View Poll Results: What is your favorite fight scene so far?

Voters
26. You may not vote on this poll
  • The Ghoul (Chapter 7)

    0 0%
  • The Slipping Hableries (Chapter 13)

    0 0%
  • Shadow Yosuke (Chapters 14-15)

    2 7.69%
  • The Lying Hablerie and Calm Pesce (Chapter 18)

    0 0%
  • Shadow Chie (Chapter 19)

    12 46.15%
  • Shadow Yukiko (Chapter 21)

    7 26.92%
  • The Yomi Duo (Chapter 25)

    5 19.23%
Page 22 of 22 FirstFirst ... 1217202122
Results 421 to 440 of 440

Thread: Fate/Reach Out (Fate/Stay Night x Persona 4)

  1. #421
    Uh. First time I see Kanji punching his Shadow in a P4 fanfiction...
    92 minuti di applausi!!!

    Perchè immaginiamo?, ci chiedono.
    E perchè no?, è la risposta più adatta.
    Almeno, questo è ciò che credo io.


    Spoiler:


    CASTER FAN, and PROUD of it!!!!

  2. #422
    Quote Originally Posted by Kieran View Post
    Oooh, lots of interesting implications here . . . Though, I have the impression I've read the first half of this 'before?'
    Probably back at the Spacebattles forum where I posted half of this early as part of April Fools Day. I had meant to get it done within that month, or at least May, but there was a big move planned, one thing led to another, and I just arrived to my new house yesterday.

    And I just realized that I also posted the april fools themed snippet here too, so that's the more likely reason for deja vu.
    Last edited by Kishou the Badger; June 23rd, 2019 at 05:13 PM.

  3. #423
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    According to most, my own little world
    Age
    41
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    8,191
    Blog Entries
    194
    Probably, yes - I do lurk on Spacebattles from time to time.
    “Love will be cruel to who it entices — love will have its sacrifices.”

    — Carmilla Theme




    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."

    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette




  4. #424
    Fate/Reach Out

    Chapter 39: Crash and Burn



    When the light finally faded, only Shirou was still standing. Everyone else had been blown away to the far corners of the room. Even Shadow Kanji was forced to kneel and raise his arms to buffer the worst of the explosion of raw power.


    Standing over Shirou was a Persona more fearsome than any they had ever seen before, one that could almost be mistaken as a Shadow. It was masculine in form, and only visible from the torso up as an endless cycle of flames erupted from below like a turbine engine. Charcoal black covered every inch of the giant’s body, with specks of black ash fluttering off his body as if it was decomposing. He was illuminated with molten red flames that lit up crack-like veins. All the veins connected to the center of his body, where a blood red circle was visible, pulsing with each breath like a heartbeat. The arms were as long as boa constrictors, topped off with sharp obsidian-shaded nails. The face was the only body part not obscured in any black, and rather was like looking directly at the sun. Bright, pulsating orange-red light with flames swirled around the rim of his “face” in a clockwise fashion, with a yellow gold sheen in the middle from a metal, angular face. It was more of a mask than a face, lacking any facial features, but it managed to express hostility just through body language.

    Shadow Kanji forced a laugh as he pushed himself up. Tehehe~! Oh, you think you’re so cute getting a surprise power-up after a near death experience! You’re barely standing over there, and you want to tussle with me again?

    Shirou didn’t answer back. The Shadow had a point that he shouldn’t be anywhere close to fighting fit, but it wasn’t normal to just summon a new monstrous Persona, much less a flaming arm where the last one was cut off.

    “Oh, the silent treatment, huh?” Shadow Kanji spat when it was clear that Shirou wouldn’t reply. Fine! I’ll tenderize you just like I did your little friends! Heeeeere I~!

    “B̸͓̏u̵͎̟͚̒̽͑̃r̸̜̺̪͍̐͗̿̌n̴.̷̞͑͑͋”

    A barely audible command was the only warning before a column of flame exploded just behind the Shadow, with the force and shock of a cannon. He was frozen stiff in fear; even if he couldn’t see it, he could feel the flames lick dangerously close to his back. The heat was enough to wilt some of his roses and thorns growing from his upper body.

    Just as quickly as the attack came, it went away, and only then did Shadow Kanji look behind his back to see the attack’s aftermath. A punctured hole in the wood, followed by very darkened char and still crumbling ash was the only proof that an attack had happened.

    He then turned back to Shirou and Kagutsuchi. Where the hell did that firepower come from? He didn’t even see that big flaming Persona move any more than a finger flick!

    Still, Shadow Kanji felt some hope and glee shine through with an uproarious laugh. All that power and he missed?! What did I tell you, hun?! You can’t even aim right with that sorry excuse of a genie! Did you lose your cool along with all that warm blood earlier?

    “T̴̩͉͕̞͛̈h̴̼̒͘á̷͙̜t̴̳̗̥̐͛̅͛ ̶̘͍͊͠w̴̧̡̹̓̊ͅa̶̲̱͉̪͑̌͘ś̵͕͖̤̀͌̿ ̵̢̧͝͝ȃ̸̟͚̾ ̷͎̩̺̆̈̈́w̷̻̕a̸̦͋̑ṙ̸̪̊͂͑n̵̛̫̿̽̍i̵̧̱͓͉̍n̵͕͝g̶̈́̆̿ ̹͈̩ ̶̡̣̆̈́͗̃ş̶́h̵̰̥̓o̶̮̲͕̅̓͝t̵̟̥̫̄̌̊, ̵̗̙͐̈́”Shirou told him coldly, his voice still vibrating with an ethereal tone. “T̵̳̤͉͆h̷͔̏e̷̯͒̄ ̶̧͍̩̂̓͊͠n̷̨̼̖̅ę̶͂̀̊ẍ̴̖̹̠̼́͐̉͠t̵͚̫͇̱͠ ̸̮̣̍̑̈́̀ö̴̱͉͉̬́̀̓̆n̸̢̡̯̼̈́e̸͎͎͂ ̵̘͕͝ẉ̵͍̬͆͌̑ö̶͚͕̘́͜n̴͎̰̯̜̂͂̽̎'̸̘̞̤̓t̶̗̘̺͊͜ ̶̩̰́̔͋͠ḿ̷̺̫̟̰̆̚ĩ̶͈̎s̸̡̝͎͍͂ṣ̴͋.̶̠̯̔̇̂”

    The next one won’t miss.

    The next one won’t miss.

    That single sentence circled in Shadow Kanji’s mind like a mantra of madness, eating away at his confidence. His smile stayed, but only a shell of its former mirth as his face turned sickly blue. He meant those words.

    No… this bastard had to be bluffing! And why wouldn’t he? Bluffing was expected in high intensity fights, when someone was on their last legs!

    You sexy, insufferable asshole! The Shadow yelled. You’re going to regret not finishing me off when you had the chance!

    Shirou lifted his stub, and the flaming arm gestured to come closer. Kagutsuchi mimicked the action. “T̴̘͕̼́̍͐h̷̬͈̮̖͊̃̔e̴̥͑̈́͒̉ǹ̵͇̮̪͑̓̋ ̷̳̩͖͛̈́̃͝g̶̼͉̳̾̍ò̶̪ ̶̥̗̓̓ä̸͈̪́h̶̯͖̆ͅe̴̡̖͎̱̔̈́a̸̲͍͗d̷̹͙̓̌.̸̻͔̮̹͆̒ ̵̳̍͋̉T̸̨͍̥̣͒̈́à̶̢̘̻͊̄k̵̘̟͗ë̴͙͇̫̩̐͂̍ ̷̗̆͊́͝ÿ̷̳̳̜̫́͐ȍ̵̞̝̲̔͌̆͜ǘ̶̗̯̳̿r̸̡̗͉̝̍̋́̉ ̷͈̖̇̃͠f̵͈͒͋̉͗r̴̢̰̈ȅ̶̡͚e̴͙̼̜̙͗̑̔ ̸̧̨̘̮̏ş̶̛̠̗̾͝h̶̡͙͊̀͒o̵̝͒̕͜͠t̴̢̮̰̑̐͠.̸̢̠͉̫͋́̄̕ ̴̯̳̙̈́̑̀E̸̛̫̳̯̋͌̑v̶̨̐̍͝ė̸̯̉ŗ̶͙̣̦̂̒y̵̛̰͚͍͈ö̵̧̝́n̷͝ ̥̜͈̎̿̚ě̸̖̠̭ ̶͍̮̐̅̍̌g̷̩̜̤̻͆e̶̠̲̳̅̓̏t̷̞͇̩͉͂̿̌͝s̵̼͌͂͗̿ ̸͚͇͎̾̍̇̑͜ȏ̸͈͍̆ņ̷̠̥̪̔e̴͔̫̋͂.̶͙̺̲̐͑͜”

    Oh, that was it!

    Shadow Kanji roared as he broke into a sprint. His monochrome feet cracked the wood with each step, reminding everyone just how much power was in his bulk.

    Shirou made no move to dodge, but his new Persona hovered down to intercept. To further mock the Shadow, Kagutsuchi spread its arms open.

    DIIIIIIE!

    Shadow Kanji threw a heavy punch forward, strong enough to crack apart bones and stone with ease. And Shirou himself should know, given what happened to him just five minutes ago.

    But when the punch connected, it hit Kagutsuchi like a soft clap. No power, no tension… just a casual impact. Everyone stared with astonishment.

    In awe, Chie voiced her thoughts out loud. “What the hell…?”

    Shadow Kanji was frozen in fear. His quivering eyes looked up to the fire god Persona before him; if he had a face, it would probably be sneering at his feeble punch.

    With a panicked snarl, Shadow Kanji punched with his other arm, equivalent to a rifle shot in speed and power. Despite having a body made of charcoal and ash, the hit bounced off of Kagutsuchi as if hitting rubber. He simply tried again with the same arm.

    GRRAAAAAAAAGH! Again and again, the Shadow unleashed an onslaught of punches. Every hit connected to Kagutsuchi’s body, but he showed no signs of pain.

    Eventually the assault stopped, with the Shadow forced to catch his breath and notice a numbing burn on his large knuckles. Kagutsuchi’s body was like molten rock, but so hot to the touch that the constant friction had set his arms on fire. It was enough to make him panic and try to snuff them out with fanning and slapping.

    In desperation, he quickly followed up with another move. Fanatical Spark! The flames in his enlarged hands were quickly extinguished as electricity flew out in curving arcs. Wood cracked, water splashed, the room shook as thunder itself struck inside. And with such close proximity, the Shadow was confident that it would be the killing blow.

    But… nothing followed. His move was enough to mow down the rest of the team, yet the floating, flaming Persona didn’t look phased at all.

    “I̵̦͒s̷̠̑̕ ̵͎̍ț̶͌h̷̨͍͔̔a̸̛̤͌t̸̘̽́ ̴̰̫͚̋̑̀ǐ̵͙͍t̸̰̩̩̓̋?̸̯͗” Shirou asked in a bored tone. Shadow Kanji flinched, involuntarily taking a step back.

    Why… why am I scared? he asked himself aloud. You may be tough and can take a hit, but you’re nothing, you hear?! I knocked you down once, and I can finish the job! I… I’m the man of the house! The manliest thing to ever shit out pure rugged, meaty beauty! What can a poser like you possibly do to me?!

    As if to challenge his taunt, Kagutsuchi finally moved his hand. It was a slow action, watching the long fingers flex to reveal his palm, and a spark of flame started to spin in place. It looped once, glowing in a bright circle. It spun again, but slower as the epicenter was longer now.

    Shadow Kanji knew that if he finished charging that attack, it would be over. The deciding factor came down to whether Shirou would pull the trigger in time or not. And yet that Shirou bastard stood there, staring at him with those scornful eyes. He had changed ever since his near-death experience, as if his Persona gave him assurance in his victory. It was infuriating to admit too, but nothing Shadow Kanji had could possibly kill him at this point.

    Well, if he couldn’t hurt the Persona itself, might as well nip the bud at the source.

    So you’re finally going to try and attack me, huh?He crackled.Too bad you seem to be using all your energy on your Persona…

    With surprising strength and speed still in his legs, Shadow Kanji leaped like a cheetah to close the distance between him and Shirou, arms raised high for an electric-charged haymaker. BECAUSE YOU’RE WIDE OPEN!

    The onlookers gasped at the danger their leader was in. From that angle he would be lucky if his spine or brain didn’t crack like a watermelon. It looked like this time that Shadow Kanji’s blow would be for the kill. A good thing too as the third cycle was just being marked.

    “SHIROU-SENSEI!” “GET AWAY!” “EMIYA-KUN!!”

    But Shirou did not move back. He did not react. He simply leveled his flaming arm and…

    FHOOOOM!

    An endless stream fanned out as if coming from a flamethrower.

    In midair, Shadow Kanji couldn’t follow through with his attack. The flame instantly burned his eyes, and his rose bush burned all the way to the roots. His arms swung down, but the pain and blindness made his action sloppy, missing the mark entirely.

    In fact, the flames were so intense that they had the force of air behind them and managed to push the giant back to his starting position, give or take a few extra feet. Even from his distance he could feel the heat scorch with the intensity of a summer day – no, a burning building.

    It was no mere flame. It was the gale of an inferno. That boy literally had that power in his fingertips, when by all accounts he shouldn’t. Or maybe… it wasn’t him at all?

    Who the hell are you? Shadow Kanji asked in horror.

    “Ý̸͎́͋͠͝o̵̧̼̻͛́͠ü̶̖̮̜̺̓r̵͙͎̭͋́ ̸̟͚̭͈̜̦̇̈́̀̋̈́́r̷͉̮͚̆̆e̸̹̭̪̙̣̿̓͂͝c̷̮̰̟̈́͌̈́̌̆̕k̵̟̓̍̚͜o ̷̞̓͑͗n̸̡̰̫̤̑̎͋͒͜i̶̢̮̜̟͛͐͊͠n̷̒͜͠ͅg̵̜͙̏͗ͅ,” Shirou told him, as his Persona’s fire spell finished engraving the final glyph. “F̵̘͚̭̞̞̱̘̒ͅį̶̱̫̀̆̈́̉͋̚͝f̶̫͔̝̳͍͙̍̓̀̅́̉͝t̴̬̼̘͒͂̂̎͝h ̸͕͛̈́́̇͂̌ ̸̡̮̜͍͇̖̄͋̽̋̋̉͝͠C̸̮̮̘̄͗̌̊̇̄͊̐y̸̫̲̤̒̎̓̇c̶̫͔̪͖͒ḷ̴̯̲̂ ̡̥̤͙é̴̦͐̂̎̀!̶̪͓͍͍̮͚̃̋͆͊͘”

    The glyph in the air shimmered brightly, almost as blinding as the sun. And then the heat expanded as if the sun itself magnified its rays to where Shadow Kanji stood.

    GRAWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!

    His body was consumed in a fiery conflagration instantly. The rose bush wilted away into ash, his white half body charred to a darker shade than his other side, and he even decomposed on the spot.

    When the fires finally subsided, Shadow Kanji’s muscular body was no more, and he had returned to his loincloth-clad form. Ash and burn marks marred his skin, and he leaned over on all fours with a raspy cough clearing out the smoke he inhaled.

    It was over. He was thoroughly, brutally beaten down, and struggled just to keep from collapsing to the ground.

    But the look in Shirou’s eyes was not one of mercy. Without much prompting, Kagutsuchi channeled his prana again in the glowing glyph attack. While Shirou’s conscious friends wondered in mute horror what was going on in his mind, the downed Shadow felt the pressing urge of self-preservation to run away. However, he had no feeling in his legs after riding in his giant form for the entire battle. The most he could do was drag himself back.


    “T̶̡͈̜̯̼̣̪̃͂̎ͅh̷̞̹̥̜̪̽̀é̸̹̩͂͐̆̍̿̉̕r̶̡͌͂̆͒̃̉̓͗͆͘e̶ ̢̜͔̭̞͕͈̗̆̇̔̋̏̽̐̾̋̕͜ ̷̣̰̝̩̜̳͈͎̇̋̈́͑̒͘į̸̙̬͛̾̽̀̅̇͋̒͝s̷̛̱̻͈͈͈̪͈̀̆̈́̔͜͝ ̲͕ ̷̡͖̟̙̫͎̠̜͊̐̎ń̵̻̜̟͉̞͓̮̈̀o̶̠̾͂͠ ̶̤͇̜̜͔̬͓̗̂͂̐͛̂̀̒͌̚̚ę̷̛̦̗͕̞̀̓͜s̶̛͈͇̦͇͖̜̉̊̔̉͝ć̵̛̓͌ ̡̰̝̩̦͎̮͂̏a̷̢̡̘͔̟͉̞͉̍p̷̨̙̻͍̑̇͌̆̄͒͊̾̕͠ͅȅ̸̠̇͑̄̓̀̆̈͝, ” Shirou told him, and Shadow Kanji believed his apparent executioner. Already the first circle was complete.



    N-Now wait a minute, hun! I know when I’ve been licked! I surrender! See? Look, I
    ’m waving a white flag and everything! Shadow Kanji proved his point by grabbing and waving his loincloth flap in front, for lack of any proper substitute.


    Shirou was undeterred. The second circle was glowing now.

    Okay, I get it! You’re pissed off about the whole ‘me cutting your arm off’ thing! Want to beat the pent-up rage out of your system! Well, message received! Good job! You deserve a bout of manly applause for that! Shadow Kanji clapped for effect, straining a smile as he did.

    Third cycle. Everyone watched on bated breath at what was going to happen. The tension in the air was literally growing as the build-up led to another inferno attack. Even in a sauna, Shadow Kanji felt a different kind of perspiration form from his head.

    But, seriously! I give up! I can’t even hurt you anymore if I tried! You… you don’t have to go this far, don’t you? One of those was more than enough for me, thank you!


    “Ÿ̷̟̯ͅỏ̷͔̥͖̮̝̥̬̟̏̏̎̌́͒̈́́̄͜u̸̢͋͊̐͒͊̀̊̽͠͠'̷̛̣̤͎̥͒̍ ̫̤̩̭̺l̵̨͖̼̝̳̣̮͓̖̏̈́̇̅̅͐̈́̂̆̆ļ̴̮̱͈̻͕̎̈́͊͛̈́͜ ̴͙̲̞̹̺̯̆̕n̴̨̝̥̺̉̈́̒̀̚ͅe̷͔̟͠ę̶͎̦̼̍͌̉ḏ̸̡̥̥͂̂̿͊͝ ̧̤͕̟ ̷̺̹̣̻͎͑̏̐́̈́̎̈a̴̧͖͕͍̯̤̥̅͝t̷̯̼̪̹̽̽͂̿́̒͘͝ ̴̫̻̺͒͐̓̀̈́͋̚̕l̸̨͖͖̣̙͕͍̅͑̽͊͝e̵͈͕̎͛̀̈́̋̿̕a̷̗̙͚̦̘͐̈́̂́̓̂ ̙̻̼s̷̗͚̹̦̗̆̏̋̓̋̈́t̴͉̭̪̥̰̒̔͗̾̿̚͝ ̷̣̟̘͍̻̙͙͋̀͐̿͒f̸̨̟̪̠͔̫̉̾͋̀͌̏͂͜͝õ̴̲͍̰̲͙͙͍̮̽͛͌̓̀̓u̴̾ ̮̙̮̭̪̇͐́̏̀̾̕̚͜r̶̭͍̈́͜ ̷̨͙̥̦̗̣̪͔̃͋̏̾͐̎̈̉͠ͅm̵̳̜̳͓̫͎͌̓̾̂͐̌͛̒̀͐o̵̮͋̊r̸̓̔̅̉̓̚ ̨̳̜̼̅̔͘͜è̵̢̲̳̻̦̫̐̓͛͊̎̂̋͘͠.̴̳̇͒̃̈́͆̊̓͘̕” Fourth cycle… and many more to go if the threat holds true.


    Chie finally found her voice in time to reprimand him. “Emiya-kun, that’s enough!” She started to run towards him, but a wall of flames erupted in front of her, almost catching her by surprise. She flinched back and fell flat on her back, staring at the fire with a mix of horror and bewilderment.

    “Sh-Shirou-sensei?!” Teddie cried in disbelief. This couldn’t be the same kind sensei that wanted to save his home, was it?

    “My god, he’s serious,” Rise whispered. This wasn’t like him at all from her place. Was it because of that Persona?

    This… this isn’t how I wanted it to go! I didn’t care who, or why! I just wanted to fit in! Someone, please…!

    Fifth cycle was now complete, and Kagutsuchi was already moving his ghastly limbs to finish the spell.

    Shadow Kanji couldn’t bear the pressure anymore, curled up in a feeble position and clawing at his bleached hair. JUST ACCEPT ME FOR WHO I AM!!!

    For a moment, Shirou’s hand faltered, and a strange look in his eye showed hesitance. But that moment was gone in a blink, hardened by the determination to follow through. “Ş̸̺̘̜̬̱͔͛̚͜ó̴̢̡͔̝̟̣ͅr̵̢̨̫͕̞̻̀̾̋͒̀́̚̚r̸̓͂͆̃͂͒̾̐͛ ̢͚̫̫͓̯ý̸̻̎͒̔̕͝,̶̨̣̖̗̮̪̬̜̃͛́́͋̈́͂̾ͅͅ ̷̡̲́̊̐̎̏͂͊̔̚b̷̧̊̔͒͝ư̴͇̝͙͉̪͉̳͈ẗ̶̢͍̖̼̻̲̺̬͇̊͆̀͠ ̷̞̗̗̖̰͎̙͇̓͌͆͗̎͒͜͝Ĭ̸̡̱̣̥̺̌̈́̐̅̊̒ ̷̡̱̠͕̊̔͐ḓ̷̨̢̦̙̘̩͍̹́̓͜ó̵̬̣͊͊͆̐͒̉̈́̚n̴̻͖̼̔̋̏̊̓̓̕̚̚͝ ̡̢̱͚̳̺̤'̷̨̭̙̌͌͆͑̋̆̆͗̕͝t̵͎͎͙͚͙̄̂̿̇̍̒̈͝ ̷͙̹͇͎̣͓̠̌͐͗͋̂̐̽̌͘͠s̸̠̤̱̠̬̒̈́w̴̮͆̑̈́͆̄͑̉̃͑̌ĭ̷̢̢͎̫́n̵ ̳̬̄̐̇͑ͅg̶̛͙͚̠̤͕̼ ̶̢̬̺̋ẗ̴̨̮́͆͑̉̈́̓̚h̶̢̯͕̬̰̦̹́ͅͅä̶̢̛̖͕̤̙̰́͆͂̊͑͆͠ẗ̵̆̕͠ ̨́̍ ̶̧̰̩̬̻͗̈̒̔͘͝w̴̺̗̼̿̔̀̕ḁ̵͓̫̰̗͔̂̈́̀͌̆̚ͅý̸̧͖͇̃͂͛̓̕̚.̶ ̬̠̩̹͙̄̌” he scoffed, ready to recant the spell.

    “SWING THIS!”

    Finally, Shirou turned his attention away from Shadow Kanji. His surprise was short-lived as he saw a singed fist coming right at him.

    POW!

    In one blow, he was out like a light. The flames from his severed arm, the wall of flames, and even the Persona Kagutsuchi faded away right after.

    Kanji Tatsumi spat on the floor, and idly snuffed out the lingering embers on his clothes with palm pats. He could admit not being the smartest student in his class, and it felt weird having to save some pansy poser with his face, but he knew he just had to save him… or himself, whatever.

    The Shadow slowly receded from his position, staring wide-eyed at his other self. You… saved me? But why?

    Honestly, running headfirst into the fire and punching Emiya out cold was the easy part. He didn’t want to acknowledge this Shadow thing and hoped that if he kept putting it off in his mind then it would go away. Except that wasn’t how life worked. And at the end of the day…

    “I’ve… always known.”

    Huh?

    “I’ve always known you were inside me, alright?! Or at least, something like you…” he stammered with a scowl and flush. God, it felt so embarrassing saying this out loud, especially now that Rise and Satonaka-senpai were watching him. “But you weren’t the only one scared out of his mind. It was never just about guys or chicks… it was getting rejected. It’s easier to just get everyone else to hate you right from the start than to screw it up being yourself. Being someone no one knows how to react to.”

    He stared at his hands dejectedly, trying and failing to form fists. “Now look at me. Been calling you a pansy the whole time, but deep down I’m the total pansy picking fights just to look tough…”

    So… you really don’t hate me? he asked hopefully.

    “I’m not that self-loathing.” Kanji huffed. Yeah, he knew he was a problem student and a punk, but if guys like Naoto and Emiya gave him the time of day for his wellbeing, there had to be something in himself worth saving.

    Shadow Kanji stared at his real self silently, no longer his haughty vile self. He felt a strange sense of peace and humility now, and it was almost perfect to turn over a new leaf. Almost. …say it.

    “Say what?”

    You know~. That promise?

    Kanji scowled, memories of the deal suddenly coming up. “Seriously? Right now? You’re still hung up about that?!”

    It has to be now!

    “Says who?!”

    Please? For me?

    “Oh, for the love of… fine! But I’m only going to say this once!” Kanji groaned with crossed arms. If only to get his inner bastard to shut up. “I love doing knitting and sewing with ma! I like home economics shit more than sports shit! I apparently have a feminine side because you exist. So, you’re me, and I’m you, dammit! Happy now?”

    It was a loud, angry admission but one spoken from the heart and heat of the moment. Shadow Kanji started to glow in a blue light, and a serene smile graced his lips. The happiest, he said, a sentiment Kanji surprisingly felt mutual about.

    The Shadow transfigured briefly into an intimidating black giant modeled like a bulky action figure. White paint was itched onto the design of a skeleton in an overlying pattern where each main bone part was supposed to be; skull on the head, ribs for the chest, and so on. Leather fiber connected each main body part for flexible movement, with red and blue wires faintly visible on the segments between the shoulders and arms. Finally, gripped in one of its white plastic gloves was a large gold-bronze blade shaped like a thunderbolt. A moment later, the newly formed Persona flickered away into a card that melded into Kanji’s subconscious.

    “Take-Mikazuchi, huh?” Kanji smirked. “That’s a badass name…”

    He felt a sudden urge to fall over and collapse, as if the adrenaline of being stuck in this bathhouse for so long was finally catching up to him. But he held on, if barely. Palming his face to try and starve off the headache, he now became aware that Emiya’s arm was losing blood again, and the peanut gallery was still staring at him while waiting for something to do, even with Amagi and the other guy starting to get up.

    Angrily, Kanji pointed to the bleeding student and yelled at them, “What the hell are you guys waiting for?! He’s down an arm, dammit!”

    <><><>

    Eight of Cups, upright…

    You feel something is missing. By all accounts, you should be happy and content with your life. Loving family, caring friends, strong support… but it was a lie. No, more like a replacement, meant to hide away your scars.

    You do not know what it means to truly be happy, to act on your own accord. The best you can do is help others experience their happiness and share in the accomplishment. You never walk away from a person in trouble… but you can walk away from your own problems. They do not matter.

    “Sh███u, c█me ██, ███e up! █e won!”

    “█e’s ███ oving. █s he…?”

    “He’ going ██ be if e don’█ d█ someth███! Just… pa███ the arm ███ now, to sto█ the bl███ing!”

    Knight of Pentacles, reversed…

    Your life was stagnant, seclusive. You took the pursuit of hard-work and diligence so far that you missed out on the world around you, trying to prepare for a world deep down you knew that you weren’t ready for. You couldn’t cope with normality after your scarred past, but you couldn’t hope to survive the horrors in the Moonlit world, either.

    You excuse your lack of experience to perfect your talent, but do perfectionists ever venture boldly into the unknown? Not unless they are ready, they would insist… but when is anyone ever ready?

    “Man, his un██ is goi██ to █ill us ██en he f█ds █ut that his ██phew’s down an █rm.”

    “███t’s the least ██ our ███ries!”

    “Wh█t a███t the le██es? They██ a sort ██ mira███ cure, righ█?”

    “Wait, ██w a█e le███s suppo███ to help th██ guy ██ his a██ ███k?”

    Six of Swords, upright…

    You have changed, that much is certain. You have fought against the change when you first came, stubborn to stick to your old ways. But now you see how important it was to come here, to see others struggle in their own hardships.

    You feel so much weight of your past bearing down, almost suffocating just to remember. But they do not feel as restraining anymore. Not with the future looking so bright, and the burden made lighter.

    “Hs ar██ere is ██?”

    ██h? ██… o██r here I ███ss.”

    “So███ne g and ge███. R██ht ██w!”

    “Yk-ca—”

    sa██ ge m his ███damn am!!”

    Nine of Wands, upright…

    Even with death imminent, you will get back up again. Courage, persistence, resilience, all of these are necessary for your dream, and if you can’t handle every setback you are not worthy to pursue your dream.

    It has not been easy, as every step outside your comfort zone feels like a misstep. But you are not alone. You have comrades by your side.

    “H-He███t is.”

    “Do yo███ally th███ ths ill wo██, ███iko?”

    “No, ’ve neer ███ed th██ b██ore. B██ if th███’s ev██ a ██ance i██oud save im…”

    “…it’██ll ou ██en.”

    ██ght. Ph████carm!”

    <><><>

    The sudden emersion of light broke the darkness in his mind, and a sensation unlike anything he had ever felt before enveloped his body. It was like being submerged in heated water while tasting and smelling the most succulent of fruits at the same time. Even the once-numbing phantom pain was ebbed away in a feat best described as miraculous.

    Shirou Emiya shot upright from the floor with a sharp intake of air. And then he gasped and choked as his lungs worked overtime to provide oxygen to his battered body. He patted his chest to steady his breathing with both arms.

    Wait. Both arms? He looked down to his chest, seeing both arms attached and none the worse for wear. The only difference was a faint scar line circling the cubital area and the outer joint of his right elbow. Had everything been a dream? Did it really happen?

    The fight… Kanji! Everyone!

    Shirou finally looked up, just noticing he was surrounded by his friends. They were battered, bloody and tired, but alive. There was a calm in the room now that there were no Shadows left.

    Yosuke was clutching his shoulder, a smile slowly forming on his face. Tama stared at him intently as always, her tail faintly wagging now that he was awake. Kanji was with them too, standing aloof and looking away from the circle around him.

    But what really floored him was seeing the girls. Chie had collapsed to her knees on the ground, having lost feeling in her legs and couldn’t properly sit down. Yukiko was just pulling her arms back as the faint silhouette of Konohana Sakuya faded into light. Rise’s voice choked, her hands clasped over her mouth and fighting back hiccups. Each one of them stared at him in disbelief, worry, and relief… through puffy, tear-filled eyes.

    They were all crying… for him? They were all certainly waiting on him to say something, at least. “…Is everyone o—"

    “SENSEEEEEEEEEEI!”

    The first one to react was Teddie, bawling as he lunged toward the magus from behind (where he couldn’t see). The impact nearly toppled him over forward. The bear couldn’t reach his arm fully around to hug him, so he flailed and rolled his head back and forth, tears flying out of his eye ducts like sprinklers on full blast.

    “You’re back! You’re really back! I knew you’d come back around, but I was so worried with the bleeding, and the fire, and then the bleeding again! You scared me and Tama-chan and everyone we’re just glad you’re okay! WHAAAAAAAhahahaAAAAAAA!!”

    “G-Geez, Teddie, you’re such a crybaby,” Yosuke chuckled… before wiping his eyes with his arm and sleeve. “You-you gotta play it cool, man.”

    “It worked,” Yukiko murmured. “Emiya-kun, your arm… it’s okay now, isn’t it?”

    “Y-Yeah,” he rasped out, looking down at the scar line again. “As good as new, even. Did you--?”

    Yukiko smiled, nodded, and brushed the tears away from her eyes. “It actually worked. I’m so relieved.”

    “Whaaaaaaa!” Rise’s emotions poured out, lunging forward to hug his abdomen. “My Shirou-kun’s aliiiive!”

    “H-Hey! Not so rough, Rise-chan!” Chie scolded… with a pout and blush? “He just came to, you know.”

    The former idol sniffled, unable to form a coherent reply. She merely settled for hugging him tighter, crying with the bear.

    It still felt so surreal. He’d had a few close calls dying in this world before, but to come out of it in a true miraculous fashion was… well, no words could describe it. The emotion high was certainly evident in how everyone was reacting though.

    “Guys,” he started. “I understand that you’re relieved I’m okay but… could you let go so I can stand up?”

    “Can you even stand?” Chie asked as Rise and Teddie reluctantly let go. “You got it worse than the rest of us, and then that fire Persona you called…”

    “What fire Persona?”

    The question their leader asked threw them for a loop. They exchanged worried glances, weighing what they should tell him. “You… don’t remember?” Yukiko asked.

    It was spotty, but he remembered how painful it was losing an arm. How he tried to stay conscious when the fight was turning for the worst. How he heard surreal, ethereal voices. After that it was a blur, but given how severe the aftermath was, that might be a blessing. “…the things I do remember I’d rather forget, honestly.”

    Another tense silence followed, as no one knew what to say to that.

    “But really, it’s fine,” he continued. “It was my fault getting blindsided like that. And it’s not that… strenuous…” He was all but grunting now trying to push himself off the ground, and then winced when his arms gave out. “Haha… nothing a little rest can’t fix.”

    “Bullshit.”

    The Investigation Team all turned to Kanji. He still stood aloof from the conversation with a scowl and arms crossed. When he turned to look at Shirou, it was with a determination he’d never seen in the young man before.

    “It’s like what my old man said once: ‘A man shouldn’t make a girl cry in worry for any reason’,” he recited. “‘And in the chance that he does, he works to make them feel better yesterday.’”

    Rise pouted through her tears and stamped her arms down as she yelled at him. “Shut up, Moronji! It was your fault that Shirou-kun got hurt, you know!”

    Kanji looked taken back and snapped right back. “D-Don’t call me a Moronji! It wasn’t my fault with the arm, either! It was that other me who… said was just like me… I mean… dammit!”

    Yukiko puffed her cheeks to fight back giggles, a sentiment shared by the others. After everything that had happened, a little levity was greatly appreciated. Whether Kanji realized it was light teasing or not, he was not laughing.

    “W-Whatever! Point is, you need to take better damn care of yourself, and I’m not standing by to let you stand on… well… well you know!” Still fuming, Kanji didn’t give the others to argue a counterpoint before he leaned down to pick Shirou up. “Now are we getting out of here or what? Just point us to the exit and I’ll handle the rest.”

    It was a surprisingly thoughtful gesture from the delinquent, one that no one would expect given his former hostility. On the other hand, it was an awkward sort of problem that even Shirou noticed.

    “Uh, I appreciate this offer Kanji, but…”

    “But what?”

    Yosuke finished the question no one else could. “But are you sure you want to carry him like that?”

    Kanji’s arms were supporting Shirou’s legs and upper back and held him close to his own body for balance. It was a more familiar way to carry a loved one, hence the name “bridal carry”.

    “Hey, this is easiest to hold him without straining himself!” Kanji argued. “You got a problem with that?”

    “Oh no, by all means go ahead. If you want to get hitched with Shirou here, I won’t stop you.”

    Kanji blistered, almost dropping Shirou from his arms outright. He kept looking around, suddenly aware how no one but a confused bear and smug-looking teen was staring at him. “What th-HITCHED!? That’s not—I’m not a— I’m just helping! It’s not what it looks like, okay?!”

    “Dude, it’s totally okay if you’re into your feminine side.” Yosuke grinned. “I mean, you accepted your big burly Shadow so that means you must totally be into dudes! Hell, weren’t you going on about Na—“

    “Yosuke,” Shirou spoke suddenly, slowly wrapping one arm around Kanji’s neck. “Could you come over here for a second?”

    “Sure, what’s up part—?“

    POW! Thud!

    “GRAAAH!” Yosuke was punched so hard in the face that he hit the floor in a whiplash spin. He barely registered the punch, the puddle of water that he hit, and who’d done it. “What the hell, Shirou!?”

    “Just testing the reflexes on my arm,” he said, clenching his fist. “And while it’s still sore, I’m satisfied that it works well. Thanks again, Amagi.”

    “Anytime, Emiya-kun.”

    “You didn’t have to hit me, though!”

    “And you didn’t have to be an ass to Kanji, either.”

    The biting remark was enough to surprise Yosuke, and it was only then he realized that the others were all giving him disapproving looks. “Uh… sorry, man.”

    Kanji grunted with his head whiffed to the side. “First Moronji and now jokes at my expense… what the hell did I ever do to you guys?”

    “You mean besides always blowing us off when we tried to warn you weeks ago?” Chie asked snidely.

    Kanji flushed, too proud or embarrassed to move from his defiant pose and justify a proper response.

    Despite everything, Shirou gave a relieved smile that the worst was behind them for now. “Let’s all just go home.”

    <><><>

    July 2nd, Shopping District

    Mitsuo was panicking. Just as he was walking back from cram school for the day, he saw him, being lugged around by his sister’s boyfriend no less. He followed at a distance just out of earshot to be sure. Maybe the foggy weather was playing tricks on him.

    But when he got to the textile shop, there was such screaming emotion when the Tatsumi matriarch yelled with tears and the boyish cop reprimanded him. He acted so out of character just taking this in stride but there was no doubt.

    Kanji Tatsumi was back.

    He somehow survived and was back at his house. But how…?!

    Unable to watch this anymore, Mitsuo ran back home and locked the door behind him. He collapsed by the door and curled into a ball, not bothering to take off his shoes.

    Eventually his brown-haired, rusty-eyed angel of a sister noticed and kneeled at his side. “Mitsy, what’s wrong?”

    Mitsuo could almost cry at the unfairness of it all. “We’re screwed. We’re so screwed! That punk-asshole is still alive!”

    “You mean Tatsumi-kun?” Sacchin asked, surprised. “Are you sure?”

    “I saw him get escorted back to his home!” he wailed. “The police are going to question him, and then they’re going to come knocking on our door and get us! We can’t do this, nee-san! If he talks, we’re through!”

    “Mitsy, it’s okay, calm down,” she told him.

    “No it’s not! Everyone is going to be out to get us now!” he cried hysterically. “They’re gonna find out—"

    “Look at me, Mitsy.” She told him firmly. He snapped at her gaze, ready to yell that things were so bad, but almost immediately the rage and panic was gone. Her soothing eyes quelled the despair in his heart, and he finally calmed down.

    “The truth is, I never actually sent Tatsumi-kun away,” said Sacchin, much to her brother’s surprise. “I was scouting on how to do it based on what the serial murderer did, but that same night he finally showed up and did it himself.”

    “Then… that means—”

    “They can’t connect us to being guilty of a crime we didn’t commit,” she told him. “I doubt he would have any memory on who actually did it either. Otherwise the cops would have found the real killer by now after he failed with Yuki-chan and Kuji-chan.”

    Mitsuo felt a surge of relief. They weren’t guilty after all. They won’t be questioned or arrested for attempted murder. He wouldn’t have to leave his sister’s side, where he felt important and wanted after all.

    And yet, at the same time, there was a bitter knot in his stomach. That Kanji was alive at all felt like a perversion of justice. He was clearly a jerk nobody liked, so why did he come back like Yuki-chan and Risette? Why wasn’t he dangling from a telephone pole instead?

    Whoever this serial murderer was, he was losing his touch if he failed three out of five times.

    “So now what?” he asked numbly. He felt so lost without his sister’s guidance and allowed himself to be pulled up from the ground in her firm hands.

    “What else?” she asked back. “Clearly, we both know that the serial killer is failing, unable to kill even the most unpleasant of delinquents. I say it’s our turn to tip the scales a bit.”

    “Do you… really mean that?” The last time she said they’d go after Kanji Tatsumi it had been a false start. In fact… “You lied to me before, saying you’d take care of him.”

    “I know, and I’m really sorry Mitsy,” she told him with a pleading look in her eye. “It happened before I even realized, and I just wanted to make you happy knowing your big sis was reliable.”

    “Well, I guess I understand,” he admitted. He just couldn’t hate his sister even when she lied. At least she cared. “But I want in, next time.”

    “You’re sure?”

    “I want to be a hero, like you said. I can’t be one if I’m scared all the time.”

    “And you won’t, Mitsy,” she patted him firmly on the shoulder, comforting. “We’ll pull off a caper so flawless that they’ll believe we’re the true culprits unless the real one dares to stand up.”

    Mitsuo smiled with an unnatural, giddy glee inside. Sacchin licked her lips and smirked, picking up her umbrella by the door. “Let’s do some recon before dinner, shall we?”

    <><><>

    Evening, Dojima Household

    Fortunately, after reaching the exit, Kanji relented in letting Shirou walk the rest of the way. Though that was only due to his own fatigue finally setting in. Yosuke was all but volunteered to bring the bleached teen back (though to his credit he shrugged his shoulders and carried him back). With a successful rescue, and a promise to Teddie to check up on him more, he went home to try and relax.

    He just hoped Dojima didn’t notice the now ring-like scar around his elbow. It would be kind of hard to explain exactly what had happened if hard pressed. If Doji-nii asks, I’ll just say there was a soldering accident at the gas station when I was trying to work a welding iron. And that… I was too occupied to notice the pain. Gah, that will never work.

    He tried to preoccupy his thoughts with cooking spare ingredients for lunch tomorrow; a sort of “cooking date” with the girls to help with their culinary talents (or rather lack there-of). It was meant to be just Satonaka and Amagi, but Rise heard about it the other day and wanted in, especially to unwind from a successful mission.

    His worries and musing stopped as soon as he heard the door open. Nanako, sitting by the kotatsu in front of the TV, also perked up. “Dad’s home!”

    Dojima slipped his shoes off at the front door but he didn’t come inside right away. Instead, he ushered in two more guests. One of which being his partner on the murder case, Adachi.

    The cop noticed the two kids and waved. “Oh, hey there! Dojima-san’s family I take it! I’m Tohru Adachi, a friend of your dad’s! Pleasure to meet ya!”

    Truth be told, this wasn’t the first time Shirou had met Adachi, but it was the first time they were formally introduced. It was more for Nanako’s sake than him, as she was now hiding in the back staring at Adachi. Or rather, at the other guest, who happened to be…

    “Shirooooooou! Get me something good to eat! *hic!*”

    -a wailing woman in a tiger-striped shirt slumped in the rookie cop’s arms. Shirou froze, mentally processing what he saw and heard, dropping the spatula and ladle in his hands from the shock of it all. “Fuji-nee?!”

    Slumped over Adachi’s shoulder, Taiga Fujimura groggily raised her head up and gave a wide, flushed smile and slow wave. “Hiiiiiiiiiii! I want a dinner, and a bath and yoooooooou—" she slurred with a deliberate poke. The implications startled the men, especially Shirou, as he froze again upon how to respond to that.

    “—to make it for me.”

    A wave of relief combined with exasperation engulfed Shirou as he struggled not to collapse and figure out what to say to her. He settled for the obvious. “You’re drunk, aren’t you Fuji-nee?”

    “A very good question!” Taiga said with a grin. “You’re smart like that, Shirou! And the answer might surprise you!”

    “So you are,” he deadpanned.

    She pouted back. “I said might. Party-poo-poo-poo-peeeeer*hic*!”

    “So, Fuji-nee huh?” Adachi asked. “Cute pet-name. All this time I’ve been calling her Fuji-cake.”

    The definitely drunk Taiga Fujimura giggled, nuzzling her head closer to his neck and chest area. “Aww, because you want to eat me aaaaall up, dont’cha?”

    Shirou’s eye twitched, and everything around him was drowned out to white noise from Cu Sith’s roaring. He had an idea on why that was the case, and he didn’t want to think about it. Not with how happily flustered Adachi was right now with his guardian.

    Dojima was just as disgruntled, pinching his nose as he pointed over to the living room. “Just set her down at the couch without flirting, please. Nanako, set it up if you could.”

    “O-Okay,” Nanako replied. Confused as the young girl was, she did as she was told by fetching some spare blankets as Adachi lugged Taiga over.

    “Sorry to have sprung this up last minute,” Dojima said as he meant it. “I tried calling your cell earlier, but you weren’t picking up.”

    “I-It’s fine,” Shirou stuttered. He didn’t think being in the Bathhouse dungeon for so long could make them miss calls as they never took stock of their time before. “But… why is Fuji-nee here in Inaba?”

    “You got me. I only found out after my partner started bragging about meeting her at a hidden pub in the shopping district. Shiroku’s, I think.”

    Shiroku’s? The drug store next to Rise’s tofu store?! Why was that a pub?! No, why was Fuji-nee at a pub to begin with? AND WITH ADACHI?!

    “Shirou, calm down! You’re hyperventilating!” Pixie’s words were the needed rock for his emotional high. Perhaps the near-death experience had shaken him more than he thought. He didn’t need this right now.

    “I was just as surprised as you are, of course,” Dojima added. “Not just her being here, but him finding a date? He couldn’t get one after—” he stopped and shook his head. “Nevermind, it’s work-related, and we’re not at the station. Anyway, since Adachi lives on the way here, he came over to help us bring her here for the night.”

    Taiga was laid on her side on the couch, saying sweet nothings to Adachi and Nanako both. “You have such a comfy home, Nanako-chan! You’re so luckyyyyyy! *hic*”

    “Fuji-nee, why are you here?” Shirou asked her as he and Dojima walked over to the living room.

    She started to frown. “You don’t want me here?”

    “I… am happy to see you again, really,” he admitted. She was one of the bright spots of his normal routine back in Fuyuki, one of the two people that knew at least a part of his guarded self, and now among those that knew his real self. “But what about Sakura? Don’t you still have a class at Homurahara High to teach? Or run the Archery club?”

    Taiga’s frown turned to a scowl. “Oooooh, that place? I quit.”

    “You mean you were fired?!” he cried out. Dojima and Nanako were just as alarmed. They all knew she had a habit of overreacting, but not even Shirou expected her to lose her stable teaching job! Already he was dreading the fact that he would have to support her night and day with cooking as she continued to get drunk, treating the whole house as a mess—

    “No no no!” she whined. “I meant I took a break! Whazzit term again? A fur-*hic*… fur-*hic*… fur-loooooow. And Ayako-chan’s watching Sakura-chan now, don’t worry!”

    “O-oh.” A furlough. A leave of absence. He didn’t think she could cash that in with how often she was late to her own classroom at the start of each day. And he could trust Mitsuzuri to watch over Sakura… or at least keep Shinji away from bothering her. That was all relieving, but… “But why?”

    The somber topic made her frown grow and somewhat more lucid. “After Golden Week, I’ve been trying to change myself for the better. But it was hard when everyone at the school didn’t take me *hic* seriously. I was able to block out all that out before but not anymore. Not when I realized I wasn’t… happy with myself.”

    “I’m happy with yourself, Tiger-nee.” Nanako said.

    The small comment made the drunk woman smile for a moment. “Thanks, Nanako-chan.” Then she scowled again. “At least she’s considerate.”

    Shirou was taken aback by the remark aimed at him. “Huh?”

    “I wanted to check up on how you were doing in Inaba, maybe relax down here too with you and Nanako-chan. I got down to the station as a surprise and called you today for you to greet your favorite big sister figure!”

    A sense of unease filled Shirou’s being. “Today?”

    “Today! Otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise! But you didn’t answer any of my calls! You were so embarrassed that I was coming that you blew me off entirely!”

    Again, with the missed phone calls. That fight with Shadow Kanji must have taken longer than he realized. “B-But Fuji-nee, I didn’t even know you were coming!”

    “That’s even woooooorse!” she bawled comically, hiding her face on the cushion.

    “Cu Shirou, we really need to work on your foot-in-mouth disease.”

    He so didn’t need this right now, but he sighed and asked her, “So then you got upset, wandered around the streets, and found a bar, right?”

    She shifted her head back, barely a nod.

    “And then you met Doji-nii’s partner here who tried to bribe you with sweet-talk and food he’d pay for.” Another nod. Adachi himself looked pretty proud of himself and happy of this, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

    “…and he didn’t have enough money to get you all the food you wanted, right?”

    “Right,” slurred Taiga through the cushion.

    Adachi flinched, and Dojima chuckled. “Heheh. That sounds about right.”

    “Only because you slave-drive me with barely any pay,” the rookie whined.

    “I can give you a raise, you know,” the older cop reminded. “I’d also have to work you harder, too.”

    “…my current wage is fine, thanks.”

    Shirou smiled, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Fuji-nee. I’ll make it up to you right away.”

    He then stood up and addressed his uncle. “Is it okay if I go out real quick for shopping?”

    “Huh?” Dojima blinked. Where did that come from?

    “I’ve been thinking since there’s five of us tonight that we should have a big meal for everyone involved. You’re staying, aren’t you Adachi-san?”

    “Well, all I have left back at my place is some cabbage casserole,” he admitted. Then he stammered, looking back to Dojima. “Oh, uh… of course I’d leave if I’m imposing your hospitality, sir.”

    “No, it’s fine I suppose,” Dojima answered to both questions. If they were going to have a bigger gathering tonight, then who was he to argue Shirou’s judgment? He was kind of in the mood for his nephew’s cuisine anyway.

    “Shirou’s cooking~!” Taiga giggled, turning to look at him with tear-filled eyes of joy. “You really do love meeeeee!”

    Shirou let out an embarrassed grumble. Growing up with her meant he had put up with more than his fair share of teasing and annoyances on her end. But the kiss back from Golden Week popped back into his head and left him conflicted. Whatever, it was a few months since they saw each other, and he was making it up to her with his food anyway. He’d allow her this pleasure for tonight.

    “I guess the only place that would be open right now is Junes,” Adachi said. “You could probably get there faster if you take Dojima-san’s old scooter.”

    “Junes?!” Nanako latched onto Shirou’s shirt and tugged it rapidly. “I wanna go! I wanna go!”

    “Nanako, it’s late,” Dojima told her. “The only places that would still be open are groceries, and Shirou is only going there for a food run.”

    “And I’m not allowed to carry passengers on my scooter,” Shirou added.

    “I don’t care! I still wanna go!” she whined. “I never get to go there…”

    Dojima opened his mouth to argue against the contrary but realized he never actually did take her there. He was rarely around at home as it was, especially with the murder cases. Shirou also winced, realizing that he never got the time to take Nanako there at all either. He was swamped with schoolwork and Persona fights but to anyone else, he had less of an excuse.

    “Besides, they have the pickled radish that you like. I was going to get it myself.”

    As her father felt a sense of guilt and warmth of her selfless request, Shirou brushed the hair on her head affectionately. “I don’t mind if she comes,” he said, subtly asking for permission.

    Dojima really didn’t like the idea of his daughter going out of the house late at night. His first response was to try and convince her to drop it tonight so they could go another day, on more ideal conditions. But that wouldn’t be fair, and he knew it. Shirou was the surrogate brother that Nanako looked up to, and Taiga being here reminded him of their argument on their hands-off parenting.

    Nanako deserved more trust. They all did, really. “…thirty minutes.”

    “Huh?”

    “You two can go to Junes for thirty minutes tonight, and then come right back. Just as long as you’re safe and you keep your phone on this time.”

    Nanako’s smile blossomed almost immediately, and Shirou’s relief was just as rewarding. “Yay!” “Thanks, Doji-nii.”

    “Yeah yeah, just don’t have too much fun,” Dojima joked with a smile. “I’d go with you two myself, but someone has to watch over Taiga.”

    “Hey! I’ma plenty okay to take care of my-*urrp*!” The drunken tigress’ weak argument (and weaker burp) only earned beads of sweat from her onlookers, less than impressed with her condition.

    “I can watch over her, Dojima-san!” Adachi insisted… a little too enthusiastic.

    Dojima gave him a long stare before adding, “But then someone would have to keep an eye on you too.”

    “Hey!”

    The kids were already on their way out the door. “Get your coat, Nanako. We’re going to have to take a bus over.”

    “~Everyday’s great at your Junes!~” And with that they were out the door.

    “Huh, nice kids,” Adachi said with a smile.

    “Yeah,” Dojima agreed, before kneeling down to the kotatsu. He turned the news on, just in time to hear the meteorologists bring up the weather forecast.

    “And it’s a good thing Kanji-kun was found too. With so many students coming back from kidnapping, maybe the murderer will stop targeting them. You wanna know what I think?”

    “No. Now wash your hands and then set the table.”

    “Huh? Why?”

    “We’re off the clock and I don’t want you talking about the case when the kids come back,” he said in warning. “Besides, you want to impress Taiga, don’t you? The fastest way to her heart is to cater to her stomach.”

    “That’s no different from how you boss me around everyday…” Adachi grumbled but complied and headed over to the sink.

    Truth be told, Dojima did hope that the cases would end soon. Adachi’s conspiracy theories were welcome compared to the rest of the police department trying to put it off if possible. The stress and tension of unanswered questions was enough to make even the most stubborn officer throw up their hands in defeat.

    Taiga’s visit was a welcome surprise with how much her persistence made things better in the Dojima home, but the timing couldn’t be any worse… or perfect depending who you asked. He looked over her sleeping form in concern. “I just hope you being here isn’t an omen of things to come.”

    The only appropriate response, fitting for Taiga, was a loud snore.
    Last edited by Kishou the Badger; June 23rd, 2021 at 03:08 AM.

  5. #425
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    According to most, my own little world
    Age
    41
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    8,191
    Blog Entries
    194
    I'm not sure which part I enjoyed more: Kagatsuchi's sheer badass brutality, or the antics of the drunken tiger when out of its usual habitat. Though I did appreciate "testing the new arm." Yosuke could generally use a few of those, from time to time (yes, he's a teenager and a goof, but there are lines).

    Honestly, though - I suspect that, if nothing else, Nanako's impressions of her (and maybe more importantly, their repercussions) will be interesting; this is her "Big Bro's" big sister, after all, and she's rather lacking in feminine influences as a whole . . . As well as young enough to be impressionable, of course.

    . . . Also, "cabbage casserole" - nice callback.
    “Love will be cruel to who it entices — love will have its sacrifices.”

    — Carmilla Theme




    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."

    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette




  6. #426
    Quote Originally Posted by Kieran View Post
    I'm not sure which part I enjoyed more: Kagatsuchi's sheer badass brutality, or the antics of the drunken tiger when out of its usual habitat. Though I did appreciate "testing the new arm." Yosuke could generally use a few of those, from time to time (yes, he's a teenager and a goof, but there are lines).

    Honestly, though - I suspect that, if nothing else, Nanako's impressions of her (and maybe more importantly, their repercussions) will be interesting; this is her "Big Bro's" big sister, after all, and she's rather lacking in feminine influences as a whole . . . As well as young enough to be impressionable, of course.

    . . . Also, "cabbage casserole" - nice callback.
    For all his patience, Shirou has limits, and even knocked Shinji down a few pegs. And he has mentioned before Yosuke reminds him of Shinji. So unlike the original player character where you just stand in the sidelines only saying a few dialogue options every few times, he's not as passive.

    I had a lot fun writing Taiga in the past, especially when drunk. I'm getting ideas of just how far the impressions will go now that you mention it.

    I never really got the meme of Adachi with Cabbage honestly, but that doesn't mean I can't make the most of it.

  7. #427
    祖 Ancestor Alternative Ice's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Phoenix
    Age
    30
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    1,480
    This was a good way to conclude Kanji's arc and transition to the next part of the story. I'm interested to find out out what the deal is with Shirou's new persona and this sacchin subplot.
    Quote Originally Posted by Nasu
    I don't care if it doesn't make sense. I don't have any intent of making it make sense.

  8. #428
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    According to most, my own little world
    Age
    41
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    8,191
    Blog Entries
    194
    Quote Originally Posted by Kishou the Badger View Post
    For all his patience, Shirou has limits, and even knocked Shinji down a few pegs. And he has mentioned before Yosuke reminds him of Shinji. So unlike the original player character where you just stand in the sidelines only saying a few dialogue options every few times, he's not as passive.
    Which is a good thing.


    I had a lot fun writing Taiga in the past, especially when drunk.
    I'm glad to hear it.

    I'm getting ideas of just how far the impressions will go now that you mention it.
    And suddenly, I'm filled with anticipatory glee . . .

    (Mind you, I've been that way since Marie was teased at, so . . .)



    I never really got the meme of Adachi with Cabbage honestly, but that doesn't mean I can't make the most of it.
    *Blinks* It's a meme? News to me - I just know where in the Golden anime it came from (and thus, presumably the game), that's all.



    Quote Originally Posted by Alternative Ice View Post
    This was a good way to conclude Kanji's arc and transition to the next part of the story. I'm interested to find out out what the deal is with Shirou's new persona and this sacchin subplot.
    Agreed on all points.
    “Love will be cruel to who it entices — love will have its sacrifices.”

    — Carmilla Theme




    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."

    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette




  9. #429
    Chapter 40: Tightly Wound


    Velvet Room*


    Between Kanji’s rescue and the welcome dinner for Taiga, it had been a long day that guaranteed a long sleep for Shirou. He barely registered the pillow under his head before he was out like a light, and the next thing he knew, he was hearing opera and sitting in a familiar velvet seat.

    “Welcome back to the Velvet Room,” came a familiar greeting from the man with a big nose.

    “Igor-san.” Margaret and Marie were there too of course, but the latter was slouching and drawing on a notepad.

    “First off, allow me to congratulate you on your progress so far,” Igor said. “In three months’ time, you have grown a small but strong camaraderie with your fellow Persona users, kept the quiet town of Yasoinaba at peace, and I believe you are even on Margaret’s remedial course for magecraft.”

    “I still can’t believe that you two aren’t really magi.” Shirou admitted aloud, before realizing how arrogant that comment sounded. “Uh, no offense.”

    “It is quite all right,” the long-nosed man said softly. “There are many secrets in the world, and in the space between worlds. There is no shame in being ignorant. Some might say there is a bliss in staying that way.”

    “Although I’m afraid we have more troubling news to discuss.” Margaret opened the tome on her lap and lifted it to show Shirou the current page. A blackened card with the design of a flaming giant. “You’ve awakened an anomaly in your sea of souls. The Persona Kagutsuchi.”

    “I… don’t remember what happened at the time,” Shirou admitted partially.

    “That is to be expected,” she said. “Normally a Persona is used as an extension of themselves with absolute control. But when a Persona’s power overshadows the user, it takes over as the dominant personality.”

    A Persona so strong it could control him? That was a scary thought and a major liability. “So what happens now? Can you remove it?”

    “If only it were that simple,” she shook her head, closing the book. “Personas that bear a special imprint on the user are tethered and immovable unless transmogrified. It is in the name, after all; they represent the truest form of your inner self.”

    “But that doesn’t make any sense! I awakened to Izanagi, and he was removed from my subconscious when you fused him!”

    “Izanagi wasn’t yours to begin with.”

    Those words, spoken casually, shook Shirou to his core. The Persona he had when he first awakened in the TV World… it wasn’t his own? But Kagutsuchi was? What in the world did that mean? Did he even want to know?

    “The gift of the Wild Card is truly a double-edged sword,” Igor said softly. “Your personality is malleable enough to accommodate others and support them, and you are free to act however you wish. But that in turn leads to a crisis. What is truly a semblance of yourself if you can pick and choose certain aspects so easily? Can you define yourself without the company of your loved ones?”

    Shirou looked away, watching the azure-violet mist move from outside the window. “I… don’t know.” He never had to think too deeply with these questions before. He just knew he wanted to be a hero, an Ally of Justice, and wanted to pursue that goal. The end result, the center, was all that mattered. Or so he thought.

    “Then pay it no mind,” Igor said. “The path of a Persona user is one of hardship and growth, and that growth is determined by your own will. The answer, whatever you decide, will come to you in time, so there is no rush.”

    “Except for the fact that I have a year left until my future is forfeit.”

    “Well, there’s your motivation then,” Marie said, looking up briefly from her notepad. “Figure it out along with whoever that mysterious murderer is before Christmas.”

    “Until then, you must bear the weight of your new Persona’s power,” Margaret said. “Kagutsuchi will awaken whenever you are under duress, but it will get easier to control as your heart grows stronger. And when you finally find your answer, perhaps you will harness that power in earnest.”

    “If only it were that easy,” he lamented. Most things in life never were. “I think it’s morning now, so I’ll see myself out.”

    Igor nodded at him. “Until we meet again, farewell.”

    Shirou nodded back, and was ready to leave via the door, or let his senses fade to nothing, whichever came first. That is, until a small scrap of paper caught his eye on the floor, just in front of him. It looked like part of a notebook that had been torn off cleanly. “What’s this?”

    Everyone looked down as well. Marie did a wide-eyed double-take and barreled over to the floor in a sudden brazen panic. She snatched the paper up before Shirou could, forcibly crushing it in her fingers before stuffing it in her pocket. She then shot a glare at him. “Shutupitsnoneofoyourbusinessyoudidntseeanyth ing!”

    “Uh…” Shirou was dumbfounded. Not just at her reaction but her compromising position. Marie was still on all fours glaring at him. She was perpendicular to him, so that meant he could see part of the crease of her plaid skirt just enough to show the curve of her derriere. As well as the lining of her… unmentionables.

    Marie quickly realized this, following his point of view. She then flushed a brighter red before pulling her skirt down and standing upright to glare down at him. “Youdidntseethateither! ShutupIhateyoustupidmagicpervert!”

    “I-I was just—" he stammered, hands waving, trying to explain himself. But to no avail. She was mad and beyond reasoning. At the corner of his eye, he saw Margaret smiling and waving at him.

    “Wake up already!” Marie snapped, and then reared her palm back to strike.

    July 3rd, Dojima Residence, Morning*

    *SLAP!* *BAM!*

    When Shirou came to, he was forcibly turned over and collapsed on the side of his bed. With a stinging red handprint over his cheek. “Oww!”

    Well, that was one way to wake up from the Velvet Room. He quickly decided to skip going there for the day to give Marie some space.

    The noise of his “waking” must have shook the whole house, as he heard a knock at the door. “Big bro? Are you okay?”

    “Yeah, Nanako, I just… had a scary end to my dream.”

    “Was it a nightmare?”

    “Something like that.”

    “Oh,” said Nanako. “By the way, Chie-chan called earlier and said that her and your friends were coming over at lunchtime. She said something about a cooking lesson?”

    That perked him up right away. “Oh, I almost forgot. I better get ready.”

    <><><>

    Afternoon


    Omelets. That was the plan to ease them into proper cooking lessons. They were simple to make, with the main ingredient being an egg. It would be a helpful starting point for lessons as he could give some pointers to correct them for better, more complex dishes.

    And yet somehow all three of them managed to mess that up. Worse, they left the kitchen in such a state of disarray too.

    After tasting each omelet for himself, he looked over each of the girls, wearing color-coded aprons (red, green and pink) covered in flour and condiment stains. Before them were their omelets that deceptively betrayed how they really tasted. The girls looked back at him expectantly with hopeful smiles.

    “Start over,” he told them sternly and watched as their three faces all fell to frowns. Chie and Yukiko looked resigned to being bad chefs, but Rise was flatout devastated.

    “Sh-Shirou-Senpai doesn’t like my cooking?!”

    “Honestly? No. It’s a miracle you three didn’t burn the house down with your collective failures.” That admission crushed their spirits more, but he was not there to hold their hands. He was there to teach them how to cook.

    That, and he REALLY didn’t want the Dojima household to burn up in any capacity.

    Yukiko was still wincing from his words. “Isn’t that a little harsh?” she asked.

    “Yeah! They can’t be all bad!” Chie argued. Her bravado faltered upon seeing how unmoved her classmate-slash-cooking-teacher was. “Can they?”

    “Yes, and I’m going to go over why each of them is the case,” he said. He turned to the first dish to his right. A pretty golden-brown omelet cut open with red filling and steaming heat. “Rise, your dish easily looks the most presentable of the three—"

    “Thank you, Senpai!” Rise chirped happily.

    “—But it’s like eating lava. You've laced the omelet in so many spices I couldn’t feel my tongue, much less discern the ingredients like the foie gras you used in it.”

    For a moment, Rise said nothing. Then her face morphed into a fragile frown and series of sniffles, surprising the other girls. “Y-You’re being a jerk, senpai! My food is delicious! An-and a mature flavor! You’re being a- a-… whaaaa-!”

    “No crocodile tears,” he sharply told her. He had seen her cry before, and this act was clearly set up for sympathy. Realizing it wasn’t going to work, Rise sheepishly smiled and rubbed the back of her head, tongue sticking out. “And relax. You seem to already have a good sense of cooking since you can make something you would like. But not everyone has the same taste buds, and you need to remember that for when you cook for others.”

    Rise gave a thoughtful nod, smiling to herself. She looked like she’d take his words to heart, which was good. Shirou then turned to the next person down the line. He looked up and down again, trying to gauge the plain-looking dish. “Amagi, how do I put this? Your food is passable at least, and a major improvement from the curry for sure. But this is also very… boneless.”

    “‘B-Bone-‘?!” The inn heiress stuttered, expressing a sudden flare of indignation. “Emiya-kun, that’s not a word you use to describe taste!”

    “And that’s kind of the point,” he coolly told her. “There was no taste. Food isn’t something you just eat for sustenance but something you enjoy. You have a favorite food, right? How it smells, how it feels when you bite into it, how you savor the morsel in your mouth before you swallow? That makes you want to eat more of it and come back to it.”

    He pointed to the plain looking dish she made, of pure yellow-white egg flop. “I did not get any of that from your omelette. You threw everything into your dish, cooked it too long, and came out with a net zero meal. You might as well have served me uncooked rice.”

    Yukiko grumbled to herself, muttering about how maybe to serve her favorite food. Shirou then turned to the last dish… and probably the easiest to grade. “Satonaka, your food is just awful, and that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about it.”

    “How is that nice?!” Chie immediately demanded.

    Shirou rubbed that back of his head awkwardly. “Well, it’s not as noteworthy of a failure as the other two.” Chie just fumed at him angrily, prompting him to offer more constructive criticism. “I noticed that you followed the recipe book a bit, which is good. But when you saw Rise and Amagi do their own thing, you started to second-guess yourself, and tried to compensate. A chef always has to keep their wits about them in case there’s a problem in the kitchen, as there’s no shame in taking steps to get better. To be distracted from their dishes is just a recipe for disaster. No pun intended.”

    Chie’s face softened by the end. She stared bitterly at her sloppy mess of an omelet. “We tried really hard, though…”

    “Yeah! We even put in our love and everything!” Rise insisted.

    “I wouldn’t throw those words around carelessly,” he told them. “To say ‘put your love in it’ would mean to incorporate what you love in food, not throw everything in and hope something sticks.”

    “Is that a real lesson or something you made up?” Chie asked.

    “Neither. It’s something Sakura told me once.”

    Yukiko tilted her head quizzingly. “Who’s ‘Sakura’?”

    “She’s a friend back in Fuyuki.” he said without thinking, and somehow immediately regretted it.

    The girls’ reactions grew wary and uneasy, as if the room was suddenly covered in a chill. Rise in particular narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “A ‘friend’, huh?”

    “Do you… teach her cooking, too?” Chie asked shyly.

    “...yes?” Shirou answered awkwardly. “She’s my kohai so I kind of have to watch out for her, right?”

    “I-I’m your kohai too, senpai!” Rise cried. “Please teach me cooking too!”

    “H-Hey! Wait in line!” Chie snapped. “He said he’d teach all of us, remember?!”

    “I agree, although I’d argue that some of us need this more than others,” Yukiko insisted darkly.

    “The only reason you’re here is because you poisoned him, remember? At least I asked to come!”

    “More like butting in! Besides, your cooking isn’t all that better compared to us!”

    “ENOUGH.” Shirou voiced his annoyance and slight anger clearly in a single word, cowing the girls’ bickering. Letting the tension out from his pinched nose and exhaled breath, he walked over to the kitchen. “Look, just… watch me as I do this. Making an omelette is easy.”

    He gathered a bowl, fork, and some spare eggs left in a hostler. After cracking and emptying the yolk into the bowl, he whisked them with the fork to blend the two together. “First off, you need to make sure the egg is mixed well before cooking. The yolk needs to be pierced first before blending, so it’s easier to just stick with a fork for this than a whisk. A little pepper goes a long way too, but only add that after it’s thoroughly blended.”

    The girls watched him with apt interest, not a word uttered as he cooked. They noticed right away how relaxed and casual he was in his movements. No spills, no mess, and efficiently quick too. He was in his natural element.

    “High heat cooking should only be done after lots of skill and practice,” he continued, before cutting a bit of butter onto a spare pan. Then he poured the mixture onto the pan too, watching it sizzle around the edges. “The good news about low heat cooking is that it trades off time and avoids sticking. Perfect for practice.”

    “But wait, don’t you have to put the milk in first?” Chie asked, remembering the recipe she read.

    “Some do, some don’t,” Shirou answered. He continued to stir the omelette a bit in the pan with a spatula now. “It depends on what you put into it, but the point is to learn how to make a basic omelette first.”

    There was something tantalizingly interesting in watching a chef cook; the transformation of common everyday ingredients into something new and delicious. He didn’t have the flair of technique any of them (especially Yukiko) expected of an experienced chef. Rather, the only trick he did was flip the pan a bit to make the omelette jump too. He made it sound and look so easy, explained each step with more hook than any Yasogami teacher could ever hope to do.

    ...so why couldn’t they do the same thing?

    “-And that’s how you make an omelette,” he said, presenting the meal on a plate before them. They stared at it with wonder… and then confusion.

    “It looks about as plain as Yukiko-senpai’s,” Rise noted. Sure, it had a golden shine to it, but there was nothing noticeable that could make it desirable to eat like her own.

    “I’d say it looks more like some big pile of scrambled eggs,” Chie argued.

    “But, wouldn’t that mean it’s actually crumbled? Erm, ‘scrambled’?” Yukiko asked.

    “Appearance in cooking is one thing,” Shirou told them. “Usually the main deciding factor is the taste.”

    The girls exchanged looks. Part of them still felt scorned from having their own cooking graded poorly. There was still a bit of denial of just accepting Shirou as the better cook. It smelled so good though...

    “Aren’t you guys ready yet?”

    From the opposite side of the house, Nanako and Taiga had spent the day watching cutesy anime shows and the newest Magical Detective Loveline episode. Nanako was invested, but Taiga looked very bored slouched on the couch as her eyes kept wandering to the kitchen.

    “Just about,” Shirou said. “I’ll make some more, but feel free to help yourself to what’s available.”

    “FINALLY! FOOD!” Taiga cried as she barreled for the kitchen. She stood over the counter and looked over the assorted omelettes with muted excitement.

    Nanako stared between the four plates with wide-eyed enthusiasm. “Oh, this all looks so good! Which one should I try first?”

    The three girls exchanged awkward looks. They had been so confident before, thinking at least Nanako would love the meals they prepared. And to Yukiko’s credit, she felt she did better than last time. But after the dressing-down Shirou gave them, they wanted to put their meals anywhere but on a plate. Not necessarily the trash yet, but just not in the open.

    Taiga might not get what was going on, but she was far from ignorant. And reading the room, she knew that the girls were not good cooks. Letting Nanako-chan try theirs first-hand was probably a bad idea for the poor girl, so she stepped in quickly. “Let me try first, Nanako-chan! I’ll find the best one for us to share!”

    “Okay!” Nanako accepted innocently. She watched as Taiga pulled out a spoon and dug into the first omelette, to which Rise let a confident smile grow on her face. Om-Nom-No-... silence. Then a faint whistling as Taiga’s face glowed bright red.

    “BWAAAAAAAAAH!” Taiga roared, suddenly breathing fire to the shock of everyone. She jugged a glass of water immediately to douse her mouth. “TOO HOT!” she screamed before chugging a second gulp. Rise lowered her head in shame.

    After Taiga cooled down, she tried the second dish. Her face relaxed, but then she took another bite… and another, and another, licking her lips longer each time. Yukiko subtly leaned in to wait for the verdict.

    “Too cold and lifeless,” she declared, pushing the plate further away. Yukiko frowned and leaned back in her seat.

    At the third dish, Taiga took a single bite… and then immediately spat it out to the side. “Patoowie! Not right at all!” Taiga did not see Chie stare at her with a stern, indignant frown.

    Fine, their dishes sucked, but surely Shirou’s wasn’t that great, right?

    By this point, Taiga had a look of defeat of having tried three bad omelettes before going to the last one. Her spoon picked up a small piece and lopped it inside her mouth. Her eyes bulged, and then closed as a catlike smile grew on her face, complete with an audible, euphoric moan as she nibbled the spoon for all its morsels.

    “Ooooh yeah, this one is juuuust right~!” she swooned before scooping up a second, bigger, spoonful. She had no doubt who made this one. “Nanako-chan! Try this one! It’s the best of the lot!”

    Nanako walked over and took a big spoonful herself. If possible, her grin of wide-eyed wonder grew wider and cuter. “Mmmhm! You’re right! It’s delicious!”

    “As it should! Your big bro made this, no question!”

    “Wow! Really?!”

    “Of course! He’s a great cook, remember?”

    The two continued amiably while praising Shirou and the food. The Yasogami girls could only stare between themselves and the plate dejectedly, with the plain truth staring right at them.

    Shirou was the better chef, and even a third party preferred his dish over theirs. Looking it over again, they wished they had obtained some of that omelette for themselves when they had the chance.

    “Done,” Shirou announced, sliding the plate in front of the girls. “Try a bite.”

    It looked just the same as the last plate, but somehow more tantalizing than ever. A brief moment’s hesitation, and Yukiko reached for the first spoonful. Chie and Rise were soon to follow, and all three took a bite nearly at the same time.

    ...Wow.

    There… really was no comparison.

    It was so mouth-watering delicious from the first bite, and made them want to eat more. He probably used less ingredients than any one of them, but managed to refine it so well that it might as well be cuisine.

    Chie and Yukiko shared lamented glances. Oh, how they regretted not letting Shirou cook the curry during the camping trip! And Rise found herself caressing her own cheek as she chewed as much of the omelette as she could to get every last bite in.

    Shirou waited patiently as they ate, taking satisfaction and pride in their delighted faces. Hopefully this was a good first step to convince them how to properly cook from now on. Not that he minded cooking for them every now and again, perhaps for school lunches. “So what do you three think?”

    “It’s delicious!”

    “Best omelette ever!”

    “Please marry me!”

    The last of the responses was what caused Taiga to spit out her drink. Nanako was the only one startled by the spit take, as everyone else was just as baffled by the outburst. Taiga turned to them with eyes rage-white. “WHICH ONE OF YOU SAID THAT?!”

    Chie, Yukiko and Rise, staring at her like pale deers at headlights, all pointed amongst themselves. They were seated by the kitchen sink left to right. It was hard to tell which one actually said it because while two sets of fingers were pointing in one direction, they were all too close to see who. Taiga gave them each the stink-eye, trying to discern the odd one out.

    “Marry… oh, I’ve been meaning to ask you something, big bro.”

    Shirou felt both relieved and apprehensive that Nanako broke the tension. Regardless, he smiled at her and gave her his full attention. “What is it, Nanako?”

    “I’ve been thinking. You not only know Sakura-chan back home, and that other girl who Tiger-nee said gave you your bow, but Chie-chan, Yuki-chan and even Rise here.” Nanako tilted her head in curiosity. “You have a lot of girl friends, don’t you, big bro?”

    One could hear the summer cicadas click outside, and the tension grew worse than the outburst earlier. Shirou could feel pointed, worried stares from his female teammates centered on him. "Uh... I guess so?"

    "Which one is your favorite?”

    Oh god, her too!? “I, uh… can’t quite say yet.”

    “You are not convincing anyone.” He was going to have words with Angel later...

    Nanako continued her innocent probing. “So you're not worried about their cooties?"

    "Excuse me?" What was she implying?

    Taiga was suddenly all smiles as she knelt to the youngest girl's height and patted her head. "Oh, Nanako-chan, cooties is just a made up word by silly boys who don't understand romance!"

    "Oh," the girl said, easily impressed. The two were now being corralled back to the couch, carrying one of Shirou’s omelettes to eat.

    "And there's no need to worry about Shirou being with a lot of girls at once for long!" she added jovially. “Because if he does, then he’ll be forced to move in with your mother in heaven! And we certainly don’t want that.

    Shirou gulped, and he swore he heard at least one of the girls doing so too. Somehow Fuji-nee made a threat to his life sound so subtle and yet so teasingly sweet to Nanako’s ears. At least suspicions on his love-life had been put on hold again.

    “L-Let’s clean up!” Chie declared suddenly. “I mean, we have plenty of… well, not so much good but… we’re good on food and we certainly shouldn’t overstay our welcome here!”

    “Yeah, I have a lunch rush at the inn coming up!” Yukiko added quickly. The two of them took their failed dishes and dumped them in the trash without a second thought.

    “Oh, me too!” Rise followed suit to empty her dish before waiting behind them in line to wash the plates. Shirou took this moment to untie his apron and hang it by the stove handle. He needed a bit of a break dealing with another round of love-life questioning.

    Still, why the hell did that keep coming up!? Just because he interacted with the fairer sex several times didn’t mean he was some "harem show protagonist", did it? What happened today was just an odd circumstance. They were all friends first and foremost.

    Besides, I have plenty of male friends! I have the Social Links to prove it! Magician and Star. Counting the Hierophant link with Doji-nii, that’s three male bonds! And for the females I know personally are Sun and Justice. Then, Chariot, Priestess, Lovers… Empress… Aeon… Does Hermit count?

    Okay, maybe those weren’t good examples. Fuji-nee’s Sun aside, all those links were from Inaba. I must have made more friends in Fuyuki! And no, coworkers and family don’t count.

    Let’s start backwards this time. I know for certain that only Sakura and Mitsuzuri are my female friends. As for the male ones, there’s Issei, and… and… well not Shinji anymore. Wow, I have even less friends in Fuyuki than Inaba, and I’ve only been in Inaba for three months. Then that means…

    Shirou’s head banged off the stove with a dull thud, startling the girls but he didn’t notice or care. The shadow over his eyes hid the wide-eyed horror of his epiphany. Oh Izanagi my life really is a harem show, isn’t it? The only thing that could make it worse is if half the men I knew were secretly women in drag!

    <><><>

    Meanwhile, somewhere in Inaba…

    “-choo!”

    <><><>

    July 8th, Junes, After School*


    It had been almost a week since Kanji’s rescue, and the team relaxed on their reprieve. Whenever Shirou wasn’t making the rounds around town (or getting harassed for dating advice), he was hanging out with friends or family. Giving Taiga a tour around Inaba, while also remembering to show the new “sights” to Rise later. Training with Chie by the riverbed while discussing moving plans with Yukiko. Spending the night talking with either his uncle or younger sister. Working at Moel, or very rarely filling in part-time at Junes (like today).

    By now Shirou felt he had a good feel for Junes like the back of his hand. When not heading to the electronics store, or the food court, he would sometimes swing by the grocery department for some good deals, or marvel at the many specialized departments that truly showed why Junes was outperforming the shopping district stores. Not to mention all the sales they promoted for frugal shoppers. However, Junes refused to sell weapons or medicine without any sort of prescription notice, so there was no reason for the Investigation Team to take their business there.

    And Shirou didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of working there when he had a job at Moel already. Still, he was willing to step in because Yosuke needed help. It was especially true as he looked increasingly tired as the work day went on.

    It was only after their shifts ended and they were resting at the desk that he inquired about it. “Are you okay, Yosuke?”

    Yosuke let out a long dejected sigh that sounded more dour than usual. He was staring at his phone longingly, waiting for a call or text to happen. “I’d be lying if I said I was. It’s just… Sacchin hasn’t called back all week.”

    “What?” Shirou was baffled. Yosuke’s girlfriend struck him as the clingy type, and should have jumped at the chance to have him all for herself. “You two were practically attached to the hip all of last week, though.”

    “I know, it’s weird!” Yosuke said. “One day she just said that she was going to be busy doing some errands, and hasn’t returned any of my texts or calls since. I also tried checking up at her place and there wasn’t anybody home. Not even her brother.”

    “That is concerning,” Shirou scratched his chin in thought. Her whole character was a mystery, from her sudden appearance in Inaba to how peculiar their meeting was. With the urgency of saving Kanji looming over them at the time, he didn’t think too much about it. But maybe she had tried to use magecraft on him at their first meeting? “I wonder…”


    “Wonder what?’ Yosuke asked. His face then started to pale as he came to a grim realization. “Y-You don’t think she might have gotten caught by the killer, right? Like what happened with Saki-senpai?”

    “There have been no new rumors going around since Kanji, so I think we’re in the clear there.” Shirou reasoned. “We’ll just have to keep an eye out for her in the meantime.”

    “Y-Yeah, she’ll be fine,” Yosuke agreed, if mostly for his own benefit. Shirou didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was suspecting her as the culprit.

    “Dammit, today was just the worst!”

    A loud shrill cry came from one of the two female Junes employees at the far end of the empty food court. The gaudy looking, student-aged girl continued her rant, adding, “If I had known today would be so busy, I would have called in sick.”

    “I know, right?” her snooty friend added, just as loud. “I mean, 500 yen is barely worth a bonus. At this rate I’ll never save up for my graduation trip.”

    “Think we can ask for more? Hanamura’s son is right over there.”

    They looked over to Shirou and Yosuke’s table, unaware that they had been listening to them. A moment later, they looked away with evident fear. “Well, I don’t see his new girlfriend around,” the gaudy one remarked.

    “Think it’s safe to try?” the snooty one asked.

    They stared back at Yosuke for a moment longer, before unbridled fear forced them to look away again. “O-On second thought, let’s not. It’s not like he’d actually do anything to help.”

    “Y-yeah! And he’d probably complain to her after. N-Not that we’re scared of her or anything!”

    “Right! ‘Cuz we’re not!”

    Yosuke snickered to himself. It didn’t take much for Shirou to discern that these two were the problem workers mentioned the other day. Clearly whatever Sacchin said to them was well deserved and still left a mark.

    “But seriously, we need more money,” the gaudy one affirmed, as the two resumed walking through the court. “I might have to ask my parents to help pay for my graduation.”

    “Why not just get a guy to help pay for it?” the snooty one suggested. “That’s what Saki did last year, right?”

    Like a switch, Yosuke’s good humor fell, replaced by a despondent look.

    The gaudy student chuckled. “Funny story how that turned out. She apparently got together with a college guy and left with him. Before long, she came right back like a whipped dog, saying she’d save money and skip town her own way.”

    “Does that mean she got dumped?” the snooty student asked.

    “Dunno, but what I do know is that she started working here for money…”

    By now the two had walked far away that their loud gossipping couldn’t be carried over. Shirou had half a mind to go over and give the two a piece of his mind, but didn’t want to leave his friend in a shocked state.

    The magus didn’t need Pixie to tell him exactly what was wrong. Yosuke might have a girlfriend now and be trying to move on, but he still cared for and missed Saki. The fact that she died hating him only made the guilt inside him feel worse.

    “Yosuke--”

    “I know what you’re gonna say,” he cut him off. “And it’s fine. It doesn’t matter. It’s all just hot air, not going to let that get to me.”

    Yosuke was clearly hurting, from how he was grinding his teeth to trying to find the words to say. But he kept up a brave front. “We… we’re the only ones who can avenge Saki-senpai, and protect people like Sacchin from this ever happening again,” Yosuke said. “We’re special. We’re the only ones who can do this.”

    “...yeah, you’re right,” Shirou agreed. It surprised him to hear Yosuke sound this serious, this driven, to solve the case and protect the town. He never thought he would meet anyone else in his life willing to take the risk.

    Yosuke chuckled, clearly relieved a little bit. “I don’t know if it’s luck, fate, or destiny, or even something else entirely. But I think it was a very good thing that someone like you came along, Shirou. I doubt I could have gotten this far without you, much less mature past the kid in me inside the TV.”

    “Da da da daaaaaa~!”

    His Personas always seem to find the right word to end on, and Shirou felt just that much more accomplished hearing Pixie sing.

    <><><>

    July 9th, Evening, Shiroku’s*

    Taiga giggled with an intoxicated face as she stepped out of the shop-turned-night-bar and waved goodbye to the owner inside. “Thanks for the booze, Shiroku-bachan! I’ll be back tomorrow~!”

    Old Lady Shiroku was practically unrecognizable from her morning appearance, now sporting heavy make-up, hair-spray, and a red rubber dress. She barely gave her new favorite patron a glance as she cleaned one of her glasses. “Just don’t get lost, Taiga-chan. It’s raining hard tonight.”

    “Kaaaaay!” she replied amiably as she started to leave with nothing but a thick raincoat to protect her from the elements.

    She had grown to really like Inaba in the short time since she had moved over. Everyone liked to gossip, so she learned a lot of stories from people after a few consecutive nights of drinking. Stories of the man scared of cats, the ghost lady collecting bugs and fishes, and a little errand boy trying so hard to get a lonely girl’s attention.

    Of course, there was a lot of talk about the murder case. But without anyone actually showing up dead since the Konishi student a few months ago, interest had died down a bit. Some speculated that the killer had gotten cold feet and skipped town, with any disappearances being a coincidence. More thought that they were trying but failing to kill the new missing students, and waiting for the opportune moment.

    It wasn’t much, but Taiga felt like she was on the right track. Almost like she was being guided by another butterfly. Like hell I’m going to let Shirou handle this on his own.

    So absorbed in thinking about her new gossip material, and slightly stumbling in her steps, she didn’t notice the other person she was passing by until they bumped shoulders. “Ahh!”

    “Gah!” he grunted, snarling at her under his umbrella. “Watch where you’re going, you, you... young lady!”

    Taiga scowled at him. “Same to you, you hunchback beaver!”

    “Oh, like I haven’t heard that one before,” said ‘beaver’ rolled his eyes. He was just as tipsy as she was, if not more from the brief moment he fought upchucking his booze. “Iiii don’t have time for this! Young girls like you *hic* should go straight home to the books, not screwing with boys on exam week!”

    “Who are you, my dad?” Taiga said. She didn’t know what was more insulting: being accused of being a young student or an easy girl.

    “I might as well be! Now go home already, missy!”

    Taiga’s mood soured further, and knew she couldn’t stand being around this man for another second. “I’m going, I’m going!” She briskly walked further down the dark street. She had recently rented a place for herself and it was just a short walk away from the shopping district and Dojima’s house. She was so looking forward to a shower and bed right about now.

    “Good!” the drunk man nodded, watching her for a moment before lumbering forward. He didn’t get far before he noticed another person further up the road, standing under the streetlight by the shrine. “And that goes double for you too!”

    The young figure in the rain didn’t move, but as he lumbered forward, the drunk Morooka could make out the kid he’d seen once or twice by the skewer stop, Souzai Daigaku.

    “You...you’re that Kubo kid, ain’t ya? Think you’re hot stuff because you go to a cram school, *hic* while pestering girls at Yasogami High? You’re damn lucky you’re not in my school, because I’d have your ass expelled faster than you can say the Junes catchphrase!”

    The boy didn’t move or react as the teacher got closer. It got him more riled than usual. “Well? Got nothing to say, you smelly orange?!” Morooka stalked closer. He knew that he shouldn’t bother the annoying little brat, but he was drunk and more than a little cranky. Not getting proper respect had a little to do with it too. “I’ll see to it that your worthless future is ruined, you hear me?!”

    “No one is going to miss you when you die.”*

    Kinshiro Morooka did not have a moment to question the new voice, let alone scream, when he felt his neck be punctured by something sharp.

    He could only watch in horror as Mitsuo Kubo’s smile grew wide and giddy, as if watching something morbidly amusing. He wanted to run. He wanted to scream. He wanted to at least punch the brat’s face in, but his entire body failed him. There was a sickening warmth from his neck while everything else turned cold.

    Morooka’s voice cracked weakly as if he was being choked, struggling to look at what was wrong with his neck. He saw a young girl leaning down from behind, kissing his neck- no… biting it. Enough to draw blood. Even suck it down a bit?

    When the girl pulled away, her lips and cheeks were bloody, idly being licked at with her tongue. “Not very filling, but that should be enough. Finish the job, Mitsy!”

    Finish? What are they--?

    “RAAAAAAH!”

    SKLCH!

    Morooka’s body was flung to the ground as he felt another sudden pain in his body. This time from the screaming fish-eyed brat lunging at him with a knife embedded in his abdomen.

    This… was this some kind of joke? Dying by a pair of young teenagers with a vendetta towards him? Was this occult or something?

    No one would notice him, or save him. He could only stare up at the rainy sky and the two teens looking down at him. The boy seemed to have a bit of panic in his eyes, while the girl regarded him with cold indifference.

    “I… I can’t believe it! I actually ki--!”

    “You did it, Mitsy. You’re finally a hero.”

    With that, in the cold dead of a rainy Inaba night, King Moron breathed his last breath.

    A/N: added asterisks so it would be easier to find the song links (before some eventually become unplayable)
    Last edited by Kishou the Badger; November 2nd, 2020 at 10:41 PM.

  10. #430
    祖 Ancestor Alternative Ice's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Phoenix
    Age
    30
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    1,480
    Welp king moron's dead, time to finally find out what is going on with Sacchin.

    I wonder if Kagutsuchi is aligned to a particular arcana?

    I know this is really late in the game to be asking this but why haven't the team tried more to get people to start accepting their shadows before they're beaten since that weakens them and each shadow seems to be stronger than the last?
    Quote Originally Posted by Nasu
    I don't care if it doesn't make sense. I don't have any intent of making it make sense.

  11. #431
    Quote Originally Posted by Alternative Ice View Post
    Welp king moron's dead, time to finally find out what is going on with Sacchin.

    I wonder if Kagutsuchi is aligned to a particular arcana?

    I know this is really late in the game to be asking this but why haven't the team tried more to get people to start accepting their shadows before they're beaten since that weakens them and each shadow seems to be stronger than the last?
    Kagutsuchi is implied to be Shirou's own Persona. Since my own headcanon believe Shirou at the start of this story to be the reversed Fool, or even the Jester Arcana (/Hunger), Kagutsuchi would represent that. I wanted to say max Fool, but it probably wouldn't fit with the other Fool oriented Persona; "Mythological figures of the Fool Arcana are often heroes, fools or the protagonists of their own mythological stories."(SMT fandom wiki,https://megamitensei.fandom.com/wiki/Fool_Arcana)

    They tried to stop Shadows preemptively, but it's not exactly easy to accept your flaws when you want to just ignore them. Especially as a teenager. Chie tried accepting herself after seeing what happened with Yosuke, but she still kept some secrets to herself and then got ripped a new one for trying to play lipservice. Then they tried to get Yukiko out first before confronting the shadow, as they realized that it's their best chance to avoid a confrontation if the Shadow didn't start airing out grievances. It was by that point that at least Shirou recognized the futility of trying to make sure the targeted person doesn't crack, as anything they might say or do to intervene will make things worse (can't even attack the shadow mid-rant).

    By Rise they got caught flat-footed on bad timing, and by Kanji they got blind-sided by his Nice/Tough Guy duo.

  12. #432
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    According to most, my own little world
    Age
    41
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    8,191
    Blog Entries
    194
    Ah, it's back - and it has lost nothing to time . . .

    Marie remains adorable (Rin should feel threatened; her position of Best Tsundere is in jeopardy ), Taiga is the funniest she's ever been, in anything I've seen her in (kudos!), the girls remain a [I]riot/I] (I also want to know which one of them said that), and Sacchin . . . Well, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'd actually forgotten that she was in this - but it made seeing even the mention of her all the more delightful. And when she actually appeared . . .

    All in all, this is the most satisfying chapter yet, on so many levels. Delighted to see you back, and hope you remain well enough to continue on. Thank you!
    “Love will be cruel to who it entices — love will have its sacrifices.”

    — Carmilla Theme




    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."

    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette




  13. #433
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors lethum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    About 75º west of Greenwich.
    Posts
    4,854
    Blog Entries
    2
    I don't have a lot to say, but I've been following this fic for a long while. From the beginning? I was probably around, and skipped this because I've never played a persona game.

    Then I read it and it was good.

    Not that I have many opinions that I feel like sharing, but I'm keeping my eye on this fic until it's over. And maybe after it's over, too.

  14. #434
    Fate/Reach Out
    Chapter 41: Ethical Effort

    Philosophy was never a well-liked class in Yasogami. It was hard enough in the rest of the curriculum to study and research how to answer questions in topics like literature, history, and science. There was usually only one right answer to such questions. But not Philosophy.

    And King Moron made sure to hammer that point across, much to the dismay of his students.

    “The Greeks broke their ancient philosophy down to three sciences: physics, ethics, and logic,” he explained. “Physics obviously relates to the laws that make up the world around us, which we discuss through the use of math and science. The logic part comes in via common sense, based on part of the universal laws and experience. It’s the part where you come up with your damn memes and jokes.”

    Although the class was silently digesting his lecture, a number of them rolled their eyes in an effort to fight the urge to groan or express displeasure vocally. King Moron never missed a beat in squeezing in some insulting barb to them.

    “And to round it off, ethics are the difference between right from wrong. What determines what is good or moral choices. I’m sure you brats were all taught such ethics when growing up, like how to keep your yaps quiet or disciplined when you do something wrong.”

    Yosuke scoffed under his breath, “Like any of this is important.”

    “I heard that, Hanamura,” the teacher said. Right away the teen flinched and tried to look inconspicuous (paying attention, writing ‘notes’ on his paper). “You have trouble with authority? Well, maybe if you apply philosophy into your daily life, you might understand how ‘important’ it really is. So tell me, what do you plan to do in your future?”

    “Huh? Oh, well… just kick back in a manager’s office with a beautiful wife, nothing special.”

    Morooka’s frown narrowed. “I believe I owe you an apology, Hanamura.”

    “Really?”

    “Such a simple dream has no need for any critical thinking, so it’s wasted on you.” Right away Yosuke’s hopes were dashed, feeling unfairly put down by King Moron. Shirou did feel the statement was unfair, no matter how true it might have been.

    “What about you, Emiya? What’s your plan for the future?”

    Oh, so now it was his turn. Well, if he was going to be publicly embarrassed, might as well do it with gusto.

    “I want to be an ally of justice.” He said clearly. “I want to save people like a hero would.”

    He heard Yosuke snort in front of him. A few other students giggled as well. And Morooka just stared at him, baffled. Clearly no one expected such a childish life goal from Shirou, of all people.

    “Why?”

    Shirou blinked, almost missing the question. “Huh?”

    “Why do you want to be an ally of justice?”

    He had plenty of reasons, but all of them were personal, private, and a sensitive topic to go over. “I just…do. That’s all.”

    His teacher scoffed, before walking back to the blackboard. “Let me rephrase the question, Emiya: do you HAVE to be an ally of justice, or do you WANT to?”

    Again, Shirou was confused. Looking over to Satonaka next to him, he could see that she and the other students were sharing similar expressions of bafflement. “…is there a difference, sensei?”

    “The need to do good can be expressed as ‘duty’, while the want is out of the interest in ‘self-love’,” Morooka explained, as he finished writing the English words “GOOD WILL”. “Nothing in the world, or even beyond that for that matter, can ever be called good or moral unless it has a reason to be. A ‘good will’. You can list so many different virtues as to why you do good things: smarts, athletics, judgment, tenacity. But they can just as easily be bad virtues if, say, the serial killer had them. Thus, making it a bad will.”

    The casual mention of ‘serial killer’ perked a few students’ attention, the Investigation Team included.

    “If you truly just want to help people out of the goodness of your heart, then it can be called a good will. If you have any sort of ulterior motive in mind, then it can’t be called ethical, even under good intentions. Compensation, notoriety, prowess… like it or not, the ends will not justify the means as they are never the end until the day we die.”

    Dead silence. Shirou was mystified. It was typical to feel like dying when going through King Moron’s rants and spiels, but this felt uncomfortably dark.

    “So, wait,” a student asked, raising his hand. “Does that mean there’s no meaning in life at all?”

    “If you ask philosophers in the field of Nihilism, then yes, life ultimately has no meaning. But we’re not talking about that yet. We’re going over Kantianism.”

    Then, Morooka lifted his textbook to rest open on one hand and began reading. “‘We have, then, to develop the concept of a will which is to be esteemed as good in itself without regard to anything else. It dwells already in the natural and sound understanding and does not need so much to be taught as only to be brought to light. In order to show this, we shall take the concept of duty. It contains the concept of a good will, though with certain subjective restrictions and hindrances, but these are far from concealing it and making it unrecognizable, for they rather bring it out by contrast and make it shine forth all the more brightly.’”

    Shirou could see why Morooka was a teacher for a reason. When he got into his lectures, he had charisma that commanded others to listen. Shirou felt especially drawn, hearing the theory explained so clearly to him. Except not many students seemed interested at all. They were either dozing off or looking at their textbooks in a way to ignore him.

    Morooka continued reading. “‘On the other hand, it is a duty to preserve one’s life, and moreover everyone has a direct inclination to do so. But for that reason, the often anxious care which most men take of it has no intrinsic worth and the maxim of dosing so has no moral import. They preserve their lives according to duty, but not from duty.’” He snapped the book shut in his hand, looking directly at Emiya in particular. “In short, an act of kindness or heroic justice can only be called morally good if it’s acted on a strong duty, or obligation.”

    Had it been anyone else, it might have been profound or deep. But the silence was more of apathy than awe, as if they had heard such spiels before.

    “At least according to Kant,” he said, before casually setting the book down and pacing the classroom. Just like that, the moment was gone. “And personally, I think Kantianism is garbage. It revolves around the idea that humans are just rational creatures, limiting our potential. There are many other empirical theories that argue against this, stating what they think is the real reason to do ethical actions.”

    Yosuke, more annoyed than usual from the class, couldn’t stop himself from crying out indignantly. “Then why the hell are you teaching us a theory you don’t even believe in?!”

    “Because I’m teaching you little brats how to think for once!” King Moron roared back. “Think on what you personally think is important, just like all these thinkers did! Laying the groundwork of research for others to expand and grow from! That’s the whole point of philosophy!

    “If you don’t like something, then argue it! Look for something that makes sense! Preach it to the heavens, for all I care! You can agree with me or not. Like Kantianism or not. Like Nihilism or not. But never assume you know everything. That’s what Socrates taught us; true wisdom is knowing you don’t know everything.”

    At that moment, the bell to end the day had rang, letting the class heave a collective sigh of relief. Morooka was first to collect his things off the front desk, before giving one last announcement. “Consider that your homework assignment! Find an empirical theory you believe is true to some form and why. I expect it to be ready when you take finals.”

    The majority of the class groaned and expressed annoyance. Not as loudly or visually, as he always looked for an excuse to lambast someone.

    With the students free to spend the rest of the day as they wanted, they paid no mind to their teacher leaving.

    It was the last time any of them saw him alive.

    <><><>
    July 10th, Shopping District, Early Morning

    For some reason, Shirou felt the need to walk by the Shopping District. He rationalized that it was to check up on Kanji, or how Fuji-nee was doing in her new apartment. Maybe even do a jog to work on his cardio. He ignored the nagging knot in his stomach that something was wrong, as he brushed it off as nerves after a harrowing rescue. He’d lost an arm after all, and nothing short of divine intervention from a friend fixed it.

    The fog was still lingering after days of rain, giving the town an eerie look in the early morning. It was hard to see a few of the buildings. Inaba was normally quiet and inactive, but it could easily pass as a ghost town if tourists didn’t know any better.

    It was just very early morning, and not everyone would be up yet. He didn’t think his friends would be up unless they had a job, like the inn or Junes. And he knew for sure that Taiga wouldn’t be up unless she had breakfast to look forward to. Yes, he just needed to get her breakfast. Some eggs and rice might be good.

    Yes, maybe even some tamako kake gohan, with soy sauce, mirin, chopped nori, a second egg, and maybe some red sakura denbu-

    Red?

    Shirou doubled-back from his walk; on the street pavement was a blotch of dark red liquid, dried and splattered as if falling from the sky like a raindrop. His sharp senses told him what it clearly was, but he denied the possibility. Even if he could see and smell other red markings next to it, also dried up from the mid-summer heat.

    Against his better judgment, Shirou slowly craned his head up to see where it had come from. His peripheral vision noticed a telephone pole close to where he was standing, but he ignored that. It had to be just a coincidence.

    But nothing could deny the truth of what he saw dangling in the sky.

    A mangled corpse hanging from a water tower, supported by a twisted (broken?) leg clutching the railing. Dried blood having once spilled from stiff limbs and dangling parts of clothes. A familiar position that he had never seen before but had heard of firsthand.

    Worse… it was someone he recognized.

    No.

    No, no, no no no!

    “AAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

    A scream broke out from a startled woman just leaving her house. Suddenly the street was more aware, as others looked out their windows and doors. Already murmurs started to rise, and many pulled out their phones to call the police or take pictures.

    Shirou didn’t stay for the gathering, as he had a more pressing concern to look into. He hurried down the street, at least being quick but conspicuous enough not to look suspiciously involved.

    When he made the turn at the corner, he sprinted for all his worth to Fuji-nee’s address. She had to be fine. There was no way she was caught up in this now of all times, months after she appeared on the Midnight Channel, right?!

    Shirou arrived at the building that was her living address and found the apartment door she was in. He was reaching for his spare key to her door in his pocket but stopped when he noticed that the door was ajar and broken at the lock. He gulped and pushed the door open, walking inside.

    He didn’t need to be a magus, or a detective really, to know there was a scuffle here. Granted, Taiga Fujimura never really learned how to clean up after herself unless it was on a plate. But dirty clothes? Papers and pens for grading? Manga and light novels left half-read? That was one kind of disorganized mess.

    It wasn’t like a pushed over sofa, or shattered glass from a beverage. And… it was so small he barely noticed walking over the small flat, but there were a few pieces of shredded cloth that looked like they belonged to her green dress.

    There was no body… yet. Taiga was nowhere in the apartment, and the worst one could assume was that there had been a fight in her room. A kidnapping, maybe? Or even…

    He looked over to the table stand, where a big, blocky-sized TV stood. Slightly shifted off its original resting place, judging by the indent it left where the dust hadn’t collected over.

    There was no mistake of the implication. She was pushed into the other world by the killer. “Dammit. Fuji-nee…”

    No, worrying about her wasn’t going to help. He might have been too late for one teacher, but there was time to save the other, surely.

    With nothing else in the room to find, he walked briskly out the door and dialed a number on his phone. “Satonaka? Get the others. We have another victim, possibly two.”

    <><><>
    Junes Food Court, Afternoon

    “Wait, King Moron? Seriously?!”

    It was no secret that many Yasogami High students hated the meanest teacher at their school. Deep down, Yosuke hoped he was the culprit involved in the string of murders lately because he seemed like a likely scapegoat. What’s one more justification over his seemingly irrational hatred over students and their hormones?

    But there was no joy, relief, or satisfaction that he died like this. He was an asshole, but not even he deserved to be a murder victim. No one deserved to die like this. And on top of that, Taiga Fujimura was likely thrown in too?

    “I confirmed as much when I first saw it and heard others from the crowd as well before the police arrived,” Shirou explained. “It was our teacher, all right.”

    “B-But that breaks all the rules!” Chie stammered. She didn’t know if it was the summer heat or stress, but even wearing summer casual clothes didn’t help them from feeling this distraught. “What about the Midnight Channel? Or the news? No one would seriously think about him through the talking board thing, either!”

    “It can’t all just be a coincidence up until this point, right?” Rise wondered fearfully. “I mean, killing one person instantly and then sending senpai’s guardian inside at the same time?”

    “Maybe we don’t know anything about the Midnight Channel,” Yukiko said. “Or our culprit, for that matter.”

    “Dammit!” Yosuke slammed his fists on the table. “After all that, we’re back to square one?! I mean, trying to catch a culprit even the police couldn’t find? What the hell were we thinking?”

    “We were thinking of preventing another death like this from happening.”

    Somehow, Shirou’s cutting words snapped them out of their cloud of despair. Now that he had their undivided attention, he continued. “We’ve prevented three potential deaths so far and have come out stronger each time for it. If we stopped here because of a setback, then the culprit wins. Fuji-nee’s still out there and I’m certainly not going to give up now. I made a promise to her to get out of this case alive.

    “And so what if we don’t know everything about the case? Or the Midnight Channel? We’ll just keep figuring it out. That’s what King Moron taught us, remember? ‘True wisdom is knowing you don’t know everything’.”

    The tension around the table eased considerably, and it was clear that his words had gotten through to them. Although still worried of the daunting task ahead of them, it was all the more reason they needed to work together able-minded. In particular, Chie and Yukiko exchanged determined nods and smiles.

    Rise clutched her hands close to her chest and beamed. “Ooooh, my fragile idol heart’s swooning, senpai! You really are a cool leader!”

    “Man, you make it sound so easy, partner,” Yosuke sighed with a ghost of a smile. “But yeah, we promised the bear too, didn’t we? Can’t really give up after coming this far, or else he’d be bawling his eye stamps out.”

    “Hey, that’s right!” Chie exclaimed. “Teddie should know what happened to Fujimura-san and King Moron! Let’s go see him!”

    “But what about Kanji-kun?” Yukiko asked. “Shouldn’t we check up on him, just in case?”

    Shirou had considered that and figured checking up on him meant ‘ask him to join the team’. Knowing Kanji, he’d do so in a heartbeat and put his physical prowess to good use. But for all they knew, he was probably still under close watch from Naoto, and by extension the rest of the police department. “We’ll check up on him later, after we get this matter sorted out. One more day of rest might be good for him.”

    “If you say so…”

    <><><>
    TV World, Teddie’s Hub Space

    The entrance to Teddie’s world looked as dour as expected for a floor with murder outlines, but it was still nice to see it look a little home-y with Teddie’s sleeping arrangements set up. It was his home, after all, and he knew the team would come through the same TV every time.

    “Hey, Ted? You got a min…ute?” Yosuke trailed off as they neared the corner of his ‘room’. Everyone was similarly dumbfounded and silent.

    “Uh, hub! Huuh! Whoa! Haa!” Teddie grunted with each bounce of his small feet. If that wasn’t enough, he moved his equally short arms up and down.

    “Is he… exercising?” Chie ventured.

    “Looks more like he’s flopping around like a fish,” Rise said.

    “Ha! Hoa! Huh?” Teddie stopped mid-bounce, and his expression brightened seeing everyone. “Oh! Shirou-sensei! Everyone! You’re here!”

    “What was all that about?” Chie asked.

    “Well, I’ve been deli-bear-ating. You guys have been doing all the fighting with your Personas, while little ‘ol me is just stuck with a nose getting more and more clogged up.” The bear then leaned forward in a stretch, trying to reach his toes. Given how top-heavy his build was, he managed only a few inches. “I thought that -urk!- maybe if I get a little closer to my dream bod, I’d awaken a Persona or something too, maybe.”

    “You have a dream bod?” Yosuke teased with a smile. “What, like one of those bodybuilders from Kanji’s sauna?”

    “I was thinking more like Shirou-sensei, actually. He’s a lean, mean, stud-scoring machine!”

    Shirou pinched his nose close to his eyes. He could feel the stares of his teammates directed at him ranging from amused to annoyance… and Yukiko seemingly uttering a dark curse under her breath. “Well, as flattered as I am of your goals, Teddie,” Shirou began. “I’m afraid this visit is business-related.”

    “Oh, kinda figured,” Teddie frowned slightly and stood back upright. “So, what’s up?”

    “Did you notice anyone getting thrown into the TV last night?”

    Teddie “Hmm”ed as he stroked the spot that was likely his chin. “So, I wasn’t just imagining things. I definitely smelled two- no, three people coming in at once at some point. Through the same TV even, but that’s about it.”

    That threw the group for a loop. “Three people?” Yosuke echoed.

    “I know, right?! Luckily, it only really changed one spot, so my world didn’t get any more messed up than usual. Except I think it got really, really messed up compared to the other places. Like dark and ominous-y.”

    Right away, Rise moved several paces away from the group and summoned her Persona. Himiko moved her head back and forth like a radar, blipping to her visor the changes in the TV world. “Teddie’s got a point. I’m sensing a big shift up north of here, bigger than anything before it.”

    “So, what, the culprit is pulling off triple-time?” Chie asked. “I mean, I can understand maybe Emiya-kun’s guardian. But no one else appeared on Midnight Channel that we’ve missed, right?”

    “Maybe they’re her peers?” Rise suggested, dismissing her Persona. “Close friends she brought with her on her furlough?”

    “No,” Shirou said firmly, shaking his head. “Fuji-nee said she came alone to Inaba, and part of the reason I assume is because she wanted to be away from her… co-workers.”

    Then again, didn’t she use her Yakuza connections to find his uncle Dojima in the first place? Maybe they were unfortunate casualties to this scenario, but there was no way to know for sure yet.

    “Do you think she knew King Moron personally?” Yosuke suggested. “They were thrown in at the same time.”

    “Definitely not. He was an abrasive person to begin with, and she’s… well, she’d react much like Satonaka would in her place.”

    An odd sense of pride and embarrassment filled Chie, feeling what she heard was a compliment. She thought back to how the older woman reacted to the news anchor unwittingly calling her “tiger” and giggled. “I so want to be like her when I grow up.”

    “Then maybe your guardian killed King Moron by accident?”

    “That’s also impossible. Fuji-nee is always careful about her strength in kendo, and doesn’t go around hurting others. The worst she could do for revenge is a practical joke.”

    Yosuke snapped his fingers, annoyed that the theory was shot. “Then why was King Moron killed so quickly?”

    “Maybe he got unlucky and was killed right after he was pushed in. We just have to make sure no one else dies until we can get them out.”

    Teddie blinked owlishly, his eyes as small as dots in alarm. “Wait, what?”

    “Well, we found someone dead back in our world already. So that means there’s two people still here.” Yosuke explained.

    Teddie looked at everyone else, who nodded in agreement. The bear held his head worriedly, as if feeling a migraine. “What are you talking about? No one’s left here!”

    “What are you talking about? We saw the corpse of our jackass teacher King Moron this morning, right after the rain last night!”

    “That doesn’t change the fact that you’re wrong!”

    “How the hell am I wrong!? Three people got in, one died and got out! What’s so hard to understand?”

    Teddie looked very bristled, and stared back at Yosuke. The teen towered over him, but at that moment, it was Teddie who looked to be the more dominant figure. “Let me put this in a way you can understand, Yosuke. Three people got in. No one got out yet. And before you ask; yes, this was before you guys showed up today!”

    “Are you absolutely sure? I mean, you’ve told us before you’ve been having trouble smelling around here lately.”

    “Just because I can’t pick up someone’s scent perfectly doesn’t mean I can’t tell when this world changes! Three people are here! End of discussion!”

    Yosuke gulped, backing away and waving his hands in defense. The bear could be pretty scary when he wanted to be. “O-Okay, if you say so, Ted…”

    “But if that’s true,” Yukiko wondered aloud. “Then our teacher wasn’t pushed inside? Then how did he die?”

    Shirou, having seen the body himself, thought back to the signs. “He bled to death, most likely. Something, or someone, stabbed him enough times to stain his clothes. Then hanged him by the water tower to look like the other deaths.”

    “Why does that matter?” Chie argued. “Plenty of Shadows have teeth or blades that can work for puncture wounds. We fought a giant grass baby for crying out loud!”

    The Momentary Child, a child-like Shadow as Chie had described that was seen wandering the Striptease the other day. During their break from rescuing Kanji, the team went back there for some training and teamwork. Compared to the Contrarian King, that fight was much more manageable due to their higher level of experience.

    “It matters because it might be different from the other bodies. It would help us to know if Yamano or Konishi were found with similar wounds.”

    “No… they weren’t.” Yosuke’s bitter words spoke of certainty. He’d paid extra close attention to how Saki died and any rumors of how they found her body. “This case is so confusing to the cops in the first place because there’s no sign of how the victims died. Rumors came up that they were poisoned to death but couldn’t figure out how or why.”

    “A Shadow killing them in this world could probably do that,” Teddie explained sadly. “The body returns fine, but the psyche and soul are gone.”

    As the rest of the team mulled over the dark topic, Shirou thought over the details once more. “In any case, I think we can conclude that our late teacher didn’t die in the TV world, but in our world.”

    “Yeah, but was it really our culprit? Or someone that got lucky to get revenge on King Moron?” Yosuke asked.

    “I don’t know yet, but I intend to find out. There are three people here right now, and Fuji-nee’s likely one of them.” He turned to their team scanner. “Rise, can you locate the new dungeon if you had just one person to work off of?”

    “As long as they’re in the same area, I think so,” she answered, resummoning her Persona again. “I take it you want me to find your Fuji-nee?”

    “What else do you need to know, though?” Yosuke argued. “From what I’ve seen and heard, she’s basically an older, stronger, more comical Chie Satonaka. Heck, I bet she has the same low points.”

    Rise quickly pried the visor off her face, jubilant glee evident on her features. “Ooooh! Like what her Shadow was like? Tell me, tell me!”

    “Don’t you dare!” Chie roared with a red flush. Her anger hid away her embarrassment pretty well, but Shirou had a feeling she was equal parts shy and mad.

    “Come on, it’s for the investigation! What’s a little secret gossip between friends?” Yosuke clearly meant it in teasing, but him looking between Yukiko and Shirou for confirmation could be taken more of judging her reaction regarding them.

    Chie was now gritting her teeth and barely grounded out her threat. “Stop being an ass, Hanamura, or I’ll bring up your painful secret!” That was enough of a reaction to elicit a loud gulp from him.

    “Knock it off. Both of you,” Shirou scolded sharply. They exchanged awkward glances before looking away, fortunately dropping it. It was ironic that they still couldn’t admit their secrets to new team members. If the Investigation Team was going to keep working together, they’d need to iron out all their interpersonal issues.

    But that would have to wait. He turned back to Rise, who reluctantly went back to scrying herself. “It’s true that Fuji-nee shares similarities to Satonaka; upbeat, athletic, determined. She’s usually more laidback and enjoys sleeping and eating whenever given the chance.”

    “Definitely Satonaka,” Yosuke noted aloud. Chie glared at him as Yukiko stifled a giggle.

    “She’s also stubborn; once she sets her mind to it, she’d see to it that it goes her way. She’s almost always late to the class she teaches and has a bit of an ego.”

    “Sounds more like Hanamura to me,” Chie quipped back. Yosuke returned the glare and Yukiko chortled more.

    “I’m getting something,” Rise said, looking intently through Himiko’s visor. “But it’s still vague. I need a little more to zero-in.”

    “Like what?” Shirou felt he had a wealth of knowledge to provide for his guardian, but it would help to get the specifics first.

    “Shadows are more drawn to the unseen emotions, remember?” Teddie offered. “The kind that they didn’t want others to know about. Does your Fuji-nee have anything like that?”

    Shirou frowned. Normally Fuji-nee was so vibrant and jovial and honest. He couldn’t think of any time where she had some sort of slip of emotion. Except that one time. “I think deep down, she has an inferiority complex about herself. Worried that what she does is not enough. Doesn’t like it if secrets are kept from her."

    Himiko’s head tilted ever so slightly to the right. “Go on,” Rise urged.

    “And despite her child-like demeanor, she’s also shown times when she can be mature and reliable. But… no one ever seems to notice or care,” he continued. In a way, he was just realizing all this himself. “She got mad whenever someone called her ‘Tiger’ instead of ‘Taiga’, and made a point to get revenge later, but it was hiding the fact that she was upset.”

    “Oh, Shirou-sensei…"

    Following Teddie’s sad comment, a somber silence fell over the group. Rise felt the compulsive urge to hug her heroic senpai, but she knew finding Fuji-nee would help him more. She felt she had a good feel of where to find their target now. Yosuke and Chie felt especially guilty getting wound up earlier with a fight. Yukiko’s laughter was gone, and she found her gaze pinned to the floor.

    Then she caught sight of something that piqued her interest, a smile slowly curling on her lips.

    “I found her,” Rise announced. “And the other two are just as close. I’m not sure if it’s because they brought their own baggage into this world too, but it’s much bigger than the other dungeons ‘til now.”

    “Well, that’s ominous,” Yosuke said. “Maybe the culprit is one of the three and is hiding out here?”

    “I wouldn’t rule out that possibility, but we won’t find out pondering things here.” Shirou turned to address the team. “All right, let’s… go?”

    His planned speech died as he and everyone else stared at Yukiko. For some reason, she was now wearing a different pair of glasses over her eyes that looked more fitted from a joke box. The frames were glassy opaque and lined with circles that hid her brown eyes. Attached to the bridge was a thick gag nose with a thin black ‘stache on either end. It was the most ridiculous thing Shirou had ever seen.

    “Hehe, roger!” If Yukiko recognized it was a silly accessory too, she either didn’t care or was having too much fun as she saluted, regardless of the stares she was receiving.

    “Yukiko,” Chie asked finally, sternly frowning at her best friend. “Where did you find those?”

    “Teddie had a whole pile of them over there,” she said, pointing to said stack of similar glasses. “They look funny!”

    “Hehe, oh yeah,” Teddie laughed sheepishly. “I uh, got bored waiting for you guys again, so I’ve been practicing making some new glasses designs for Kanji. I might have gone overboard.”

    “I’m surprised you didn’t think to make glasses for yourself yet. Or have you?” Yosuke asked.

    “Hmph! My eye holes are made of the same lenses as your glasses, you know! I have no reason to make myself a pair!” He muttered to himself softly, “especially when they would just fall off my face.”

    “Here Emiya-kun! You try a pair!”

    “Huh?” Yukiko didn’t bother waiting for a proper response by Shirou before stepping up close to him. With one hand she plucked the fog-filtering glasses off his face, and then pushed the gag glasses in another. He was suddenly left with a deliberating headache and difficulty to see, barely able to register the team around them. But he did see and notice the stifling laughter now. He must look ridiculous.

    Yukiko pointed and laughed right away. “Your face, haha, your face! Oh-ho Emiya-kuuuun, you look so ridiculous, pwahahahaha!”

    “Wow, Yuki-chan’s really losing it. Not that *snrk* I blame her.” Rise barely kept it together looking over Shirou. Their normally serious, stoic leader, wearing such silly eyewear.

    And predictably, he was annoyed. “Why am I even wearing these?”

    “W-Well, think of them as… back-up glasses!”

    “Oh, I’m afraid those won’t work in this world,” Teddie shook his head. “They don’t have the same filter lenses as the ones I made for you guys.”

    Yukiko actually sounded upset to learn about this between giggles. “Teehee. Aww, too bad.”

    “More like a blessing. I can’t imagine walking around Inaba with these things, much less in a dungeon.” Shirou argued. His hand reached to the gag nose covering his real one. “I mean, what’s this nose piece for, any-?”

    ‘Squeak!’

    A loud honky squeak filled the studio space, startling everyone into silence. Shirou hesitantly clenched his fingers over the nose piece again and felt some sort of air pressure inside. Said pressure let out a high-pitched sound befitting a pet’s squeaky toy. Or even an accordion letting the noise out too long.

    “BWAAAAAAA HAHAHAHAHAAAAAA! *snort* AHAHAHAHA!” Yukiko laughed so hard she fell over on her back, kicking and rolling on her aching sides. Everyone else joined in her chorus, but they were nowhere near as loud or animated.

    At some point during the laughter, Tama decided to stop hanging from the TV stand and pluck a pair of gag glasses for herself. The prospect of a squeaky toy clearly excited her.

    Shirou’s eyebrow twitched, but for all he knew, no one could see it through the thick lenses. He didn’t know if his Personas were laughing at his expense. Slowly, he removed the gag glasses, taking care not to crush them in a fit of rage. They didn’t have time for this.

    “Are you all quite done?” he asked evenly. The others had the decency to look a little embarrassed of their reactions. Except Yukiko, it was taking her a little longer to calm down.

    Finally, she sat up to look at him, pulling out her own gag glasses. “That depends,” she asked back. “Are you feeling better?”

    Shirou blinked. “Huh?”

    “I know it’s important we have to rescue your guardian and the other victims, but you can’t do that if you’re feeling sorry for yourself. I’m sure she wouldn’t want to see you having any doubt in yourself.”

    Yukiko clearly spoke from personal experience, in relation to her own Shadow. It’s not that he didn’t appreciate the gesture, but the timing was suspect.

    Still, Shirou smiled and reached over to pull his classmate up. Having people like her, like this team, watch out for his well being was somewhat liberating. Fuji-nee would be happy meeting them for the first time. That would make all this Inaba case nonsense worth it. “Thanks, Amagi.”

    <><><>

    Road to Taiga

    The Investigation Team could understand with each trek walking around why Teddie didn’t like his world getting “cluttered”. Each place of a victim’s reality was haphazardly placed down without regard to the original spot, a style that would contrast with the others. While some places looked accurate to reality like the shopping district, others were grandiose in the fantasy like the castle or strip joint. The pathways to each new place were simple at first, as if entering a new movie set in a studio (thus enforcing the idea that this is possibly some big elaborate filming plot by the culprit). They felt natural at first, gradually giving away to a new area without it feeling entirely out of place. A gate and some tiles leading to the castle, a dark cave for the strip tease, things like that.

    But this new place they were going to, there was a very clear divide how different it was from all the others. A literal line at that, where the ground went from smooth and flat to rough and blocky. Pixelated, even. The color of the road past that point grew darker, less vibrant. The few trees they saw were thick and cartoonishly blocky, but each one further down had fewer green leaves, more branches. The further down the path they went, the more it was like entering a graveyard, and only Yukiko found that prospect exciting.

    They finally reached their destination at a big thick (and pixelated) gate barring entrance to a tall Romanian castle, but with a horror vibe to it. Tall towers climbing to the sky, with small sets of towers suspended and branched out. Dim yellow lights in small windows at each bridge and tower room. Steep cliffs that carved out any land or entry around it besides the single, long bridge beyond the gate.

    Even the sky of waves resembled more of an old 8-bit game with how they rather blinked into position every second rather than flowed. The waves converged on a single point, blending in like a sun or black hole (or was it a red hole given how the color changed?). There was also one addition to the sky that was meant for the area: a white glowing half circle with a sliver of black waning from the left side.

    Finally, just at the top of the gate was a sign in red letters (that gave the distinct scent of blood), printed in English letters for all to see:

    Moon Voidania

    Chie forced a laugh, pointing to the sky. “G-Guess you have a moon in your world after all, Teddie.”

    “The castle or the space ball?”

    Ignoring them, Yosuke tried to push, then pull, the gate open. It didn’t so much as budge either way. “Well, aside from the world looking like some sort of old school horror video game, the only creepy thing about this place is how the entrance is locked.”

    “Has that ever happened before?” Rise asked.

    “Technically it happened last time with those two Guys guarding the bathhouse,” Shirou commented. “But that was it.”

    “Teddie once said that the Shadows attack us because they have a feeling we’re snooping around where we shouldn’t be,” Yosuke said. “Maybe they’re upping the security every time to make sure we don’t get in?”

    “Is that really the case?” Yukiko wondered. “I can understand Kanji-kun at least, but if what Emiya-kun said about his guardian is true, would she feel this guarded about her true feelings?”

    “If it was just Fuji-nee, no,” Shirou said. Her strength and positivity always shone even when she was downtrodden. “But with two other victims? Or worse, the mastermind himself in the furthest level, then this closed entry makes sense.”

    “So what do we do now?” Chie asked. “Bust the door open?”

    Before Shirou could even begin to ponder that idea, his senses picked up a faint sound beyond the gate. Like the galloping of a startled quadruped… acting bipedal? It was strange, and yet it was somehow familiar.

    Then he heard it. “-gottagetouttaheregottagetouttaheregottagetouttaher egottagetouttahere-!”

    “My word, is that-?!”

    He didn’t need Cu Sith’s confirmation on the matter. But he did need to move. “Guys? We should back away from the gate. Now.”

    The sense of urgency wasn’t lost on them. Yosuke, Chie and Yukiko still stared at him in confusion as he moved towards the gate wall. Teddie picked up the scent right away, and Rise summoned Himiko for a better view. They both blanched at what they saw. ““Oh whoopie cushions/crapbaskets!”” They cried at once, over each other.

    “-gottagetouttaheregottagetouttahereGOTTAGETOUTTAHER EGOTTAGETOUTTAHEEEEEEEEEEEERRRE!”

    By now everyone had barreled out of the way of the blocky gate, some running, some tripping, and at least one dive-jumping forward. Not a moment later, the barreling force heading towards them slammed into the gate like a bullet train and snapped them both away in two. An explosion went off, and all that was left when the dust settled was a young woman in slightly tattered clothes, sprawled on the floor and eyes dizzy from running.

    She was just barely conscious enough to congratulate herself. “I made iiiiit~. Hooraaaaay.”

    “Fuji-nee!” Shirou ran to her side right away. He turned her around and set her upright on his lap, shaking her lightly to stir her. “Fuji-nee, are you okay? Fuji-nee?”

    “So that’s his guardian, huh?” Yosuke wondered aloud. He and the others crowded closely to him, but kept their space. “I’m kinda surprised she managed to get out all on her own.”

    “Uh, guys?”

    “Does this count as saving her, though?” Yukiko asked, then pouted. “We didn’t even get to see the inside of the castle.”

    Rise tried again to get their attention. “Guuuuuys…”

    “Well, look on the bright side,” Chie said, pointing to the gate without looking back. “She opened the way for us! I’m sure after she’s all rested, and if we get Kanji-kun on board, we’ll be ready to-“

    “Guys, seriously! Shadow at your six!”

    That snapped them out of their stupor, and they turned back around to see a Shadow sprinting towards them. It resembled a warthog, tusks pointed forward as it galloped towards them with small front legs. Grafted to the back of the shadow was a motorcycle back wheel and engine, gunning and reverberating with each step it made and made somewhat deadly (if gothic metal) with a series of spikes grafted off the side. A black rider’s helmet covered the hog’s face, capped with a Noh Mask on top representing the roman mark of Chariot.

    “I’ve heard of Wild Hogs, but this is ridiculous!” Yosuke exclaimed.

    “Funny thing. That’s what that Shadow’s called.”

    The hog shadow squealed as it reeled back mid-charge before glowing red, and it sped at the team faster at its impromptu wheelie. Sparks flared up brightly and it was easy to hear the loud sound of tires burning rubber on the bridge. Whatever it was going to do, it was going to hit them hard and fast.

    “Let’s roast this porker!” Chie roared, summoning Tomoe right away. Jiraiya and Konohana Sakuya appeared just as quickly, and they peppered it with their elemental attacks given the distance between them was still vast.

    Ice, wind, fire. Nothing stopped it, and they didn’t seem to hurt it either. Again the pig shadow oinked aloud, only second to the roar of its engine, which started to steam up. Maybe the fire did do something after all?

    “Oh no. Guys, you need to dodge!” Rise warned urgently. “It’s gonna blow!”

    “But Emiya-kun is in its line of fire!” Chie argued. And his guardian too was in danger, but that didn’t need to be said.

    “I got this!” Shirou didn’t try to carry or move Taiga away, but he didn’t need to so long as he had a Persona. “Izanagi!”

    His first Persona shot out like a bullet, deciding for the direct approach instead of magic. As the crossed paths, Izanagi swung his naginata with all the force he could muster, a true Power Slash that hacked flesh and metal alike. The Wild Hog’s screams were now of pain, showing that the attack was effective.

    But it wasn’t enough to kill it! Worse, the Shadow was just upon them, ready to detonate! Maybe if he could recall Izanagi back, he’d have enough time to strike again, or at least buffer the explosion to save the others?

    No. The others wouldn’t want that. Fuji-nee wouldn’t want that. If he couldn’t think of a way to get them all out, himself included, what kind of hero would he be?

    Before he realized, his guardian shifted in his arms, and a dim blue light caught his peripheral vision. “Kaihime!”

    A second figure barreled towards the Wild Hog, a streak of yellow and green. This Persona too struck the Shadow with a quick-draw horizontal slash. However, the strength, speed, and even elegance of the cut was the sign of a true swordsman, managing to bisect the Shadow so clean that it severed its target into two. And the two halves of the Wild Hog fell harmlessly over the bridge edge, disintegrating rather than exploding, leaving behind only a pathetic, drowned out “Sweeeee…”

    Everyone was struck dumb in awe. They slowly looked up from the non-existent Shadow remains to the new Persona. A porcelain white-skinned woman that seemed to glow like a ghost, wearing a yellow furisode kimono with red petal designs. A green sash with yellow stripes fastened the kimono around the waist, also held together by a red knotted string. From the waist down, the kimono was cut into thin-like ribbons resembling a broken skirt, giving ample freedom of movement, and revealed matching black greaves guarding her shins. In her left arm, the kimono sleeve was completely unblemished, cradling a long black sword sheath in her demure hand. But from her right arm, the sleeve was torn completely off, revealing her supple shoulder and a black vambrace over her hand, which was holding her weapon. A long katana, black and red hilt, sun-shaped guard, and a distinctly orange-and-black striped tail at the end. The most striking feature was her wavy fire-red hair, and a tiger-painted mask covering her face.

    After a few more seconds, the Princess Persona cleaned the edge of her blade by her sheath, and then slid in inside before vanishing. Now everyone turned to where they saw the Persona appear from. Taiga Fujimura had her hand clenched out in front of her, eyes closed in intense focus.

    No one knew what to say. They were all numb in thought. Thinking how insane that was. How impossibly COOL that was, and how it seemed to break so many rules they had learned thus far about Personas and Shadows. Even Shirou didn’t know what to say, except tentatively say her name again. “F-Fuji…nee?”

    “Hehe…” Taiga chuckled, turning to give him a smile. “Finally. I can say I’ve saved you… for once…”

    Her body slumped in his arms, and Shirou feared for the worst. “Fuji-nee!”

    “It’s okay, senpai!” Rise told him as Yukiko knelt to his side with her Persona. “She’s just unconscious! I’m not sure how but she must have awakened her Persona on her own!”

    “Yeah. I mean, it always left us winded whenever we accepted ourselves,” Yosuke consoled him, a firm hand over his shoulder. “Plus, she was running out of this dungeon all ragged. It’s no wonder she’s exhausted.”

    Konohana Sakuya’s light of Diarama enveloped the sleeping woman, cleaning away the dirt and grime. “And she doesn’t seem to have any serious wounds either. No blood, no scratches… she’ll be fine. I’m sure of it.”

    “Thank goodness,” Shirou sighed in relief. He couldn’t imagine losing her too after Kiritsugu. Or anyone really… is this how they felt the other day? Brushing those thoughts aside for now, he shifted his hold on her to a bridal carry before standing off the ground. “Let’s go back.”

    “Now?” Teddie cried, dismayed. “You’re going back now?! But we just got here!”

    “We only came here to help Fujimura-san, remember?” Yosuke told him. “Now that she’s here, there’s no reason to go in.”

    The bear looked especially frustrated, almost like he wanted to argue his case more. But taking one look at Shirou, and Taiga in his arms, deflated the bear. “All right…”

    It was sometimes easy to forget with all the murder cases and juggling through school and work that there was a reason to all of this. A promise they made to help save the bear’s fragile world. This could very well be the stronghold of the culprit, the source of everything wrong in both their homes… and they weren’t going in yet.

    “I’m sorry, Teddie,” Shirou consoled. “I know how much this means to you. And once we get Fuji-nee back up on her feet, and see about recruiting Kanji, then we’ll be ready to finish this.”

    “You mean it?”

    “I more than mean it; I promise.”

    Teddie nodded, comforted by the reassurance. But something was still bothering him, leaving him with conflicted emotions. I should probably find or fuse a Star Persona soon.

    <><><>
    Junes Electronics Dept.

    The rest of the walk back was quick and quiet; the new dungeon gave distinct “final boss” vibes as Yosuke would comment on, and it was unanimously agreed to prepare more for the upcoming battle.

    That said… there are times when people lower their guard, expect things to just work out as they normally do. Nothing had gone wrong before, so why assume things would spiral out of control now?

    Except that they had as early as before dawn, or last night. A new victim was found killed, and three people were thrown inside the TV. Two were still inside now, and it was likely that one of them was the culprit responsible.

    It still came to a surprise for Shirou, the first to exit the TV, when he saw Kanji and Naoto turn over to him from looking at another TV on display. They looked surprised to see him there, wondering how he suddenly appeared.

    Naoto’s eyes narrowed as he noticed Fujimura in his arms. “Emiya-san, isn’t that one of the missing suspects?”

    Shirou nearly panicked, but he reigned in his nerves to try and salvage this. “I can expla-AAACK!”

    The giant TV portal opened again with a pool of white light, with the body of Yosuke Hanamura colliding into his. They collapsed in a heap with the Junes part-timer groaning as he pushed himself off. “Dammit, Shirou. I thought we agreed to space apart whenever we go through the TV!”

    “What did Hanamura-kun say?” Yukiko’s voice echoed from beyond the screen.

    “I think he said, ‘we can all go through, we’re clear’.” Chie guessed. The screen glowed white again.

    Shirou and Yosuke’s eyes widened with alarm for different, but equally concerning reasons. They leaned up to quickly voice their concerns. “Girls, wait, not-!” “Nononono-!”

    They fell on deaf ears as Chie collapsed on them stomach-first, forcing the two back down to the floor. Yukiko appeared next, landing hip-first to Chie’s backside. Then Rise, clonking heads with the inn-heiress and collapsing further on the pile of investigators. Finally, Tama popped out, staying long enough to bounce off the former idol’s skirt before dashing through the store and slipping through the crowd. Had no one saw the fox beforehand, they wouldn’t have noticed a thing.

    Slowly but surely, the other members realized that an uncomfortable position wasn’t their only problem at the moment. Naoto’s face stared at them with wide-eyed, slack-jawed shock. Whatever the young detective expected, it wasn’t such blatant disregard for the natural laws of order.

    No one could think of anything to say. Except for Kanji, who suddenly looked very smug and vindicated towards his small ward. “I told you they were all inside the TV!”
    Last edited by Kishou the Badger; December 29th, 2020 at 05:15 PM.

  15. #435
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    According to most, my own little world
    Age
    41
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    8,191
    Blog Entries
    194
    And they are now so screwed . . . On the other hand, it might avoid one of the more painful parts of Persona 4 - so that's good!

    Sorry for the delay in responding - I got distracted by wanting to get out a piece of my own before the New Year, over the last few days (I didn't quite make it, regardless). Nice to see that you've kept up your quality of writing, with everything that's been going on; though I still would like to see more of Marie . . . Please?
    “Love will be cruel to who it entices — love will have its sacrifices.”

    — Carmilla Theme




    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."

    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette




  16. #436
    Fate/Reach Out
    Chapter 42: Paradigm Shift

    <><><>

    Dojima Residence
    "You told him we were all inside the TV?! What the hell were you thinking?!"
    "Hey, I didn't know for sure, alright?" Kanji huffed defensively. "It's not like I was going to bring him inside, anyway."

    "That's not the point!" Yosuke yelled. "You can't just go around telling people these things, especially your cop chaperone! No one in their right mind would believe it!"

    "Why wouldn't they? It's the truth, isn't it? And we all saw it just now."

    Yosuke gave up. He groaned angrily and slammed his head against the coffee table before gripping his head in both hands; one to tear out a fistful of hair, another to turn the volume up on his headphones. Whichever worked better to blank out his mind.

    Naoto didn't look any more composed himself. Arms crossed, eyes forced shut, and enough all-around tense body language that one could see a vein pulse on his head. The girls of the Investigation Team gauged him with a mix of worry and fear. For that reason, they sat farther away from him on the big leather couch just across from the kotatsu, which the other boys sat around at.

    Meanwhile, Shirou was by the phone finishing up an important call. "Yeah, she's fine now. Resting in my bed actually."

    "And you waited until now to tell me this because…?"

    Shirou felt sheepish, as if somehow he was being sternly glared at from the other end of the phone. "…I know I should have called sooner, but I didn't know where else to go. It's not like I could go and put her back in her apartment."

    "That's what hospitals are for, Shirou."

    "It's just a concussion, there's no need to take her to the hospital."

    A heavy sigh was heard from the other end. "Look, I'm glad you're all safe. But it's crazy recklessness that had your guardian second-guess you here in the first place. We'll have to question Taiga later if she knows anything about the recent homicide. But for now, we're busy with our investigation so this will take a few all-nighters. Until then, try to keep a low profile."

    Yeah, there was no way he was going to keep that promise. Sorry, Doji-nii.

    "I know, I understand. My friends and I are just going to hang out here until she wakes up. I'll keep an eye on her tonight. And Nanako too, of course."

    "Thanks. Stay safe, Shirou."

    "You too, Doji-nii. Bye."

    After setting down the phone on the receiver, he let out an exhausted breath of relief. That was one less hurdle to worry about for now; Taiga was safe, and he convinced his skeptic cop uncle that she was not a victim at the moment. And that he found her by coincidence, that was a big point of contention too.

    Now to deal with the other elephant in the room, patiently waiting by the kotatsu. Setting up an appropriate meeting place would have been a simple matter of meeting at the food court, but Fuji-nee needed to rest first. There was a bit of pushback from Naoto demanding to set her to the hospital or the police, hopefully to get answers in the process. The Investigation Team wanted privacy and comfort, seemingly making a compromise impossible.

    But luckily one was made. With Nanako out at a friend's house and Doji-nii busy with work, their house was the perfect place to talk.

    Shirou walked over and sat at the end of the kotatsu opposite to Naoto and Kanji. The boys regarded him with attentive focus, with the former glaring with such intensity that he looked ready to demand answers.

    "So, how do you want to do this?" Shirou asked Naoto. "It's a pretty long story if I go it over from the beginning—"

    "I require more pressing questions answered first before I trust whatever you have to say," Naoto quickly interrupted. "To start with: who are you? Really?"

    Well, that was definitely a loaded question. The detective probably knew all the obvious answers, such as his name and place of birth. What would satisfy Naoto's question? It wasn't as if his late stepfather had told him how to go about this in case secrecy wasn't an option at all.

    Then again, he did have the inspiration on what to do. He probably shouldn't answer it like this, but… he always wanted to do it since Kiritsugu adopted him.

    "Well, to tell the truth," he said slowly. "I'm a Sorcerer."

    He hoped it would be a moment of gravitas. Kanji was wide-eyed and staring at him with awe. Yosuke and the girls were impressed by his delivery, but also confused as he knew he always insisted on being called a "magus". He might have to explain things later.

    However, Naoto's scowl turned from angry to annoyed. "Yes, and I'm a level ten Kobold Ranger with max Search, Listening, and Reasoning skills. Given by my lack of reaction, I say you fumbled your Charisma check."

    Shirou blinked, confused. Naoto rolled his eyes before reaching down to his bag set in front of him on the floor. In a flourish, the detective prince pulled out a clipboard, with a DnD character sheet filled out in neat writing.

    "Oh," he said numbly, realizing what he meant. "You uh, want to join our campaign?"

    "I am not interested in your Dungeons and Dragons code. I know it's a front, and I'm not here for games. I want you to take this seriously and answer my questions."

    "Okay, but… I wasn't lying about the sorcerer thing," Shirou explained weakly. Naoto's eye twitched, subtly telling him it was the wrong answer.

    After a few tense moments of staring, Shirou sighed. "I guess it would be better to show you then."

    "Show me what?" Naoto asked, still regarding him warily.

    "My magecraft." He held his hand out, already imaging a kunai knife he had seen Daidara create once through Shadow materials. Suddenly concerned and worried, Yosuke reached over to his side and stopped him by pushing down his wrist. It was a simple matter as he sat perpendicular to him and the detective, almost like a mediator.

    "Dude, are you nuts?" he said. "You told us once you couldn't show off your hidden talents like that."

    "Naoto already saw us jump out of a TV screen. I don't have the means or the heart to rectify that mistake, and he looks like he's not going to believe me on words alone."

    "Well, I believe ya." Everyone turned to Kanji, surprised by his easy show of faith. "You saved my bacon, after all. No way you could be the killer guy the cops are looking for."

    "I wouldn't trust them so readily, Kanji," said Naoto. "Not until they've disclosed everything they know about the case."

    "Come on, Naoto, I told you everything that happened. The weird bathhouse, my Shadow, the Senpai fighting, Emiya-senpai's… arm…" He trailed off upon realizing that the last part wasn't privy to be shared, judging by the team's glares at him. "He got better!"

    Maybe I can just show him the scar? Shirou thought. No, Naoto didn't look like he cared about such details. He wanted proof of what was happening and although he didn't insinuate anything yet, was banking on the fact that he and his team were responsible for what was happening. If only there was a way to prove that just because they could enter the TV they weren't the suspects for every kidnapping and murder in Inaba.

    Then it hit him. "Naoto, put your hand on the TV."

    "Pardon?"

    "You want to know what happened at Junes? Then just put your hand on the screen. Trust me, this will explain everything."

    "This better not be some sort of joke," Naoto warned, but complied. He rose up from his seat and stood directly by the TV set in the room. He placed his hand on the screen, and aside from the cold touch and faint dust line, he felt nothing.

    "Now Kanji," Shirou said, pointing to the TV. "It's your turn."

    "Huh?"

    "Put your hand on the TV next to Naoto."

    "Wh-Whaa?!" Kanji flustered, looking between him and the TV. "B-But isn't that being a little too… close?!"

    Shirou thought it over. He wanted to say it would only be a moment, but he knew personally how tricky it can be to pry your hand back out of the TV. "Well, if you don't want to do it, I guess I could ask Yosuke-"

    "I didn't say I wasn't gonna!" Kanji snapped quickly. "Just… it'd be kinda weird, you know?!"

    The others stared at him with baffled expressions. Kanji's face was bright red in humiliation, and before he could stammer another word, he marched over to the TV next to Naoto. He took a wide step to the side away from him though and leaned in from the other side just intending to touch the glass for a second before pulling away.

    To his surprise, his hand seeped into the screen like it was water, while Naoto's side remained hard as ice. The ripple effect shattered this quickly as the whole TV was flashing monochrome ripples, forcing Naoto's hand into the portal too.

    Both teens were stupefied, staring into the white void without realizing their arms were sinking in further. Shirou and Yosuke quickly pried both of them away before the duo was thrown into another part of Teddie's world. They stared at the screen even as they were safely pulled away, and it returned to its normal dim black color.

    Their reactions were expected. "Wh-wha… wh-wh-wha-?" "WHAT THE HELL?!"

    <><><>

    It took a few minutes for them to calm down and digest the rest of the explanation of the case as the team could tell them. Shirou worried that the shock might have numbed them from their surroundings, much less the talking, but they occasionally asked for a clarification on certain terms ("Mage-what?") and paid close attention throughout.

    At the end of it, Kanji tried to contextualize the thoughts for the both of them. Or at least for him. "So, let me get this straight. This serial murder guy who's been on the run for months now, he's killing people with a TV? What, does he whack them with a flatscreen or something?"

    Yosuke hissed with annoyance. "Not with a TV, through the TV!"

    "Oooh, I get it now. He hits them with a flatscreen so hard their heads break through it."

    Yosuke facepalmed. Shirou immediately followed suit as the girls joined in via their own chorus. Kanji didn't know why, but he felt his intelligence was being mocked by this shared gesture and he pouted.

    "I believe what they mean to say," Naoto began slowly. "Is that the previous victims – as well as you, Kanji – were brought into another world that can accessed by a TV."

    "Yes! Thank you!" Yosuke exclaimed, gesturing to the young detective. "Is it that hard to understand?"

    "Actually, I'm struggling to even accept the insanity of it all," the detective dryly complained. "A secret occult of spellcasters is one thing, but apparently anyone can enter this TV world as long as they have a… Persona, you call it?"

    "Yep!" Rise smiled and winked. "Pretty cool, huh?"

    "Not the word I would use," Naoto said. "Moreover, you said that Emiya-san was able to enter the TV before any of you?"

    "Yeah, why?"

    Naoto turned his gaze fully back on Shirou. He had a feeling what was on the young detective's mind. "You claim to be trying to stop the murders, but it could all be an elaborate ploy to enact something more heinous. There could be another culprit going around pushing people in, or you could be the one responsible."

    For a moment, no one said anything. Some were disbelieving of the words they heard. Even Kanji glanced at his ward with disbelief.

    Chie bolted upright from her seat, furious. "That's bullshit! Emiya-kun doesn't have a deceitful bone in his body!"

    "Keeping a secret of the occult says otherwise, as does the nature of his… Social Links? Could be mind control for all we know."

    "Trust me, I've had concerns about that already," Shirou calmly reasoned. "But I feel I was given this power – the power to enter TVs – to stop what was happening to begin with. At least that's how I discerned what my benefactors had told me; they refused to elaborate further."

    "A convenient excuse," Naoto said. "But that is still no proof that you aren't the one the police are looking for."

    "How about the fact that he has an alibi?"

    Everyone turned towards the front door. Standing just by the corner of where the door and stairway met was Taiga, barely supporting herself with her hand on a wall. She was covered in light bandages over her scalp and wrists, and there was a slight limp in her step. And yet she looked focused and undeterred in walking over to the living room.

    It still gave Shirou conflicting feelings of surprise and worry seeing her up and about. "Fuji-nee, you should stay in bed!"

    She ignored him, still locking gazes with the diminutive detective. "The day Ms. Yamano went missing was the same day Shirou was on a train bound for Inaba. It wasn't until the late afternoon until he arrived, and he was busy getting settled in Dojima-san's house – THIS house – until dark."

    "Yes, and other prime suspects have alibis too," Naoto argued back. "Taro Namatame, the man who cheated with her, was busy with his family's delivery business and has been guilt-ridden since her death. But if magic is really at play here, then Emiya-san has no limits to how he could pull a caper. He could have… could have jumped into a TV on the train, found Ms. Yamano in her hotel room and then killed her there!"

    "Okay, now you're just reaching," Taiga deadpanned. "Shirou told me already how this has been going down; a person is pushed into a TV world full of monsters and are left there to be mauled to death. This usually happens on a rainy night. When the rain lifts, their corpse reappears on a power line by morning."

    "That is the story they are going with, yes."

    "And let's say, hypothetically, that Shirou is the one behind this murder mystery." A few of his friends bristled at the implication, but otherwise held it in. "Never mind all the convoluted reasoning as to why he goes to rescue the kids that get sucked in in the first place, but his only crime would be pushing someone into a lion's den with no way out. No prints, no clues, nothing but word of mouth testimonies that would be written as crazy talk. Not to mention that if you did convince too many people that this secret TV world is real, the occultists will probably wipe your memory of the whole thing, or worse…"

    Taiga then smiled, akin to a smug cat. "We may not be able to prove he didn't do it, but you sure can't prove that he did, either."

    Naoto's frown couldn't get any lower even if he tried, and he looked torn between staying grumpy or giving up in defeat. It didn't help that the others stared at him with some vindication that there couldn't be a case made against one of their own. It was enough to make him turn away from the stares and hide away under the brim of his hat.

    A thought occurred to Kanji though, as he absently scratched his scalp. "So, wait, if there's another magic guy running around doing the murders, then wouldn't it be hard to accuse him too?"

    Most of the Investigation Team's faces fell right away. "Aw shit, haven't thought about that," Yosuke muttered aloud.

    "The important thing is to stop the culprit first," Shirou said. "From there, they'll either proceed with the court laws of the town or be taken to the Clocktower for a Sealing Designation."

    "A what now?"

    "I don't quite understand it myself, Kiritsugu only mentioned in passing. It's called a great honor on paper but it's considered so dangerous that no magus ever wants to get one."

    "Why's that?"

    "To a magus, studying their craft is everything. A Sealing Designation preserves a craft for posterity, but it's like being embalmed and preserved in wrapping like a mummy… while you're still alive."

    A long silence filled the room, the only sound being Yosuke's low whistle. That did sound like a karmic punishment to have.

    "I suppose there's a small comfort that the magi do have some semblance of justice," Naoto said finally. "And while I have many, many more questions about them, the more pressing matter is this case itself."

    Shirou nodded. "And we'll need to work together on this. Can I trust you to keep this to yourself?"

    "For now." Naoto extended his hand out. Shirou accepted it with a firm shake, much to the relief of his teammates.

    "Well, now that we're all on the same page now," Yosuke began. "We just need to figure out who killed our 'dearly departed' homeroom teacher."

    "A vampire did it."

    Everyone turned and stared at Taiga. She mentioned it casually, yet with certainty.

    Yosuke blinked. He had to have misheard it. "What."

    "A vampire did it," she said again. "I saw it happen… what day is it?"

    "July 10th." "Sunday."

    "Ah, good. It happened last night, then."

    Kanji gulped, and awkwardly gripped his neck while looking over his shoulder. "Uh, when you say vampire, you mean those scary gothic freaks that bite our necks for blood, right?"

    "Are there any other kind of vampires?" Taiga asked rhetorically.

    "Not unless we want to get into specifics." Shirou uttered this almost to himself, but it was just loud enough for everyone to hear in the room and fill them with dread.

    Then suddenly, Yukiko burst into laughing. She recoiled in her seat, slapped her legs, and shook so much that her sides hurt. "BWAHAHAHAHAHA! A vampire? Haha, oh, that's a good one! Next you're going to tell us they sparkle in the sun like in that ridiculous American novel! Ahahahaha!"

    "Yukiko!"

    "Teehee! Relax, Chie! It's just a joke! A joke that I'm sure Fujimura-san and Emiya-kun are in on! I mean, it's so out there that soon they're going to be… not laughing too."

    Yukiko's voice fell when she looked between Shirou and Taiga. From what little she knew about the Homurahara teacher, she was eccentric and energetic, easily knowing how to liven up the mood. Even her ward had some moments of levity, and the very least knew when to humor her.

    But they treated this moment with the upmost severity that it was becoming less likely they were going to drop the act.

    "Fuji-nee… are you certain?"

    "Your homeroom teacher was a mouthy jerk with an overbite and purple monkey suit, right?"

    "Well, that's a broad generalization yes, but—"

    "Then yes, I'm certain. She bit down on his neck and everything."

    Kanji flinched and paled considerably whiter. "Wait, it was a girl vampire?!"

    Naoto took a deep long breath. Magic cults, TV portals, and now vampires? All these urban fantasy beats were really grating on his nerves. None of them made sense or felt orderly at all. "I was barely able to get a copy of Mr. Morooka's autopsy report, and he had puncture holes on his neck from someone biting on him. The killing blow, however, was from a stab wound at his abdomen."

    "That was from her accomplice. Not sure if he was a vampire too, maybe a zombie servant or something-"

    "A ghoul," Shirou corrected.

    "Yeah, that. Anyway, I was just walking out of Shiroku's when it happened. Passed the guy who had a lot to drink himself. I was going to go home and try to forget seeing him when I heard him ranting at some kid further down the street."

    Taiga sighed bitterly, taking the time to sit next to Shirou by the table. Everyone else huddled or leaned in closer to listen. "I don't know what I was thinking at the time since I was still tipsy, but the next thing I knew, some girl I've never seen before ghosts him from behind, bites him, and then eggs on the boy to stab him. Poor bastard was dead in seconds.

    "They started talking about hanging the body up on a telephone pole like the others, and I knew they had to be involved in the murder shenanigans. My phone was dead so I couldn't call the authorities right away, so I hurried back to my apartment to call there. Barely a minute after I closed the door, it bursts open from a single kick by that vampire.

    "I guess she realized right away I was watching and wanted to cut off loose ends. I was shocked sober and fighting on adrenaline, but I think she was just playing with me while trying to get her ghoul to deal the killing blow. So I gathered my strength for one last push and tackled them to the wall! Next thing I knew, I was in a weird castle and they weren't anywhere around, so I took my cue to exit. Then I found some pig on wheels and then you guys."

    "Wait," Shirou blinked, mentally backpedaling. "You pushed them into the TV?"

    "I did?" Taiga asked back. "Oh right, you mentioned something about TV portals before. I thought it was just a magus thing only you and the culprit could do. That would explain how I got there then."

    That… was a concerning reversal, but not an unwelcome one. Taiga pushing the duo into the TV world must have thrown a wrench into their plans. They must have created the new castle and decided to hide out there for the time being.

    Still, why would the culprit decide now to change tactics? Did they really realize that sending us to the TV wasn't working anymore and have gone for the kill directly? But King M-erm, Morooka-sensei doesn't fit the pattern at all, and they missed Fuji-nee months ago…

    "Sounds like you got really lucky back there, Fujimura-san," said Rise.

    "I know, right?!" Taiga started to tear up, as if the reality of the situation had set in. "I really thought I was gonna die! That I'd wouldn't marry or wouldn't be able to eat any more of Shirou's cooking!"

    "You've got to be kidding me," Yosuke groaned. As he was closing his eyes and pinching his nose, he didn't notice the heated glares he got from the girls. They could argue that their leader's cooking was, in fact, a big deal.

    As for Shirou, he felt relieved. The fight she had engaged in explained the ruined apartment. And there was no doubt that a vampire of any class would have the strength to overpower a kendoka of Fuji-nee's caliber. There was still one question that bothered him. "Fuji-nee, how long has it been since you awakened your Persona?"

    "Persona? Oh, you mean Kaihime!" Taiga's eyes brightened almost immediately with recognition. "It was such an amazing rush calling her out for the first time! That never happened before! I mean, I knew she was there ever since Golden Week, but—"

    "Since Golden Week? How?!"

    "Well, I was chasing you after you bolted at the park! I ended up getting lost, found some butterfly and then dealt with a kendoka-armored me trying to kill me."

    Shirou's worries only grew from there. His guardian was in danger the whole time and he didn't notice? But, she had a Persona now, so that meant she had help accepting it, right? "Then, who rescued you? It wasn't Kotomine, was it?"

    "The priest? Hell no!" Taiga's face scowled at the very thought of him helping her. He'd probably act all smug about it too, lambasting her questionable life choices and nitpicking every other thing her Shadow said. "I saved myself from my own Shadow, thank you very much!"

    "Huh?" "What?" "Seriously?!" The group all gawked and cried out in shock and disbelief. Surely she had to be lying.

    "What's so surprising about it?" Taiga asked back. "It's just the negative you that's stressed out and hiding. Psychology 101. I couldn't beat myself, so we talked it out and accepted that I needed some growing up to do. That's how it worked with you guys, right?"

    Suddenly no one wanted to look at her, and they tried distracting themselves with whistling and barely mumbled omissions. There was quite a bit of embarrassment realizing that she accepted her Shadow without being killed.

    Chie coughed awkwardly before steering the topic to relative territory. "S-So, uh, a vampire? Seriously? Doesn't that seem a bit extreme to be the one responsible?"

    "No, I think this makes sense," Shirou said, much to the team's surprise and fear. "A vampire would be the plausible culprit to the Inaba murders since spring."

    "I thought we were looking for another magus, though," Yosuke argued.

    "It's rare, but still possible, for a magus to resort to vampirism to extend their lifespan. We call these kinds of vampires 'Dead Apostles'."

    "That's ridiculous!" Rise exclaimed. "Wouldn't we recognize who this vampire, or apostle-whatever person is? I know I was manhandled by a big man, not a girl!"

    "Dead Apostles are known to have the power of hypnotism through eye contact. All three of you experienced having your memories blur between answering the door and waking up in Teddie's world, so maybe you were hypnotized to forget who abducted you."

    "But wouldn't it be, like, impossible for a vampire to move around?" Kanji said, slightly unsure himself. "Like, garlic and mirrors? Or the fact that they turn to ash in direct sunlight. No way they'd avoid that all spring."

    "I can't say how accurate all the myths of vampires are, although the sunlight still counts." The team released a collective sigh of relief. "However, I've been warned that strong Dead Apostles can overcome that weakness with barely a hindrance."

    Chie gulped down the anxious lump in her throat. "So you're saying if we're fighting a strong vampire, we're screwed?!"

    "At the very least, this vampire is crafty," Shirou said. "From what we've seen from the weather forecasts, we've seen sunny days, rainy days, and foggy days. If she played her cards right, the vampire would be active on non-sunny days, scope the town, then throw a victim into the TV near the dead of night."

    "So uh… we can't just drag her out in broad daylight, can we?"

    "You can try, but there's a reason why the Clocktower treats hunting vampires and Dead Apostles so seriously. I honestly doubt we can handle one as we are now."

    Shirou stated it as fact, almost casually without worry or care. But the gravitas of the moment was distinctly grim. If they barely got out alive by the skin of their teeth with every Shadow encounter thus far, a final bout might be beyond them.

    Even Taiga looked calm and thoughtful. "'As you are now', huh?"

    "Fuji-nee?"

    "We should all get some rest for tomorrow," she said as she stood back up. "We're going to need the energy for training."

    Training? Shirou was about to ask her what she meant when he heard her quickly mutter, "I'm just glad I had the foresight to bring my shinai on furlough."

    Shirou started to perspire, already realizing what the ominous statement could mean. "F-Fuji-nee, I really don't think-"

    "You had your chance, Shirou. Let your Fuji-nee have her turn." Her tone left no room for discussion. Just mixed signals. A cheery tone, a heartfelt smile… and a barely contained lust for battle.

    "Uh, Shirou?" Yosuke asked slowly after she left back upstairs. "What does she mean by that?"

    "Remember when I told you she was a fifth-dan in kendo? I think she's going to show us exactly how she earned it."

    "That samurai sport?" Kanji smirked. "I fought a few enthusiast punks like that. Can't be that bad."

    "Trust me, it can." And that was all Shirou said on the matter. Before long, the Investigation Team (plus Naoto and Kanji) decided to rendezvous in the TV world after school tomorrow, and hopefully learn more about the other missing persons from the rumor mill.

    <><><>

    July 11th, TV World, Teddie's Hub Space

    Teddie was anxious. He couldn't sleep a wink all night (day? Afternoon?) since the gang left, as he counted the minutes down until they went back to the gothic castle. If I weren't so weak, I'd go there myself, he thought more than once.

    He was so excited when they came back the next day as promised. But… he was surprised by the new guests as Shirou-sensei introduced them to each other. Kanji he could understand, he was most likely their newest member considering the pattern since Yuki-chan. Taiga-chan was a bit more surprising but she was a proven Persona user. She carried herself with the confidence to match Shirou-sensei and then some!

    But who was this new weird-smelling guy in the hat?

    In any case, they all looked at him with mirrored expressions of surprise. The hat guy, "Naoto", seemed to be numbly muttering softly, glancing between Teddie and the world around them. Taiga leaned forward, scrutinizing him with a glare for some reason. And Kanji, well… he just stared in shock.

    "So, what's the zipper for?" Taiga asked.

    "It's to keep my head in place, what else?" Teddie answered. It seemed obvious to him, like why water was wet or why the fog lifts.

    "You mean your face mask," Naoto offered.

    "No, I mean my head. See it moving and talking?" For emphasis, he moves his eyes and wiggled his ears.

    "Then what's inside?"

    "Nothing." Chie said confidently. "Literally nothing, and he somehow moves on his own. Trust me, you don't want to see it."

    "I kinda do," Yukiko whined.

    Naoto glared at Chie before sighing bitterly, as if a dark scribble cloud loomed overhead. "I've just got to accept the fact that nothing makes sense anymore, don't I?"

    "That would be for the best, yes," Shirou consoled.

    Kanji's arm shook, and his face started to flush. His hand reached out, stuck in a gesture between reaching and pointing. "C-Can I touch your fur?"

    "Uh, no." Teddie refuted awkwardly. He took a squeaky step away for good measure.

    "J-just for a sec?" he tried again. "I just want to compare how authentic your fur is to other furs."

    The bear huffed defiantly at the thug-like teen. "No means no!" Kanji frowned but relented.

    "Well, now that we've gotten to know each other," Taiga began. "I gotta ask, what's with the glasses?"

    "Oh, Teddie made these," Shirou said. He walked over to pat the bear's head, who beamed at the affectionate praise. "It's because of him we were able to see through the fog."

    "Interesting. Do you have any more for us?"

    "Oh, I can make them right now! Just give me a-!"

    "Wait, Teddie!" Yukiko cried out. She rushed to his side and then knelt over his ear to whisper something. The bear's eyes grew wide as he listened to her plan.

    "Woah… are you sure, Yuki-chan?"

    "Trust me, it'll be great." The smile on her face was practically shining, and Teddie just couldn't say no.

    "Then here we go! Three specially designed glasses for our new members!"

    He clapped his hands twice, and the new specs appeared in his paws. The trio leaned over expectantly… and looked confused. "Uh…" "Wha?" "Huh?"

    "Go ahead! Put them on!" Teddie urged. Behind him, Yukiko nodded with a grin breaking out, and Shirou had a resigned expression on his face.

    "But… don't these look different from the ones you guys are wearing?" Kanji asked. He took it anyway, as did Taiga and Naoto, and they put them on. They noticed the changes right away, with the fog filtered away from the lens.

    They also noticed how animated the others' faces were looking at them. Because they were wearing ridiculous joke glasses with attachable nose and 'stache.

    "Teehee. Perfect… just, pffm-perfect! Bwahahahahaha!" Yukiko erupted into laughter almost right away.

    "Hahaha, man, those look great on you!" Rise added. How genuine she was being was hard to tell from her guffaws.

    "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," Taiga huffed. She was annoyed, but she couldn't deny a good prank when she saw one. Even when she was the victim. "Well played, bear."

    "'Well played', my ass!" Kanji snapped, throwing his gag glasses off into the horizon. "This shit ain't funny!"

    "D-don't take it out on me!" Teddie flinched. Kanji was big, and could easily overpower the bear if he wanted to. He was already placating the wrathful teen with a new pair he conjured in his cupped hands. Kanji swiped the glasses right away, putting them on his face…

    Only to meet more laughter. He was wearing another set of gag glasses, what were the odds? Rise and Yukiko were the loudest, and Taiga had a sly smile on her face.

    "You picked up my spare! You must really like my glasses, Kanji!" Teddie said jovially.

    "Haha, sucks to be you, man!" Yosuke chortled. The fox next to him chuckled in a tone similar to an old American cartoon dog.

    Chie was doubled over, holding her stomach. "Ahahahaha! Oh my sides, oh my sides!"

    Even Shirou couldn't resist a chuckle. He thought the joke was a little crude at first… but the fake-out was just too funny.

    BANG BANG BANG!

    The laughs turned to screams as gunfire went off. Naoto had a revolver gun in hand, pointed down to a pair of gag glasses thrown down to the ground. His face was contorted in an expression of pure, utter fury. Realizing what he had just done, he quickly holstered the gun back before any other lapse of judgment could be made.


    "I've had it with all these distractions and antics," he seethed. "If we are all done behaving like children, can we please move on?!"


    No one moved. They regarded Naoto with a degree of fear and disbelief. He stomped forward and snarled, "That means give us real glasses NOW!"

    Teddie never clapped so fast in his life. He practically bowed and offered his hands out in apology, daring not to look up. Naoto snatched a pair with blue frames and oval lenses before slipping them on. He huffed once before walking away, deliberately stepping on the damaged glasses underfoot. "Now can we please hurry and find this gothic castle you mentioned yesterday?"

    On the one hand, Shirou could understand where Naoto was coming from. His nerves were likely frayed from yesterday, and he was barely holding it in. A moment of levity was the absolute last thing he wanted, and he didn't appreciate the others treating this case as a joke.

    But he took it quite too far back there. Shirou could tell it was a fake air gun (probably too young to own a real one, regardless of license) but it still left a crushing impact. Kanji looked awfully guilty as if he had said those words, and just mumbled an apology to Teddie before picking up a pair of black sunglasses. Yosuke looked back to his phone, as he had been all day, worried about Satsuki's confirmed disappearance and what it could mean. Yukiko was close to tears despite Rise and Chie's support and comforting words.

    The only reason Naoto was really here was to satisfy his curiosity, but maybe that was a mistake. We are in no hurry to face Naoto's Shadow at any rate.

    Taiga didn't take that lying down, though. After appraising her designated pair of glasses (brownish, leopard-skin framed sunglasses with large lenses), she approached the sulking detective with a pout of her own. "You know, you should appreciate your youth more often."

    Naoto turned to her with a scowl. "I'm trying to solve a case that endangers the youth of this town."

    "So is everyone else. They've been at this longer than either of us have realized, and I'd say they've handled things just fine for some meddling kids and a bear." Taiga glanced over her shoulder really quick. "And a fox."

    "Even so—"

    "Do you have friends, Naoto-kun?"

    Taiga's question came so out of left field to the detective, and not just in the timing. "Why would you—" he started to ask, voice crackling slightly. Then he cleared his throat and spoke again, more firmly. "I-I mean, I have no need for friends."

    "Not even Kanji-kun?"

    "I'm his chaperone. Nothing more. I don't want friends."

    "Don't want or can't find?"

    Naoto glared. "What's the difference?"

    "Whether you gave up or not," Taiga coolly answered, turning away. "Take it from me, an adult that wished she had more time in the prime of her youth; don't go rushing headfirst into growing up. The years will catch up before you know it."

    After everyone got the chance to calm down, Teddie guided the whole party back to Moon Voidania. Tensions were still high for many reasons, and no one said a word the whole trip. The gate was still blown open from the outside following Taiga's escape, and they crossed the blocky bridge to the bigger, wooden gate in the castle proper.

    Inside was a large foyer of purple brick coloring, spread out large and far. Two chandeliers hung upon the ceiling with dimly lit candlesticks illuminating the room. There were three doors excluding the gate they just walked through. Two small doors at the left and right walls of the room, and a larger door at the top of the elevated spiral staircase, likely to the next floor.

    "So, Teddie, Shirou," Taiga asked suddenly, looking all over the room. "The Shadows you guys fight don't pop up right at the front door, right?"

    "Not to my knowledge," Shirou answered. Teddie confirmed it with a shaking "no" motion.

    "And the big Shadows that pop up at the end of these dungeons, they don't actively try to fight us, right?"

    "Nope," Teddie confirmed. "They actually try to run away from us."

    "Perfect. We'll train here then."

    "'Train'?!" Shirou balked. "Fuji-nee, please reconsider-"

    "You need this, Shirou," she said solemnly. "You can't keep fumbling with these Persona powers you barely understand when your bodies can't handle the heat."

    "So… training from hell?" Yosuke guessed. "This is gonna suck, right?"

    "That's putting it mildly," Shirou warned him. It was enough to give his teammates a wince. Rarely anything got under his skin like this.

    "Is it even safe to train here?" Rise asked. "I mean, right in the culprit's lair?"

    "Of course; it'll psyche the vamp-pair out knowing we're here and getting ready to kick their asses. Obviously we can't go any further because Naoto's a non-combatant. But frankly, none of you are ready for what's beyond this door. Maybe a little beyond to at least fight the Shadows, but only on this floor."

    "We've handled Shadows before," Chie argued. "Can't we just fight them until you're satisfied?"

    "You can beat up as many Shadows as you want for exercise, and you can handle them on auto-pilot. It's the tough guys you need training for, because they'll not just out-muscle you, but take advantage of your lack of tactics."

    No one had a proper argument to that. She may not have fought monsters before, but she had years of practical expertise under her belt. One look from her and she could see how unrefined everyone was in skill.

    They needed every skill, hack, trick, and technique with the thorough practice they could wring out to handle a real damn vampire.

    "Well, no time like the present!" Taiga grinned wide. "The first lesson of the Tiger Dojo is… DODGE!"

    Shirou expected this development as he had heightened senses since first awakening to his Persona, and fighting Shadows with killing intent. And yet his guardian, his undefeated master, managed to close the distance between them so fast that he didn't have time to guard. And then in the same breath, hit him so hard with her trademark shinai that he got a concussion.

    The last thing he heard before he blanked out were seven words that he wished Cu Sith didn't say at all.

    "She is definitely a keeper, Cu Shirou."


    - - - Updated - - -

    a little bonus that is also seen from the fanfiction site stinger: So I kept getting these "reviews" from guests that kept asking me the same thing. Make Shirou broken powerful by reaching spiritual and mystical enlightenment or something, taken the context from some scene in Persona 5 Royal way too seriously. Not only that, but they gave me an actual essay-length body of text explaining how such feats would happen, why, and the word-gasm of such fights would bring.

    As a writer, I felt annoyed and insulted I kept getting story pitches by people that don't have the patience or skill to write these up themselves. So I decided to go monkey's paw about it; write up the story they want but in a way that shows how much I actually care about it. As in, really short. 100 words exact. Hope you guys get a kick out of this as much as I did.

    <><><>

    Shirou got a weird idea from a dream. He tried to ignore it, but it kept coming back in vivid detail.

    "Reach Enlightenment. Awaken your true self."

    One day he went to Tama's shrine and prayed. His prayers were answered, and his powers accumulated, refined and tempered.

    All day Shirou meditated and felt his power grow. He could do anything, he realized. There was no limit.

    Except realizing that this path would mean giving up his ideals. And even his friends.

    The same day he achieved enlightenment, he threw it away. He liked being an ally of justice better.

    End
    Last edited by Kishou the Badger; May 9th, 2021 at 04:11 AM.

  17. #437
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    According to most, my own little world
    Age
    41
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    8,191
    Blog Entries
    194
    Quote Originally Posted by Kishou the Badger View Post
    Shirou got a weird idea from a dream. He tried to ignore it, but it kept coming back in vivid detail.

    "Reach Enlightenment. Awaken your true self."

    One day he went to Tama's shrine and prayed. His prayers were answered, and his powers accumulated, refined and tempered.

    All day Shirou meditated and felt his power grow. He could do anything, he realized. There was no limit.

    Except realizing that this path would mean giving up his ideals. And even his friends.

    The same day he achieved enlightenment, he threw it away. He liked being an ally of justice better.

    End
    All I've learned about Buddhism can basically be summed up as that; enough to realise that I will never understand the appeal. So, good on you for both ignoring the peer pressure (for lack of a better term) and understanding, narratively, why you should ignore it. I love it when authors have thought their story through.

    Aside from that, it is lovely to see Taiga taking charge; that you can make her do so believably is a testament to your skill, as canon largely treats her as a joke when they consider her at all . . .

    (And the line about Shirou's cooking being "a big deal" to the girls was hysterical, thank you. )

    . . . I admit, I'm curious to see how Sacchin will be dealt with; with a distinct lack of Saber around, and her Reality Marble, this Investigation Team is really not equipped to handle her, I don't think. It'll also be interesting to see how training the user affects the Persona's abiltiies, too.

    All in all, I am highly intrigued - and very grateful for this showing up just when I'm in a Persona 4 mood again; your timing is flawless.

    Thank you very much for your efforts.
    “Love will be cruel to who it entices — love will have its sacrifices.”

    — Carmilla Theme




    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."

    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette




  18. #438
    Chapter 43: Reshuffling

    July 12th, Moon Voidania, Ground Floor


    “Again!”


    Taiga stood over them, proud and strong. She was sweating from the brow, but it was only from exerting herself. It was nothing compared to the rather battered teens struggling to stay off the floor.


    The first to rise up was the delinquent fighter. He was a powerhouse through and through, despite joining the team around the same time as her. He had fighting experience, even if it was just in alleyway fights, but it helped bridge the gap.


    “Stop screwing with us and use your Persona already!” Kanji yelled. He had plenty of stamina to burn, and his agitation at being led by the nose meant he could keep going for days.


    Taiga puffed her chest and chuckled. The wooden sword in her hand tapped her shoulder in eager anticipation. “I don’t need to use Kaihime to kick your butts.”


    “I’ll show you!” Kanji yelled, holding a compacted wet floor sign in both hands before swinging it towards her. Taiga effortlessly dodged with the slightest step back.


    Yosuke did a double-take upon noticing the weapon for the first time. “Uh, Kanji? Where did you get that sign?”


    “Junes!” he yelled between swings. “Closet! By! Men’s room!”


    “Wait,
    you stole that?! I got in trouble when it went missing, dammit!”

    “Needed! Weapon!” He continued. “No Time! For! Daidara’s! Will! Return! Later!” The arc of his wide swings was actually quite impressive, as were the dance-like dodges Taiga performed to avoid contact.


    “Dude, I know we said you could take anything in the hub place Teddie sleeps at, but that’s Junes property, and I got in trouble the other day when that went missing and-!“


    Yosuke’s rant stopped when Kanji turned to look at him. It wasn’t a deadly gaze, but a bored one that encouraged Yosuke to make his point already. Taiga herself stopped and gave Yosuke a similar look. He changed gears, realizing it was a lost cause and that he didn’t want to get hurt over this. “…and since it’s technically still within Junes’ property, I’m willing to overlook this.”


    “Good,” Kanji nodded. Then he paused in thought. “So uh… where were we?”


    “At the part where I knock you on your butt.”


    “Cool. Wait, wha-AAAAAGH!” POW! A powerful free-handed punch collided with his unprotected abdomen and sent him flying across the room. Yosuke and the others barely got time to leap aside as he sailed past them and hit the hard wall.


    “KANJI!” Naoto, one of the spectators, quickly rushed to his side with a first-aid kit on hand. Even if Kanji and the others were now super strong to withstand hits like these, it still scared him and they still suffered pain no matter how subdued.


    “Too easily distracted!” Taiga yelled as she pointed at him. Her finger turned towards Yosuke. “That goes double for you, Yosuke-kun!”


    “Oh crap!” That was Taiga-speak for “you’re next” and he was nowhere near ready for another bout with her!


    So, he ran. He had the best agility out of everyone on the team, next to Satonaka. If nothing else, he had confidence in keeping away from her long enough for a proper counterattack.


    Only Taiga Fujimura was a monster in human form; she didn’t weaken. She didn’t tire. She didn’t stop. Her physical prowess was quickly noted to be above anything in their weight class, given how she could regularly punch Kanji out. So Yosuke’s belief that he could outrun her was a fool’s hope. He’d be lucky to last a few seconds with her chasing him.


    Desperate, he slashed his conjured Persona card for Jiraiya, and had the ninja Persona scoop him up from the ground, bridal carry style (thank goodness Kanji wasn’t conscious to mock him for this) while keeping a safe distance away. It worked… until the tigress simply pushed herself to run faster, and closed the distance with the power of a running wind ghost.


    With no other options, he settled for desperate pleas. “SOMEONE HELP ME!”


    “Just need to time this right,” Yukiko answered to herself, barely a whisper. Her fan was out, leveling her spinning Tarot in the air for the right time to focus. Keeping a Persona sustained long term was draining, but if she could time the release just right, she could use minimal energy without the drawback.


    She’d gotten the idea from reading a fan comic Chie had recommended to her a while back. Only problem would be a bit of lag in having the summon happen. But that’s where timing was everything…


    “There!” she focused on the point where Fujimura would pass, and swiped her card. Konohana Sakuya immediately conjured a bright flame with a bright light rising up like a geyser, stronger than a mere fireball Agi.


    After days of fighting and struggle, she was the first of many on the team to cross a threshold and cast the next tier spell: Agilao.


    And it hit perfectly against Taiga’s intended path. “I did it!”


    That victory was short-lived though. Before the flames died out, her body vaulted out in a tucked roll, minimalizing the burns on her clothes. Taiga continued her sprint and shifted targets to Yukiko. Startled, the fair-skinned girl stepped back and threw her fan outward, blades first. Taiga pivoted to the side at the last moment, and before Yukiko could hope to pull the chain on her fan back for another attack-


    “Too slow!” POW! A heavy blow to the back of her neck and she was knocked out.


    An opening!
    Jiraiya moved faster than he ever dared before, circling to her backside with a full-on Power Slash. With both his knives and the shuriken blades, a two-pronged attack! Even better, an endless onslaught of Power Slashes with a ki scream! She’d never see it coming!

    “Atatatata-!”


    “Too wild!” BAM!


    Except she totally
    did. Turned 180 degrees with a sideways swing before he could even get close to scratching her. The blow was buffered by Jiraiya’s form, but Yosuke still collapsed to the ground and cradled his wounded stomach.

    Taiga swung her shinai down a few times, shaking off the impact of the blow. He got closer to her that time; not bad. “And all that’s left is…”


    “WATAAAAAH!”


    Chie leaned down from her hiding spot above, on the head of a gargoyle lamp on the first floor. She dive bombed foot-first, her only warning being a battle cry as she fell. Taiga jumped back at the last moment, but even her reflexes couldn’t fully save her from the impact on the ground which sent her rolling.


    If Taiga’s dodging was like a dance, then Chie’s assault was her matching dance partner. Her punches were scarce when she felt she could get a quick hit in, while her legs kicked in rapid movements and precise steps.


    She fought better with her boots than any other weapon, she realized. She was free, in full motion, and better yet, she felt like her favorite kung-fu star from Trial of the Dragon. Lighter than air, faster than lightning, able to do anything.

    Except hit this damn woman! Maybe if she extended her reach and summoned Tomoe-!

    “Too wide open!” THWACK!


    Nope, bad idea.
    Thump.

    A bell was rung,
    courtesy of Teddie hitting it with a tiny hammer (he personally conjured the bell and hammer for this training session). “And that’s game! Tiger-chan chalks up another win at 19 consecutive victories! While the Investigation Team is still stuck with their one and only win!” Tama tallied a mark on a chalkboard behind them as he announced the results.


    “How are we still losing?” Yosuke whined from the ground. Try as he might, he was too weak to pull himself upright. “We beat her once before, so that must mean we can do it again.”


    “Correction:
    Shirou beat me once,” Taiga insisted. “And he’s busy helping your weakest link learn some self-defense!”

    Ah, now they remembered. Shirou knew Taiga better than anyone and used Rise’s surveillance to counter her every move. After that win, though, she made a beeline for Rise and easily knocked her out. Shirou was able to rally with the others for a close second round, but it still ended with their loss.


    So she changed gears a bit from her crash course battle royale. While she continued to beat some survival skills and tactics into the rest of the team, Shirou would work with Rise one-on-one to better her defenses.


    Looking over at the far corner of the room, they could see Rise trying and failing to protect herself with a quarterstaff (Chie’s leftover weapon that she had loaned her) while Shirou swung his sword in easily choreographed moves. Soon, she started to flail and fall forward, only for Shirou to quickly catch her under her arms. She smiled and uttered something that to her, seemed to be of profound effect given how flustered he now looked.


    “What are they doing?” Chie asked, accusatory.


    “I don’t know,” Yukiko uttered darkly. “But I don’t like it.”


    “I don’t like being stuck here for days,” Kanji grumbled, nursing his arm after Naoto patched it up. “I want to kick some ass, dammit!”


    “You guys still need a few more days of this before you’re remotely ready,” Taiga warned. A chorus of groans followed soon after.


    Finally, Yosuke was pulled up from the ground with a helping hand from Chie. It hurt to stand but it wouldn’t be for long. “Ah well, might as well get the next round under way. I’ll heal this time.” With a quick card slash, Jiraiya appeared and healed everyone one at a time, starting with himself. Diarama really worked wonders.


    “I’m surprised you are all still willing to keep fighting after days of this,” Naoto said. “On top of schoolwork, no less.”


    “Yeah, well I’d rather take this training punishment than study for finals any day.” Yosuke answered. Chie and Kanji nodded in agreement.


    Taiga stopped and blinked, looking like a deer in headlights. “Study?
    Finals?

    A calm before the storm, one that only Shirou had experienced before, and he paled in fear. Somehow, Taiga’s slow reaction scared the others more than fighting her the last few days. It didn’t help that she yelled so loud it shook the castle.


    WHY DIDN’T YOU STUPID KIDS TELL ME YOU WERE ALL ON FINALS WEEK!?!”

    <><><>

    July 13th, Homeroom, Morning

    Yukiko moaned as she massaged the back of her neck (and unintentionally got some pointed stares from nearby boys). “Uh, my back is so sore.”


    “Speak for yourself,” Chie groaned back, her upper body lying on the top of her desk. “I can’t feel anything below my waist.”


    “I can’t feel my
    everything,” Yosuke countered, slightly muffled. His forehead was firmly planted on his desk, and his state of slouch held no equal.

    By now the rest of Class 2-2 was baffled and confused. The one sitting to Shirou’s left leaned over to him and asked aloud, “What the hell happened with you guys?”


    Even Shirou looked ragged with baggy eyes and swollen arms, but he hid that discomfort better than his friends. Shrugging, he offered the easiest excuse he could think of. “Group study. Finals are coming up, after all.”


    Their classmates took that explanation at face value. Hanamura and Satonaka were among the most academically challenged students of the class, and their mental fatigue showed to bring down two of the brightest. The four of them had been together since early spring and always left to do their own thing which led to rumors circulating that they were some sort of double date going on.


    There was already talk about who was dating who, but that was one bit of the rumor mill Shirou was
    not entitled to find out. No matter what his Personas said otherwise.

    But the real reason for their exhaustion was because of Fuji-nee. When she found out that finals were coming up, she got so mad that she cancelled training until further notice. But not before beating everyone senseless with her shinai for letting this information slip. And he did mean
    everyone. That included Naoto, Teddie and Tama, despite them being spectators. That even extended to Taiga herself, inflicting self-harm for letting this happen in the first place.

    Fortunately, she was convinced from doing any more harm to herself and others until finals were over and done with. And it seemed that it would be a little while before the rain came, so plenty of time to rest. Or at least get back into the swing of things. Despite the tragedy of Morooka’s death, the students still needed to go to school.


    “Good morning class!” An auburn-haired woman strutted in, smiling wide. Her pink blouse was not fully buttoned up and showed off an ample bust with alluring jewelry around her neck. A velvet purple skirt was cut up to her knees and showed off her leggings and red high heels, deliberately clicking with each step.


    It was Noriko Kashiwagi, the biology teacher who quickly stepped in as substitute homeroom teacher. She stressed that it was temporary, but so stressed the word ‘further’ that she could make it full-time for the students who wanted to know her better… with pointed looks at the young boys in the class.


    “Good morning, sensei,” the class replied, bored and tired.


    “Now now, that’s not the proper way to address your new homeroom teacher! You need to say Kashiwagi-sensei. Although I wouldn’t mind if you all call me Noriko-chan.” She winked, expecting some blushes or laughs. All she got were more groans.


    Needless to say, everyone missed King Moron now for the wrong reasons. They’d rather take an angry, berating philosophy teacher who’d double down as a pastor than a sultry adulterer getting
    way too eager to share the wrong kind of “biology lessons”. Boys were creeped out by a late forty-year-old woman making advances on them, and girls hated her for subtly insulting them and catering to her own delusions of beauty.

    It seemed only fitting to punish the students that wanted King Moron dead for so long with a teacher objectively worse than him.


    “Hmm?” By now, Kashiwagi noticed four of her students looking less than attentive. “My, Emiya-kun. Are you and your friends all right?”


    “Just a little tired from our group study last night, sensei,” Shirou said. Yukiko nodded to back the story up. Kashiwagi didn’t spare her a glance.


    “Well, don’t strain yourself
    too hard, boys,” she said. “Nothing’s more important than your health.”

    Nothing more was said, despite there being an instinctive
    need for one. The teens were too tired to be annoyed by her clear bias, and she quickly started the morning lesson. Shirou himself would have let it go had she kept it professional after that. But then she had to open her mouth again.

    “By the way, I’ve been hearing talk of you boys wanting to date our new first-year now that poor Morooka-san isn’t around to heckle you,” she said conversationally as she wrote down the last few notes for the lecture. “I wouldn’t get my hopes up on asking Kujikawa-san out. People are always different in real life than on TV, after all.”


    Kashiwagi sneered darkly, a look not so hidden despite her turning to face the blackboard. “There’s nothing so great about an idol anyway. Gets cold feet on stage and gets all that adoration? She's just a piece of inexperienced jailbait.”


    “Better that than a delusional vamp.”


    The words came out of Shirou’s mouth faster than he meant to. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation. Maybe he was becoming more open with his thoughts since coming to Inaba. Or maybe he was still a little peeved at his teacher’s behavior earlier. It could even be he just felt inclined to defend Rise’s honor from a person who badmouthed her, regardless of their position.


    But the resounding crack of the chalk on the board sounded like a gunshot. Every student straightened up and held bated breaths, realizing very quickly how tense the room was. Shirou’s words clearly affected Kashiwagi with how hard her hand was clenched. Everyone else glanced between the two, worried about what would happen next.


    “Emiya-kun,”
    she said slowly as she turned to him. She tried to smile but it was clearly a strained expression on her face. “It’s not polite to say things like that to your teachers.”

    “I agree,” he said evenly.

    And that was all he said. The tension only grew from there, and Kashiwagi was scowling at him.


    “Then why did you say that to
    your teacher just now?”

    “I did no such thing.”


    “But you said-!”


    “I said it’s better to be an inexperienced jailbait than a delusional vamp,” he repeated clearly. “What do you think that meant?”


    More than a few students were stifling laughter. Kashiwagi did not share the sentiment. The intent was there from how he phrased the insult. But there was no guilt or admittance, and he could pass it off as making another comparison.


    Kashiwagi hated being made a fool of… but she found it strangely attractive being led on by a man’s wit. And just then, the bell rang signaling lunch break. Grudgingly she packed her things to go to her next class, barely sparing a word edgewise. As soon as she left, everyone hovered by Shirou’s seat with unbridled interest, barely giving his friends any personal space. Some even pushed against his and Satonaka’s desks with their bodies just to lean closer to him.


    “Dude, first King Moron, now Kashiwagi? Do you have balls of steel or something?”


    “That was just awesome, man! You gotta teach me your material!”


    “You really should have taken the Class Rep position when you had the chance!”


    “Hey, uh, can I join your group study sometime too, Emiya-kun?”


    “No fair! I was gonna ask him first!”


    “Yo, senpai!”


    The last one came from a boisterous underclassman. Nearly all of class 2-2’s eyes turned to the door, and they all saw Kanji Tatsumi leaning his head in with a hand outstretched to call. He didn’t seem to notice or care about their reactions. “You got a minute? I need some advice for a Home Ec. recipe.”


    “Coming, Kanji.” With that, Shirou pulled out of his desk and left. The surrounding students gave a wide berth, looking at him with more awe than before.


    They then turned to the remaining students in the sitting area, suddenly dubious. “Seriously, what’s your deal?” One of them asked.


    Chie glared at her hovering classmates. “Excuse me?”


    “Every time someone goes missing at this school, you and Emiya-kun are at the center of it,” a chatty girl noted. “Yukiko-chan, I can understand. But Rise-chan’s practically attached to his hip, and now he’s all buddy-buddy with the school
    delinquent?”

    “Come to think of it, you two were kinda out of it during April,” another said.


    Yosuke huffed derisively. “What’d you expect? Someone died while staying at the Amagi Inn, and Konishi-senpai died too. It was a pretty shitty month.”


    “I… guess you have a point,” a boy student conceded. Maybe before no one would have cared about the late Saki Konishi given the rumors, but Morooka’s death reminded them that anyone they knew could be a victim. There was a fear present now that no one was really safe at the school.


    Even a boy from a cram school and his older sister had disappeared, and they knew Yosuke was at least a little familiar with them. At the very least, they pitied how unfair the situation was right now.


    “Yeah, but after that? You all started acting closer like BFFs. Or some family group from an anime!”


    “It all circles back to Shirou Emiya. I know a cousin who lives in Fuyuki City, and went to his same old school. He told me that Shirou’s some kind of legend back there.”


    Yukiko’s eyes gleamed as she leaned closer. “Did you say… he’s a legend?!”


    “Probably not the kind you think, Yukiko,” Chie chided.


    “I’d say he is,” a girl argued. “He has some sort of sixth sense when it comes to machine appliances, and he would have made pro in the archery field if not for some injury last year.”


    “I bet he has a bunch of girls waiting for him back home.” The female student, and a few others, chorused in swooning. “Ahhhh, so romantic.”


    “But don’t worry, Chie-chan, Yukiko-chan! We’re all rooting for you!” Another girl told them, with several nodding their heads in agreement.


    Chie flushed and recoiled while Yukiko blinked owlishly. “Wh-wh-what’s
    that supposed to mean?!”

    “Next to Rise-chan, one of you three have the most realistic chance of well… you know.” Even Yukiko was starting to flush at the implication.


    “You guys have way too much time on your hands,” Yosuke deadpanned.


    “Can you blame us, Hanamura? Your new best friend is the hottest thing in town since a Junes sale.”


    “Yeah! And for all we know, Emiya’s some sort of urban fantasy hero in the making and will save us from the evil underbelly of the demons or something! That’d make a cool story, actually.”


    Yosuke laughed sheepishly while Chie slumped in her seat, a bit embarrassed. “Haha, you guys are such dreamers…”


    Still, a nagging doubt in their minds grew as they heard their classmates’ gossip; how much did they really know about their team leader?


    <><><>

    After School


    Naoto glanced down at the pocket watch in his hand. A cliché for a British-themed detective, but one he thought was fitting and
    cool to the kind of detective he wanted to be. It helped to keep your mind open and learning, such as how to read roman numerals and the old-fashioned way to tell time.

    He couldn’t help but feel… nervous. Not because he knew what could possibly blow this case wide open if any of it could be proven true, but because of how he reacted. Kanji trusted Naoto, but he also trusted the Investigation Team as they called themselves. He pushed quite hard for mediation between them, for Naoto to at least apologize for the other.


    Oh, Naoto knew full well that he had screwed up. Had that mistake occurred anywhere else but the TV world, he would have gotten a vicious scolding from the police department using a firearm like that. But Naoto felt that they wouldn’t heckle him because what he did was wrong. Only that
    he did something worth punishment.

    No one on the force
    liked him. They barely tolerated him, looking for any excuse to get away from him. They did not like getting shown up by a high schooler on how to do their job. The Investigation Team was just as elite by virtue of being the only ones that knew about the TV world, so it wasn’t like they were innocent.

    Some people just liked to prey on weakness, on admission. If he were to show that, even with a genuine apology, they would take that kindness and hold it over his head, demanding more out of him. Their bruised egos and pride would need more compensation than anything a mere apology would give. Nothing would ever satisfy them short of his career as a detective ending in failure.


    He’d worked hard to build his reputation as a detective, even if the title Detective
    Prince was very much a mocking moniker from various officers. It was hard to earn recognition… and so very easy to lose it.

    It was the equivalent of spending hours making a block tower and then accidentally knocking it down. Sure you could build it back up but the stigma of the mistake would—


    “Hey, Naoto!”


    A loud, familiar greeting broke Naoto out of his thoughts. Stuffing the watch away, he saw Kanji waving as he walked over to the gate. By now their school day ritual was so routine that there was hardly any pressure between them.

    Although this was the first time that he saw Emiya-san following him.

    “Kanji, Emiya-san,” he greeted them both. “I see you’re both recovering well from training.”


    “Wouldn’t be my first time sparring with Fuji-nee,” Shirou said before sighing. “I kind of hoped the last was behind me, though.”


    “No kidding. Your guardian-sis is such a badass, senpai,” Kanji said. He looked no worse for wear, rolling his shoulder in place with a smile and interest for another session. “I can’t remember the last time I got that good of a workout!”


    “I’m not sure if what you went through counts as a ‘workout’,” Shirou said. “Fuji-nee put you through the wringer the most.”


    The bleached delinquent bristled at that memory and awkwardly scratched his neck. He could still recall the image of her battle cry as she charged at him vividly. “She might have gotten mad about the whole ‘severed arm’ thing. Sorry again, by the way. But besides that, you guys have been fighting for months now, right? I’m behind enough as it is, so every little bit of training counts.”


    “Are you actually looking forward to fighting for real?” Naoto asked, alarmed.


    Kanji had the decency to look even more embarrassed. “Uh… I mean, I know how serious this is. Which is why I want to give this my all. Gotta make it up to my fellow senpais for getting my a-erm,
    butt out of the fire.”

    “Rise is in the same year as you, though,” Shirou pointed out.


    “Well, she’s my senpai in experience. That’s what she said, anyway.”


    “Yeah, that sounds like her.”


    Naoto was taken aback when Kanji laughed with Shirou. In all the time that the detective had known his ward, Kanji was so guarded with his feelings that the young detective had only ever found out about his sewing and cooking hobbies through observation. And yet one day he just confided his interests to the Investigation Team in casual conversation on the way to Junes.


    That was another thing Naoto noticed. Kanji seemed to be smiling a lot more often these days. He was always a considerate young man and meant well, but his constant anger and inferiority complex followed him like a raincloud. Whether he got shocked out of his rut or found new appreciation for life, it was hard to say with this “Persona Awakening”. But one thing was for certain.


    “You’ve changed, Kanji.”


    “Hmm?” he blinked, regarded Naoto with a frown as he mulled the words over. “Is that good?”


    “It is. Before, you would have flown off the handle if someone so much as mentioned the word ‘strange’.”


    His frown fell farther, and his legs shook. It still had an effect on him, but not as pronounced as before. “Oh, right. That. Still working on that.”


    “I can see that,” he nodded. “And I have little reason to worry about you while I’m gone.”


    Kanji blushed, still unused to praise. “Uh, Thanks, Na-wait, ‘gone’? What are you talking about?”


    “I’m leaving for Misaki Town. In fact, I’m boarding a train to leave this evening.” Their baffled reactions were question enough, so he elaborated. “Satsuki Kubo was believed to be a resident there before moving back to Inaba. If there are any clues about her motives or mental state, they would probably originate from there.”


    “You really think she’s the vampire, though?” Kanji asked.


    “Based on what Emiya has told me, supported by my own observations, she’s at least the number one suspect. The timing of her arrival is suspect enough, and no one has seen the Kubo parents for weeks.”


    If Naoto had any pride, it was in his deduction skills. Satsuki Kubo was an enigma, suddenly appearing without warning and not officially on record of living in Inaba. She kept mostly to herself, but the few times people did see her they were instantly charmed by her looks and appeal (a textbook example of a charismatic charmer). And now, the night after Morooka’s death, she and her brother Mitsuo had gone missing. When shown a picture, Taiga swore she was the same person that tried to kill her that night.


    The only one who refused to believe this revelation was Yosuke. Not that they could blame him; Sacchin was his girlfriend.


    “What good would finding clues there do us?” Shirou asked. “If she really skipped town here
    or there, there probably wouldn’t be anything there that points to her being alive, much less a motive.”

    “I’d rather be the judge of that myself,” Naoto replied. “You are more concerned about apprehending the suspect, but it won’t matter if we can’t build a case.”


    “Are you sure you can’t just wait until we find her?”


    “It’s not like I can be of any help otherwise,” he shrugged. “I lack a Persona to fight with, and the IPD refuse to cooperate with me. They only gave me the ticket fare because it would mean that I’d be leaving.”
    And be out of their hair.

    “And you think leaving will help us?” Kanji asked. “Come on, Naoto, you can’t limp out like that! You’re stuck with me indefinitely, remember?”


    “The culprit has already successfully thrown you into the TV. As there hasn’t been another case of kidnapping after the first attempt, you are safe from any further attacks, Kanji.”


    “And we’re gonna stomp down her big castle door! I mean, we all know the vampire’s behind all this mess!”


    Naoto frowned. “I wonder…”


    “Huh?”


    “Nothing. In any case, I feel this trip will help us bring one step closer to the truth of the mystery, one way or another. That’s why I’m going.”


    The blue-haired detective turned to his new red-haired colleague. “Emiya-san, can I trust you to watch after Kanji in the meantime? He seems to have taken a liking to you.”


    Kanji flinched back, face turning a sickly white as the words played over in his head. “What the-? What the hell do you mean by ‘liking’?!”


    “I don’t mind,” Shirou said, briefly ignoring him. “I’ve been meaning to get to know him better, anyway.”


    “I see. Then that’s good.”


    “What the hell are you saying ‘yes’ for, senpai? Don’t I get a say in this?!”


    “Do you not approve of Emiya-san?” Naoto asked him.


    “W-Well, no…”


    “Then there shouldn’t be a problem.” Kanji still looked dismayed, but he grumbled under his breath instead of raising further complaints. Satisfied, Naoto turned and left them at the gate. “I’ll be back in a few days. Please don’t die.”


    <><><>

    Samegawa Flood Plain

    It was a quiet, awkward walk from school. As they reached the road parallel to the riverbed, Kanji groaned and kicked the dirt under his foot. “Dammit, why did Naoto have to leave?”


    Shirou didn’t have an answer to that. He knew Naoto had just explained why but he didn’t think it was the real reason. “He’ll be back before you know it,” Shirou told him.


    “I know that, but…”


    It was understandably upsetting with life changes happening after coming to terms with yourself, and not all of them were good. Shirou could tell how much Kanji enjoyed Naoto’s company. Exactly how much and why was none of his business, but the least he could do was try to make up for it.


    “Incidentally, I heard some rumors back at school that you were involved with some gang of bullies.” Kanji stopped and stiffened. Shirou quickly added, “I didn’t believe them, of course, but I wanted to ask if you knew something about them.”


    Kanji sighed, a mixture of sadness and relief. “No, it’s just… kinda sucks hearing that. You pick a fight against some bikers, and suddenly everyone thinks you’re a biker. Kinda messed up if you ask me.”


    “They just don’t know you, Kanji. You can be a little intimidating by appearance, but if they know how nice a guy you really are, they’d trust you.”


    “Yeah, and I bet everyone trusts you easily, senpai,” Kanji remarked bitterly, turning to face him with a scowl. “You had quite a crowd back at your homeroom.”


    “I wasn’t very social before I came to Inaba, to be honest. I wasn’t exactly scary, but I didn’t try hard to understand other people either.”


    The delinquent’s face betrayed a look of astonishment. Normally Shirou wouldn’t consider sharing much about his past, but he felt a kinship with Kanji since hearing about his father. “I’ve… also been in fights before. And I can confirm that it gets people worried. So at least consider others before you act on your own. Before it was just your mother, but you have the Investigation Team backing you up. And Naoto, too.”


    “…thanks, man.”


    “Anytime.”


    They continued to walk home, a comfortable silence with nature’s white noise around them. Then Kanji coughed, drawing attention.


    “Listen, uhh… Whenever you have time, could you maybe hear what I have to say?” he said shyly. “I feel all cramped inside, and I'm too dumb to know what it's about on my own.”


    Clumsy as he was, Kanji genuinely wants to change for the better. What else could he do but endorse that?


    Shirou smiled and nodded. “Of course, Kanji.”


    Then, Kanji’s Tarot came into view, number “IV”. A silhouette of a regal figure (as noted by the cross and bedazzled crown on his head) sporting a cape with red tassels, over a silver cuirass. Stained glass set the background in cool colors, mostly of purple and green, with the purple set closest to the silhouette. A scepter and a shield were placed side by side of the figure.


    Thou art I, and I am thou.

    Thou hast established a new bond.
    It shall bring thee closer to the truth.
    Thou shalt be blessed by Personae of the Emperor Arcana.

    “And to start off,” Kanji said as Shirou’s senses came back. “Maybe I should go smack some bullies before the night’s over.”


    Shirou winced. “Didn’t we just talk about how you have a negative reputation?”


    “Yeah, but if I beat up the trouble-makers, the town will be safer! Then they’ll start trusting me like you, senpai! Hell, you have to help me out on this because you already have a good rep!”


    One way or another, Kanji looked determined to start the life of a street vigilante. “…And now I know how Fuji-nee felt.”


    <><><>

    July 14th, Shopping District


    Waiting by the bus stop crossing at the shopping district, Shirou idly pocketed his weekly pay from MOEL. He glanced once more at the gas station, looking and failing to find one of the regulars there. “Nami-san isn’t here today either.”


    Fuji-nee was lenient enough to give the team until Saturday to resume training. They would meet up after school and work through their day off. Although Shirou wasn’t extending past his physical needs, he found juggling social lives kind of taxing in their own way. The fact that they helped bolster the power of his Persona still left him with mixed feelings, so he didn’t think too much about it. It helped that he felt a state of zen whenever working.


    His work schedule for MOEL was always flexible, so he tried to work whenever he could because of obligation (like his other jobs back in Fuyuki, actually). However, Shirou hadn’t seen Nami any of the times he worked or passed by the store to work. He brushed it off as bad timing before and being busy with rescuing Rise and later Kanji. Something must have happened though, as the older attendant was never around, even on days when Shirou tried to see him lately.


    Come to think of it, where did Nami live? Shirou had to share his place of residence when he first applied, but Nami always dodged the question when asked. He didn’t sign a work application when he got the job either. Maybe he lived in a seedier part of Inaba, rife with gossip?


    “Hey, Four!”


    Shirou snapped out of his thoughts and looked over at the corner of the street. To his surprise, Marie was waving and running up to him.


    “Marie? What are you doing outside?” To his knowledge, she either wasn’t allowed to leave or couldn’t leave the Velvet Room without him. And here she was, impatiently tapping her foot like they had an appointment planned.


    “Waiting for you, of course. Did you forget your promise to help me?”


    “Uh…”


    Marie’s face fell to a stern scowl. “You did, didn’t you?”


    He did, admittedly. But it came back to him quickly that yes, he did promise to help her own memories. “A lot of stuff happened I didn’t have the time before. Sorry.”


    “Well, you have time now,” she insisted, already yanking at his arm. “I’m not stepping back in the Nose’s stuffy limo for another minute until you take me somewhere.”


    Well, he was free, and he did owe her for waiting so long, so he was willing to make it up for her. “Like where?”


    “I don’t know, somewhere lively, I guess. This… ‘Joo-ness’ I keep hearing about.”


    <><><>

    Junes – Electronics Department

    “Every day’s great at your Junes”. That phrase should rather be “every day is packed”. It was the closest Adachi could ever see or feel of a bustling city life and it was because a bunch of villagers hunted around the department store for sales.
    Not that he was one to talk, picking up yet another cheap bargain meal from the deli. Now all he had to do was avoid that old woman…

    Just as he was dreading the trip to the front door elevator, a familiar face caught his eye inside the electronics store. She was in a bunch of stylish designer clothes now from the plaid red skirt to the blue hat, but he’d recognize her anywhere (after doing an all-nighter of finding out who she was). “Oh, Marie-chan! Glad to see you’re doing better!”


    He walked over to her, standing in front of the large display screen. She was surprised to see him, as was Dojima-san’s nephew standing next to her. “Oh, it’s the detective guy.”


    “Oh, you remember me!” Adachi said. “And I see you made a friend with Dojima-san’s nephew, too!”


    “Dojima-san… the other detective?” Marie wondered. She turned to Shirou with a surprised look. “He’s your uncle?”


    “Small world,” he said. “And it’s a surprise to see you here, Adachi-san.”


    “Well, with the recent murder victim and now two missing kids to find, it’s just faster and cheaper to buy food at Junes than anywhere else,” Adachi explained. Oh wait, he wasn’t supposed to mention that stuff in public, was he? Crap. “Uh, not that you heard it from me. And don’t worry, the police are on the job!”


    “But… you’re here, off the job,” Marie pointed out.


    “I’m off duty right now. Sometimes rest and relaxation are just as important to diligent hard work. And it certainly beats finding lost cats.” His suit got so dirty that day, and he had to put his first paycheck towards the cleaning bill!


    “But enough about me,” he said, changing gears. “What are you two doing here?”


    “I’m just showing Marie around,” Shirou told him. “Hoping something will jog her memory.”


    “Ah. Anything come to mind?”


    Marie turned back to the large screen TV. “Not a whole lot. But… I now know how to use a TV. I guess that’s something?”


    Adachi chuckled, turning to the red-haired teen with a thumbs up. “Not what I expect on a first date, but it sounds like praise to me! Way to go!”


    “…Thanks?”


    <><><>

    Junes – Food Court

    Before long, the three of them left the store and ordered meals at the food court. Adachi offered to pay for the group, assuring them he was the responsible adult, even if he was
    surrounded by country hicks flooding every corner of the store. While the two got themselves some grilled skillet meats (another new thing the girl was learning apparently), he ordered a small sandwich for himself. It would be a while before he would eat his at-home dinner and a little meal wouldn’t hurt.

    “There’s a lot of people at this ‘Joo-nes’ place,” Marie said between bites, looking at the other tables around them. While not everyone was sitting down and eating, a lot of them were walking into and past the food court, almost aimless. Their heads were always looking at the next bright ad that was distracting them. “Why is that? Don’t they have anything else to do?”


    Adachi snorted dismissively. “Of course not. Inaba’s a town in the middle of nowheresville, where activity is dead in all but a few places. People come here to shop, eat, and hang out because there’s literally nothing else to do.”


    “That’s… a rather bleak outlook, Adachi-san,” Shirou said slowly. Great, he must think that he was a jerk or something. He was certainly appraising him like one with that wary stare.


    “That’s just how it is,” he argued. “You’re from the city, so you know how there’s more to do there than here, right?”


    “What, like watching TV?” Marie asked for him.


    “Nah, anyone can watch TV anywhere. But at places like Shibuya, with big towers and jumbotrons that play commercials and TV dramas 24/7? They make the prized flat screen at the electronics store look like a remote.”


    Her eyes widened considerably, already imagining what such a tower would look like in her mind. “That’s… big,” she said.


    “Exactly! And there are plenty of stores spread out too, not just one big collection like with Junes. People move around here because they feel there’s more stuff to do than anywhere else. But in a city, people constantly move around just to get to all their favorite spots or workplaces on time.”


    Shirou took another bite of his sizzled meat as they talked. He took the time to mull his words over as he ate before speaking. “I understand the appeal to city life, Adachi-san. As you said, I grew up in one and have grown used to it; so many different places to find and see, that you can’t fit it all in one day. But sometimes, having everything you need closer together is just as good. Inaba may not be big, but it has a sense of community all the same.”


    Adachi blinked. He stared intently at him with a guarded expression before slowly nodding. “Heh… you’re definitely Dojima-san’s nephew.”


    “Huh?”


    “Don’t worry, it’s a compliment. He’d say some pretty profound stuff too… when he’s not yelling at me, anyway.”


    Shirou chuckled at that. Good, having a little fun always lifted the mood in an otherwise boring setting. And he knew Dojima-san didn’t mean the stuff he said to him. Most of the time. At least he put up with him.


    “So you’re like your uncle?” Marie asked Shirou. Although she wasn’t looking right at him when she said that; her attention was directed towards a mother and son pair, with the latter loudly asking for a soda drink.


    “I… like to think so.” Shirou looked to Adachi for confirmation. “What do you think?”


    The rookie detective hummed in thought. Which didn’t take long, given what he knew about the two. “No doubt in my mind. They both have this ‘badass’ vibe about them, and a sharp mouth at that.”


    Whether it was from the praise or backhanded insult, Shirou’s face was now tinted red. He quickly hid his shyness, though, and Marie was none the wiser. “Do you think… I’m like my mother?” she asked.


    “Kids take a lot after their parents,” Adachi said. “Looks, personality, hobbies, even fashion sense.”


    “It’s not like I picked these out myself,” Marie argued, gesturing at her hat and handbag. “Maggie gave these to me.”


    “Maggie? Oh, your new guardian.” He only saw her once at the hospital and
    damn, what a fine-looking woman she was. That blonde bombshell certainly beat Miss Yamano by a landslide. “How is her place?”

    “Cramped, lousy, way too blue, da ba de da ba dye,” she told him. “And I’m pretty sure there aren’t any ‘eclectic loutwits’ in there, either.”


    …damn, talk about living off the grid. Even Shirou looked uncomfortable hearing that. Or rather, what he was about to ask her next. “Do you really not remember anything?”


    Frowning, she dug into her handbag and pulled out an old bamboo comb. She clutched it firmly as if afraid it’d fly away from her hand. “All I know for sure is that this belongs to me.”


    Adachi leaned over to see the item clearly. “I remember that comb,” he said. “It was in your hand when we found you.”


    “Is it anything special?” Shirou asked.


    “I’m not big on women’s fashion, but it looks unique enough to me. It’s probably an heirloom from an old family dynasty.”


    “Not that it matters,” she lamented, already pocketing it. “Having it doesn’t help me at all.”


    …okay this was way out of his comfort zone now. The mood around them was pretty grim, and a young girl was sad. He’d say something to steer away from this, maybe laugh off the bad memory but Shirou had that look in his eyes that screamed he wasn’t going to just drop this subject until he was satisfied.


    It was the same look he saw in Dojima-san in some cold cases, really.


    “Well, I think I overstayed my welcome,” Adachi said casually as he rose from his seat. “I hope things look up for you later, Marie-chan.”


    She barely acknowledged him with a nod, and that was fine. He wasn’t good with this sensitive talking stuff. He walked briskly past them on his way to the elevator, before a stray thought came to mind.


    “And Shirou?”


    Shirou turned to look at him from his seat. Adachi glanced back over his shoulder. A tense moment passed as one waited patiently and another was struck with nerves.


    Adachi didn’t know what he was doing, as a young kid like him was none of his business. He shouldn’t have said anything and just kept going. But he was still Dojima-san’s nephew, almost like a son even. So…


    “There’s no need to handle every problem by yourself. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you before that happens. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what the police are for, after all!”


    Smiling and nodding, Adachi left it at that before hurrying out of the store. He shouldn’t carelessly offer his time like that, but it was just something to pep the boy up. He gave enough vibes as a cool friend to his relative and nothing more would come of it.


    I hope.


    <><><>


    As Adachi left, Shirou felt an odd bond formed from Adachi’s genuine concern. In spite of his inexperience and bluster, he was still trying hard to help. If it wasn’t clear from talking with Marie, it was clear now from his parting words.


    The new Tarot resembled something out of Halloween more than anything else. Purple background with barbed lines at the lower corners, a silver oval light at the center (like the moon?) with a curved stripe of cerulean crossing over. A quartet of animals moving around the border in a circle: a bird, a dog, a cat, and a goat. The prominent silhouette in the center looked like a castle jester, from the pointed shoes, a two-pronged cap and belled hat, a scepter, and a golden neck ruffle.


    The most startling fact was seeing the number “0”, but this card looked nothing like the Fool Arcana. So that meant—


    Thou art I, and I am thou.
    Thou hast established a new bond.
    It shall bring thee closer to the truth.
    Thou shalt be blessed by Personae of the Jester Arcana.

    Jester. Another variant card, like Marie’s in fact.


    Speaking of which, Marie had a scowl as she stared in the direction where Adachi left. “Is something wrong?”


    “I don’t like him,” she said simply. “He smells… empty.”


    Shirou blinked. “Empty?” He couldn’t help but sound incredulous. He could smell magic himself, but he never heard of a description like ‘empty’ defining someone’s aptitude, or even lack thereof.


    “You know, like, fake? Flakey?” She added more adjectives as she waved her hands in place, as if that helped explain things. It didn’t. “I just don’t trust him, okay?”


    Normally Shirou wouldn’t second-guess a person like that. Adachi seemed genuine in his interaction with them. But if this whole journey to the TV world had taught him anything, it was that looks could be deceiving and that everyone wore a mask. He even saw a demasking in the real world, sort of, through Kotomine.


    And he just made a social link with Adachi. Was there more to the cop’s façade than he was letting on? “Are you saying I shouldn’t either?”


    Marie shrugged, turning back to her half-finished meal. “I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s your life journey, not mine. Knock yourself out.”


    “I’m sorry our little trip got sidetracked like that,” Shirou said. “I didn’t count on Adachi meeting us like that.”


    “Emptiness aside, it was still fun. Is this what hanging out with friends feels like?”


    “More or less.”


    “I kinda like it. And I wouldn’t mind meeting more of your other friends.”


    Shirou smiled. Maybe it was because she had confided in him how troubling her amnesia was, but they felt a little closer today, not unlike the spontaneous bond he had with Adachi earlier. “I’m sure they’d love to meet you too.”


    After finishing their meals and more small talk, Shirou eventually walked her back to the Velvet Room, and paid himself an overdue visit with the tenants for some Persona fusion.


    <><><>


    July 15
    th, Moon Voidania, Top Floor


    It was almost boring waiting.


    She had full control of knowing what happened in this castle. It was an extension of her power, and a perfect training ground to master her abilities. Even more so than the town she hid in prior.


    She was worried when some strangers came in after her and her brother ghoul, but they simply settled to train right at her doorstep as a means to mock her. That they knew she was waiting and they were going to prepare for the inevitable conflict.


    She eagerly awaited the day of their confrontation but found it hard to keep her patience. The beasts in this world (Shadows, if she recalled) barely sated her thirst. If only she could convince them to come to her now…


    Luckily, she found her ‘in’ with the colorful looking beat suit creature.


    It was so easy to tempt the bear, just like it was for anyone else. Just look into their eyes and say a few charming words. Her boyfriend was surprisingly resilient, but not as much as his other friends.


    The bear was just as resilient, surprisingly enough, despite her honeyed words and practice batting her eyes at him. But then an unexpected development happened.
    It appeared, from the depths of the bear’s hollow heart.

    And he was much more accommodating. For now, the bear was her prisoner in another room, for blood supply, while her champion was free to act on her whims. A new servant who welcomed the role with open arms, despite the bear’s weak protests. Perhaps deep down he wanted this? She didn’t know, nor did she care. She simply found a way to finally be rid of those interlopers.


    From atop her throne, she looked down at the Shadow. Similar in form and shape as the bear, but with a stern frown and golden oval eyes.
    “You called, mistress?”

    “I want you to dispose of our nosey guests. Use whatever means necessary.”


    “Yes, mistress,”
    said the Shadow, and left to do his duty.

    Ah, loyalty. Why is it that good help had to come from so deep inside someone’s subconscious these days?

    Last edited by Kishou the Badger; August 4th, 2021 at 03:18 PM.

  19. #439
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    According to most, my own little world
    Age
    41
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    8,191
    Blog Entries
    194
    Marie and Sacchin in the same chapter - you're spoiling me . . .

    So, Taiga remains Funniest Character (good), we finally have an explanation for that stupid sign of Kanji's, and Naoto is off to Misaki; assuming that she manages to trace Satsuki, I predict that Arihiko will be joining Kanji in the "Confused Sexuality Club," and if either Ciel or Arcueid (or both) is/are still in town - whoo boy . . .

    It's nice that Shirou is learning to snark at authority figures (without being reprimanded, no less - always a useful skill!), and that he's learning to deal with the headache that is himself through Kanji. As to the swooning classmates' opinions . . . I am a Yukiko fan, and a Marie fan, but I'm currently reading a Persona 4/5 cross that has me really rooting for Rise - so aside from Chie, I'll be happy with any of them.

    I do have one quibble, though: Yukiko is absolutely not "fair-haired." Fair-skinned, I could see (she is rather pale compared to most of the cast), but our resident yamato nadeshiko type is the polar opposite of fair-haired by definition - the description would more accurately be applied to Kanji.

    Other than that, well done again, and I eagerly await more, as always. Thank you.
    “Love will be cruel to who it entices — love will have its sacrifices.”

    — Carmilla Theme




    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."

    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette




  20. #440
    Author of Mages Twi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Gender
    Male
    Posts
    797
    Kind of feel bad for the kid she hypnotized and then turned into a ghoul.
    Yet the burden shall be shared by two entwined, from which the sword will part from the body and be bestowed upon the vassal to sacrifice themselves and cleave through space and time.

    Mark upon this unworthy flesh the emblem of the sacrifice, the vassal whose death shall bring forth victory through the fields of steel and blood!

    The oath is laid here. We are the ones who represent all the good within the pure lands, and we are the ones who judge what is evil within the pure lands. Thou, Seven Heavens clad in three mere words of unequal power, shall emerge from the spiral of control, O keeper of the balance—!


Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •