Ann’s hand, tearing it apart leaving the others wide eyed.

 

“Ann. I understand that Shiho is your best friend- but don’t torture yourself over what you had no control over. While we can’t change what happened, we can force that bastard into submission.” Ren said. Placing the torn up book back on the table, he moved his hand and cupped the right side Ann’s face, wiping away the tears that were falling. “Shiho will pull through. Make sure that assholr is behind bars when she does.”

 

Ren pulled his hand away and smiled at Ann before he walked out of the small room and out of the massive library. Finding Morgana waiting outside the door, Ren said, “C’mon, they’re on their way. Let’s get that gate opened. I found a map and something that I think will lower the chain.”

 

“And what would that be?”

 

“A medal.”

 

The two thieves made their way back to the gate and Ren shoved the medal in the hole. It rotated clockwise for three rotations until it stopped with a click. Soon after, the chain dropped down and Ren pulled it down with ease. When the gate was fully opened, the other three had made their way to them with a new determination in their eyes. They positioned themselves in front of the hallway but Ann stood right next to Ren and embraced him with force, whispering in his ear, “Thank you. Ren. We’ve got this, but, thank you.”

 

Ann stayed still for a few second before she let go. When she did, she found Ren smiling at her. “Let’s make a little more headway, guys. We’ve been here a while so it would be smart to be leaving soon. We can come back tomorrow.” Ren said as he led the group down a slanted downhill hallway until they reached what looked like an entranceway, not too dissimilar to the main lobby area. A closed door on the other side was their only way forward so the thieves made their way through and into a massive cathedral.

 

Rows of benches lined the area facing a stage with a massive statue of Kamoshida in his Shadow clothing while spreading his arms out, as if bathing in praise with a triumphant smile on his face. “You’d almost think he’s full of himself.” Said Makoto.

 

A small chuckle escaped from the mouths of the thieves as they walked forward until the the image before them shifted from the cathedral to the Shujin Academy gym. “Was that what I think it was?” Asked Ann, to which Ryuji nodded yes.

 

“It would make sense that this place is the gym. He acts like he’s a god there. Let’s just keep on going, guys.” They then began to walk forward for a few feet until a massive blast volleyed against them from the middle of the room, sending them all flying backwards. When the thieves had landed and gotten up, a massive shadow stood in the wake of the sludge. It had a grey face with grey blue eyes. The shadow wore silver chainmail armor and donned a knight’s helmet while floating in the air from deep, maroon red wings on its back. Soon, the shadow began to speak.

 

“I knew you rats would be here. You think you five can just waltz in here and take King Kamoshida’s most prized possession!? Tough luck, kids! Little brats such as yourself need to take your beating with some dignity! But it’s too late now. You will be killed for your insolence and transgressions against the King!” As soon as it was done talking, the shadow swung its sword downwards and a bolt of lightning came flying down the middle of the rows of benches. Ren had no time to dodge out of the way and instead braced himself for impact. The blast of lightning hit him, causing Ren to be swept off his feet and fly several meters behind the rest of the team.

 

Without any thought, the others went into battle stances, summoning their personas as Ren picked himself back up off the ground, quickly dusting himself off before joining the rest of the team. As Ren ran up to the others, he ripped off his mask and called upon Arsene, sending a blast of curse damage at the shadow, only causing it to waver slightly.

 

“Ren! You okay!?” Yelled out Ryuji as he sent out his own Zio on the shadow.

 

“Never better! Something tells me he means business though! Can’t really figure out why! Slime! Ravage him!” Ren yelled out in response while sending out another attack.

 

The thieves soon sent a volley of attacks at the shadow. Ann sending a blast of fire while Morgana used Garu to increase its burn. The combo from Morgana and Ann had set the shadow on fire, so Makoto stepped in quickly calling upon Johanna and using frei. The fire and nuclear energy combined once more to create a small explosion on the shadow, causing it to stagger back slightly. As the shadow stumbled, Ren pulled out his pistol and unleashed a barrage of bullets. Once done, Ryuji ran forward and attempted to begin smashing the shadow’s face in with the lead pipe but a blast of red energy from the shadow knocked Ryuji back before he could act.

 

At the new complication, Morgana’s eyes widened as the shadow picked itself back up. “Get in to cover! Now! He’s powered up!” Morgana, Ann, and Makoto ran to the benches and crouched behind them in cover while Ren ran forward and dragged a dazed Ryuji behind one of the benches nearby. As soon as they were in cover, the shadow unleashed a massive blast of wind with his wings, making all of the benches they were using for cover fly past everyone's heads and into the back of the room. Without cover, the thieves began to act once more. Makoto, Morgana, and Ann began to send another volley of spells at the shadow while Ren dragged Ryuji further away from the fight, behind a nearby pillar.

 

“Trust me. You’re going to be feeling that one in an hour or two bud. Come back if you can!” Ren said as he made sure Ryuji was safe, soon running back into the fray. Calling upon Slime to headbutt the shadow. The constant flow of spells from Ann, Morgana, and Makoto was beginning to put an obvious dent in the shadows physique as its wings began to droop lower and lower. When the shadows was finally on the ground and near death from the constant flow of bullets and random spells from Ren and the deadly explosion combo from the others, Ryuji burst out from behind the pillar with his lead pipe in hand.

 

Grabbing his mask, Ryuji called upon Captain Kidd and had his persona pick him up and fly him to the downed shadow. Once above, Ryuji hopped off and used the force of gravity and himself to slam the pipe into the shadows face, killing it as he did. The shadow blew up into black and red sludge as Ryuji tore through it until soon there was nothing left and Ryuji stood standing in the mess, looking at the others with a huge smile on his face.

 

There was silence and labored breathing filling the room until a massive burst of several shadows appeared in the room. All of the thieves eyes widened immensely as they saw the shadows around them, looking at them with empty eyes. “Umm. Guys. I think we should run.” Ryuji slowly said. Soon, he was booking it down the hall with the other thieves following close behind him and the shadows following close behind them.

 

The thieves ran and ran. Through the maze of libraries, through the banquet hall and to the chandeliers. “Don’t try and get across! Just jump down!” Yelled out Makoto as they all reached the bar of the balconies. In unison, they all jumped down to the floor below and continued running into the hallway in front of them and back into the storage room. They each flowed one by one into the ventilation shaft and outside of the castle.

 

As they ran across the courtyard and to the drawbridge, Ren turned and saw Caroline dying of laughter as she watched the thieves running away from an opening front door. A barrage of shadows were spilling out of the entrance as the thieves crossed the bridge. Ren quickly pulled out his phone, selected the metaverse navigation app, and brought them back into the real world as the shadows reached the bridge.

 

The world distorted around them, and soon the thieves were back in the alley across from Shujin, in the real world. Each of them were struggling to catch their breath as students filtering out of the school in the setting afternoon sun watched them with wary eyes. None of them paid any mind as Ryuji said through struggled breathing, “Man… I just… Can’t run… Like I used too… Dammit!”

 

They all found themselves sliding against the walls of the alley and sitting on the concrete below them. There was silence among the group, exempting the labored breathing. Soon struggled breaths became normal breaths and soon there was silence. Until Ann began to laugh. Like a domino effect, the entire group fell into a fit of giggling after they had just escaped from death, twice in one day.

Chapter Text

04/19/2016

 

Early Morning

Cafe Leblanc

 

Silence.

 

Perfect bliss in the serenity of silent dreams. Barely over a week in Tokyo, and these kind of nights were already becoming a new found treasure. An exotic piece of refuge from the immediate stress thrust upon him and possibly the others. Especially the others. Ren dragged himself to sit on the edge of his bed. He had woken up a few minutes before his alarm went off, so he turned it off before any annoying noise could be heard. It would disturb the stagnant peace in the makeshift bedroom. Taking in a deep breath and ruffling his hair to its usual tousled state, Ren looked over at Morgana, who had moved to the couch during some point in the night. His chest rose and settled in rhythmic breaths as he slept.

 

Ren smiled to himself as he got up and quickly got dressed in muffled movements before heading down the stairs as Sojiro walked into the cafe. The sound of bell melded with the sounds of rain pattering on pavement, concrete and sheet metal outside off the rustic interior of Leblanc. Sojiro had a look of slight surprise as he and Ren both locked eyes for a second until Sojiro shrugged his shoulders and began to move across the room and behind the counter, saying as he did, “You’re up early. Sit down at the counter. I’ll get breakfast whipped up soon.”

 

“Thank you, sir.” Ren said while doing as he was told. Sojiro nodded in acknowledgement before getting to work. Pulling down an array of spices and ingredients, the smell of Sojiro’s curry quickly began to waft throughout the room as he flowed around the area with expertise, a lack of professionalism, and complete confidence. There were no words spoken as Sojiro tended to the boiling blend of ingredients until he shoved past the motionless air.

 

“You were gone a bit later than usual yesterday. What were you up to in the city? Getting lost again?” Sojiro had asked, slightly turning his head away from the pot to give Ren an inquisitive, yet amusedly teasing eye.

 

Ren chuckled softly as he said, “No. I was just at the diner on Central, studying with some friends.” Sojiro nodded to this and turned back to the pot, satisfied with the simple lie Ren had given as his answer.

 

“Did I hear a ‘some’ is that sentence? As in plural? And did I also hear a ‘studying’ in there as well?” Sojiro asked as he stirred the ingredients. Once. Twice. “Well, I’m glad you’re taking my words to heart. I don’t feel like I should be having to say that more than once but you know what kind of situation you’re in. That, I’m sure I won’t have to remind you on. But, kid- don’t mess this up. It’s your only shot.” The air stilled as Sojiro finished speaking. Finishing up the curry quickly, he filled up a plate along with some white rice, turned around and handed it to Ren. “And try not to get in with the wrong crowd. Be careful of these friends you’re hanging out with. I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m just saying you need to be extra careful.”

 

With the, Sojiro turned back around and into the kitchen, continuing his preparations for the day of customers. Ren looked down at the curry before him and then back at Sojiro, saying a quick thank you and receiving a nod and grunt in return. Ren settled and watched the steam rise off the food. It’s greyish quality seemed to be heightened when mixed with the sound of cold rain drops on the stained glass windows. A few minutes passed before Ren began to eat the symphonic blend of perfect tastes melded into one euphoric feeling.

 

As he ate, Ren thought to himself, ‘How are the others doing? It’s barely been a week since all of this began. Well, no, scratch that. They’ve been dealing with this for a solid year. All in their on different ways, but they’ve been dealing with it longer than I have. Still though, it’s been a stressful few days. How are they handling all of this… this bullshit.’

 

Ren scooped up the rest of the food on his plate and quickly finished, pulling out his phone he he did. “Six thirty, I should probably get going soon. Thanks for the food, sir. I’ll wash the dish real quick.” Ren said as he picked up his plate and walked to the sink in the back. Sojiro giving his own thanks and Ren quickly scrubbed down the plate, dried it, and placed it with the others.

 

Ren knotted his hands together and stretched them up into the air as he walked out of the kitchen. They fell to his side as Ren walked back up the stairs into the dimly lit attic. The grey morning light was beginning to seep into the room as Ren walked over to his bed, grabbed his shoes from underneath, and put them on. Once placed on his feet, Ren got back up and moved over to Morgana, slightly nudging him into consciousness.

 

Morgana’s eyes slowly opened as he stretched out and groaned simultaneously. Smacking the morning dryness in his lips away, Morgana shifted his eyes completely opened and asked in a slower, still waking voice, “What’s going on? What happened to the buzzing demon in your phone?”

 

Ren laughed slightly, scratched Morgana’s head, then said, “I woke up earlier. Get yourself situated. We gotta get going soon. Alright?”

 

“Alright.” Morgana said and he slowly got up and over to the food and water dish in the corner of the room that Ren had gotten him on their way back from Untouchable. As he did, Ren sat down on the couch and let out a small yawn and produced his phone from his pocket.

 

Ren began to spin his phone on the tip of his middle finger for a few seconds before he dropped it back into the palm of his hand and unlocked it. Gliding down to the messaging app, Ren pulled up four different chats and began typing.

 

-

 

The buzzer on Ann’s phone had started to blast while it laid on her end table. The noise quickly woke her up as she reached over and turned off the ringer. “Six fifteen. Right on time to catch them on their way out.” Ann said to herself with a smile as she got up from her bed, her feet hitting the hardwood boards with a silent thump as she did. Ann could hear movement outside her door as she quickly searched around her room for her uniform and jacket.

 

Finding what she wanted, Ann began to quickly throw off her pajamas and into her school clothing. She made sure to set her alarm earlier so that she could say goodbye to them but it would seem they had decided to get up on the earlier side as well, causing Ann to panic as she tried to finish getting ready. As she threw around different pieces of the uniform, whispering in urgent and repeatedly, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.”

 

Soon, all Ann had left to do was throw on her sports jacket and the school’s blazer before she left her room. She could worry about her hair style later but she at least wanted to look presentable to her parents if she was going to see them off for a year. Some of the business trips they had to go on would last months at a time but, “this is just ridiculous. And they seriously think they're just gonna be able to up and leave for a year and not say goodbye to their daughter. Ah, yeah right.”

 

Letting out a long sigh, Ann put on her jacket, zipped it up and placed her blazer over it. Pulling the hood out from underneath and setting it over the collar of the blazer, Ann fluffed her hair one more time and walked out of her room. She walked down the short hallway and into the modern studio apartment living room as her parents were finishing their checklist on the packing. Once done, they both looked at each other, gave a small laugh then simultaneously asked each other, “Ready?”

 

As they did, Ann cleared her throat out in over exaggeration as she caught her parents attention. They were both surprised at first but smiled as they laid their eyes on their daughter. “And just who did you two think you'd be able to get out of saying goodbye too? Hmm?” Ann placed a fake pout on her face as she stared at her parents until all three of them began to start laughing as Ann walked over and embraced them all. “I'm going to miss you guys, you know?”

 

“And yet, we've told you time and time again that you can some with us~” Ann's mother cooed inter her ear. “That offer is still on the table, my little cream puff.”

 

Ann shook her head as they all slowly let go of each other. A smile was still on her face as she said, “You know I can't do that. I wanna stay at Shujin for my high school life and most importantly, I can't leave Shiho behind. I want to be here when she wakes back up. I want to be here when she recovers. I need to be here for her.”

 

Ann's father cupped her face and softly rubbed her cheek with his thumb as he did. “We know. We know. Just make sure you take care of yourself as well. This has been a stressful week for you. We worry about you, Ann.”

 

Ann nodded in his palm, a happy smile placed on her face as her father continued to rub her cheek. He smiled back, stopped, then slightly tapped her cheek and grabbed his two bags of luggage. He began to walk them to the front door as Ann's mother embraced her once more. “We love you. Don't ever forget that even though we may be gone for a long while. I know a year is a long time but I know you can get through this, okay? Take care my little cream puff and tell Shiho when she wakes up that we're thinking about her, alright?”

 

“Yeah. I'll definitely do that.” Ann said with a slight sniff as her mom pulled away. Tears were budding at her mother's eyes as she stared at Ann's face.

 

“We'll be sending you money once every two weeks to make sure you're up on funds. Don't go spending them all at once, alright?” Her mother said with a smile and sniffle of her own as she picked up her two luggage bags and began to walk to the front door.

 

Following her, Ann gave a small laugh and said, “C'mon, mom. I'm not a little kid anymore. I can take care of myself.” Tears of her own we're beginning to bud at her eyes as she looked at her parents at the front door.

 

Her father gave a chuckle then said, “We know. But we've also seen your room. Which is why most of your funds are going to depend on your modelling. Your work. Your money. Your choice on spending. Got it?”

 

“Got it.”

 

“Good girl. Now then, we'll be keeping in touch like always, but be safe baby girl.” Her father said as he opened the door and motioned for her mother to walk through. Once they were both out, Ann held the door for them both as they said, “We love you, little Ann. See you in a year. We can't wait to see how you'll have grown.”

 

The family of three gave their endearing farewells until Ann's parents finally left for their flight. Ann slowly closed the front door. A smile was still on her face as she turned back around and into the kitchen. She checked her phone real quick as she started pulling out different fruit, a blender, and some orange juice. “Six forty-five. Better start heading out soon too.” She threw all of the ingredients into the blender and turned the machine on. Waiting as the fruit and juice inside turned into a delicious breakfast medley. When the sound of fast, rotating blades had ended, she reached for a cup and heard her phone vibrate as she did. Ann picked it up to see the notification and saw a message from Ren.

 

Ren: Hey there. I know that these past few days have been hard on you. They’ve been hard on all of us, but for you, especially so. I don’t really know where I’m going with this but it’s easy to forget that I’m not the only one dealing with shit right now. Just wanted to cement that since we’re teammates now- no, friends- I’ll always be there to help you when you need it. I’m at the press of a button, alright?

 

Ren: Anyway, see you at school.

 

Ann smiled as she read the message. Locking her phone, she said, “Thanks, Ren.” and quickly finished her smoothie before grabbing her bag and umbrella, then walking out the door.

 

-

 

Makoto was sleeping soundly in the morning darkness of her room until the sound of Buchimaru yelling, “It’s time to WAKE UP!”, followed by a buzzer incessantly ringing emanated from her phone. Makoto’s eyes flew open as she picked herself up. A look of bewilderment was writ across her face as she reached out for her phone, fumbling it around and off the charger as she tried to quickly turn her alarm off. When the blaring noise had been deactivated, Makoto let out a long sigh as she brought herself to the edge of her bed and sat in place. She waited for her heartbeat to slow down after the sudden heart attack she received before she started to get ready for school.

 

As she waited, she ran a hand through her hair, feeling the extremity of the frizzyness it was now enduring. With another long sigh, and her body having relaxed, Makoto got up from her bed and into her bathroom. Turning on the lights, Makoto began to take of her pajamas and place them in a bin sightly filled with used clothes. She walked over to the sink and turned it on, grabbing her toothbrush and some toothpaste, she began to brush her teeth while her mind drifted off into thoughts.

 

‘I wonder if everyone is doing alright. That was intense, yesterday, to say the least. Especially Ren. What was he even doing when just standing in the middle of that courtyard like that? Why did it terrify him so much? Maybe there was something there for him to see that we couldn’t? It wouldn’t be that hard to imagine. He can wield multiple Personas after all while the rest of us only have one so it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine that there’s more for him to do in the metaverse. But still, what could it have been? And that arm. When he took off his jacket, the way it looked entirely purple while the scars bulged in a deep scarlet red.’

 

‘And then Ryuji took that hit during that fight with the knight in that disturbing cathedral. He was out of commission for awhile after that one. I hope that won’t cause any problems for him like Ren’s arm. If this ends up becoming a common thing for us when getting injured in that palace, we’re going to have to be prepared… well, maybe, unless a simple healing spell from Morgana can fix it.’ Makoto placed the toothbrush down and cupped some water from the faucet into her hands, pouring some into her mouth and washing away all of the residue toothpaste.

 

Spitting the water out, Makoto grabbed a dark brown towel and wiped her face before heading back into her room to find her school uniform. “And then there was that library. Ann took the words right out of my mouth. What a disgusting, abusive and egotistical pig. I hope she’s doing okay right now but I think we’ll all be doing better when Kamoshida is gone.”

 

As Makoto finished putting on her skirt, Sae knocked on the door and said, “Can I come in for a second, Makoto?”

 

“Go ahead.” Makoto said as she began to put on her school vest. Sae opened up the door and walked in, she was still in her work clothes and looked as if she had slept in them for maybe a few hours at best. “Are you feeling alright, sis? If you’re heading off to work, would you like me to heat you up something real quick?”

 

“No, no, you’re fine. I’ve got to leave for the office soon anyways.” Sae quickly said, waving away the suggestion with a small smile. “I just wanted to check up on you and see how you were doing. I haven’t seen you much this past week because of work and I just wanted to know you were doing well. I know school has just started two weeks ago but I want to make sure that you’re keeping up with your studies.”

 

Makoto smiled back and said, “As always, sis. What’s been going on at work that’s got you running ragged?”

 

Sae let out a small groan and said, “The director put me on as lead for two cases. One is easy. We’re looking into all of the train and subway crashes as of late. I can’t say too much but just know it should be easy enough, alright?”

 

“What about the other case?” Makoto asked as she went back into her bathroom to grab her hairbrush, beginning to have it travel along the length of her hair and get rid of the frizzy mess it was.

 

When she walked back out, Sae said, “I’m only going to say enough so that you’ll know to keep a look out when out in Central Street, but there has been an increase of crime in the area. Specifically, extortion of teenagers. There’s been around five victims already and they’re examples of what happens when they can’t pay the dues put on them. We can’t get any information out of them because of the beatings they took. Be careful when walking around out there, alright? The victims we found were male and I can only imagine what they’ve done to any female victims. Alright?”

 

Makoto swallowed a little bit as she made her last stroke with the brush. She quickly walked back into the bathroom, put away the brush, walked back out into her room and hugged Sae. “Don’t worry. I can fend for myself. But I’ll still be careful. Thanks for the heads up.” Sae returned the embrace for a quick second before turning around and heading out of Makoto’s room. But as she was about to walk out, Makoto quickly called out, “Wait. If I happen to see anything suspicious going on with students as Shujin that might be related to the problem on Central, I’ll let you know. Is that okay?”

 

Sae turned around and smiled at Makoto. “That’d help. Thanks my panda. Have nice day in school.”

 

“Have a good day at work.” Makoto said, reciprocating the smile and watching for the few seconds as Sae left. Listening even longer until the front door opened and shut closed. Makoto then turned around to go and grab her phone but it vibrated vigorously as she did. She quickly grabbed the phone and saw a message from Ren. Opening it up, the text read…

 

Ren: Hey there, Makoto. Just wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve done this past week. It’s been an amazing help having you there with Ryuji and I- but you’ve been there helping out Ryuji since before I got there so I don’t really know why I included myself. I don’t really know where to take this but make sure to take care of yourself every once in awhile. If you ever need anything from me I’m just a text away. Anything for a friend and after I told you my story about my “assault” case and you believed me- well, you’re definitely a friend after that. Plus you saved me that day too, so I owe you one. You need anything, just text me, alright?

 

Ren: See you at school. Something tells me we’ve got a big day today.

 

Makoto smiled to herself as she read the text on her phone. “Please. It should be the other way around regarding thanks. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t even have begun to get rid of Kamoshida. But…”

 

Makoto: Thank you. It was nice hearing that. See you at school.

 

-

 

Some incoherent English Metal band began to play on Ryuji’s phone for his alarm. A few seconds into playing, Ryuji had sort of risen while doing slight groggy head bangings to the music. While continuing to do his sleepy “dance”, Ryuji stretched arms out while yawning. After which, he unplugged his phone and turned off the music. “What band was on this morning?” Ryuji asked himself as he quickly checked the recently played music on his phone. “Hands Like House, huh? I dig.” Ryuji said as he turned the music back on and lowered the volume.

 

Getting up, Ryuji patted his boxers before looking around the piles of clothes in his room. You may not know it walking in, but there was a methodical system to the mess. In one corner, was a pile completely dedicated to dirty clothes while another in the opposite corner was completely dedicated to clean clothes. Walking over to the clean clothes pile, he looked through until he found a shirt he thought would be alright today. It had cosmic nebula pattern over its entirety. Slipping it on, Ryuji then walked over to his uniform pants and blazer, slipping them on and rolling up the pant legs slightly. Ryuji then stood back up and looked into the mirror, ruffled his hair a bit and winked at himself in the mirror before he left the room and started walking down the hall into the kitchen and living room.

 

When he entered the area, Ryuji was surprised to see his mom sitting down at the table in the living room watching TV while enjoying some tea. “Mom, aren’t you supposed to be sleeping? Your shift doesn’t start until ten in the morning. What’s up?”

 

Ryuji’s mom looked up from her tea and smiled at her son. Placing the ceramic mug down, she said, “One of the younger workers called in sick so they asked if I could fill in for her. So, here I am, getting ready for work the same time you’re getting ready for school. Feels like I’m getting ready to take you to kindergarten all over again, Ryu-kun.”

 

“I mean, yeah, I guess. But you should’ve just said no when they asked. You hardly get any time to sleep as it is, Mom.” Ryuji said as he poured himself some juice from the fridge. Taking the cup with him to join his mom, Ryuji continued to say, “I don’t want you overworking yourself. You need to rest, Mom. Even the best runners gotta sleep too.”

 

Ryuji’s mom chuckled as she listened. “Don’t worry, Ryu-kun. I’ll be fine and I’m not overworking myself. I know when I need to take a break.”

 

“I’m not talkin’ boutta break, Mom. Working near fourteen hours a day every week ain’t healthy.” Ryuji took a drink from his glass and grabbed his mom’s hand. “I’m worried about ya. Just promise me you ain’t gonna be fainting from exhaustion. Cause if you do, I’m taking your well bein’ into my own hands. Kapeesh?”

 

“Alright, alright. I’ll be fine Ryuji. But let’s just sit down and relax for a little. The rain sounds lovely on the window.” Ryuji’s mom said, squeezing her son’s hand in return. In response, Ryuji smiled and nodded as he closed his eyes and took another sip of his own drink, bathing in the pattering rain drops against the window. The two sat there in blissful silence for a few more minutes until Ryuji’s mother took one last swig of her tea, downing the last of. She stood back up and said, “I better be heading off, Ryuji. Have a nice day at school, okay?”

 

“Mmm. You have a good day at work, Mom.” Ryuji said as he watched her gather her keys, umbrella, and coat then exit out the front door, smiling and waving at Ryuji as it closed behind her.

 

“She’s gonna run herself dry one of these days and I have no idea what I’m going to do when that happens.” Ryuji said as he picked himself up from the floor. Bending over to pick his juice up from the table, he felt his phone vibrate. Pulling it out of his pocket as Ryuji straightened up, he checked to see who sent a message. “Ren? What’s he doin’?”

 

Ren: Hey man. Just texting to say thanks for this past week and all that. It’s been pretty stressful but it’s been a whole lot of fun at the same time… well, for the most part, anyways. But I know this whole thing with Kamoshida is going to be pretty hard and that it all ends when we steal Kamoshida’s heart. That bastard is going down. But beyond that, thanks for sticking with me and helping me out and believing me when I told you and Makoto about my “assault” case. It really means a lot. And remember. That if you need anything, just hit me up and I’ll be there as soon as I can. Alright?

 

Ren: See ya at school.

 

“Why the hell he send me this?” Ryuji said with a quirked eyebrow as he stared at his phones screen before shrugging and putting his phone in his pocket and walking for the front door. “Eh. Oh well. Guess I’ll just find out in an hour or so.”

 

-

 

“You good to go, Morgana?”

 

“Yep. Who were you texting just then?”

 

“Oh, it’s nothing important. Just had something to tell the others separately.” Ren said as he walked over to the Morgana bag and picked it back up. “Anyways, c’mon Kingsly. We’ve gotta- AH!”

 

“Don’t you ever call me Kingsly again!” Morgana said with an evil look in his eyes as the blood from Ren’s newly scratched arm dripped off Morgana’s nails. “Now get moving before I scratch you again!”

 

“Okay, okay. I get it… maybe.”

 

“Don’t. Even. Think about it.”

Chapter Text

11/XX/2016

 

Unknown

Unknown

 

A surge of pain coursed through Ren’s head, causing him to clutch the right side of it as he hunched down and slammed his eyes shut with shallow breaths, waiting for the sudden pain to fade away. The damage done to him what seems like an hour prior was beginning to make itself known as the adrenaline in Ren’s body began to wear off and the shock lessened. The many bruises and soon to be scars were starting to ebb into Ren’s mind as their slight sting began, which he knew was only going to worsen with time. As he slowly began to open his eyes, his vision was blurred and his mind was in a haze. There was something he was forgetting but its importance was lost to him. What felt like one minute, two minutes passed and soon he didn’t care anymore. Ren’s focus was now on the swaying chains of the cuffs on his wrists and table. His breath steadied as deep throbs began to burrow into his bones. Where was he again? Ren had no answer to this question. Who even was “he”? Again- Ren had no answer as the same questions flooded his mind with different ways of asking them. Ren shut his eyes once more and the soothing sound of clinking chains reverberated in his ears in the dark.

 

Soon the sound of the chains stopped and a new sensation replaced the lack of sound. A hand on his wrist. Slender and soft. Ren tried to open his eyes to find the source but found the pitch black to be inescapable. A light was in the distance with a single silhouette sitting down, semi-cross legged with a knee raised to use as a head rest. Although this figure may have been several meters away, its facial features were an easy sight to see. It’s stark white toothy grin stared at Ren with humorous malice. A cold chill began to fill the darkness and what felt like an eternity passed until the silhouette spoke. “It’s your fault, you know?” The figure said, although its mouth did not move, Ren knew it was it who spoke. The figure picked itself up and its lanky limbs swayed in stoic air. “You never deserved them and you know that they never deserved you. No, they deserved better.” The silhouette let out a soundless laugh that it’s mouth moved with until it gave a small clap of its hands. “Tell me, Mr. Amamiya. Why are your thoughts so foggy?”

 

Ren’s eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed as he stared at the figure in confusion. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to say? You’re words have no connection to each other. I-I don’t understand what it is you’re trying to say… What’re you trying to…” Ren tried to speak but found his words fading away into oblivion. His thoughts found no foundation. The hand on his wrist gripped more firmly but it held no pain.

 

The silhouette then tilted it’s head into a ninety degree angle and said, “Don’t worry. You and I will talk to each other more in depthly soon. Like we already have in the past.” The figure’s head snapped back into place and the light began to fade away. “I must say I am excited too, once more. We haven’t been able too since you lost your rotten heart. I am excited to talk to you once more because I wonder why it is I have returned.” The last words spoken were mere whispers in non-existent wind and the light completely disappeared soon after.

 

Ren’s vision soon left the darkness as well and found Sae looking at him with worry writ all over her face as she gripped his wrist. Ren took in a deep breath and nodded to Sae. She let out a long sigh and let go of Ren as she fell back into her own metal chair. The look of worry never left her face as she pinched the bridge of her nose in between her middle finger and thumb. A few seconds passed until Sae said, “Just what the hell did those bastards pump you with. Are you good to keep going?” Ren slowly nodded his confirmation to which Sae replied with, “Good. But before you continue your story, I have a question. You said you had sent out four texts yet I was only told of the ones sent to your fellow thieves, Panther, Queen, and Skull. What was the fourth?”

 

“I’m sorry. But I can’t seem to remember who I sent it too or what I said. Just that I sent something to someone.” Replied Ren as he rubbed out a budding ache in his right shoulder. “Sorry.”

 

“Well try to remember. In the meantime, I want you to go back to this extravagant story you’ve been telling me.” Sae said as she pushed Kamoshida’s file closer to Ren. “Now then, please- try to continue to the best of your ability.”

 

04/19/2016

 

Early Morning

Streets of Yongen

 

The bell of Leblanc’s door chimed in it’s closure as Ren opened up his umbrella to shield himself from falling rain. “Make sure you try to cover up this bag.” Morgana mewed as he dug himself further into Ren’s satchel. Ren hummed to this and zipped his bag up enough so that Morgana could still breathe and see but the umbrella completely covered the opening. Content with situation, Morgana made himself as comfortable as he could inside Ren’s bag and started finishing what was previously interrupted. His sleep. It was fairly easy for the cat as the noise of the falling rain and Ren footsteps against wet pavement quickly became white. Soon, Morgana was fast asleep until the sound of familiar voices and the lack of falling rain had woken him up.

 

Morgana let out a small yawn and wriggled his head out of Ren’s bag to find the two of them with the others in Shibuya Station, waiting for the train to the Aoyama-Itchome station. “Well, whatever the reason for it, the words were appreciated Ren.” Makoto said with a smile to which Ann nodded in agreement.

 

Ryuji instead walked closer to Ren a tapped his fist against Ren’s arm and said, “Fuckin’ nerd. Why wouldn’t I have believe you anyways. Didn’t have reason not too. But moving on to the asshole topic, what’s the plan for today? We headin’ back in that palace?”

 

Morgana took this opportunity to say his piece. “I think we should. We covered a lot of ground yesterday and if we went at the same pace, I’m pretty sure we could get to the treasure without any problems if we worked hard and smart today.”

 

Ren nodded to this and said, “I completely agree that we should go in there today. I want to finish this as soon as possible. Just because Kamoshida said he was going to report us at the next teacher meeting, I wouldn’t put it past him to try and get Ryuji and I expelled sooner than that.”

 

“I agree. The sooner we get rid off that bastard, the sooner others won’t have to suffer anymore.” Ann said as she balled her hand into a tight fist. The train soon pulled into the station and the thieves shrugged off the increasingly tense atmosphere around them with the agreement of heading into the palace after school and finishing the situation once and for all. The train doors closed behind them and they were on their way to wait for eight to nine hours until they pressed the button on the navigator.

 

-

 

Kamoshida walked through the somewhat silent halls of Shujin Academies second floor with his destination in mind. Students have started to slowly filter through the doors of the school and the other teachers were off in the faculty room preparing for their classes for the day. In fact, Kamoshida should be with them but Kobayakawa had called him out to talk with him privately. It didn’t matter to Kamoshida because he felt that Physical Education was a mind numbing class. The only thing that mattered to him was making sure he had a team that would rise to the top of nationals and win every single time . The only thing that mattered to him was to have a team that would help bolster his reputation while keeping hidden every piece of grime and filth hidden under his front. The same sins he revelled in. Kamoshida quickly made his way over to Kobayakawa’s room and knocked three times. “Come.” Said the principal and so Kamoshida obliged, quickly opening the door, walking in, closing the door behind and locking it. Kobayakawa motioned for him to sit down in one of the chairs in front of his desk and said, “There are some matters that we need to discuss. Specifically, the Suzui situation and this problem with the two delinquents that you are wanting to expel soon.”

 

Kamoshida gave a small nod in return. “Good. If you know about my plans for those two boys then I would like to get it done and over with quickly. If we could get rid of them sooner rather than later, I would be very happy. I won’t stand to work here and deal with such harassment from my students.”

 

Kobayakawa gave a gruff in response and pondered his thoughts for a few seconds before speaking. “Do not take me for a fool, Mr. Kamoshida. You may do whatever it is you want here but it is under my watchful eye. And while it is true that you do provide this school a much more prestigious name than it previously held, I must advise caution. You have quickly made enemies this year in those students.”

 

“Don’t worry. They’re all too afraid to do anything about it.” Kamoshida laughed, tossing away the worries Kobayakawa had presented.

 

The principal’s eyes narrowed at these words. “Do not take these teenagers for fools! There is power in numbers and what do you think is going to happen when the Suzui kid wakes up!? She’s already tried to take her life so I can only assume she isn’t really scared of much else. When she speaks up, others will follow. Your lust will send you into a jail cell and this schools reputation into a detrimental pit.”

 

“Don’t worry about Suzui. The doctors doubt she’s going to even pull through.”

 

Kobayakawa leaned forward and placed his elbows on his desk, clasping his hands together and resting his chin upon them. “I tend to believe in miracles, Mr. Kamoshida. You should as well. Besides, even if the girl never wakes up, you have to keep in mind who knows about you and your misdeeds. The Takamaki girl. From what I’ve been told from the teachers, her and Suzui are good friends- great friends- and I doubt she’ll just let you keep on going like this. Makoto Niijima, the student council president. Tell me. Do you recognize the name, Niijima, at all?”

 

Kamoshida began waving off the worries once more and said, “Takamaki won’t be a problem. She’s like a slut waiting for her next serving and everyone knows that the Niijima girl can’t do any-”

 

“I asked you a question, Mr. Kamoshida.”

 

The volleyball coach swallowed slightly and said, “I’m afraid I don’t recognize the name.”

 

Kobayakawa let out a huff and said, “Then educate yourself. I’ll give you a quick rundown but you’ll have to look into it yourself for a more solid grasp on the situation. Sae Niijima is the older of the two sisters and she has quite the position the public prosecutors office. She has sent many to prison, usually never having had lost a case. And after the death of their father, she stepped into the guardian role for Makoto. For more than obvious reasons, she is very protective. And believe me when I say I know everything that goes on in the school. Not everyone stays quiet and after your motion made against Makoto Niijima last week, all it would take is a few words to her sister and you would be done for.” Kobayakawa got up from his seat and peered out the window as students started filtering into the school. The thieves were easy to spot in the wave. “She’s also recently befriended that Takamaki girl and the two delinquents you want expelled. Now, I know you and your volleyball team do great things for this schools name but so can ‘reforming’ a troubled child and getting them to graduate. I urge you to rethink the expulsion of those two because it would be the loss of some valuable assets and I can only assume the worse that Niijima will probably get her sister involved.” Kobayakawa turned away from the window, faced Kamoshida and spoke. “You, my asset, are treading some very unstable waters right now. If, of course, you do decide to get rid of the two delinquents, then it’ll be easier to shut up any who would speak out against sexual harassment. You’ve caused some problems. Fix them.”

 

Kamoshida got up from his chair and slightly bowed to the principal. “Alright, I get it sir. I’ll fix the problems. I understand.” With that, Kamoshida turned around, unlocked the door, and walked out.

 

Kobayakawa stood staring at the door after Kamoshida had left and silently asked, “Do you?” A few seconds passed and soon the phone in his office was ringing. Kobayakawa quickly picked up the phone, recognizing the number, he answered but said nothing. The voice on the other line was already speaking. “Hello there. I’ve given you the time you’ve desired. Do you still require my services?”

 

Kobayakawa responded through a barely held together voice. “We will see in two weeks. For now, do not worry about my request, Loki. I feel that it will not be necessary.”

 

The man on the other line gave a small laugh and said, “Very well. Have a nice day, Principal Kobayakawa.” Before the principal could give his own goodbyes, the call was ended, leaving nothing left to be said about the situation in its current form.

 

After School

Kamoshida’s Palace

 

“C’mon, man! Just stick them eyes in already so we can get across this bridge! Morgana’s saying that the treasure is real close!”

 

“Well I’m sorry that even though these eyes look to be made out of some stone, they’re slimy and awkward to hold! And after fighting that dick thing, I’m not really in the mood to hold slimy objects!”

 

“Boy! You got gloves on! How can you even feel them if they are slimy!?”

 

“I don’t know I just can-!”

 

“Would you two quit it already!” Ann yelled out to which both the boys stopped, looked at each other and then looked at Ann with wide eyes.

 

“Yes ma’am.” The two said in unison. Ren quickly got back to sticking the eyes into the statue of Kamoshida, handing one to Ryuji so that he could help out. “Oh my god they are slimy. Oh I think I’m gonna be sick.” Ryuji said through preemptive gags as the two were trying to stop the massive blades from flying across the metal grate bridge. Morgana was waiting on the other side because he had wanted to show off his dexterity while in a non-cat form and Ann and Makoto were waiting for the two boys to finish with the keys.

 

Makoto laughed a little and said, “Good job on getting those two to play nice with each other. I was about to step in, but thanks for not making me.” Ann shared the sentiment until there was a loud click that reverberated through the massive curved hallway in the tower. The eyes began to glow and soon the traps on the bridge had stopped their deadly movements. “Nice going, you two. Now let’s move on. Morgana said we’re extremely close to the treasure now.”

 

Makoto and Ann began to move across the bridge but Ryuji and Ren stood still for a few seconds trying to figure out why their gloves weren’t a disgusting mess but were actually completely dry. After a few seconds, the two looked at each other and shrugged in acceptance before following the girls across the bridge. When they crossed, Morgana piped up, “Well finally! Feels like I’ve been waiting forever for you guys to get over here!”

 

“Can it, cat.” Ryuji said through grumbled breath. Ren laughed at the remark while Morgana began to fume at the name.

 

“Hey, before you get angry, Morgana, let’s get going.” Ren said quickly so that he might diffuse his furry friend. To this notion, Morgana hesitantly obliged and began to lead the others up a curved staircase. At the top stood one shadow that was running through a simple, uniform patrol route. The thieves hid behind some large boxes and quickly and quietly took care of the shadow in their way.

 

The only thing blocking the thieves and their path to the treasure was now a massive door. “I don’t recommend going through there. I did some scouting while I was waiting for you slow pokes to get across the bridge and Kamoshida is giving some sort of speech to a ton of shadows right now. Going through that door is definite suicide.”

 

“What about the balcony right up there?” Ann asked, pointing to small veranda about a story above the thieves.

 

Morgana smiled and nodded to this. “Astute observation, Lady Ann. That is the path we take, though we need to be quiet so as not to gain attention. It should be a direct path to the treasure room, which appears to be behind Kamoshida’s throne.”

 

“How egotistic.” Makoto said with a drone in her voice.

 

To this, Ren clasped his hand around her right shoulder and said, “C’mon, Makoto. Did you expect anything less out of this man?”

 

“Nope”

 

“Then let’s just get that treasure and get out of here.” Ren said, quickly letting go of Makoto and jumping onto a small statue and onto the railing of the veranda. He pulled himself up with ease, and held out his hand for those who would follow. Ann was first, then Ryuji, then Makoto, and Morgana got up there without any help.

 

The thieves crouched through the smaller doorway, hiding behind the continuing railway and they sneaked their way along the path until they were behind Kamoshida with access to a long and dark hallway. A bright red, simple door stood closed at the end of the hallway and the thieves began to make their way to it. The rampant voice of the yelling Kamoshida melded into nothingness as they reached the door, which was surprisingly unlocked. When opened, a room filled to the brim with gold coins, valuables and jewels was presented to the thieves.

 

“Wo-oah. This is what thieves are supposed to be swimming in. I kinda feel like that one dude now that stole from people and had the bow.” Ryuji said as the thieves slowly filtered into the room, scanning their surroundings until they all laid their eyes on a floating orb of ethereal substance.

 

“I think you’re talking about Robin Hood, but, before that. Morgana. Is this the treasure? If so, how are we supposed to take it?” Makoto said as they all stepped up to the orb.

 

“Well, I guess now is as good of a time as any to explain what we have to do from here on out.” Said Morgana as he stepped up to the front and center of the group. All of their eyes were on him as he began to explain. “The treasure is currently unattainable because Kamoshida has not been made aware of its existence. Of course, it exists, but Kamoshida doesn’t know that it actually is a treasure. And he especially doesn’t know that it’s stealable.”

 

“Well, then how do we make him know this thing exists?” asked Ryuji as he motioned to the massive orb in front of him.

 

“A calling card.” Morgana bluntly said. “We need a calling card. Something in the real world that makes him aware of his treasure and strikes the fear in him that it will be stolen from him. This will cause three things to happen. One, the treasure will materialize in this world and it’ll become obtainable. Second, the treasure will become ephemeral- meaning, it will only be here for twenty-four hours. So if we can’t steal the treasure in that time, then we fail because once a treasure materializes and the allotted time passes, it becomes completely unattainable and  Kamoshida never answers for his crimes.”

 

“Wait. You mean to tell us that we could fail, and never have another chance?” Ann asked as her eyes widened with fear.

 

Ryuji was quick to place a hand on her shoulder and said, “Don’t worry. We won’t fail. Not with all five of us. We’ve got this. We’ve all got something at stake here and none of us are going to let us fail.” Ann looked at Ryuji and steeled her eyes before nodding in agreement. “Alright then, what’s next, furball?”

 

“This palace will become extremely dangerous. Agitated, if you will. The security in this place is going to go through the roof but that’ll be alright now that we have our infiltration route. We just need to be extremely careful, alright?” Morgana asked the thieves to which they all nodded in agreement.

 

Ren walked over and past Morgana when he was finished speaking and ran his hand through the wisp-like treasure. He stared into its center for a few seconds. He saw glimmers of horrible memories in it’s base. Ren saw glimpses of Shiho, Makoto, Ann, Ryuji, and himself along with several others that he had no clue on who they were. Both male and female but mainly the latter. Ren turned back to face the others and said, “Let’s get rid of this dick-for-a-brain.”

 

Afternoon

Central Street

 

Ren stared at the coffee the waitress had just placed in front of him as the others discussed who would be writing the calling card and what it should say.  Using his index finger, Ren swirled the spoon around in a few circles. His mind lost in the swirling black of his coffee until Makoto began snapping her fingers in front of his face. “Hey. Earth to Ren. We’re a team and this is a team discussion. Do try and join us for it. What do you think we should do for the calling card? Who do you think should write it?”

 

Ren looked up from his drink glanced around the table before locking his eyes with Ryuji’s. “I’m afraid I’m of the mindset that I do not deserve the pleasure of writing this card. That lies with you three. But If I had to help make a choice, I’d choose you, Ryuji. I think you should write the card because while the others have suffered at his hands, you’ve had a future taken away from you. Between the four of us, he’s done the most damage to you. I think you should take care of the calling card. What do the rest of you guys think?”

 

Ann seemed to be a little disappointed but agreed with the notion, to which Makoto soon agreed as well. Ryuji took a quick look between all of the thieves, let out a deep breath, and said, “Thanks, guys. I won’t screw this up. I promise to do my best. I can’t screw this up. We’ve gotta make him pay.

 

Ren took a long sip of his drink then set the coffee down onto the table once more. “Then make him scared, Ryuji. For all of us. So that we may take His Rotten Heart.”

Chapter Text

04/19/2016

 

Afternoon

Central Street

 

“Well, if you’re going to be making that calling card, then you’re going to need some supplies. C’mon, Ryuji- I’m sure there’s some sort of store around here that has like arts and crafts stuff. So let’s get that stuff and get back here real quick.” Ann said as she started to drag Ryuji out of the booth everyone had gathered around.

 

“Hey! Knock it off, will ya? I can walk ya know!” Ryuji said as he started to swat away Ann’s arms away while getting off of the cushioned bench. “But, you’re right. We’ll be back, guys. So just stick around until we’re done. This isn’t really something I can do alone. I’ll need all of your guys help to make the card because it needs to be perfect. So don’t be heading out any time soon, alright?”

 

“Got it.” Ren and Makoto said as the two blondes began to make their way out of the diner. As they were leaving, Morgana squirmed his way out of the bag and leered at Ryuji. Before the two blondes could leave the area, Ryuji stopped and began looking around for something but shuddered when he couldn’t find what he was looking for. Although his voice was hard to hear because of the distance, the three of them could still clearly hear, “I think somethings watching me, Ann… I dunno but it felt- angry?... Oh, I am not paranoid! You’re paranoid for calling me paranoid!” Ryuji’s voice quickly became muffled as he and Ann walked down the stairs of the building and onto Central Street. Morgana then hopped out of the bag and onto the table of the booth, still leering at the door. He made a coughing noise and said, “I’m gonna go head out and… scout… the surrounding area. I’ll be back.”

 

Ren and Makoto watched as Morgana quickly jumped off the table and ran out the door before it swung shut behind him. The two of them continued to watch the doorway with slight confusion until Ren let out a small snicker and said, “We both know what that cat is up too. 500 yen says that he’s tailing Ann and Ryuji right now.”

 

Makoto gave a small laugh and said, “Sorry, but I don’t take bets that have a clear winner behind them.” The two of them laughed for a short while as the waitress came by and refilled their cups of coffee. When their laughs became giggles and their giggling became breathing, Makoto was the first to speak. “Well, I hope you don’t intend on not doing anything while we wait. I do believe we have a tutoring thing going on.”

 

“You mean the tutoring that is less you helping me with my homework and is more of a study session because I don’t really need any help?” Ren said with his eyebrow quirked and eyes that gave off an aura of slight confidence. “You mean that, ‘tutoring’? Yeah, sure. Sounds fun.”

 

“You could of just said that from the start. The sass was unnecessary.” Makoto said with an over exaggerated sigh while pulling out her text and notebooks.

 

“I have no idea what it is you’re talking about, Ms. Niijima. There is no such thing as unnecessary sass. Just timing.” Ren said while following suit, pulling out his own school supplies.

 

Makoto shook her head and gave a small laugh and soon the two were studying together in the diner. They helped each other out with the little things they struggled on in math or literature, though most of theor problems stemmed from their English lessons. The same routine as the past two sessions filled their movements as Ren helped where he could with context given to him by Makoto and before they knew it, an hour had gone by and their friends had yet to return. Regardless, they kept on studying until eventually, Makoto stopped and cleared her throat, successfully capturing Ren’s attention. “What is it?” He asked.

 

“There’s something I’ve been wondering about for awhile now. You said your mom was a police officer, correct? I was just wondering what she was like because you never really talked about your home life. You’re the ‘mysterious delinquent transfer student’ after all and that alone is enough to make anyone curious. But when you say things such as you not liking your last name, the curiosity piques. But I’m more interested in talking about your mother.” As Makoto spoke, Ren’s eyes slowly began to feel more distant as he looked at the table solemnly. Makoto’s own gaze faltered as she began to put together the pieces with the reaction in front of her. “I’m sorry for bringing it up if it’s a touchy subject. I’d understand if you don’t want to talk about.”

 

Ren just shook his head and realigned his gaze with Makoto’s. A small smile was on his face as he spoke. “Don’t worry about it. While it is a saddening topic for me, it’s one that has become easier for me to tackle. So please, ask away. What would you like to know about my mom?”

 

Makoto shared the smile as she asked, “I would like to say everything, but that’s a loaded question. So what was her name and what did she look like?”

 

Ren nodded his head to this while pulling out his phone, unlocking it. “That’s simple enough. Her name is Akari Takada. Or, at least was until she married my father and took the name, Amamiya. As for what she looked like… The only description I could give would be beautiful but that doesn’t really tell you much. So I think a picture could better tell you.” When he finished speaking, Ren gave one final tap to his phone and placed it on the table with it’s screen facing up. He slid the phone over to Makoto, who picked it up and looked at with childish wonder. “That was taken a few weeks before I had turned ten... Just before she was admitted into the hospital.”

 

The picture held three people on a beach with the waving ocean behind them. Ren’s mom, Akari; his father, Touma; and a much younger Ren. Akari had long raven black hair that was being held into a loose ponytail flowing over her shoulder. She had ocean blue eyes and her  smile seemed to mend a thousand wounds over. She was holding Ren’s hand as he stood by her side, giving a more timid look to the camera. Touma had his arm wrapped around Akari. His bright, tousled silver hair seemed to sparkle in the sunlight and what would seem like a usually gruff man had a look on his face that held a thousand hilarious adventures to tell. Makoto smiled to herself and handed the phone back to Ren. “You’re right. She is beautiful. You guys look like such a happy family.”

 

Ren shared the sentiment as he locked his phone and placed it back into his pocket. “We were. Is there anything else you’d like to know about her? There isn’t really anything I’m against you asking.”

 

Makoto thought it over until her own smile dropped. She looked at Ren and said, “I’m sorry for asking, but what exactly happened to her? If she was an officer, than it could have been any number of things.”

 

Ren’s own smile didn’t drop but its integrity wavered as he began to speak. “It wasn’t anything violent. She didn’t die while on the line of duty. Shortly after I had turned ten, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was caught late. Too late. She was admitted into the hospital for treatment but all it did was delay the inevitable. She passed away just a little less than a year later, just two days after I had turned eleven, on May 8th, 2010.”

 

“The anniversary is coming up soon then. Will you be going?” Ask Makoto, to which she was surprised when Ren shook his head no. “Why not?” She asked.

 

“Because I don’t want to bother my guardian to take me there seeing as how I can only go by myself if I fill out a request form. Of which, is too late for me to turn in now and have it accepted in time and they would probably decline anyways because it’s so early into my probation.” There was a silence before he let out a small sigh. “Besides, it’s been long enough since then that I don’t really need to go see her this year. I can make up for it next year.” Ren took a drink of his newer cup of coffee. Setting it down he asked Makoto, “Now that we’re talking about moms, what’s yours like?”

 

Makoto took a drink of her own coffee before shrugging as she placed the cup back down. “I can’t really say. She passed away before I was old enough to remember her. My older sister was the one who filled that role for me in the end. Of course, there were limits to how much mothering she could do, but she did her best and continues to do so and I will always be grateful for that.”

 

“She sounds nice.” Ren said as he picked his pencil back up, spinning it between the crevice of his thumb and index finger. “But man, if this isn’t one depressing-” The ringing from an unknown number on Ren’s phone interrupted him near the end of his sentence. “Sorry, I’m going to take this real quick.” He said as he grabbed his phone, accepting the call and bringing it up to his ear. “Hello?”

 

“Hey, it’s me, Sojiro.” The gruff guardian said on the other line. “It took me some digging into your paperwork to find this number but that doesn’t really matter anymore. When do you think you’ll be back? It’s getting late and I would like to close up shop.”

 

“Ah. Sorry about that. I’m studying right now with some friends at a diner on Central Street. I won’t be back for awhile but I can start heading out now if you want.”

 

There was a silence on the other line that lasted for a few seconds until Sojiro let out a groan. “Alright, kid. I’m surprised that you’re actually taking my words to heart and keeping with your studies. Thanks for that. I have a spare key for the shop underneath the mat outside the front door. Use it and keep it. Just make sure that you don’t stay out too late from here on out. The trains close down at 12:30.”

 

The surprise on Ren’s face was easy to see as he stammered out his next words. “O-oh. Thank you, sir. But a-are you sure?”

 

“Do you want me to not be sure?”

 

“No! No. Thank you.” Ren said as he slowly calmed back down and slumped into the bench.

 

There was a small laugh that could be barely heard on the receiver as Sojiro spoke. “Yeah, yeah. Just don’t give me a reason to take the key back. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

“See you in the-” The click of Sojiro ended the call cut off Ren. The tousled hair teen shrugged it off and placed his phone back in his pocket.

 

“What was that all about?” Makoto asked as she eyed Ren with curiosity. He picked himself back up and said, “I was kind of under an insinuated curfew to be back at my residence by seven because that’s when he closes up shop. But , he just basically gave me a key to the place so the curfew doesn’t really affect me much anymore Just as long as I make the trains.”

 

Ren took another swig of his coffee, draining the last bits of it. “Anyways, back on to what I was going to bring up before my phone rang.” Makoto leaned in as Ren spoke, listening intently. “Just because we have cards to give doesn’t mean we have a way of getting Kamoshida to read them. Not only that, but Morgana said that the cards need to make him feel like his desires can actually be stolen. In other words, he needs to be scared of what the card says and he can’t just nonchalantly find it in his office either. Can you text Ann to buy some disposable gloves as well so our prints don’t end up on the cards because what we’re doing is illegal. It could go under harassment or strings could be pulled to say we’re blackmailing him- though I’m going to lean on the harassment charges if we get found out.”

 

Makoto pulled out her phone and finished sending the text to Ann as Ren finished speaking. “So basically, we need a way to get our calling card to terrify Kamoshida while also having it untraceable to us. Correct?” Ren nodded his head in affirmation as the two of them both began to think of ways to send the card. After a few moments, Makoto spoke. “This shouldn’t be that hard, I think. If we can just have a lot of the cards in a centralised area in the school where everyone can see them before they get there, then it should work. Like the lobby area in the entrance.”

 

“But there are two problems with that. How do we get into the building when there isn’t anybody to run into and how do we make sure that any cameras in the area can’t see our faces. I can pick the lock but if we did get caught, that would be another offense.”

 

The moment Ren mentioned a lock, Makoto started fishing though her bag until she pulled out a small key. “I have access to the school at all times. Perks of being the student council president. That’s our way in. After that, we’d just need a simple disguise. Only one person really needs to be the one sticking the cards on the wall too. The more I think about this, the easier it becomes. It’s… ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’.” Ren looked at Makoto with his mouth slightly agape before he burst into a fit of quiet chuckles.

 

“Oh my god. That’s just as bad as me dropping random Harry Potter references. I dig it. Nice timing there.” Ren said as he calmed down. Makoto had a smile of accomplishment on her face as she gave her thank you’s to a non existent crowd. “Alright, hot shot. We’ve figured out what we need to do. Send someone with a disguise to the school shortly before it opens up to place the cards in a condensed spot in the lobby. Preferably that bulletin board since everyone checks it out. The only question is, who do we send. Which I think it should be me. I have contacts so I don’t need to wear my glasses and my hair is long enough to pull back and wrap up with a hair tie. And I could just wear a face mask to hide most of my face beyond that. In regards to my clothes, I’d walk in there in casual attire with my bag in that alley we’ve been using holding my actual school uniform. When I’m done, I’ll just walk out, grab my bag and find a place where I can dress back up.”

 

Makoto took a quick drink of her own coffee and placed it back down as the door to the diner opened up and the two blondes stepped through with a three small bags. Two were supplies and one that neither Ren or Makoto recognized. Morgana bolted into the diner right before the door could swing shut and to Ren’s bag causing him to burst out laughing as the black cat tried to make himself comfortable in the book bag. Makoto smiled to the blondes and then looked back at Ren. “I guess we should start divulging our plan to them.”

 

15 minutes earlier…

 

“Makoto just asked me to grab some disposable gloves… Oh! So our fingerprints aren’t on the cards! Smart!” Ann said as she quickly ran over to another aisle, grabbing a box of gloves and throwing them into their cart of mix matched items.

 

Ryuji quickly walked up to the side of the cart and said, “That should be it then. We’ve got index cards, glue, markers and scissors. All this stuff was surprisingly hard to find. At least the magazines were easy to find, like, jesus christ. Does no one sell school supplies?”

 

“Oh, you quit your complaining. It’s not even that big of a deal. Let’s just get checked out and back to the diner. It’s getting late and all that, so c’mon.” The two of them quickly walked over to the cashier and paid for their items. She bagged the items and took the cart and sent them on their way, servicing the next customer.

 

As the two blondes made their way out of the underground department store, Ryuji began to speak. “Hey, I’ve been wondering about how you’ve been holdin’ up. Is Suzui doin’ alright?” Ann was silent as she thought over her answer. The two walked slowly through the thinning crowds of people trying to do last minute shopping before they headed off to their homes.

 

“There isn’t really much to say. She still hasn’t woken up and the doctors aren’t entirely sure if she will. But I’ve been heading over there to visit. I told her about the metaverse and how we’ve been trying to take down Kamoshida once and for all…” Tears began to bud in her eyes as she spoke. “But it’s been hard, looking at her like that. Knowing that there was so much I could’ve done and so much I didn’t do… I don’t even really know if I have the right to be there when she wakes up.”

 

Ryuji placed a hand on her should stopping the both of them before they could turn onto the stairs. His grip had a comforting firmness to it as he looked into Ann’s eyes. “So I’m going to take that as a ‘No, I’m not doing alright.’ Ya know, I don’t think Suzui would want you to beat yourself up over this. Yeah, there may have been a lot that you or even me saw and didn’t do a thing about. But there was also a lot that we couldn’t do because of that bastard. But you realize that we’re fixing this, right?. As soon as we take him down, then nobody will have to be treated like shit by him anymore. And yeah, there are going to be a lot of people who are gonna need some time to recover and lick their wounds. I’m a breathing example of the shit Kamoshida pulled but I’m stronger than his rule over me. So is Suzui and I doubt she’s going to wanna say sayonara to her best friend when she wakes up. ‘Cause she will wake up and I can promise you that she’s gonna wanna see you when she does.”

 

Ann stared at Ryuji with wide eyes until she wiped the tears off her face. A large smile was spread across her face as she tapped Ryuji on the shoulder with her fist. “Okay, Mister Dramatic. I’ll trust you. Thanks.”

 

Ryuji returned the smile as they started walking up the stairs. “Yeah, no problemo… Hey! Who’re you calling Mister Dramatic!? You’re the one who was crying and all that!”

 

“I mean, yeah, I’ll give you that one. But I wouldn’t have started crying if you hadn’t asked me that question. So you’ve gotta take responsibility and deal with the nickname!”

 

“I don’t think that’s how that’s supposed to work.”

 

“Sure it is. Anyways, what do you think Ren, Makoto and Morgana have been doing this whole time? We’ve been gone for quite a while.” Ann said as she pulled out her phone. “Yeah, just a little over an hour.”

 

Ryuji shook his head with a groan and said, “Don’t remind me. An hour of shopping just to get all of this stuff. You know, if we hadn’t stopped at that one store because you saw something that you, ‘just absolutely had to try on,’ we would’ve been back sooner.”

 

“Oh, you hush. It looked adorable and you know it.” Ann said as she lifted one of the bags. It was filled with a new outfit she had decided to buy while they were out shopping. “But you didn’t answer the question.”

 

Ryuji scratched at his chin for a few seconds before shrugging. “If Makoto asked ya to get some gloves, then they probably did some sorta planning. I’m also pretty sure Makoto had the two of them study together so it’s not like they had nothing to do…” Ryuji’s words wavered as he looked around his surroundings once more as the two of them emerged onto Central Street. “Man! I still feel like someone or something is watching me and it’s givin’ me the chills.”

 

“Well we do kind of stand out. You especially.”

 

Ryuji’s eyes became unamused as he turned to look Ann in the eyes. “I don’t know if that was an insult, compliment, or both. But I’ll choose compliment. Hell yeah I stand out cause I make everyone swoon with my devilish looks.”

 

Ann brought a hand to her face and slowly dragged it down while giving Ryuji an exaggerated groan. “Forget I said anything. We don’t need a boost to your ego. And if you really feel like someone is watching you, try and keep a lookout. Maybe you’ll find the source before we get back to the-”

 

“It’s the cat.”

 

“What?” Ann asked as Ryuji glared at the corner of an alley.

 

“I said it’s the cat. Y’know, Morgana. I just saw that asshole glare at me from over there and then slink back into the shadows.” Ryuji said as he pointed to the alley. “Wonder why he’s outside? You think he’s been following us this entire time?”

 

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much.” Ann said, patting his back as the started walking up the stairs to the diner. “Let’s just get in there and sit down.” Ryuji shrugged and nodded, following Ann as the two made their way into the restaurant. The two walked in and easily found Makoto and Ren. They had smiles on their faces and seemed to be listening intently to one another. Before their two friends could notice them, Ann leaned in next to Ryuji and whispered, “Oh my god look at those two! It’s so adorable!”

 

“I think you’re lookin’ too far into- What the hell!” Ryuji exclaimed as Morgana bolted past his feet and to Ren’s bag. Ren started laughing hysterically at Morgana and Makoto looked at them and smiled, turning back to Ren and saying something as the two blondes made their way to the booth and sitting down at the benches. “What’d you guys get up too while we were out?”

 

“We just studied a little bit and then put together a plan for how we’re going to get Kamoshida the card and make sure it makes an impact on him so that it actually makes the treasure materialize.” Makoto explained as Ren calmed down from his laughing fit. At the mention of their plan, Morgana popped his head out of Ren’s bag and said, “Well, what’ve you got?”

 

“She was getting there.” Ren said as both he and Makoto began to explain what they had thought of. Ann, Ryuji, and Morgana all listened intently as the two of them divulged the rundown on how things were going to happen tomorrow morning and by the end of it, all three listeners seemed to be entirely content with what they were provided.

 

“Alright. Seems like we’ve got this, guys! All that needs to be done is actually making the cards, so let’s get to it.” Ann pulled up the two bags with all of the supplies and they all put on a pair of gloves and got to work. Ideas were thrown around by all members of the rag tag group of thieves along with clippings from magazines, pens, and glue sticks. But by the end of it all, there was a massive stack of cards made for Kamoshida and a mess that looked like a toddler had just been through. Having now finished the cards, the team quickly cleaned up their mess and threw it away.

 

As Ren placed all of the cards into his bag in prep for the morning, Ann was the first to speak after the project had been finished. “I’m not too sure about what the card says. It doesn’t sound the greatest and kinda sounds like and idiot trying to sound like an adult…”

 

“Our logo is kind of lacking too…” Morgana said as he snuggled back into Ren’s bag.

 

“Hey! You guys helped me make this so if there’s something you don’t like then it’s partially your guys’ fault.” Ryuji said as he plopped onto the bench next to Ren, crossing his arms.

 

His dark haired friend gave him a smile while rubbing the back of his own head. “I actually kind of like it. I mean, of course the logo is going to be lacking but its not like any of us are artists or anything. But I like the overall design and flow to the text. It kind of gives us our own style.”

 

“I get where you’re coming from. It doesn’t feel like we’re just some random thugs trying to blackmail him but actual people that are going to do something. I like the name too. I mean, we basically are phantom thieves. Thieves that don’t even do heists in the real world, but in a phantom world.” Makoto said as she took a drink from another cup of coffee. “But enough of that. It’s getting late and you have an early morning, Ren. We should get going.”

 

“Right.” Ren said as he hailed over a waitress. He quickly paid the bill from funds gained in Kamoshida’s palace and the group went on their way, out of the diner.

 

As they reached the end of the steps, Makoto tapped Ren’s shoulder and said, “Once you’re done getting changed, meet me at the station at six. I’ve gotta be at the school early anyways for student council work. Want to help me with that? Oh, and here’s a hair tie.”

 

“Thanks, and sure. I’m down to help.” Ren said as the two of them caught up with Ann and Ryuji. Anticipation coursed through all of their bodies as they prepared themselves for one last venture into Kamoshida’s palace. The Castle of Lust.

 

04/20/2016

 

Early Morning

Alley Outside Shujin

 

Ren tied his hair back and threw over the hood. He placed on a pair of gloves along with a face mask and with the key to the school in his pocket, and the tacks and calling cards in his hands, he walked over to the back entrance of the school, unlocking it and walking inside. Ren quickly made his way over to the bulletin near the school entrance and began to place the cards at random near the board and on the board. All he did was make sure it was a congested area that couldn’t be ignored.

 

Once done, Ren made his way to the back entrance and left the school without anybody watching him. Once out, he made his way to the alley and grabbed his belongings, pushing further into the alley to make sure nobody could see him. Once he had changed, Ren went out the other entrance of the alley and walked to the station and waited for Makoto. Once she arrived, Ren smiled at her and tossed her back the key to the school. “Did it go well?” Makoto asked.

 

“Went off without a hitch. But, if we’re being honest, it’s probably not that hard to do this too a school of all things.” Ren said as they both walked out of the station, making their way to the school as the clocks struck six.

 

Makoto shrugged and said, “You’re right. But it doesn’t make this any less fun.” The two of them both shared a small laugh as they entered through the now unlocked front gates. Some teachers that had gotten to the school early were looking at the wall with shock and the two thieves played along as they tried to sneak past them and up the stairs. Eventually they got to the student council room. Makoto unlocked the door and they both walked in. She then shut the door and it automatically locked. “Now we just wait to see the fireworks. Think you’re ready?”

 

Ren placed his bag on the table while getting an annoyed reaction from a still sleeping Morgana and said, “I damn well better be. We all need to be. But let’s not think about that right now. You said you needed help with some student council work?” Makoto nodded to this and started to pull documents from a filing cabinet. The two worked on monotonous tasks that Makoto only had to help Ren with slightly until the buzzing of both their phones took their attentions. It was now 7:45 with a text from Ryuji.

 

Ryuji: Guys! You’ve gotta come down here and see this!

Chapter Text

04/20/2016

 

Early Morning

Student Council Room, Shujin Academy

 

Ryuji: Guys! You’ve gotta come down here and see this!

Ryuji: Everyone’s talking about the card and I’m pretty sure Kamoshida is on his way to check things out!

Ryuji: So hurry on up!

 

Ren and Makoto looked at one another with equal grins spread across their faces. The two of them quickly put the papers they had been working on into a pile on the table, grabbed their belongings- Ren making sure that Morgana was still in his bag- and walked out of the student council room- its door locking automatically behind the two of them. The two thieves quickly made their way down the flights of stairs and into the lobby of the school, now filled with a mass of students trying to see the card pinning a target on the back of their beloved teacher. Ren and Makoto quickly found their fellow thieves standing in the corner of a hallway branching away from the lobby talking to one another as students walked by paying them no attention in the heat of the tension filled moment.

 

“Look at how crazy everyone is acting. We really did a good job with those cards,” Ann said when Makoto and Ren got within earshot distance. Morgana wormed his head out of Ren’s bag as he heard Ann’s voice and said, “Don’t act like we’ve won the battle yet, you guys. We’re officially on the clock. We can’t fail now or we’ll never get another chance. Everyone understand?” There was a unanimous nod among the thieves when Kamoshida’s voice came roaring around one of the other hallways, yelling for students to get out of his way while he made his way to the bulletin board filled with cards made for one person specifically. Him.

 

Kamoshida tore one the cards off of its pin and quickly read it. The thieves could see the muscles in his shirt tighten in fury when he crushed the card in his hand and stuck it in his pocket. Kamoshida quickly scanned the heads of all of the students within the vicinity and stopped on the thieves. Morgana quickly burrowed back into Ren’s bag as Kamoshida made his way over to them with his eyes narrowed, fists clenched, and lips drawn into a fine line.

 

Although he walked over to all of the thieves, he stopped in front of Ren particularly. “I know you’re the one behind this. Everything, and I mean everything started going to shit the moment you walked into this school.” Kamoshida took another look around him, noticing the staring students whispering their own theories about the situation to one another. He took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled it, giving Ren a small smile while the tension in his body became non-existent. “Be careful where you step, Amamiya. This isn’t over.” The thieves stared at Kamoshida’s back with determination while he walked away and turned the corner.

 

Ann placed her hands over Ren’s and Ryuji’s shoulder and quietly said to the group, “We’ll get through this. No one else will have to suffer like Shiho did when we’re done. You two will be safe.” The bell for school to start rang and Ann’s grip grew slightly tighter. They stood there for a moment watching the cards until Makoto urged them all to get to their classes for the day.

 

Without much complaining, they all listened and walked for the stairs. None of them noticed Mishima as he quickly maneuvered his way to the bulletin board and carefully took off one of the cards and placed it against his heart. Praying it was all true, and that his pain would finally find its end.

 

-

 

After Kamoshida had rounded the corner of the hallway, still pushing through waves of students, he made his way up to the second floor and walked over to Kobayakawa’s office. Kamoshida roughly knocked on the door three times before he heard a stern voice on the other end, “Come in, Suguru.” At the sound of his first name, the anger in Kamoshida’s chest deflated quickly and a sense of deep unease filled in it’s replacement. Kamoshida quickly swallowed a little and opened the door. Kobayakawa sat at his desk across on the other side with his hands intertwined with one another, hovering in front of the lower half of his face accentuating the glare in his eyes.

 

Kamoshida closed the door behind him and all was still in the room. The tension rose steadily until Kobayakawa let out a deep sigh. “One job,” he said. “I gave you one job. Too dispel the situation or your ass would be on the line and you did the one thing you shouldn’t have. You failed and now there’s a storm brewing and it is strong.”

 

“Sir, I can fix this. This is-”

 

“It is no longer ‘nothing’, Mr. Kamoshida!” Kobayakawa’s voice boomed in his office. “This is now ‘something’. Would you please care to explain to me just how you were called out on almost everything in less than a few fucking sentences? Or would you like me to read it out loud to you?”

 

Kobayakawa answered the question himself by protruding one of the calling cards from his front pocket, holding it out in front of him beginning to read. “Dear Suguru Kamoshida, believe us when we say we know about everything about the man who has unofficially deemed himself the king of this school. You are nothing but a monster that has decided that everything in this school is under your control from the way you’re allowed to beat your volleyball players into submission or assault the many female students around you. You are a monster, Suguru Kamoshida, with monstrous desires and so to protect everyone from future harm, we will take these desires away from you by force. Signed, The Phantom Thieves of Hearts.”

 

Kobayakawa tossed the card onto his desk while the bell for class to start rang and worked himself into the same position he was previously holding. “Domino’s are falling quickly Suguru and I do not think you will be able to catch them from finishing. I need time to think about what to do from here on out. You have officially become a liability to this school. A fucking scandal!”

 

“Leave.” Kobayakawa said and swiveled around in his chair to stare out the window into the front of the school. He could hear Kamoshida shuffling behind him while he made his way out of the office. When Kobayakawa heard the door close once more, he opened up a drawer in his desk and pulled out a simple black phone that looked a few years older than modern models.

 

Kobayakawa unlocked the phone and dialed in a number, pulling the speaker up to his ear after he hit enter. The phone rang once. Twice. And a third time until a younger man’s voice on the other end answered with, “Yes?”

 

Kobayakawa cleared quickly cleared his throat and said, “Loki. I have a problem that requires immediate action.”

 

The voice on the other end gave a small chuckle until he said, “You had your chance last time, Kobayakawa. I’m currently on another job for another client of my employer. Fortunate for your problem but very unfortunate for you, it would seem.”

 

“P-please. I’ll do anything just please take care of it as soon as you can.” Kobayakawa pleaded. Fear spilled into his words making the voice on the other give an audible smile.

 

“Mr. Kobayakawa. In our line of work, you don’t make promises you can’t keep, lest you wish to see what will happen when you’re finding yourself unable to fulfill your end of the bargain.” The voice went silent for a few second before it spoke again. “The soonest I’m available will be tomorrow but I was hoping for a day to rest. So I’ll ask you once more. Is that the deal you’re willing to make. I get rid of your man and I’ll gain the ability to call upon you at some point with a task that you’ll have no other choice but to fulfill. Is this agreeable?”

 

“Yes.” Answered Kobayakawa with a tint of hesitancy behind his voice.

 

The man on the other end of the line laughed a little and said, “Very well then. I hope you don’t end up coming to regret this.”

 

Before Kobayakawa could say anymore, the man hung up, ending the call. The principal let out a long sigh and locked the burner phone, placing it back into the drawer with shaking hands.

 

After School

Castle of Lust

 

“And how the hell are we supposed to carry that out of here without being noticed!?” Exclaimed Ryuji while all of the thieves stared at the massive crown floating in the air in front of them after having to pry Morgana off of it’s gold sheen.

 

Makoto walked over to its rim and grabbed hold of it with both hands, ready to lift. “We carry it, of course. We’ll have to worry about getting out of here without being seen later but, honestly, I don’t think that’s going to be an option for us.”

 

Ren let out a breath and walked over to the opposite end of the crown, following Makoto's example. “Queen’s right and the more time that passes the harder it's going to be to get out of here in time. So let's get to it.”

 

Ann and Ryuji gave their own sighs while they walked over to their ends of the crown. They all counted to three and with a push pulled the crown from its levitated state and found that although the crown looked to have weighed much more than any of them could handle alone, it actually weighed barely more than a school bag filled with supplies.

 

With this newly came upon difference, the thieves began to run out of the castles treasure room and into the throne room. None of the five we're paying much attention to their surrounding despite the clear need for that information. Their goal was literally in the cusp of their hands and the ecstatic joy was spread among them all until in one fatal movement, that joy stared back at them like a shattered mirror while the massive crown was knocked out their hands by a volleyball spiked by Shadow Kamoshida.

 

Quickly, the near nude shadow ran over to the crown which shrunk at his touch into one more reasonably sized, and placed it on his head. Shadow Kamoshida walked towards the stairs while the five thieves closed off the door leading out of the room. They all looked at each other with equal looks of determination now. They weren't leaving without that crown.

 

Kamoshida finished climbing up the stairs and plopped down onto his throne. He stared at the Phantom Thieves with a malicious smile as he spoke. “Usually when someone makes such a daring move to declare their theft before actually attempting it, that means those thieves have at least some level of competency. But you five have only given me something to laugh at. A pathetic attempt at glory beyond imagining.”

 

With a snap of his fingers, Kamoshida’s cognition of Ann appeared and came running up to him, sitting on his lap and tracing every crevice she could find on him. Ann’s fists steeled when she saw the skimpy version of herself and said, “That rat bastard. That’s really how he sees me? Like a bimbo thrusting myself at his desires?”

 

Ryuji nudged her arm slightly, causing her to tear her attention away from the fake and to Ryuji, who smiled and gave her a reassuring nod. Ann smiled back and turned her attention back to Shadow Kamoshida who looked like he was about to begin his narcissistic speech once more.

 

“As if I would actually let you take my crown! The core to this world and beautifully crafted in the eye of my own designs!” Shadow Kamoshida let out a low laugh before he spoke again. “And you five made it so easy too. All I had to do was sit and wait for you idiots to come out of that room with my crown. Now, all I have to do is make sure you’ll never take it again.”

 

“Come at us you sexually harassing d-bag! We ain’t backin’ down this time!” Yelled out Ryuji who received a glare from Shadow Kamoshida in return.

 

“All of you are idiots. Don’t any of you understand that what I do at the school is only for everyone's benefit? I’ve done nothing but good!”

 

Makoto stepped forward to speak. “Nothing but good? Nothing but good!? Everything you’ve done is evil! How can you call any of what you’ve done, good!?”

 

Shadow Kamoshida stood up forcefully, knocking down cognitive Ann, causing her to disappear in a pool of the black and red sludge seen everywhere. “The answer is simple. Because of me, others have been led to glory. People protect me because they know it is in their best interest to do so. The adults, the parents, the school and especially, especially , the students who follow me all get a piece of my glory by doing one thing. Letting me do whatever I want. It’s a circle of benefits. The only people who don’t benefit are those too stupid to follow like good little animals. Idiots such as yourself or that slut that threw herself off of the roof of the school just a few short days ago.”

 

“You can’t really believe the words coming out of your mouth right now!?” Exclaimed Morgana while Shadow Kamoshida cracked his neck. The ground beneath him began to change and his skin slowly turned into a pinkish purple.

 

“I’ve had enough of you pathetic thieves. I think it’s about time I rid my castle of you pests myself.” When Shadow Kamoshida finished speaking, another set of arms began to pierce themselves out from above his shoulders. The entirety of his body grew to an enormous height and the crown followed suit on his head. When his body stopped growing, the head continued for a short while until it could barely be held up by his neck. His bulbous eyes were bulging out of his head and stared at the thieves while he gave a demonic cackle that resonated in the room. In each hand, a new item appeared, a whip, a knife, a fork, and a glass of what was assumed to be wine with cognitive Ann floating stagnantly in it..

 

Ram horns began to grow out of his head and long grey tongue flopped onto the floor of the throne room while all of the thieves jumped back and Ren yelled out, “Get ready for a fight!” Soon after Ren was done speaking, a golden chalice filled with grey bottom halves of women appeared and chained volleyball players with iron masks over their head appeared all around the monster Shadow Kamoshida revealed himself to be.

 

With a roar, Shadow Kamoshida exclaimed, “I’m allowed to do whatever the hell I want and there’s nothing you can do about it!” Without hesitation, Ren tore off his mask and called upon Arsene, yelling out, “You’re wrong! It’s time to end this! Arsene, ravage him!”

 

Shadow Kamoshida let out annoyed scream as Ren spoke that was quickly cut off by the damage done by Arsene. Kamoshida looked down back at Ren as the mask formed on his face once more and Arsene disappeared. Ren stared back at Shadow Kamoshida with pure anger pointed at him, motioning him forward while saying in a low voice, “Come and get me. If you can.”

 

The monster screamed once more and thrust the knife in one of his four hands down at Ren, who elegantly dodged to the side while pulling out his pistol and firing off a few rounds in Shadow Kamoshida’s eyes, causing him to recoil with another scream as the others all summoned their own personas.

 

Makoto summoned Johanna and willed a wave of nuclear fire to burn Shadow Kamoshida’s chest. When the teal flame subsided, the radioactive burns on Kamoshida’s chest became a target for Ryuji when he summoned Captain Kidd, having him send a barrage of cannon fire at the burnt patch of flesh. Each cannonball punctured a different area in the same patch, each digging into the flesh causing black sludge to pour out of the recently cauterized flesh. Shadow Kamoshida screamed in horror as he stared at his black blood flow down his torso and whipped at the slaves in retaliation. Each received a glowing red volleyball as he did and all of them ran as far as their chains would allow. With a unanimous push, each of the slaves jumped up and rained fiery volleyballs on the thieves, making them take a few steps back to avoid the inevitable burns.

 

When the slaves landed, Morgana and Ann willed their personas to send a terrifyingly large blast of fire from Carmen, strengthened by Zoro’s wind, towards Shadow Kamoshida’s eyes. The monster in front of them brought two of his arms in front of his face in a cross fashion to protect his sight but burned his arms in the progress. Again, another blood curdling scream came from Shadow Kamoshida while he quickly thrust his fork into the chalice of legs, stabbing a pair and eating them before swilling it down with a drink of wine.

 

In the blink of an eye, all of the harm done to Shadow Kamoshida vanished and he looked at the five thieves with a renewed vigor and they returned the look with one of fear and confusion. “How the hell did he do that!?” Yelled out Ryuji while he narrowly dodged the knife slamming down on him.

 

“I don’t know but it’s a hunch!” Makoto yelled out while all of thieves had to jump up to avoid Shadow Kamoshida dragging the blade of the knife across the ground at them. “But I think it has something to do with those legs! Like how painkillers work for us here! That’s his healing!”

 

Ren fell down onto his knees and flattened backwards, narrowly avoiding Shadow Kamoshida’s attempt to gash his body by dragging the knife upwards towards him. Ren said nothing when he ran forward, attempting to see if Makoto’s guess proved true by plunging his dagger into the chalice. When he did so, Ren found that the chalice itself had a flesh-like texture as he carved out a gash in the chalice before taking kick from Kamoshida that sent him sprawling across the room.

 

Morgana quickly ran to his side and summoned Zoro to heal Ren while helping him back up. When he had gotten to his feet, Ren yelled out, “Queen’s right! We can attack the chalice! Let’s get rid of it before we can continue!”

 

When Ren finished speaking, Shadow Kamoshida glared down at Ren while picking himself up off the ground and screamed out, “DON’T TOUCH IT! IT’S WORTH MORE THAN YOUR LIFE!” When he finished speaking, Kamoshida grabbed a golden volleyball and tossed it into the air, jumped up and spiked it towards Ren and Morgana.

 

Ren was barely able to grab Morgana and hide behind one of the pillars in the room as the golden volleyball struck the ground, causing a blindingly massive explosion that burnt Ren’s back while he hid Morgana from its blast. When it was over, Ren let go of Morgana, who looked up at his savior and said, “Thanks, Joker…”

 

“Now’s not the time to be thankful. We need to get that crown, now.” The two of them peered around the edge of the pillar as the other three fought off Shadow Kamoshida. Ren pointed out a ledge next to the balcony around the edge of the throne room. “Do you think you could get up there and try and snatch the crown away from Kamoshida?”

 

Morgana nodded in confirmation and said, “I can but we need to get rid of that cup thing. I won’t be able to grab it if Kamoshida is running at full strength. So can you get rid of it because the others aren’t able to focus on it right now.”

 

Ren looked down at Morgana and nodded. The two bolted away from the pillar and Morgana ran to start climbing up the balcony, looking at Ren for confirmation when he got ready. With a nod from Ren, Morgana began climbing up and his suave partner took a few deep breaths and focused until suddenly everything froze around him when he reached for his mask.

 

The silhouette’s voice rang in his head, “I wouldn’t recommend that.” Laughing followed quickly after and then everything resumed. Unsure of what just happened, Ren shrugged off the sense of unease and pulled on his mask. The flame turned yellow and seemed to burn his face this time as it flowed off of Ren’s face. “Jack Frost! Hua Po! Andras!” Exclaimed Ren, summoning three persona’s at once. When they materialized, it felt like a red hot knife was cutting through Ren’s head. He vision went blurry and darkened as he pointed at the chalice and yelled out his order.

 

The Jack Frost and Andras froze the chalice entirely and the sudden reheating from Hua Po’s fire shattered the chalice. The other thieves looked back and congratulated Ren before quickly going back to their attacks. None of them saw Ren as he collapsed on his hands and knees with labored breathing. None of them. Except for Shadow Kamoshida.

 

Makoto, Ryuji and Ann surrounded Kamoshida and let out a barrage of attacks against him and when the dust settled, although he looked to be almost done for, a smile paraded across his face while he spoke. “I missed last time. I won’t miss again.”

 

“What the hell’re you talkin’ about? Face it! You’re beat!” Yelled out Ryuji while Shadow Kamoshida picked himself up, grabbing another of the golden volleyballs.

 

The three thieves backed away as Makoto yelled out, “Find cov-” but was cut off by Ann screaming out Ren’s name as he struggled to pick himself back up from the exertion of summoning three personas at once. But they were all too late. All four of them stared with horror as Shadow Kamoshida tossed the volleyball up into the air, jumped up and spiked it into Ren. The other thieves closed their eyes and guarded their faces from the heat of the explosion.

 

When the explosion subsided, the saw that Ren was no longer where he was before. Instead, the heavy oak doors were burst open and the stained glass window behind was shattered with pieces still falling off. Shadow Kamoshida began to cry with laughter but the thieves couldn’t hear it. Morgana quickly jumped off of the terrace and grabbed the crown, stopping Kamoshida mid laugh while the others all ran towards the window screaming out Ren’s name with tears now falling down their faces. Morgana slowly came up behind the others but stood in the doorway, holding onto the treasure and watching Kamoshida closely as he slowly morphed back into his normal Shadow form.

 

The wind blew through Ren’s tattered clothes as he continued to fall from the top of the castle, barely conscious to the world below him quickly catching up. The sound of the wind drowned out everything Ren would have normally been able to except for one voice. “I can save you, you know. I’m your only chance of living at this point and that ground is coming faster and faster with each passing second.” The ground was growing closer. “Will you accept me? Will you accept life?”

 

His inevitable death was becoming clearer and clearer and the screams from his friends could now be barely heard through the wind as the voice asked once more. “Will. You. Accept. Me?” The screams from his friends resonated in Ren’s heart once more and then everything froze less than twenty meters below him on the ground, the silhouette appeared before him and said, “I’m glad you made the right choice. May we have a long lasting relationship, Ren Amamiya.”

 

The silhouette held out its arms to catch Ren. And as he grew closer, the silhouette smiled once more with it’s stark white teeth before it closed its mouth and revealed its image to Ren. It was a spitting image dressed in his own phantom thief attire, but it was worn down and heavily damaged. The mask itself was broken in half and the eyes were pure yellow. Ren’s shadow smiled once more and the two collided and everything went dark.

 

The others watched as Ren had landed with a visible pound against the cold stone. His body sprawled over it, motionless. Their tears had stopped. Their sobbing had stopped. The three of them all stared in shock. Complete and utter disbelief. A few moments passed until Morgana called out with a shaken voice while he still watched Shadow Kamoshida as he whimpered, cradling himself while calling out for his crown. “Guys… I-I-Is Ren going to be okay?”

 

Morgana received no answer. Only Makoto telling Ryuji and Ann, “I’m heading down there right now. Deal with Kamoshida. Finish this… JOHANNA!” Makoto yelled out, summoning her persona and hopping on. Revving the engine, she began to drive through the halls and reach the courtyard of the castle, ignoring all shadows in her way while having to constantly wipe away the tears in her eyes.

 

Ryuji stayed staring at the limp body of Ren Amamiya while Ann turned around to face Shadow Kamoshida. She summoned Carmen and willed a ball of fire to launch at the wilted gym coach, barely missing at the base of his feet. “You bastard! First you tried to take away Shiho and then you got rid of Ren! You don’t deserve to live!” Another ball of fire was launched at Kamoshida, who barely got out of the way in time and began running for a small balcony leading outside the castle. He was cornered.

 

Ryuji got up and ran after Ann, holding back her arm before she could make the finishing blow. “Don’t do this Ann! Ren wouldn’t want you too!”

 

“Who cares what Ren wants! He’s dead, Ryuji!” Ann screamed, now facing Ryuji.

 

“We don’t know that yet!” Ryuji said, wrapping his arms around Ann and falling to his knees. “we don’t know that yet…” Ryuji began sobbing into Ann’s arms while the anger in her eyes dispersed. She dropped down and looked at Ryuji in the eyes.

 

“You saw that fall…”

 

“I don’t want to believe it…”

 

Ann buried Ryuji’s head into her chest and held him as he wept, trying to hold back her tears while she did. She looked at Morgana, who was now openly crying as well, and motioned him closer. Morgana walked over and Ann lightly took the crown from his grasp.

 

Ann slowly began to pick herself back up when Ryuji tightened his grip and whispered, “please don’t be like him …”

 

“I won’t.” Ann whispered back and Ryuji let go. Slowly Ann walked closer to Shadow Kamoshida, stopping a few meters away and asked, “Was all of this worth it? All of this pain and suffering… just for a crown?”

 

Shadow Kamoshida looked up at her with watering eyes and said, “I-I-I… I never wanted this to happen.”

 

Ann’s glare steeled as she summoned Carmen once more and sent a fireball towards the wall near his face. “Of course you wanted this! You just didn’t want the consequences! And now everyone is paying for it! And Ren… he’s probably just paid the most for it all.”

 

Shadow Kamoshida continued to stare wide eyed as the persona disappeared into a blue flame and he asked, “What can I do to make it better…?”

 

“Go back. Go back to the real world and make all of this better. Repent for what you’ve done and always try to be better. To try and make others forgive you for what you’ve done even though some of us never will. Go.” Ann said this with words that resonated in the entirety of the castle. Soon the sound of Makoto’s engine could be heard from beyond the window and Shadow Kamoshida nodded to Ann, and faded into oblivion.

 

Ann turned around and saw Morgana helping Ryuji up with a new fear in his eyes. “We’ve got to go. We won’t have much time until the palace begins to collapse everywhere around us. There are no more desires to hold this place up. We’ve gotta go. Now.”

 

Ryuji took off his mask and wiped away his tears before he placed it back. “Then let’s start running.” The three of them ran out of the throne room and to the window. From up above they could see Makoto pick Ren’s limp body off of the ground and walk out across the drawbridge, disappearing into the real world.

 

The remaining thieves ran through the now collapsing castle of lust, narrowly avoiding pieces of fallen rubble and finding that no more shadows roamed the area, just them as the reached the rooftops around the tower. A last minute decision had them scaling down the walls and windows from there down to the courtyard to avoid more falling rubble until they too eventually reached the drawbridge.

 

As they walked across, they could see a puddle of blood where Ren was just mere moments ago and the three burst into tears once more while they walked across the drawbridge, into the alley, and exited the metaverse.

 

When they emerged, they turned around and saw Makoto rummaging through Ren’s bag and pulling out rolls of bandages. She looked over at the others with tears running down her face and fear plaguing her eyes as she yelled out, “He’s still alive! Help me!”

 

The others ran over to the two of them and began to help tear off Ren’s school uniform, each time he was moved Ren groaned out in pain. Gashes from the volleyball’s shrapnel littered around his torso and legs. Each one they could find they placed a patch over it until the bleeding had finally stopped.

 

“He needs to get to a hospital.” Ann said quietly, with silent agreement.

 

“I’ve already thought about that. He said he made some sort of deal with the clinic in Yongen. The only problem is getting him there. His clothes are completely soaked as well.” Makoto said, pointing to his tossed aside uniform.

 

“And we can’t take him home afterwards either, not without making boss extremely suspicious.” Morgana added in. There was silence among the group until Ryuji cleared his throat. “He can wear my gym clothes, I keep them on me all the time in my bag.” At this information, Makoto grabbed the bag and began to pull out the red sweatshirt and sweatpants, slowly putting them on Ren so as not to ruin the bandages. “Also, we can take him to my place afterwards. My mom might get pretty suspicious too though.”

 

“He can stay at my place. My parents just left for a year long business trip.” Ann offered.

 

Makoto shook her head no. “I’ll take care of him. My sister just texted me that she won’t be home for the next three days. A case is taking her attention elsewhere and I live close by. I don’t want to make you two feel bad, but I also know how to at least tend to injuries. Had to for my dad. But can one of you two house Morgana?” Asked Makoto as she finished zipping up the jacket, fully clothing Ren.

 

All three turned to face Morgana as his head dropped down while he walked over to Ren’s lap and laid down, purring softly.

 

“I’ll take care of that.” Ryuji said, scratching Morgana behind the ears.

 

“Alright. Then I’ll call us a cab. Let’s get to Yongen.” Ann said, pulling out her phone.

 

Afternoon

Shujin Academy

 

Kamoshida was walking down the stairs and onto the first floor when his vision went blurry and a soft ringing sounded in his ears. Kamoshida stumbled down the last of the stairs and found the world had lost all of its color. Everything was frozen. Down the hallway stood a man that looked just like him but he wore hardly anything. Just some slippers, a leopard print cape, and a pink speedo. The near spitting image of Kamoshida stared at him with its yellow eyes and slowly the details began to fade to black until only a silhouette stood in front of Kamoshida.

 

The two stared at one another until a voice rang out saying, “It’s time to repent, old friend.”

 

Although the voice was encompassing, Kamoshida knew it came from the silhouette and he knew what he was talking about. Kamoshida fell to his knees while the silhouette disappeared from existence in a drag of smoke.

 

Soon, the world regained its color but it was dimmed out.

 

Kamoshida dragged himself to the wall, pulled his knees to his chest and wept. Everything had changed. He knew what to do.

 

Evening

Yongen-Jaya

 

The cab came to the side of the road, the driver eyeing the thieves curiously as they exited the car. When they all did, Ann paid for the ride and tipped the man well, to which he nodded in understanding of silence. When he drove off, Ann caught up with the others as they carried Ren through the darkening streets of Yongen. Anyone hardly paid attention to the group and those who did quickly acted like they weren’t until eventually they reached the clinic as Takemi was locking up the door behind her.

 

“I don’t know who you are but I’m afraid you’ll have to come in to-” Takemi said, but stopping herself as she saw who was behind her.

 

Makoto was the first to speak. “We believe that you and Ren Amamiya have a deal of sorts. Please you need to help him. We can’t go to a hospital and you can’t ask why.”

 

Takemi was already unlocking the door to the clinic and motioning them in. When they were all inside, she walked over to the exam room door and held it open for Makoto and Ryuji to place him on the table. “Once you’re done, go into the waiting room but I’m warning you guys…” Takemi said as she unzipped the jacket. The bandages were bleeding through. “I can’t promise anything. Not right now anyways.”

 

When Makoto and Ryuji left, Takemi turned around and closed the door behind them. All of the thieves looked at each other as Ann sat down at one of the chairs and Morgana hopped onto her lap, rolling into a ball as he laid down. Makoto and Ryuji found their own seats and for an hour and a half that felt like an eternity, Takemi worked. She worked and every once in a while the thieves could hear mild cursing from behind the door until finally there was absolute silence.

 

Ryuji was now standing in the middle of the waiting room, pacing back and forth. Ann was slowly petting Morgana as he slept. And Makoto was fiddling with her thumbs until the door of the exam room finally opened and Takemi stepped out. She looked at the three of them and said, “No questions, right?” The others nodded. “And I can’t tell anyone about this?” The others nodded. Takemi swallowed and spoke up once more. “Your friend nearly died today. I have no idea what happened. I won’t tell a soul. But whatever it is you all have gotten yourself into- I’d recommend you get out before one of you does.” Takemi let out a sigh and walked over the sign in desk and leaned on it. “He should be waking up at any moment now. When he does, just leave and don’t touch anything. The exam room is open and I’m going to call it a night. But… he’ll live. Just needs some bed rest at this point and the prescribed pain killers that you’ll find right next to his head. Make sure to turn off all of the lights.” Takemi said as she opened up the door to the clinic. “And lock up the place when you’re done.” She said, showing them all a key and placing it in front of the door before it closed and then the only people in the room, were the thieves. Battered and beaten but victorious.

Chapter Text

04.30.2010

 

Matsushima, Miyagi

Afternoon, Raining

 

Rain drizzled on the blue plastic tarp over their heads and every once in awhile, a violent wave would hit the rocky edge of the beach close by. People who came to pay their respects had already left, leaving the three of them to their grief in solitude. Ren’s aunt, Haruko, stood beside him, gripping onto his shoulder whispering quietly soft words to try and comfort him, but he heard nothing. Although the world wept above them, Ren could not. His deep grey eyes stared absently at his mother's headstone with no emotion, watching his father while we wept on his knees, hunched over and gripping the memorium.

 

The clouds above did little to stop the world draining of its color from Ren’s eyes. Time continued to move by slowly. Slower than the rain making the entirety of the headstone dark with water. Moments turned into minutes and eventually the arm wrapped around Ren’s shoulder let go. Haruko took a step forward and knelt next to Ren’s father, hugging him as she said, “You’ll both get sick the longer you stay out here, Touma. I-” Haruko’s words began to falter away through held back sobs. She took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Call me, when you can.”

 

She picked herself back up and turned around, gave Ren a hug, said her goodbye’s and walked away. Ren hardly reacted to it but Touma looked over his shoulder and stared at Haruko as she left. The tears in his eyes began to dwindle until he met Ren’s. What little light stood between the two of them gleamed off of Touma’s eyes right before he began weeping again.

 

Time moved slower and slower while Ren stared at the headstone of his mother until eventually it seemed to stop to no notice. The rain kept falling and the waves continued to crash but life felt still. Never ending, yet nonexistent.

 

Eventually, another hand found itself on Ren’s shoulder. It felt smaller and less comforting to Ren, but completely familiar. Soon, a voice spoke. His voice. “‘Here lies Akari Amamiya. Loving mother and wife. Diligent officer in the force. And beloved by all who knew her.” He said. “Your mother, dead, and you could only stand around and watch as the cancer slowly took her away.”

 

Ren followed the arm attached to the hand on his shoulder and found a kid standing right beside him. Same height. Same face. But the eyes were different. They were bright yellow, but seemed to emit a darkness, making the colorless world around dimmer, and dimmer. Ren stared at the near spitting image of himself and asked, “Who are you?”

 

The shadow let go of Ren’s shoulder and turned to face him, saying, “I’m a friend. One who will always be there for you when you need me. One who will always be watching you from far away yet so very close.” The shadow turned and faced the headstone. Slowly, time began to resume once more. “However, I cannot intervene. Not yet, anyways. For now, your struggles are your own. But I hope you’ll find solace that I’ll always be there, right beside you.”

 

Ren stared while the shadow dissolved into smoke and the world got slightly more colorful. A few seconds passed and the sound of Touma getting up obtained Ren’s attention. He stood and stared at the headstone for a moment then turned and looked at Ren with what would normally be perceived as an emotionless stare. But there was the beginning of a deep seated hate in those grey eyes.

 

Touma walked up to Ren and placed a soft hand on his back, slowly leading the both of them away and out from underneath the tarp and into the pattering rain. The two of them walked. They walked out of the cemetery. They walked through the depressed streets of Matsushima until they reached the family business, their clothes now completely drenched. The words ‘Matsushima Comfort’ were lit bright in neon red. Touma unlocked the front door and let both of them in.

 

“Sit down at the bar. I’m going to make us an early dinner. Mom’s favorite.” Touma said, motioning to the stools at the counter top. Ren did as he was told while Touma walked around and into the kitchen in the back. Ren watched a few lights flashed on and the sound and smell his father’s cooking began to fill the air. After thirty minutes, Touma came back out from the kitchen with two plates. He set one down in front of Ren and another in front of a stool beside him. Touma then walked around, grabbing two forks on his way and sat next to Ren. “These were her favorite. Thin crepes with raspberry, strawberry and cream filling. I figured we might as well end the day off with this.”

 

Touma let out a deep sigh. “You haven’t spoken a word all day. I know this is going to be hard but we’ve got this. Time moves on and this too shall pass.”

 

Ren stared at his food his food for a few seconds, then spoke. “Why did it have to be her, Dad? Why?”

 

Touma made no attempt to answer while he slowly began to eat the food he had made for them. The rain started picking up and violently bashed against the windows behind them. Touma swallowed, and spoke. “To understand how the world works, Ren, you must understand it is never fair. And will always be working against you. This is the way it is because the world, no matter how hard anyone tries, will always be a horrible place.”

 

“But Mom tried to make it better,” Ren softly said.

 

“Yeah,” said Touma. “But she’s not with us anymore. And so the world showed its true colors by taking away the one in her eyes. C’mon. Your food is getting cold. Eat, Ren.”

 

Ren heard what he was told but did not act on it. He sat and stared at the memories of a life no longer his.

Chapter Text

04.20.2016

 

Late Evening

Takemi’s Clinic

 

Battered and beaten but victorious. Yet all they felt was battered and beaten. Silence had set its grasp among the thieves in the clinics waiting room shortly after Takemi had left. Neither of them said a word, staring in different directions and soaking in the depressed state of the room.

 

A few more moments passed before Makoto stood up off the chair she was sitting in and quietly said, “I’m going to check on him and make sure he’s resting soundly.” Makoto ventured through the door into the exam room and when it closed, the silence returned for a few seconds until Ann spoke barely above a whisper and said, “I can’t believe he almost died.”

 

Ryuji shuffled his feet around before adding, “Yeah, but he didn't. That’s what matters right now. But now that things are calming down I’m just confused as hell. Ey Morgana,” Ryuji called out. The cat looked up from Ann’s lap with depressed eyes and met Ryuji’s own. “I’m confused about something. How’re injuries even supposed to work in and out of the metaverse? Ren got stabbed in the arm by that sword, you healed it, but then it started causing him a shitton of pain in the real world, only getting fixed when you healed it again in the metaverse. Why did that happen? And then now, with all that shit going down and following him here…”

 

Morgana shifted in Ann’s lap to get a better view of Ryuji and said, “I don’t know. But I think it’s safe to assume anything that happens to you in the metaverse will follow you into the real world. And everything happening with Ren’s arm… it was like he had completely re injured it.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘re injured it’?” Ann asked.

 

“I… I don’t know. I wish I did, but I don’t know.” Morgana said. More silence followed and filled the room until Ryuji hopped up and said, “Let’s go and see how he’s doing.”

 

Morgana and Ann followed Ryuji through the door into the exam room and found Makoto sitting in a swivel stool near the table Ren laid upon, stroking his hair slowly while he struggled to breathe without pain. More securely and professionally fashioned bandages were applied to most of the gashes on Ren’s body and others were simply sewn shut with a multitude of stitches. The read sweatpants they had put on him previously were still on and the jacket was folded at his feet. Makoto didn’t react to the three new bodies in the room, but when the door closed behind them, she took in a deep breath and said, “When we were all in panic mode, trying to make sure Ren stayed alive, none of us cared to remember that he’s on probation. He can’t stay with any of us until he’s good. Luckily most of the wounds are too his body. Almost no damage was done to the face that doesn’t look like it wasn’t already there, but we’re going to have to find a way to get him home for the night. Any ideas?”

 

Ann, Ryuji, and Morgana eyed each other with the same look of, ‘I’ve got nothing,’ before they stared back at Makoto, who still hadn’t turned to face them.

 

Morgana walked over to the exam table and stretched out before asking, “Do you have any ideas, Makoto?”

 

The girl stopped stroking Ren’s hair and said, “Well, I had an idea though I’m not entirely sure it would work. We could just walk in there carrying Ren by his arms saying that he passed out and hit his head while on a run with Ryuji or something. We could say we came here on our way to get him back home and that the doctor told us to not worry about a medical charge. It would also explain the painkillers… But the idea would require his guardian to believe us, which he has no reason too. Especially when a doctor gave an examination and gave a prescription all without billing.”

 

Ryuji walked over to the opposite side of the exam table and gently grabbed hold of Ren’s right arm. “Well, that seems to be the best we’ll get. C’mon Makoto and help me get him up.”

 

Makoto let out a sigh and got up, following Ryuji’s example as they slowly picked Ren up off the table, wrapping the arms they held around the backs of their neck respectively. While they slowly moved off the table, Ren would let out small groans of pain. Ann quickly walked over once he was off the table and unfolded the jacket. The three of them slowly slid it over Ren’s body and Ann zipped it up. Once finished, she nudged his sweaty hair covered face, getting more conscious focus out him and softly said, “We’re going to get you home, okay? You can sleep once you get there.”

 

Ann opened up the exam room door for Makoto and Ryuji as they walked Ren out, Morgana following slowly behind with the small bag of painkillers held in his mouth. Once everyone was through, Ann walked over and picked up the key to the clinic, opened the door for everyone again but out there wasn’t a quiet filled street waiting for them.

 

“...I don’t care if you can’t tell me who’s in there! I already know who it is! Now let me see my ward dammit!” Sojiro yelled to Takemi as the door opened. The doctor was about to respond before both her and Sojiro’s attention was diverted to the door.

 

Sojiro’s demeanor changed from stern and angry to one of worry when he saw Ren. His brows loosened, his fists released their tension and his shoulders dropped. He looked over at Takemi who had her hand hiding her face as she muttered curses to herself and then he looked back at Ren, who could barely lift his head up. And then he looked at the three teenagers moving him and their wide eyed expressions. Finally, he noticed the cat at Ren’s feet holding a bag painkillers. Sojiro let out a huff, closed his eyes and crossed his arms. When he opened his eyes a second later he opened them in a glare towards the thieves and said in a low voice that left no option for negotiation, “Follow me and then you’ll explain everything .” Sojiro uncrossed his arms and let go of the glare when he turned back to Takemi and said, “Thank you, Doctor Takemi.”

 

The thieves looked at Takemi as Sojiro turned around and started walking away, but got no reaction. Just silence. “So much for telling him the guy hit his head I guess… eh heh,” Ryuji quietly said while they gently walked down the steps and followed Sojiro through the streets of Yongen and into Cafe Leblanc.

 

When they did, they saw Sojiro step behind the bar and put on an apron while getting an assortment of coffee beans ready. Without looking back at them while the door closed behind the thieves, Sojiro pointed towards the stairs and said, “Take him upstairs into the attic. His bed is up there. Lay him down then meet me back down here. I’ll have something for you kids to drink and then you all can tell me what the hell is going on and why he looks like he should be dead. Not going to lie, watching you guys past that window drag him across the street did not make me the happiest man alive, so you better hope I like your explanation.”

 

Morgana awkwardly bolted upstairs with the painkillers in his mouth as the other three thieves looked at each other with worry written all over their faces, all knowing there wasn’t any escaping this. “I’m going to get his bed ready,” Ann said, quickly making her way up the stairs while Makoto and Ryuji slowly followed behind.

 

When they got up the steps, they looked around the bare room and saw Ann smoothing out Ren’s comforter with a corner pulled back for an easy entrance. Morgana sat on the couch watching everything and said, “It’s not much but it’s home, I guess. The bed’s comfortable enough though.”

 

“Oh hush you,” Ann said, glaring at Morgana. “It’s a mattress on top of some boxes. It can barely be called a bed. But I guess it will work. Come set him down guys.”

 

Makoto and Ryuji obliged gladly and walked Ren over to his bed, gently setting him on top and laying him down and covering him up chest down with the comforter. When they were down making sure Ren was comfortable, the four looked at each other and a collective sigh escaped from their lips. “Let’s go and get this over with. What should we tell him?” Ryuji groaned taking the lead.

 

“I think the truth might actually be our best bet here…” Makoto whispered following behind Ryuji with Ann and Morgana behind her.

 

When they got downstairs, they found Sojiro sipping on a steaming cup of coffee behind the bar with three more on the counter in front of a stool each. “Take a seat. Enjoy the coffee. And please enlighten me on what the hell is going on.” The three thieves each took a stool and Morgana hopped on the counter, laying down near Sojiro and getting a few neck scratches in return.

 

The thieves all looked at each other before the they stopped on Ryuji, who mouthed the words, ‘me?’ and got approving nods in return. The blond shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well I guess I’m starting us off.” Before continuing, he grabbed the cup of coffee and took a small sip. As soon as the dark liquid touched his tongue, Ryuji spit it out while a contorted look spread across his face.

 

“Not a fan?” Sojiro asked with a chuckle, turning around, grabbing another cup and some other ingredients.

 

“No sir. Sorry sir. “ Ryuji said, slowly pushing away the cup of coffee.

 

Sojiro just shook his head and said, “Don’t be. I’ll whip you up something else. Just get started with your story before it gets to be too late.”

 

Ryuji took in a deep breath and said, “Well it all started a little over a week ago when I first met Ren…”

 

Late Evening

?#&*** * * * * * * * * Asylum

 

Ren’s eyes fluttered open to a world that felt like home. His eyes took a short while to adjust to the newly found sunlight in the area, but when they did, a small smile spread across Ren’s face. The ocean blue waves lapped at his feet while he sat in the sand, absorbing the comforting atmosphere of Matsushima. Moments filled with happiness passed by until eventually a hand placed itself upon Ren’s shoulder and a body sat next to him. Ren looked to his side and found himself in a tattered version of his phantom thief attire and took some extra time to look upon himself to find that he was clothed in a fitted black tee and white capris with a pair of red flip flops.

 

Ren’s smile grew more homely while he looked back out at the ocean, and his shadow spoke. “Welcome home Ren. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here after you forgot about me, but we’re here again my friend.”

 

Ren let out a little laugh and softly said, “You’ll have to forgive me, but I still don’t remember you.”

 

A small frown grew on the shadows face before he shook it away and said, “Then I am sorry for you have then forgotten yourself, and no one deserves that.” The shadow squeezed Ren’s shoulder firmly and rubbed it’s thumb softly across it for a few moments before picking itself up and giving a hand to Ren. “Let’s go and explore and enjoy what was once lost to us.”

 

Ren took the offer and was helped up by his shadow. The two walked along the edges of the beach and into the port and into the city from there. The streets were filled with familiar faces and when they noticed Ren, they smiled and waved with glee. “I don’t get it. It’s like the assault case never happened with them…”

 

The shadow turned to face Ren and with a smile said, “That’s because here, it never did. It’s home, Ren. An asylum. Not a prison.”

 

“I like the sound of that,” said Ren as they walked along the streets of ‘Matsushima’. Memories of joy and happiness filled Ren as they did and he never once stopped to listen to the sound of the ocean breeze. Or the way it sounded like chains dangling in the wind.”

 

Late Evening

Cafe Leblanc

 

“...and then we got to be here, explaining our insane story to you,” Makoto said, finishing up the chain of events.

 

There was silence while Sojiro tapped his foot against the floor with his hand placed on his chin twirling around his goatee. A few more moments passed and then he said, “So you’re telling me you four- or five, counting Morgana who can apparently speak because you guys saw him do just that- can go to another world called the metaverse. And apparently people, if their desires get to be twisted enough, get their own place in the metaverse and these are called palaces. And one of these people just so happened to be your gym teacher, Suguru Kamoshida. So you guys infiltrated his palace with that app on your phones, all originating from Ren who says it just appeared on his phone out of nowhere, and stole the man’s desires from his palace, not only destroying the palace but changing this man’s heart. But before that happened, he almost killed my ward- or at least, his shadow did…”

 

Ryuji coughed a little after finishing his hot chocolate and said, “Well when you put it like-”

 

“I believe you,” said Sojiro, getting wide eyed confused looks from all of the thieves. “Just give me a moment will ya?”

 

Sojiro pulled out his phone and tapped on it a few times before bringing it up to his ear. It rang once. Twice. Three times before someone picked up. “Wakaba? Come on down to the shop. There’s something you need to hear.”

Chapter Text

Hey everybody, I have some news. If it wasn't already clear to those of you who cared and those of you who didn't, I am no longer writing Chains. I don't want to keep on having spur of the moment feelings and write a chapter for you filled with promises that won't be kept and then not upload a chapter for a few months and then come back with another new chapter filled with the same fake promises. I'm done with that and I'm done with Chains. I did have plans for what I wanted to happen but I wasn't really sure how they would happen yet. I wanted Hifumi to become a part of the phantom thieves. I wanted Ren to develop his own palace which was actually one of the big points in the story if I continued. His story would be one of breaking the chains he put on his own heart. I had also planned on Akechi dying but no heroically. In Chains he was going to be killed by Ren. That was my plan. I didn't want him to have a redemption arc in my story. I didn't want him to have a happy ending because Akechi's story was supposed to be the opposite side of the spectrum of the Chains theme. Akechi was supposed to be unable to break his and they would eventually be what caused his death. It was supposed to be a tragedy in itself but it was also supposed to create an extremely morally grey area between Ren and the rest of his team because at this point, Ren would've still had his palace. 

 

I had a lot of ideas for Chains, a lot of them fell through but in the end I just lost the passion I had for the fic. I, however, do consider myself to be writer and I have my passion project that unlike Chains, I have entirely planned out. If you would like to see what it is, please let me know in the comments of this chapter and I might post the first part but other than that, I'm signing off for good. Thanks for reading my 20 mediocre chapters and I hope you guys have a wonderful day and life.

If you would like to follow me on twitter, I can be found at @aqualion2001

If you would like to follow me on Insta, I can be found at @schmechalicious

 

Anyways, that's that. See ya

-Isaac W. Schmechel

Chapter Text

“Come, Ren. Come and sit on Mama’s lap. There’s something I want to show you.” Ana said, lightly tapping the top of her thigh with one hand and motioning her five-year-old son to come closer. Ren did as he was told, quickly walking over to Ana while reciprocating the smile his mother shared with him. Once he was close enough, Ren lifted his arms as high as he could when Ana reached over to lift him up- his arms flopping back down to his sides with a small giggle as he was lifted into the air and placed on his mother’s lap.

The length of Ren’s dark hair barely covered over his eyes while he found comfort. Ana reached around his face, gently pulled his hair back and pointed out the window while continuing to stroke back the soft tufts of hair on Ren’s head. “Do you see that?” Ana asked, lowering her arm to instead wrap it around her son’s torso. 

“See what?” asked Ren.

Again, Ana pointed out the window again and said, “That. The big city many floors below us. The people walking down the streets. All of the skyscrapers surrounding us. The rooftop gardens with their colorful flowers on overgrown vines. That big open sky and the birds flying in its wind. The evening sun warming everything it can before it slumbers away for the night. Do you see that my love?”

Ren stared at his mother confusedly for a moment then followed down the length of her arm past where it ended and towards where the tip of her finger directed. The two were silent for a few seconds while Ren searched for everything his mother described and when he had finished, Ren giggled once more saying, “Well of course, silly.” The tone of his voice was playful and proud as if questioning why his mother would even ask.

Ren looked up at his mother, expectant of a response but instead found her face had fallen solemn. Her wrap around his body grew tighter as Ana pulled her son in closely, dropping her head and laying it on his shoulder, draping her long and soft brunette hair over the two of them. 

“Then take all of it in, love. Look out the window and witness this world. A world filled with life and vibrant beauty. See the world through those beautiful blue eyes of yours. Take all of this in and remember the world you see. A world without pain. You have to remember this Ren. Remember it for me because… Because-” Ana’s voice was cut off by the sound of the automatic door opening and closing behind the two of them. 

Ana picked herself off of Ren’s shoulder and turned to face who had entered. “Lyle…” Ana whispered softly to herself, picking Ren up and off her lap before she rushed over to her other son’s side. 

The nine year-old averted his gaze, choosing to look at the floor while his mother dropped to her knees and began examining every inch of Lyle’s body. After finishing her quick search, Ana grabbed her son’s chin and dragged it so that his eyes would meet her own. Staring into the bright mossy green of his eyes, Ana only saw sorrowful emptiness stare back.

Ren walked closer to the two of them, curious as to what was happening while Ana brought up her hand. A small dot of white light protruded out of her middle finger that she used to tap Lyle’s forehead. The light seemingly disappeared and Lyle’s skin began to change. Ren watched a veil around his brother’s skin began to wripple slightly and once it settled, wisps of what looked like black smoke began to cover the veil. There wasn’t much smoke and it was easy to see through, barely tinting the pale skin underneath, but it was enough to make the tension in the air unbearably stiff.

Ana traced both of her hands down the length of Lyle’s arms, stopping at his hands, grasping them and pulling them closer to her. Ana stared into Lyle’s eyes, who stared back saying nothing. Her grip grew tighter lowered her head and said, “You’ve gotten so much darker since last I’ve seen… I’m so sorry Lyle. That I can’t stop what’s happening to you. But I promise it’ll all be okay in the end. Okay, love? You just need to be strong and-”

“When is he going to take him?” Lyle asked, pointing at Ren. Lyle’s eyes met Ren’s with a deep hatred but found it quickly lost. Tears flooded his eyes while he stared at the concern, love, and fear that Ren held in his own. Lyle dropped to his knees, embracing his mother while he screamed out in pain, sobbing vigorously. Ana grabbed hold her son and slowly swayed the two of them back and forth whispering soothing words into Lyle’s ears that remained unheard by Ren. 

“I’m sorry.” Lyle choked out through his quieting sobs. “It’s just… I just… I don’t want to do this anymore Mama… But we keep on going. Keep on training through the pain. He says it’s so I can be perfect but I don’t want to be perfect if it means feeling like this”

Ana pulled Lyle out of her arms and looked at her son, wiping away the tears spilling out of his red-rimmed eyes. The dark bags beneath them accentuated by the wet shine now on his face. Ana grasped both of his hands once more and said, “The light at the end of the tunnel always looks the dimmest when we’re too busy staring at the ground, picking ourselves back up after being knocked down. You just need to stay strong. You can get through this. I know you can.”

Ana stood up, still holding onto one Lyle’s hands. She looked back and reached out with her free hand, grabbing one of Rens. “Come now you two. I know just the trick to raise some spirits when they need it.”

The last of her own tears fell onto the hardwood floor while she led her two sons into the kitchen of their mile-high prison. Ren looked at his brother, who averted his guilt-filled gaze, and back at his mother who was trying to be strong for her sons until she eventually got them into the kitchen. Ana sat the two boys in stools lining the counter of the island in the middle of the kitchen while she moved quickly around, grabbing three mugs, milk, and a bowl filled with a delectable, soft chocolate mousse.

Ana poured milk into the mugs and poured a few tablespoons of mousse shortly after into each mug. Once finished, she set them onto a plate, placed stirring spoons in the mugs and made a twirling motion with her fingers. The stirrings spoons quickly followed the example, stirring the milk and mousse together while the hot plate heated them up. During this time, Lyle and Ren watched their mother without doing a thing and without saying a word. After the drinks had heated up to an adequate temperature Ana took them off and handed one to each of her sons and grabbed the last for herself. 

Ren picked up his mug and took a small sip with the somewhat steamy sweet liquid below his nose. The hot chocolate warmed Ren to his very core, raising his spirits. Ren looked over at Lyle and saw that he was experiencing the same warmth. Shifting his head over to his mother, Ren saw something similar happening as the cocoa pulled out the happiness in Ana’s eyes that was lost just moments prior.

The sun slipped below the skyline of the buildings below and the three had finished their drinks in tandem. Each placing their own mug onto the counter shortly after. Ana grabbed the three mugs, turning to place them into the sink and as she did, said, “It’s getting late you two. Off to bed now.”

“Thanks, Mom. Goodnight.” Lyle said, shifting off the stool and out of the kitchen. Ren watched his brother leave until he couldn’t see him anymore then turned back to his mother and asked, “Mom?

“Yes, love?” Ana replied back, quickly washing out the mugs and setting them down to dry before turning to face Ren, who was twiddling his thumbs together trying to think of how to ask the question racing through his mind. Ana slowly leaned over the counter and clasped her hands around Rens. 

Ren took a deep breath and asked with fear creeping out of his voice, “What’s happening to Lyle?”

Ana froze with fear when Ren had finished asking his question. She stood stagnant while thoughts circled through her head, searching for the right ones so that she may carefully explain what’s been done. Ana faced Ren and stared down at the counter. She leaned forward and used her elbows to prop herself up. It was Ana’s turn to twiddle her thumbs around while she struggled to find the answer until the answer eventually found her.

Ren wrapped his small hands around his mothers, moving his thumb around the flesh of her hand in a small circle. The same Ana would do for her sons in times of stress to help calm them down. She didn’t realize how much it did the trick. A long, exasperated breath came from Ana as she looked up into Ren’s eyes. The blue stared back with the strength of ice during some of the harshest winters Drestia had ever seen. The strength she saw out of her five-year-old child struck a chord deep in her heart and in an instant had built her resolve, deciding to tell Ren everything she was allowed too.

Ana cleared her voice, stood up and said, “Lyle has been touched by something unnatural and it has changed him. He’s been… I don’t even want to say. But, Lyle is different now. He’s not like you or me. He’s something different. Your father would say that he’s on the journey of becoming a perfect human being. However, I’m not entirely sure there is such a thing.” Ana let out a sigh and began walking around the island and towards the kitchen exit. At the edge of the opening, she looked back and said, “Ren. Remember that I love both you and your brother very dearly. You two mean the whole world to me. So I want you to promise me, that when the light gets dim, keep walking through that tunnel. And please, don’t get trapped in the middle. I love you,” Ana said with a soft smile. “Now then. Time for bed love.”