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

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  • The Ghoul (Chapter 7)

    0 0%
  • The Slipping Hableries (Chapter 13)

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

    2 8.00%
  • The Lying Hablerie and Calm Pesce (Chapter 18)

    0 0%
  • Shadow Chie (Chapter 19)

    11 44.00%
  • Shadow Yukiko (Chapter 21)

    7 28.00%
  • The Yomi Duo (Chapter 25)

    5 20.00%
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Thread: Fate/Reach Out (Fate/Stay Night x Persona 4)

  1. #21
    Chapter 19 - Shadow of the Dominating Self


    Chie’s mind went almost completely blank. She had practically rehearsed her acceptance speech, tried to take a hard look at herself in order to endure whatever the Shadow dug up, and she still couldn’t stop herself from denying it. Now her Shadow was going to kill her, as if to mock her understanding of her shortcomings.

    She felt empty now, like the knowledge of her own helplessness had taken all of the life out of her.

    With an explosion of dark power, Shadow Chie revealed itself in full: she had taken the form of a towering woman with charcoal-grey skin. She was clad in high-heeled boots, short shorts, corset and long gloves. The Shadow’s face (save for her malevolent eyes) was completely covered by a tall hood like that of an executioner. Her entire outfit was a bright yellow and lined with metal studs aside from the hood, which had a smiling face doodled in red ink over the forehead. From beneath the hood, a veritable wave of black hair fell and pooled along the ground for over a dozen feet. Her tendrils rose upward like snakes, clumps twisting and melding together to form large cleaver blades at the tips. In one hand the Shadow held a coiled whip as thick as a telephone cable while it rested its chin on the other. The latter hand also clutched onto a set of chains-like reigns.

    Even seated, the Shadow was over six feet tall on its own, which is to say nothing for the “throne” she reclined on that lifted her higher: three life-sized marionettes clad in the distinct girl’s uniform of Yasogami High were stacked on top of each other. They were barely able to support the weight of those on top of them, the Shadow atop them with the haughty posture of a queen. The chains in the Shadow’s hand were connected to metal collars on their neck, completing the image of a dominating tyrant.

    I am a Shadow: the true self. Now, I’ve got things to do and people to leash, so let’s make this part quick!” the Shadow declared as it let the whip in its hand uncurl and raised it overhead.

    Even with the looming threat of imminent death, Chie couldn’t find it in herself to run. The world seemed… diminished and almost hazy. She felt no fear at what was likely her last moments, merely a growing sense of apathy. It felt like she was missing a key part of herself. Thus she made no effort to run when the whip curled up on her body and dragged her in towards the Shadow and the mannequin tower… and the sudden dark vastness within.
    She thought she heard people call out her name, but couldn’t tell for sure. Was it at least from Emiya? Why was his concern important again? It had to be something if it made her chest hurt. The only voice she heard was what sounded like herself:

    Enjoy the confines of your new ‘home’, me!"

    Her eyes stared vacantly into the darkness. There were so many people, and they all looked similar. All in the same school uniform, all with small slip-on shoes, all with short white hair, and all having blank faces with upside down crescents where the eyes should be. They looked like frowns or dreary eyes, but Chie wasn’t sure. She couldn’t count how many of them were dangling in the darkness, or how close they were to her, brushing against her arms and legs, but she felt muted in what should be… fear? Disgust? All Chie could be sure of was that they reminded her of someone. Someone she felt close to, and felt something towards. And they looked like they wanted to claw at her and tear her apart. Why else would their hands scratch away her skin and clothes? It hurt and she thought about screaming, but the darkness was just so numbing.

    Her increasingly hazy thoughts were shaken by loud noises of metal and lightning. Then a light broke into the darkness from behind her. She felt something large scooping her up and carrying her out of the cold darkness and into the warm light. Chie slightly turned as the protector hugged her close, eyes stinging from the sudden brightness.
    She couldn’t tell who it was, but she felt she knew him, or it. She didn’t know why either, but she felt safe enough to trust this being. So after a minute of staring into the metal face and glowing eyes, she felt herself lose awareness of everything around her.

    <><><>

    Shirou breathed a sigh of relief before setting his stance as well as he remembered from Taiga’s “lessons” in kendo. He had failed to stop Satonaka’s Shadow from snatching her into her own abyss, but Izanagi had managed to rescue her back through a tenacious and furious assault through upon the “throne”. Zio spells were cast viciously between sword strikes, and Izanagi had come out of it with only the edge of his coat clipped by the Shadow’s last whip strike. Thankfully the attack hadn’t damaged him with any feedback.

    The Shadow’s whip had enough force behind it to leave a gouge in the floor the size of a beach ball, and a thin line extended from the hole from where the whip had managed to slice into the floor after the initial impact. He was just lucky she didn’t decide to end Chie that way, all things considered.

    “That cut it a little too close, partner. Is Satonaka-san alright?” Yosuke asked as he spun the knives in his hands into a reverse grip.

    Izanagi looked down at the girl in his arms and Shirou replied, “Her clothes and skin are a little scraped up from inside, but nothing too serious. Aside from the strain knocking her out, she’s fine.”

    “Dude, you aren’t even looking at- whoa, this is trippy.” Yosuke seemed to just now notice the seamless sense-sharing he had with Jiraiya judging by the way the ninja was glancing around. Shaking himself to refocus, the teen watched the Shadow as its tower of slaves strained to bring the Shadow to face her enemies. “…And I thought I had issues. You ready for this?”

    Shirou sharply nodded as Izanagi brought Satonaka to their side and set her down gently. “Teddie, stay close to Satonaka and keep us informed of anything useful you find on the Shadow.”

    “Got it, Shirou-sensei! Be careful though: this one’s even stronger than Yosuke’s because it was able to absorb more roaming Shadows.” The bear tried to keep his fear down, but his fur was still bristling and his paws were only steady from holding onto Chie’s body as he ducked behind the nearest pillar.

    Shadow Chie narrowed her eyes behind the mask, a disdainful sneer undoubtedly on her face. So you two want to save the ‘real me?’ Go ahead and try! I’ll put you both in your place before long!

    Before any planning could be done, the Shadow snapped her whip against the ground, and only heightened reflexes allowed the two humans and their Personas to dodge the sudden eruption of icy shards beneath their feet.

    “Shit! Shirou, you alright?” Yosuke called as the crackling subsided. He and Jiraiya had landed on the upper benches of the chamber, and he winced at the sight of the veritable wall of ice that had sprung up at the Shadow’s call. The chamber was starting to mist over from the rapidly crumbling glacier and he couldn’t see anything aside from the Shadow slowly advancing on where Satonaka and Teddie were hiding.

    His answer came in the form of a lightning bolt striking the Shadow squarely on the forehead, leaving it to stagger in pain. Just to the right of a pillar across the room from Yosuke, Izanagi emerged, its massive polearm sweeping away the mist as it held a hand towards the Shadow-Chie. Shirou followed a moment later, his sword held at his side with his face in a stoic frown. “I’m fine, don’t worry about me. We have to protect Satonaka.” Izanagi brandished his blade and charged, Shirou close behind.

    Despite the danger before them, Yosuke couldn’t stop himself from smiling, knowing that Shirou had his back. “Good answer!” In response to his will, Jiraiya flipped forward and brought a leg up for a crushing axe kick aimed for the Shadow’s smiling mask.

    Both attacks were met by long tendrils of black: Izanagi’s curved blade clanged harshly against the cleaver at the end of one long mass of hair, while Jiraiya barely managed to avoid severing his own leg against another by bringing his armored hands underneath his falling leg.

    Don’t you dare look down on me!” the Shadow howled as its slaves steadied themselves. With another crack of the whip, more ice exploded into being around her, forcing the two Personas to dodge and backpedal frantically. Shirou barely managed to stagger to a halt at the edge of the ice blast, leaving him exposed for when the Shadow smashed the wall with a lazy-looking kick, peppering him with razor-sharp shards. Her hair blades lashed out in a wide circle, keeping the Personas at bay. She focused her luminescent gaze on Shirou who had flattened himself against the ground to avoid the attack. “That’s better… That’s where you should be: on your knees before me!Her whip came up and seemed to move of its own accord in her hand.

    Yosuke’s eyes widened at the sight. The hair blades continued to chase after Izanagi and Jiraiya to keep them from interfering, but he was apparently too far away to be considered a threat.

    It was hard to tell if he was meant to feel insulted by that or not.

    Either way, he had noticed something that might turn this whole thing around. Jiraiya flipped around another tendril and landed at his side out of reach, lifting its hands out at its sides. The shuriken attached to its palms began to spin with a building howl. Yosuke kicked forward off the bench at the instant Jiraiya flung its arms forward, firing the shuriken as nothing less than razor disks. “Heads-up, banana head!”

    The Shadow bristled at the insult and briefly turned her attention away from Shirou. She scoffed at the blades heading her way and once more brought her whip up for another ice wall. Turning away from Shirou cost her.

    Zio!” The lightning bolt crashed against the Shadow’s arm this time, disrupting its spell just long enough for Jiraiya’s blades to slam hard into the legs of the bottommost slave with an explosive bang before they vanished back to Jiraiya’s palms.

    “Now! Bring it down!” Yosuke shouted as he lunged and drove both knives into the same spot, causing the slave tower to falter, Shadow Chie squawking in pain and the tendrils of hair stilling.

    Shirou didn’t need to be told twice. Izanagi snapped its fingers again, swathing Yosuke in golden light. “Tarukaja!” Yosuke’s instantly enhanced strength drove the knives deeper while Shirou threw his Reinforced and already enhanced body into the Shadow’s legs. The stunned Shadow toppled but did not fall completely, its curtain of hair stiffening to keep it from hitting the ground, but rather than push herself upright, she snarled and snapped her whip several times. The slaves strained to get back to their feet, all but ignoring the two teens.

    There was no need to coordinate their actions. The four immediately dogpiled the Shadow, the Personas hovering above to tear into the Shadow’s main body while their summoners attempted to hack the slaves out from under it. The mannequin-like bodies were tougher than they looked, but every strike seemed to send ripples of pain through the entire creature. Izanagi stabbed downward trying to pierce the Shadow’s armored hide, and Jiraiya laid into it with punches and kicks strong enough to pulverize concrete.

    Even while mobbed so relentlessly, Shadow Chie still managed to strike back unlike the lesser Shadows from before. It managed to land a clean kick to Izanagi’s chest, the feedback sending both him and Shirou away and skidding across the chamber. Jiraiya and Yosuke were forced back by a stabbing hair tendril. “Damn it, I thought we had her! You all right Shirou?”

    Pulling himself upright while Izanagi floated back to his side, Shirou winced but nodded. “I’m fine! Don’t lose focus!” The Shadow had managed to force its slaves to their feet again. That look of utter disdain she had worn was replaced by something darker and more deliberate.

    That was a bad idea, boys. Kid gloves are officially off. With her whip striking the ground harder, her slaves staggered forward.

    Shirou said nothing, willing Izanagi to renew his earlier spell on Yosuke. “Tarukaja.” The remaining pool of energy he felt for the Persona’s magecraft was starting to feel dangerously low, but Chie’s Shadow was too powerful to hold anything back. After all that, the Shadow barely looked scuffed, let alone hurt.

    When it attacked this time, the bladed tendrils of hair moved with greater purpose, each of the four cleavers chasing after a different target.

    Jiraiya bounded out of the way, moving with an agility that was completely beyond humans while the tendril twisted on itself trying to head off the frog-ninja as it weaved and bounced off the walls and ceiling. Yosuke simply settled for ducking low and then trying to scissor the tentacle with his knives to limited success.

    Shirou and Izanagi however refused to move. The blades clashed harshly against both of their weapons, driving them back but ultimately grinding to a halt. Izanagi shoved the blade down and charged in, grinding the blade along the length of the hair tendril to keep it down. The Persona almost made it to the Shadow before she lashed out with her whip hard enough to cut into Izanagi’s shoulder, nearly collapsing Shirou’s stance from the feedback in spite of his armor somehow taking some of the brunt forcce for him. He’d think more on it later.

    With a roar, Shirou reset his stance and pushed against the blade harder, his twice-enhanced body barely able to keep the blade at bay as it increased the pressure on his katana. He would rather die than give an inch of ground.

    After all, he was the last obstacle between the Shadow and his friends.

    The Shadow ambled forward several more feet, and Shirou was pushed back very slightly. “Out of the way, Shirou!” Her eyes focused on a panicking Teddie and the other Chie resting by a pillar next to him. “That grubby bitch is dead!

    “No! I’m not letting you hurt her!” he roared back as he advanced a single step before Shadow Chie’s strength redoubled.

    While Shirou weaved around the still striking blades, Jiraiya and Yosuke tried to find an opening for another attack of their own. So far they couldn’t get close or even line up a shot. He wracked his brain for anything he could use, but even throwing some of the rubble they were making was doing nothing to even catch the Shadow’s attention.

    There had to be something he could do. He wasn’t some side character! Somehow Shirou was able to fling lightning around, and he had the same power, right? There had to be a way to do something similar: drop something that went right by those defenses. As it was, Shadow Chie was still slowly making its way to its goal in spite of their dogged resistance.

    As another blade smashed into the space he had been occupying a second ago, Yosuke felt something tug at his mind as the dust and fog stirred around the tendrils chasing him and his Persona. It was like he could see the way the air moved around even in the clearer spaces, like he could follow the currents to their source… He could feel them dance around his fingers, each twist of his knives stirring them… and then a word formed in his mind.

    Garu!” his voice came from both his and Jiraiya’s mouth, and a blast of green vapor howled forward from the ninja’s hands, winding around the tendrils easily and slamming into the Shadow before seeming to explode into a miniature tornado. It wasn’t in Yosuke’s nature to take joy in seeing someone in pain, but the Shadow’s shocked scream, the slaves dropping into a heap and the tendrils all going limp was so damn satisfying.

    Wasting no time, Izanagi stomped the blade of his geta on the now-limp tendril, severing it from its hair blade while Shirou did the same with the other in front of him. Jiraiya’s shuriken spun like buzzsaws in his palms as he severed the last two. The four converged on the Shadow unimpeded, again hammering away at the giant Shadow with their full strength. They could see their attacks doing damage, but unlike before, there was a delay before their cuts were healed by the black shadow-stuff that formed the thing’s innards. They could only hope that they were wearing it down.

    Shadow Chie finally screamed in frustration and pain. She unleashed her ice blast again, forcing them all back long enough for her slaves to push her upright on their shoulders. Shirou and Yosuke were dusted with frost but had dodged the worst of it, and their Personas settled at their backs.

    Behind them, Teddie’s high voice caught their ears. “That’s it! The Shadow’s weak to wind! You can beat it!”

    The news was heartening for the fighters. Shirou was still moving well enough through the pain of his numerous small cuts, but inside he felt exhausted. His prana reserves were running on empty and his Persona had almost nothing left to give, maybe two or three more lightning bolts. “Yosuke, that last attack… can you do it again?”

    “Yeah. Ready to finish this, partner?” Yosuke replied. He was in better condition than Shirou, having only just started tapping into his Persona’s powers. “Here we go! Garu!

    Zio!

    The maelstrom erupting from the Persona’s hands once more slammed into the Shadow, followed immediately by a bolt of lightning that left her limp with pain. “Had enough yet? We can keep going if you like!” Yosuke taunted when the Shadow twitched but made no move to stand.

    If anything, those words were far more effective than they should have been. Shadow Chie almost exploded in rage. “Don’t you DARE LOOK DOWN ON ME!” she shrieked as she finally forced herself upright, her mannequins cracked and flaking in places, but still holding her on their shoulders. She had lost her haughty posture and now actively focused on them as enemies rather than mere obstacles. “Don’t think you understand a damn thing about me!

    The Shadow snapped its whip, and this time a massive crackling ball of lightning exploded in front of her, sending arcs shrieking all across the room. “Kneel before me! Mazio!”

    “Oh, that’s such bullshi-IAAH!” Yosuke managed to deadpan before being electrocuted, failing to dive away in time. The scream that was torn from his mouth when he was still clipped by the blast was surprisingly short despite the agony sending him to the ground motionless. Jiraiya dropped like a puppet with its strings cut at the same time.

    “Here it comes! Bottomless Envy!” Without letting up, new tendrils rose from within her hair and struck at the grounded Yosuke, piercing him like a pincushion. His second scream was a voiceless gasp of air, gouged from his arms and legs and body that all but gushed blood out of him. Yosuke found himself unable to do anything but take shallow breaths as his increasing dizziness led him towards unconsciousness and death.

    The remaining sparks from the area attack reach Shirou as well, but he managed to simply endure the pain. Izanagi’s resistance to electrical energy turned crippling pain into a more manageable burn. It was a secondary concern compared to his friend’s critical condition. “Yosuke!” Without thinking, Shirou moved in front of his downed friend while Izanagi braced himself if the Shadow moved towards Satonaka again. For Shirou, the fact that his Persona functionally let him be in two places at once here in the TV was worthwhile in itself.

    But Yosuke wasn’t moving. It might be paralysis, but he was also very weak right now, with his Persona on the verge of fading out like his Shadow before. Satonaka and Teddie had the medicine, and the gargantuan Shadow was menacingly marching on her “throne”, wanting to personally end the fight by her heel. Acting on instinct, the magus willed his Persona forward to strike the Shadow, and then solely focus on blocking its advance like last time.

    Shirou wasn’t sure what to do: none of their attacks were slowing her down, and he felt the effects of Tarukaja already wearing off. Even if he held it off long enough for Teddie and Satonaka to run away, that still left Yosuke at risk. And getting them close enough to pick him up would endanger them too. If only Yosuke could stand back up-!

    “Hey! Listen!”

    Shirou looked behind his shoulder, but saw no one. He could have sworn the voice sounded like-

    “You wanna save your friend, right? I know two ways to do it!”

    He then recognized the voice that belonged to Pixie, and quickly asked, “What can I do?”

    “Well, the best way would be to take that golden sheath out of your body and put it in your friend!”

    The magus blinked in confusion. “What golden sheath?”

    “The one inside you, along with that Izanagi guy! The thing that has subtly kept you healthy, as well as pouring energy into your nerves for what seems to be, like, years?”

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Pixie,” he said as sternly as possible, still staring at the Shadow as it dueled against Izanagi.

    Silence was all he got back from his head, so he assumed Pixie tuned him off out of annoyance. As it turned out, she was merely shocked, as her next words conveyed it clearly. “Oh my gosh.”

    “So, about the-”

    “OH, my gosh!”

    “P-pixie?”

    “OhmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshO HMYGOOOOOOOOSH!” The fey screeched, much akin to an overexcited school girl. “You have the greatest gift of all of the fey and you DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT IT’S BEEN INSIDE YOU THIS WHOLE TIME?! Granted, this is a good thing since humans have been known to exploit stuff, and as the fairy godmother once told me: ‘Humans are the reason we can’t have nice things.’ Because they’re greedy jerks and lose our stuff, like this sheath here, but still! Of course, what would I know, I’m just a figment of some-”

    “Pixie. Yosuke?” he said quickly, feeling nervous as the Shadow cracked its whip.

    “Oh. OH! Right. Well, the first option’s a bust, so you’ll just have to summon me. You remember how, right?”

    Shirou would have smacked himself if not for the timely, risk-ridden battle, so instead he held out his hand for her card. “Pixie!”

    In an instant, Izanagi vanished and a new Tarot card hovered in Shirou’s grasp. Guess I can only summon one Persona at a time, he thought before crushing the card and revealing the fey.

    He managed to analyze the card as it surfaced out of his subconscious. In almost every way, Pixie was Izanagi’s inferior with even lower stats and no battle skills. However, the fey possessed two supportive spells: Patra to clear one’s mind of several mental ailments, and Dia, which was akin to light healing.

    “Rise and shine, handsome!” Pixie winked, before raising and cupping both hands together. “Dia!” A ball of purplish light surrounded the downed teen, shining briefly a shade brighter. Before their eyes, the gashes from Shadow Chie’s tendrils vanished, and he looked less pale now.

    Green Shield!” Shadow Chie used the pause in fighting to gather her magical energy before her, weaving it into a translucent green barrier that rapidly faded from sight. “What has she ever done for you to deserve this, anyway? She’ll just toy with you like does Yukiko!

    “He’s still not getting up,” Shirou said to the fey, pointing his sword at the towering Shadow. “Is your healing working?”

    “Of course it is, but not with his dizziness!” Pixie snapped. “The healing stabilized him but he’s on his own in getting mentally better. Man, this would be so much easier if I had Re Patra instead of regular Patra, then I could do it instantly.”

    “Make do with what you got then. Another healing should do.” Shirou said, narrowly dodging a tendril swipe at his legs.

    “Good plan. Here’s one on me. Dia!” This time the circle light enveloped Shirou, and he felt his wounds close and heal quicker. He was still tired, but much less so and felt amazed at how similar and different the feeling was from Reinforcement and his enhancement spells.

    Yosuke blinked the spots from his eyes and gradually roused himself back up. That last attack had reallyhurt. Apparently Jiraiya and lightning did not mix, like how Izanagi and wind didn’t. He looked up to see Pixie smiling down before fluttering away. Then he saw Shirou’s hand come into view, the magus himself standing at the side with his sword angled at the Shadow like a fencer. “Can you stand? If you have to, grab Satonaka and run.”

    “Thanks, partner,” Yosuke replied as he let himself be pulled to his feet. “But you don’t need to pull the heroic sacrifice thing this time. I can keep going.” To emphasize his words, Jiraiya kipped up to its feet and readied itself in a martial arts stance that Yosuke had seen in one of Satonaka’s movies.

    Shirou’s brow furrowed uncomprehendingly for a moment (which only Pixie from near his shoulder noticed) before he shook his head with a smile. “All right, but be careful: I saw her set some sort of Bounded Field around itself while we were recovering.”

    “Dude, I have no idea what any of that means,” Yosuke muttered before both Persona users dove for the benches to avoid the cracking whip seeking them out and tearing the ground wherever it touched. “So save the Magecraft 101 lessons after I blow this fruit tyrant to smithereens!”

    Seeing what he was planning to do, Teddie quickly cupped both hands to warn him. “Wait! Yosuke! Green Shield-!”

    Garu!” Yosuke invoked again, his Persona blasting another green whirlwind into the Shadow…

    …Only for the winds to gutter out almost completely on contact with a crystalline wall. The Shadow winced a bit, but the confident sneer was back as it forced its bearers towards Yosuke and Shirou, who stared back slack-jawed and wide-eyed respectively.

    “-protects the user from wind attacks,” the bear finished weakly, looking just as squeamish.

    Shirou simply couldn’t believe it. Even without the hair blades, this thing was a veritable tank that could use both ice and lightning. And apparently it could toss up Bounded Fields to shore up weaknesses even if it couldn’t completely protect itself from harm.

    “Um,” the fey Persona nervously spoke up, turning the magus to her. “Not that I’m scared or anything, (especially since you’re still clueless about the whole ‘sheath-in-your-body’ thing) but I really think you should rely on the guy with the pole-thingy to handle the rest of this fight. I’ll be cheering you on in spirit in the safety of your mind, though! Kay-thanks-bye!” At the rushed string of her last sentence, Pixie waved and poofed back to his subconscious.

    The red-haired student sighed, but figured it was better this way. Her healing helped Yosuke and himself to a second wind, so he could focus back to fighting the Shadow. “Izanagi!”

    The God Persona appeared once more with the ninja Persona, holding its naginata like a katana poised to strike. At once, they charged together and attacked the tendrils with renewed gusto; Izanagi with slow but heavy strikes and Jiraiya in a constant barrage of jabs and kicks.

    Shadow Chie angrily lashed her whip out to toss Izanagi aside before focusing her attention solely on Jiraiya. “I don’t get why you idiots bother. It’s all going to end the same anyway. So do yourselves a favor and kneel, then I might consider letting you live as my lackeys.”

    Izanagi took advantage of having the Shadow’s back to him and prepared to cleave its head from its shoulders with a wide sweeping slash. The blade met the coils of the whip in her hand, but it still managed to bite into her shoulder despite her best efforts. “I! Said! KNEEL! Magaru!

    Add wind to that list… Shirou mentally sighed right before impact.

    Pain exploded against Shirou, the feedback sending him flying back when the spell slammed into Izanagi point-blank. Jiraiya leapt behind him and caught the teen before he hit the wall. “We’re getting nowhere fast! Any ideas?” Yosuke growled as he ducked behind a pillar just in time to dodge another bolt of lightning. Instinctively, he put a hand over his racing heart and let some of his Persona’s power calm him down.

    Shirou and Izanagi forced themselves upright from their respective heaps. “Just one at this point: Rakunda!” Shirou could feel blood making part of his shirt sticky and the chainmail was scratching at the cuts even through the padding beneath, but his Persona moved quickly at his order, gathering the last of its magical energies and releasing the spell. For a second, it looked like a ball of purple light constricted the Shadow before fading, but there was no other visible effect. Rakunda did bite though, weakening the Shadow’s hide and magical defenses almost like a botched Reinforcement.

    There was no time to hesitate. The curse would only last a short time before it burned out. Shirou roared and charged the Shadow, Izanagi attempting to catch the Shadow between them both. “Hit it with everything you’ve got!”

    Yosuke smirked as he hit play on his MP3. “Ready or not, here we come!”

    That got Shadow Chie’s attention, and Shirou found himself all but stymied by wild blasts of wind as the Shadow tried to keep him and his Persona away. Yosuke simply acted, trusting Shirou to keep the Shadow’s attention. Jiraiya leaped as high as he could, planted his feet into the ceiling and rocketed down on the distracted Shadow’s head with a full-body tackle. It happened so fast that the Shadow didn’t even realize that she was under attack until Jiraiya’s shuriken bit into her collarbone. Yosuke drove both knives into the slaves nearest him, further disorienting the Shadow.

    NO! STOP IT! I CAN’T LOSE!” The Shadow screamed as she gathered her magic again, temporarily disregarding the redhead and his Persona. The lightning bolt she summoned to dislodge the frog-ninja met Izanagi’s back, staggering Shirou but doing nothing to stop him for long now that he was free to attack. “ALL I WANT IS-!” Shirou impaled the Shadow’s leg and wrenched as hard as he could, ruining the limb. There was no finesse to the assault; the Shadow was almost literally being torn limb from limb with everything the two teens could bring to bear.

    Shadow Chie screamed and lashed out wildly with her whip in clear desperation. Jiraiya bent his body at a nearly impossible angle to dodge, leaving Izanagi free to grab the outstretched weapon and he hauled it over his shoulder with all of his strength. The Shadow was pulled upwards and met Jiraiya’s spinning shuriken, cleaving it down the middle. That finally overwhelmed the Shadow’s regeneration completely, the body rapidly losing color before seeming to collapse into a mound of black and red muck at their feet.

    The substance rapidly dispersed, leaving the human form of Chie’s Shadow behind. She laid on her stomach, arms and legs outstretched, and didn’t move. Her golden eyes stared vacantly across the room on her side. The dark aura she had once exuded was muted to little more than a hazy outline. The tension all but evaporated with the darkness around her, leaving the castle almost oppressively silent in its place.

    Yosuke unconsciously dispelled Jiraiya and let himself fall on his backside, a heavy exhaustion catching up to him. “I think we got her…” he wheezed tiredly. “How are you holding up, Shirou?”

    Shirou let himself down to one knee but refused to drop his sword. “I’ve had worse, but this is still pretty high on the list.” With Yosuke helping him and having proper weapons and armor, this battle hadn’t turned out quite as bad for him as fighting Yosuke’s Shadow. But his body still ached, his prana reserves were basically empty from the constant Reinforcements, and he doubted be could conjure another Zio at this point.

    “That’s good,” The fawn haired teen nodded, before sighing in exasperation. “Though since when could you do that Rakunda thing?”

    “Learned after the fight with your Shadow, I guess.”

    “Then do me a huge favor,” Yosuke regarded seriously. “The next time we fight a Shadow Someone? Start with that spell.”

    “It would have only lasted for a minute and a half,” his friend noted. “And it’s no different of lowering an enemy’s defense than it is raising our own offense.”

    “That would still be one less minute and a half to fight and even less time if you used them both at once. Use your head once in a while, idiot.”

    Despite himself, Shirou laughed. A part of him felt so thrilled and exhausted fighting alongside a friend towards a common goal of helping others, but it seemed oddly nostalgic to be reprimanded by someone who could pass as a more polite Shinji.

    Although a critical tongue seemed to be the only similarity between Yosuke and Shinji, as Yosuke started to laugh too, if only at the simple fact that they were alive. All of them were; including Teddie and Satonaka. And Yukiko was still around too somewhere, even if they hadn’t found her yet. The only silver lining to that was that her Shadow didn’t either.

    “You did it!” Teddie cheered, squeaking over as he carried Chie. “You guys defeated Shadow Chie-chan!”

    “Was there any doubt?” Yosuke smiled, pained slightly as he pushed himself up to greet the bear-

    And nearly froze enough to slip and fall back to his rear. Teddie held Chie parallel to the ground, with his paws under her and spaced out like she was a box. But his paws happened to be supporting her chest and crotch respectively. It was at that moment that Yosuke felt jealous, amazed, shocked, and pissed off all at once. It was an amazing feeling, really.

    “Uh… Teddie?” Shirou ventured, feeling just as awkward. “Why are you holding Satonaka like that?”

    “W-well, I’ve been here for a long time so I don’t really know how to hold someone. Shadows tend to be the types to ‘Eat first, ask questions never’, not that I usually talk to them. So, I figured the best way to hold someone is to hold where your paws are most comfortable.”

    Yosuke grimaced. “Yeah, if you want to come across as a pervert. That’s like the number one way not to get into someone’s pants.”

    Teddie gave an innocent blink. “I have to search her pants while holding her? Well, they're torn up a bit anyway, so…”

    Both boys paled considerably, but the bear ignored them as he moved his paw to reach for her skirt. That promptly snapped Shirou out of his stupor to scold him. “Teddie, no!”

    Chie’s tattered skirt was tossed aside, revealing a pair of long, strong legs with thin scratches and black biker shorts relatively untouched. “Huh, I guess she does wear pants under this. They look short though.”

    Shirou and Yosuke felt a great surge of relief (and subconscious disappointment) to see that she wore black shorts under her skirt. She was smarter than most schoolgirls in that regard to avoid the indignity of a panty shot. It made sense to them though, given that she’s the most physically active girl of her year.

    A thought seemed to occur to Teddie as his eyes widened. “Oooooh! Is this scoring a hot stud?”

    Frankly, Shirou felt he knew too much about her already than he felt necessary to even look, and stared awkwardly at a pillar next to him. But Yosuke found a new appreciation seeing her legs without being aimed at him. “More like scoring a hot chick. Say, Teddie, how soft is her rear end?” he asked with a lecherous grin.

    “Teddie, don’t answer that,” the magus sternly cut him off, disappointed that the bear went ahead and groped her. “In fact, put her down before-”

    “AAAAAAAAAH!” SMACK! POW! THNK-THNK-THNK!

    “-that happens,” he finished. Not that he felt Teddie could hear him with a ringing headache from her punch and kick combo.

    As the bear wailed on the ground nursing the multiple bumps on its head, Chie quickly reached for her skirt and slipped it back on. Then, with an angry flushed face, she marched over to the boys and held a threatening clutched fist to Yosuke’s scared face. It was almost amusing to Shirou in ways he didn’t understand. “If you ever take advantage of me like that again-!” she started, but never got to finish.

    “Please…”

    The students and bear suddenly forgot themselves and turned to the source of the voice. They saw the once haughty Shadow of Chie Satonaka sprawled on the floor like a ragdoll, sounded so weak it was almost hard not to feel pity.

    Chie felt relieved in a way. Hanamura and Emiya defeated her Shadow. She knew it was still her, and she felt ashamed she got them in trouble like this. But she was still wary; the last time she tried talking calmly to her Shadow, it still found a means to belittle her. “What’s the matter? Got nothing to say anymore?”

    “Please,” The Shadow said again, and shook slightly. “Don’t leave me… Yukiko.”

    Again Chie was taken aback. In fact, she felt her own eyes sting and water a bit. Was she crying? But, it was her Shadow crying, right?

    “All I wanted was to feel needed,” cried the other Chie. “To feel like I belonged with someone, somewhere. If you’re gone… what will happen to me? All the years together, all the laughs we shared, doesn’t it matter Yukiko? Why do you want to leave me? Yukiko…”

    A somber silence filled the room, with only the silent cries of a Shadow. What came across as a dominating, oppressive being was just a sad girl crushed with the prospect of losing her friend one way or another. If not by the killer kidnapper, then by her own subconscious decision to “elope” with a Prince, and neither of them sounded promising.

    “Chie,” Yosuke called softly, surprising the girl at his casual use of her first name. “I’m not going to ask what happened before Teddie and I got here-”

    “I won’t either,” the bear chimed in, looking apologetic to her.

    “But I can assure you I know exactly what you’re going through,” the student continued. It surprised his classmates at the level of maturity he held. “When my Shadow came out, I felt like a piece of me was missing. My courage, maybe, because I just wanted to bail at the first chance and silently wish for my friend to fail. I’m not proud of it either, but you guys saved me. Not just Shirou with his Persona or Teddie and his nose, but you specifically jumped in and pushed me out of the way. None of you had any obligation to risk your neck out for me on my little adventure, but you did anyway.”

    Chie was surprised. She did jump in for him, didn’t she? That day had been so chaotic that all she remembered was Shirou’s fighting and how Yosuke’s adventuring nearly got them killed twice. In a way, he knew that she had forgiven him despite her bitterness.

    “I can’t promise what will happen after we rescue Amagi-san, other than that we will,” he assured, and gave a warm smile. “And that you guys are the best friends I could ever ask for. I’m not going to leave any one of you hanging because of some skeleton in your closet. We all have our bad sides.”

    “Yeah, it’s like what Shirou-sensei said!” Teddie added. “You’re better than what you think you are!”

    Shirou, unsure how she would take his words after last time, just smiled and nodded. If anything, he empathized with her struggles and didn’t think of her any different than before.

    Chie looked around, having almost expecting to see repulsion or pity or even self-righteous “I told you so” expressions in light of her Shadow. But they were all supportive and forgiving. They were such good… friends? Yes, it was appropriate to call them that, even Teddie.

    “You know what to do,” Yosuke said, head tilting to the Shadow. Indeed she did.

    The brown haired girl rubbed her eyes clean and then took a deep breath, slowly exhaling all the tension in her like a sigh. “For the longest time I thought Yukiko to be my best friend,” she started, walking slowly to her double. “I guess somewhere along the line I grew desperate to keep it stable.”

    Then I met Shirou Emiya. The meeting seemed simple enough, but through him I grew to know more about Yosuke and learned about Teddie’s world. I wasn’t a dominating force in this odd circle of friendship yet it was refreshing. Not that she would admit that out loud to the others, especially anything about her budding crush on Emiya.

    “This last week had some of the scariest yet exciting days of my life, especially when Yukiko herself got dragged into this. In a way, I wanted to keep her at a distance from the adventures that were happening because I… liked them. I liked keeping close to Yukiko as she’s my friend, but I enjoyed being myself and getting noticed by other people just as much.”

    She was right beside her Shadow now, kneeling down and helping her sit up. Her yellow eyes were puffy and tear rimmed, but they were beautiful with no malice.

    “Hearing Yukiko’s Shadow talk like that really hurt us,” Chie told her Shadow, like a mother would a child. “Not just because we felt obliged, but because she really was our friend deep down. You only wanted to make sure she didn’t leave us.”

    The Shadow nodded sadly, having long lost the will to speak.

    “We’re going have to face her next time. She might deny going back again. But things will be different. When the time comes, we’ll be standing together.” Chie then pulled her Shadow into a warm hug, smiling. “You won’t mind, right? You’re still me.”

    Chie didn’t know how her other self was reacting to this, but given the returned hug, she knew she had done the right thing.

    Indeed, it further came apparent when she was blinded by a blue light and her Shadow vanished from her arms. Chie was almost worried and frantic at the thought of losing her, standing up to try and find her. Almost immediately she saw her Shadow, transfigured as a Persona, standing gallantly in front of her. There was no tower of carbon slaves under her, and she stood tall and proud with thigh-high string boots. There was no whip or reins in her gloved hand, but a long, glowing, double-bladed naginata. Her body was covered in a yellow body suit with black lines trailing along her arms and chest to her groin, covered by her six-part chainmail skirt. Her arms, legs and abs showed considerable muscle under her suit, as did her modest-sized bosom. Her smooth black hair was now down to her mid-back without sentient tendrils, growing under her white horned mask with yellow eyes and full red lips seen through the visor. Above the visor were two small holes dotted on both sides, and the sides of the horn that topped her face sported tomoe symbols.

    The image was fitting enough because that was her name: Tomoe Gouzen.

    An instant later, the warrior Persona was whisked out of view and a floating card was in her place. Chie cupped her hands together to catch it, but it melded inside her upon contact. She felt a warm presence envelop her, almost as if her other self was hugging her again. The moment passed, and Chie felt the world spinning under her legs.

    She would have slipped and fallen too, if not for Shirou and Yosuke catching her on either side. “Upsidaisy,” the latter grinned, lifting her arm to drape on his shoulder. Shirou mimicked the action and helped her stand. She couldn’t really feel her legs, and her head was splitting worse than when they all first fell into the TV days ago. But for the first time since that incident, she was content.

    She turned to either of the guys, as well as Teddie who waddled over, and gave just as tired a smile. “Well, that wasn’t so hard, eh?”

    <><><>

    -TV Gate-

    It wasn’t easy for anyone, but Yosuke convinced the group to fall back for the day. The last Shadow battle took a major toll on them, and no one was confident that they’d be able to take on Shadow Yukiko should the fight come to pass. It was disheartening though, that they had failed to make it past the first floor due to an untimely meeting with a trapdoor, and almost died a third time in a Shadow encounter.

    Not that the journey wasn’t fruitful; Teddie was able to guide them to the location. Shirou found a new Persona capable of healing. Yosuke made clumsy yet vital discoveries on his own abilities and the connection between Shadow hosts. And Chie finally had her own Persona to fight alongside the boys. In a way, they accomplished a lot, and it was enough for Yosuke to convince his stubborn classmates that Yukiko could be saved at a later date; mostly due to verified facts and backing from Teddie that she would be safe as long as it didn’t rain too in Inaba. The fact that Yamano and Konishi both disappeared and died within relatively small windows and a very rainy week was something none of the students wanted to dwell on.

    “Okay, so we’re all in agreement then?” Yosuke asked, just as the group arrived back at the TV stand. “We work together, no one goes in alone, and we come back as often as we’re all open after school. Oh, and days off, too.”

    “Got it,” said Shirou, supporting Chie on his own. The chestnut haired girl nodded as well, too drained from her Shadow to do much else. “

    “So I guess you guys will be heading back now?” Teddie asked softly. The tone and body language made clear he wasn’t looking forward to their departure again.

    “Just about,” said Yosuke. “There’s one more thing I want to address.”

    With all attention on Yosuke, he exhaled a deep breath. He considered clicking through his MP3 for a song to calm his nerves, or at least fit the mood, but stopped himself from the reflex. “I like to think that we’re getting the hang of this, but we only escaped death a few times through some magecraft stuff and no small amount of dumb luck. When you get down to it, we’re just a couple of kids in way over our heads in another world with a talking bear. We’re not going to half-ass this or try to blitz through on our own; that much we agreed on. But if we’re going to solve this case, let alone save Amagi-san, we’re going to need a leader to keep our heads in the game.”

    Letting the words sink in, he turned to the red-haired magus, and stared intently through his orange framed glasses. “Shirou, I want you to be our leader.”

    Yellow-gold eyes widened behind white framed glasses, disbelieving. “Me? But, we wouldn’t even be back here if you hadn’t figured out the connection between the TV and the murders. Shouldn’t you be the leader?”

    Yosuke shook his head. “Hey, just because I put two-and-two together the other day doesn’t make me a leader. You’re the brave, fearless fighter, and I’m the idea-making advisor guy. It’s cool though; I don’t mind playing second banana.” He immediately winced, and noticed that Satonaka had twitched over Shirou’s shoulder. “Erm…wrong choice of words.”

    Ignoring the all-too-soon reference to Shadow Chie, Shirou pursued the issue. “You’re still better suited to this than I am. I’m just-“

    “Where the hell have you been the last few days?” his friend cut in. He held out his hand, ready to raise a finger for each point he was about to make. “You’re the one who took charge when the three of us tumbled into this weird world. You’re the one who knows how to fight worth a damn. You’re the one who gave orders and directions immediately after our Shadows broke off. You’re the one who awakened your power first, and most of all, the only one who can make heads or tails of this magecraft stuff involved in the case. Plus the fact that you got your Persona without a Shadow, on top of that little fairy too, I say you’re more than qualified.”

    More so than me, Yosuke bitterly thought, feeling a slight pang of jealously grow from his friend’s heroism. He had to put it aside though and realize that they had to do this right, as they only had one shot. Not just for Amagi-san, but for everyone in Inaba, so that there would never be another Saki-senpai.

    Chie, who had been quiet since leaving the castle, stirred herself out from Shirou’s shoulder. A few moments of her relaxing in a standing position, she turned to him and smiled. “I think Hanamura’s got the right idea,” she said. “A leader is sort of like a hero, you know? You saved me… and Hanamura-”

    “And me too!” Teddie chimed.

    “-from ourselves, as corny as it sounds. I don’t know, you just have this air around you that draws us in and trust you. I’d feel better about this case knowing that you’re the one calling the shots.”

    “And my pillow will be a lot more comfortable too!”

    The trio of students stared dubiously at the bear. It never occurred to them that Teddie needed to sleep before. “You have a pillow?” Shirou asked.

    “Of course I do,” Teddie explained. “I use it to help sleep every night, along with my blankey.”

    In Shirou’s mind’s eye, he saw Teddie sleeping on a pillow larger than him, tugging a blanket to his body in one paw, and sucking his thumb(?). He almost broke out into laughter of the ridiculousness of the mental image, and judging from the stifled giggles from his classmates, they thought along the same lines. As it was, he just smiled, but it was still a nice small relief from today’s events. Still, a hero…

    The pause in debate gave the magus time to think. He really wanted to argue against this position of leader, if only that he saw everyone in the group as equals. And again, there was the wary feeling of getting too personal with people around him. Just because he would allow Yosuke (and now Satonaka) to fight with him didn’t mean he would exploit their feelings through Social Links.

    But for each of their reasons, they were counting on him to make the decision. They trusted him enough to be their leader. It was an odd feeling, knowing their unconditional support in him in such a position. It was almost like being thanked for helping others. It gave the magus a thrilling sense of accomplishment.

    So, looking between each of his comrade’s glances, he shrugged in admission. If they were that willing, he couldn’t say no. “Well… guess that makes me the leader.”

    Yosuke and Satonaka smiled, and Teddie could barely contain himself in a cheer and dance.

    “All right, with that said,” Yosuke started. “I hereby christen us the Investigation Team!”

    “Whoopee!” the bear cheered.

    Chie clutched her ears on reflex, cringing. “Teddie, could you lower your voice? My migraine’s still killing me.” Teddie frowned, but whether it was from being scolded or bothering her it wasn’t clear.

    Shirou himself didn’t ponder much on it, for he started to feel the same sensation from yesterday, almost expecting it really. This time, there was a familiar card image that represented his Arcana.

    Thou art thou, and thou art I.
    Thou hast established a new bond.
    It shall bring thee closer to the truth.
    Thou shalt be blessed by Personae of the Fool Arcana.

    Shirou could already feel a stirring connection through this new trust between his classmates and the bear. This social link was entwined with not just him but each other, making a mutual web with the group. It was a peculiar link in that it was between friends instead of one on one, and he could tell everyone else felt a sense of camaraderie over the last week.

    With everyone’s help, I just might be able to save the world, after all.

    <><><>

    -Samegawa Flood Plain - Evening-

    Once again, Emiya and Chie walked the road down to their houses, but without the bitter drizzle of rain to damper the already tense mood. It was a small blessing to them; both relieved to be alive and that Yukiko should be fine as well. Of course, they were both glad that their clothes returned to their normal state when passing through the TV (especially Chie), but not even Teddie knew the answer why.

    The tension was not unlike the first time they walked together. Chie was more than willing to break the silence to try and get her friends to talk. But Yukiko wasn’t here, and her crush on the new student was all but blabbed about in front of him. He had saved her, true, but there was a lingering doubt in her, almost like her Shadow was still haunting her.

    But does he even like me?

    Her brooding must have caught the magus’ attention, for he addressed to her, “Are you alright, Satonaka?”

    Hearing him call her by her family name just complicated things. While relieved to hear him still call her that, it only seemed to mock her. Chie wanted to pretend that none of this happened and that it didn’t bother her, but wasn’t that what had almost gotten her killed in the first place? What would happen if Tomoe reverted to that “dominatrix banana-head” Shadow again because she couldn’t even make eye contact with Shirou Emiya? Part of the reason it flailed out was because she was afraid of losing Yukiko out of her own terms. What if she failed the chance with Emiya as well because of the unintentional confession?

    One thing was for certain: Chie would never look at bananas the same way again.

    “Sh-…Emiya,” she said, not emotionally ready to cross the same border as Hanamura yet. “You heard my Shadow talk about my… feelings. Mostly about Yukiko and then, well, maybe, just a tiny bit of admission that made it sound like I mighta, sorta, kinda… like you.

    The embarrassment was so much that her cheeks started to burn and her voice gradually broke down to a whisper. At least Emiya heard her, if his cheek-scratching finger was any indication. “Yeah.”

    “I realized that I, uh… that is, in the confusion of the fighting and how she almost k-ki-ki“

    Emiya needed a moment to recall what she meant. “Kissed me?”

    “That. Definitely that,” she confirmed quickly, her face glowing a shade darker. He didn’t have to put it so bluntly though… “S-so, what do you think?”

    “About what?”

    Chie stopped and stared at him like he had grown a second head. Great; she had to like the slow, oblivious type. She didn’t know whether to be thankful or pissed, but she was leaning towards the latter if he was just ignoring what was obviously a traumatizing confession on her part. She almost considered dropping the topic, but she had to know something before moving on and focus on saving Yukiko.

    So she stopped and turned fully towards him with a serious look in her eye. Emiya had stopped with her, curiosity and concern on his face. After several tense minutes, Chie murmured, “About… me.” A pause, and then she forcibly added, “About me… lllllllikingyou.”

    The red haired magus blinked. Then his eyes widened and cheeks colored slightly. “Oh.”

    “Oh” was a start. Not a good one, but not a bad one either. Perhaps he wasn’t entirely clueless about the fairer sex after all. Though shameful as it was, she couldn’t help agree with her inner voice as it cried, “Oh thank god.”

    “Well,” he started, sounding just as awkward as she felt. “I was surprised, to be honest. I mean, I heard all the reasons, but I still find it odd to warrant a crush. This has never actually happened to me before.”

    “A girl liking you?” Chie asked, sounding a little too hopeful.

    “Not intimately, anyway,” he nodded. “I know two people back at Fuyuki I see as the sisters I never had before. I would have assumed that it would take a bit longer for platonic affection to happen, or that I had done something to earn that admission consciously.”

    “But you’re amazing!” she cut in. “You saved me-us-multiple times all week! You’re a hero, and now our leader, and… and I’m just so confused. This isn’t how I wanted to let you know at all.” She then blushed and quickly added,“Not that I planned on revealing it so soon, if ever.”

    Another awkward moment passed, before he suggested, “Maybe we can start over?”

    Chie tilted her head in confusion. “Huh?”

    “Well, if I recall,” Emiya explained. “It was your Shadow that made the confession. She was a part of you, true, and you were able to accept and come to terms with why she attacked you. But you weren’t in consensus with what she said. That’s why it mutated and tried to kill you. I think the fact that she became a Persona is the first step in making a change and addressing your problems.”

    Awed by his insight, Chie nodded.

    “So, until you’re ever ready to address your crush again,” he shrugged nonchalantly. “I’ll just act like it never happened. Or at the very least, keep it to myself and not tell Yosuke or Teddie. I’d like for us to still be friends, though, and see where it goes from there.”

    Chie blinked and thought over what he said. Technically he brushed around the question and made an excuse. Shirou didn’t say what he thought of her, but he acknowledged her unwillingness of the reveal. She was right; he didn’t judge her before, and he wasn’t now, not even with her crush.

    Maybe he was just as unsure of his feelings right now as she was? If so, she could very much relate. Having more time to sort everything out was a generous gift in itself, and he wasn’t letting down her trust in him. She couldn’t but help to feel grateful for that.

    “Thanks,” she smiled warmly. “I’d really appreciate that, Emiya-kun.”

    Shirou nodded back, and the two of them resumed their walk back. As they parted ways to their house, he watched her walk back with a skip in her step, despite fatigue. He could only guess that, even though Amagi was still in captivity, she had a great deal of relief from both her Persona and their talk. The proof came to him in the form of a card forming through her budding trust in him, representing the Roman number “VII”.

    This card showed a red-armored Roman-esque knight in center, sitting above and between two black and yellow lions of similar design but opposite coloring. Other points of note were the yellow room in the black box with curtains behind or surrounding the knight, the red seat he was on, and the wheels behind each lion on either side. The more Shirou saw it, the more he realized it was a chariot rider facing the face of the card, and in turn, facing him. Almost ironic this happened when he was facing Satonaka’s back as she was walking away.

    Thou art thou, and thou art I.
    Thou hast established a new bond.
    It shall bring thee closer to the truth.
    Thou shalt be blessed by Personae of the Chariot Arcana.

  2. #22
    Greatness, at any cost mAc Chaos's Avatar
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    All these references to Shinji (moar) make me want to see what his Shadow would be like.
    He never sleeps. He never dies.

    Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

  3. #23
    ジュカイン Lycodrake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mAc Chaos View Post
    All these references to Shinji (moar) make me want to see what his Shadow would be like.
    Quote Originally Posted by Seika View Post
    Yes, excellent. Go, Lyco, my proxy.
    F/GO SUPPORT

  4. #24
    Gimme ur loot ZidanReign's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mAc Chaos View Post
    All these references to Shinji (moar) make me want to see what his Shadow would be like.
    God Shadow Shini.

    Maybe its a Graboid? LOL
    There's nothing fucking here bruh, look elsewhere.

  5. #25
    Shadow Shinji would probably be just a mutant super fly. You know, so Shadow Yosuke can make disco moves with its tongue before eating the fly.

    Chapter 20: The Beginning of Everyday

    -April 18th, Dojima Household, Morning-

    Dinner last night was tense to say the least. His uncle didn't say anything, but Shirou had the sinking suspicion that the incident at the station still shook him up. Dojima spent just as much time glancing back to Nanako as he did eating his food and staring at Shirou. The red-haired magus figured that if she wasn't in the room at the time, he would have had another stern discussion with him about Taiga's concerns.

    I can't back out of this now though. Amagi-san's still in danger. But it's not like I'm breaking any of her promises, and I am hanging out more at Junes lately.

    As Shirou finished straightening out his uniform and checking his bandages again, his cellphone started to ring. Thinking it to be Fuji-nee or one of his friends, he flipped it open on reflex and answered. "Hello?"

    "Good morning. This is Margaret."

    Whatever drowsiness was still in Shirou was sapped away by his caller's voice. "How did you get my number?" he asked, more bewildered than paranoid.

    "Forgive me, but there was something important I forgot to mention during your last visit. You expressed discomfort at being pulled from your dreams before, so I thought contacting you by phone would be more appropriate."

    He wanted to say he was surprised, but at this point he really wasn't. Igor and Margaret had already proved to be enigmas from the moment he met them, and if they could talk to him in his sleep, then using conventional means (no matter how taboo it was to other magi) wasn't that far off either. Conceding that fact to his unanswered question, he sat on the couch to relax himself. "What is it then?"

    "I understand that you are using your power to help others. My master informed you that defeat in battle isn't your only concern, but I feel you were misinterpreting his words on one detail."

    Shirou blinked. "Are you saying I shouldn't save Amagi-san?" The very idea was foreign to him, yet his father had stressed the fatalist nature of magic and advised against helping others. Mostly due to the fact that "saving someone means not saving everyone else," whatever that meant. If he had even a little power to save lives or make a difference (and he knew for sure that he did now, if Yosuke and Satonaka were proof enough), why shouldn't he use it?

    "Far from it," said Margaret, dispelling his doubts on the matter. "It is indeed a noble goal and my master and I fully support it. However, we cannot help you to the full extent of your power if you just throw yourself into one battle after another. You need to balance the time devoted to your goals and time with in your social life."

    "Again with the Social Links?" Shirou asked, suddenly irritated as he caught on her meaning. "I don't time for that! We don't have time for that! A girl is trapped in another world with a serial killer probably in waiting for the next news story to follow-up! And you're telling me I should work on my social life?!"

    "I understand you're pressed for time," she reasoned. "But the power of one's heart can only go so far unless you master your virtues: the courage to face challenges in life, the knowledge of your limitations, the diligence to push forward, learning to understand others and the ability to freely express yourself. You may harness one or two of these virtues through independent work and studying, but only through interacting with others can you truly learn and appreciate their meaning. At least consider time off from fighting for your own sake: even Allies of Justice need to rest."

    He bristled with a blush at her last comment: he could've sworn she had a teasing tone there too. He had no reason to distrust Margaret or her master other than the fact that he was really opposed to their ideas. He also didn't know for sure if they could give him more power, but they were the only likely source of help in this otherwise fool's errand of a murder case.

    Shirou wanted to admit he wouldn't use Social Links and fight on his own terms, but he made a conscious decision accepting Yosuke's help and the position of team leader. Even Satonaka, when he just talked to her and offered a clean slate, had counted.

    Shirou didn't notice her mannerisms at first, but just as Yosuke Hanamura reminded him of Shinji Matou, Chie Satonaka reminded him of Taiga Fujimura. Or at least, how a high-school aged Fuji-nee acted when Kiritsugu was still around. Not that she acted any less of a teen in her late twenties. The energy was there, as was the violent protective nature that would befall their loved ones. There was also the fierce appetite (or at least an allusion to it according to Yosuke), athletic form and even the short brown hair and brown eyes. She'd probably be a monster in kendo too if she were ever taught that. Hell, she might even be a relative, lost or distant, to the Fujimuras too.

    Having been silent in thought from his side of the conversation, Margaret spoke up again, breaking his train of thought. "Do you understand, Shirou Emiya?"

    He did, but he didn't like it. But they came to him in earnest goodwill to help when they could have just otherwise left him to fare on his own, with an advanced warning no less. The fact that they could be murderers never even crossed his mind; Igor and Margaret deserved the benefit of the doubt, and he saw no reason to stop using Social Links other than personal conflict. "All right, I'll try."

    "That's all we can ask for," Margaret said in earnest. "Now, if you'll excuse me-"

    "Wait a minute," Shirou spoke quickly, hoping she didn't hang up as he had no immediate way to contact her back. "There's something I wanted to ask you, since you're on the line."

    "My master is more suited to whatever questions you may have, but I'll answer to the best of my ability."

    "Fair enough. I was fighting Satonaka's Shadow when my second Persona, Pixie, was talking to me. She said something about a-…" He paused as he recalled the words, even though they still perplexed him. "…-'golden sheath' inside my body."

    "'Golden sheath'?" the apprentice repeated. "You have no idea what that pertains to?"

    "It was the first I've ever heard of it," Shirou shrugged. "Figment of imagination or not, Pixie's a fey and recognized whatever was inside me as something important."

    Her end of the line was briefly silent. "I'll need to consult with my master on this, but it may take time. Admittedly, this isn't within our field of understanding."

    "I just thought I'd ask. You two are the only magi I know for miles willing to help." His father had made it clear to keep his magecraft a secret; not just from his family and friends, but from the second owner of Fuyuki, who was more or less the magi representative keeping the status quo in check. He honestly didn't expect to run into magi or a murder mystery in his uncle and cousin's hometown, but was thankful of not going in totally blind.

    That is, until Margaret dropped a bombshell. "When did either my master or I admit to being magi?"

    What?

    He opened his mouth to answer, almost ready to accuse or question, but closed it as he realized that they never did allude to the fact. Not that they tried deceiving him either. The master and apprentice just offered assistance on a silver platter and he believed they were similar to magi when all evidence pointed otherwise. He flushed in embarrassment, partly in his failure to think of a response and partly to the false observation he'd made. His silence was more of an answer than a fumbled one.

    "Let this be a lesson to you on regards of searching for truth," the attendant spoke neutrally with only the faintest hint of annoyance. "Do not make assumptions on matters you think you know without consulting all known facts."

    "I'm sorry, but I haven't had a magecraft teacher in years, so I couldn't even tell with my third-rate training. I don't know where else to get my facts."

    "The library's always an option," she offered before cutting the line. "Good day."

    -Yasogami Front Gate, After School-

    After the call, Shirou had a light breakfast with Nanako before leaving. On the floodplain path, he heard a couple of students on the walk over that the sports clubs were accepting applicants tomorrow. The girl that mentioned this was more talkative than her friend, and went off on a tangent between considering basketball or football to studying for midterms to finally a rumor about the town shrine being haunted. And Margaret says I need to concern myself with this?

    By the school gates, everyone was talking about the missing Yukiko Amagi, whether it was about the murder case or seeing her on the Midnight Channel last weekend. A disheartened student was talking to his friends that he tried watching the channel last night but couldn't see anything, only to be teased and reminded that it wasn't raining.

    That whole day, everyone hushed up and avoided Chie whenever she walked by. Considering what happened yesterday, Shirou and Yosuke were worried that she was ready to snap at someone like she did the cop, but she just acted like her usual self, insisting to the gossipers that asked her (and possibly herself) that Yukiko would be back before anyone knew it.

    Meeting with the group just outside the school after the final bell, Shirou had to be the one that told her it couldn't be today.

    "And why the hell not?!" she cried, breaking her façade at his denial. "Is this one of those sexist comments again?!"

    Yosuke was equally livid. "If it is, I swear Shirou, I'm gonna smack your head again and I won't be gentle."

    "It's not that," he groaned, not wanting to remember what happened at Daidara's. "I have work today and we still haven't recovered fully from the last fight. I'd rather get another day's rest before going back in again"

    While Yosuke rubbed his chest guiltily where he had been stabbed and electrocuted, Chie huffed indignantly and childishly. "Look, you can afford to miss a few work days. You were both fine the day after fighting Hanamura's Shadow, and I'm as fit as ever and running at 100%! Really, nothing's wrong!"

    "You almost dozed off during Morooka's lecture and had to ask me who Francis Bacon was when he called on you."

    Chie bristled and flushed at the comeback. Yosuke just grinned. "I'm surprised you even slept through that. Guess even guys with food names can't interest you into studying."

    "Sh-shut up! You're one to talk! You're even worse than me in class, staring off into space with your headphones on-"

    "I'll share study notes with you two later," Shirou quickly interjected. "But Yosuke was right; we only have one shot at saving Amagi-san, so let's go in when we're certain and fully rested. For that reason, I suggest we take the day off and go back tomorrow or the next day."

    His classmates exchanged glances. "Well, you're the leader," the other male student shrugged.

    "Tomorrow," Chie insisted. "We're going tomorrow."

    Satisfied, the trio walked towards the gate, before being intercepted by a loud "Head's up!"

    Shirou saw it coming in an instant. A monochrome ball with hexagonal spots shot from behind, spinning so fast as a black-and-white blur. Judging by the trajectory was about to pelt Chie in the back of the head. Acting without thinking, he moved behind her and swung his arm down and hard like it was a hammer. He intercepted the round bullet and watched as it ricocheted to the ground and bounced away.

    Caught unaware, Chie ducked and yelped "Aaaah!" thinking she was being attacked instead of protected.

    Yosuke watched the whole thing play out beside him, particularly how red Shirou's hand turned after punching an association football, and how he just ignored it like it was nothing. In hindsight, he was probably resistant to pain after turning his body into a furnace for years on end. The more Yosuke played over the event, the more he felt awe and jealousy at his friend. How does he make it look so easy?

    The threat averted, Shirou quickly knelt to his panicked classmate to help her back up, despite the blushing shyness on her part. Yosuke deftly and discreetly looked back to the school, spotting two students running towards them. One had dark blue hair and wore the school uniform traditionally, who looked otherwise ordinary aside from his lengthy limbs. The other had brown hair, brown eyes, and a blue gym uniform with the letters "Y H" on either side of the zipper line. He was much more easily distinguished with his choice of clothes and the small bandage over the bridge of his nose.

    "A bit late in the warning, Daisuke," Yosuke smirked, picking up the ball and throwing it to them.

    "Sorry," the brown-haired student smiled as he caught it. "Kou here gets just as excited in football as he does basketball."

    "I was just trying to get you to go all out for once," the dark-haired student, Kou, quipped. "Since you were so eager to get started on soccer. Or whatever the Americans call it over there-" His bitter mood morphed into shock as he recognized the girl he had almost struck. "Oh crap! Chie-chan!?"

    Helped up by Shirou's hand, Chie glanced over to the other student with blinking eyes. "Oh, Ichijo-kun, didn't see you there."

    Kou stared at her with concern and fear, almost hesitant to reach over and apologize at the risk of being too forward. As it was, he eventually noticed the person who was holding her up; a student that he didn't recognize before. "Huh? Who are you?"

    "Allow me to do the honors," Yosuke grinned, waving his hands out to the side like a show magician. "Shirou Emiya, meet Kou Ichijo and Daisuke Nagise, second year captains and star players of the basketball and American soccer teams respectively."

    "Yo," the soccer player waved.

    "N-nice to meet you," Ichijo nodded, staring at Shirou's hands on Chie's arm.

    Without skipping a beat, Yosuke twirled and pointed dramatically to the red-head, while his other arm was open to them and inviting. "Kou and Daisuke, meet Shirou Emiya, second year transfer student all the way from Fuyuki City!"

    "Likewise," Shirou nodded, following Ichijo's comment.

    "That was some killer form you got there," Nagase grinned. "You play a sport before, like baseball?"

    "I just train a lot," he vaguely answered. "Though I was on the archery team last year at Homurahara Academy."

    This surprised everyone, including his friends who never heard him speak much of his home city. The soccer captain stroked his chin in contemplation.

    "Archery, huh? Well, we don't have any bows and targets, but if you slack on your training, your metabolism rate will drop." Nagase's smirk turned feral, reminding Yosuke of a similar event last year, right down to the glint in his eye. "So join my club! With your archery hands and posture and my soccer speed and stamina, you'd be an unstoppable athlete!"

    Ichijo's expression blanked and he whipped towards his friend in an incredulous rage. "Wa-wait a minute! Our basketball team is very low on numbers! And he'd get the same possible workout if he's dribbling a ball around the court! If anything Emiya should join the basketball team!"

    "And I say it should be soccer!" Nagase quipped back.

    Yosuke blinked as the two continued to bicker. "Whoa. Serious déjà vu here."

    "This has happened before?" Shirou asked.

    "Yeah, when they were trying to recruit me," Yosuke nodded. Then he angrily turned to Chie. "Of course, they were offering to help regulate my body heat as a means to avoid freezing myself after a certain somebody watched me slip and fall on my butt last Valentine's Day!"

    Chie feigned innocence the only way she knew how: whistling, despite how annoyed or confused her teammates looked. Kou stopped arguing with Daisuke in a sudden epiphany, largely due to the words "Valentine's Day", and despite the fact the holiday was nearly a year away.

    "Right, Chie-chan," he whispered to himself, and turned with a smile, having been trying to figure out a lead-in to talk to her since last year. He saw what was most obvious and went with it. "Say, where's Amagi-san?"

    He would have kicked himself if he could, seeing Chie's animated face suddenly turn sober. Yosuke and Emiya looked tense as well. "She's just… on an extended break from work. She'll be back soon."

    "Really?" Nagase blinked. "I could've sworn I heard rumors that she ran away as a princess and thinks the killer to be her prince charming or some-"

    "Yukiko isn't like that, dammit!" Chie bellowed.

    "Okay, okay!" Nagase relented. "It's just a rumor I heard, geez…"

    Honestly, Kou was surprised himself; Chie had reacted pretty violently to Daisuke, and Yosuke and Emiya had the workings of a frown themselves. He didn't know what to think about Emiya since he just met him, but his old classmates, particularly Chie, took him by surprise. How much had they changed since last year?

    "Okay, I believe you," Kou interjected. "It's just I was worried, you know? You're almost never without Amagi-san and imagining her gone…" What he had meant was imagining Yukiko Amagi gone would break Chie Satonaka's spirit, and the cute tomboy he had gained feeling for would be gone. Unfortunately, the context had an entirely different meaning, due to increasing rumors and old habits.

    Chie's eyes hardened again as she made her own conclusion. "Well I'll be sure to wait patiently for entry #38 of 'The Princess Amagi Challenge'."

    "What?" Kou blinked, before realizing his blunder. "Wait, NO! No, Chie-chan, it's not-!"

    "See you guys tomorrow," she said bluntly as she turned and left school grounds with a little stomp in her step.

    Kou could only stare wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the departing girl, with only the company of not-so sympathetic guys staring back at him. Eventually he slapped his face with the palm of his hand, wanting to hide his shame. "God damn it."

    Yosuke couldn't help but to make a jab. "Was that what basketball players would call a 'flop' or a 'prayer'?"

    Shirou's frown grew. "Yosuke-"

    "Just asking," his friend quickly shrugged.

    "He's kinda right, you know," said Nagase. "You messed up big time."

    Kou removed his hand to glare at the soccer player. "Shut up! You could have helped me out there, Daisuke!"

    "You're on your own with girls, man," his friend frowned.

    "Ichijo?" Calling his family name was the red-haired teen, who stepped up to him tentatively. "Satonaka is just very stressed and worried about her friend. She has other… priorities at the moment and will likely be focused on them for the next few weeks."

    "Besides," Yosuke added. "I think the last thing Satonaka needs is a boyfriend."

    Kou's reaction was understandable; a blush of having been so exposed through his blunder. Shirou, however, just turned back to his friend with innocent confusion. "Boyfriend?"

    Yosuke's confusion was mirrored. "Wh-are you serious?! Kou just went out of his way to talk to her and would've probably in some roundabout way asked to hang out until Amagi-san came back! It was so frigging obvious!"

    "It was?" both Kou and Shirou asked; the former in a defeated tone, the latter in a perplexed one.

    The headphone-wearing student could only gawk and blink incredulously at his friend's cluelessness until it hit him; the guy was oblivious to the opposite sex. Like, shonen hero level. Suddenly the phone number exchange at Junes made a lot more sense. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the cruel irony so he did the next best thing. "Idiot," he groaned after palming his face.

    Shirou's confusion, however, was short-lived to the situation regarding Satonaka. "Listen," he tried again with Ichijo. "I know for a fact that Amagi-san will be all right. Call it a hunch. When that does happen, I'm sure Satonaka will feel better, and I can put in a good word for you to her."

    The other male students were surprised by this, but none more so than Kou. "Y-you really mean that?"

    The red-haired teen nodded. "You care about Satonaka a lot, so I figure she deserves to know that and it was just a misunderstanding. It's the least I can do."

    Kou's mood brightened considerably. He'd had some doubts about Emiya, but just like Yosuke, he was no less a helpful, swell guy. "Thanks, Emiya!" he smiled and shook his hand enthusiastically. "I don't how to repay you! Well, except maybe a guaranteed spot in the basketball team, whaddya say?"

    "Didn't you just say you were low on members?" Daisuke said, but was ignored.

    Shirou recalled that Mitsuzuri encouraged him to join a team at Yasogami so he wouldn't "waste potential", and that Margaret encouraged him to do more outside of fighting. But he couldn't handle the commitment of a sports team. That would mean more time making arrangements to their schedule and less time solving the case. However, if their schedule was doable alongside going to Junes and MOEL… "What times do you meet?"

    "Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday," Kou smiled. "Starting tomorrow, and not on rainy days or finals week."

    "Same goes for soccer too," Daisuke offered.

    …no way it was going to happen then. "Sorry, wouldn't have the time," Shirou answered honestly.

    "That's a shame," Daisuke frowned. "Still, the offer's open year 'round if you change your mind."

    "I'll consider it," Shirou answered as he waved bye and left the gate. Yosuke followed him, but had been staring at him with a flat gaze ever since his offer to Kou.

    The odd thing was that he could almost tell that Yosuke was… disappointed in him, for some reason.

    "FYI, he's disappointed in you."

    "What?" Shirou blurted out; he hadn't expected to hear Pixie's voice again so soon.

    "You sure were nice to Kou, back there," Yosuke said, assuming the "What?" was directed to him. His tone betrayed not for or against the notion, though, just an observation.

    "Well, he left a bad impression," Shirou shrugged, ignoring Pixie for now. "I'm sure he means well, and would make a nice boyfriend for Satonaka."

    "Kou's a great guy, don't get me wrong. But if they were gonna date, he would have acted on it last year."

    "Like you and Konishi-senpai?" Shirou quipped before he could stop himself.

    "Bad move."

    Pixie's observation rang true at Yosuke's pained flinch, but he recovered. "Point taken. But shouldn't you consider other people's feelings before making promises like that?"

    The magus raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

    His friend then smacked his head dramatically. "Riiiiight, oblivious to the nth degree, completely forgot about that!" The mock humor was completely gone as quickly as it came, and Yosuke was now staring hard at Shirou with a hint of anger. "Look, I don't have the time or patience to fully go over the Birds and the Bees with you today, so I'll keep this short: you obviously have Kou's best interests at heart, but after that little stunt, I'm starting to wonder if you even care about Satonaka."

    "Of course I care!" he snapped, glad that there was no one else around. "I saved her! We saved her! We're fighting the Shadows to save Amagi-san as well and prevent anyone else from ending up like Yamano-san and Konishi-senpai! How can you even accuse me of that?!"

    But Yosuke wasn't moved; he just shook his head with a bored, dull glare. "You really don't get it, do you?" He was starting to feel sorry for Satonaka right now. "Forget it. We'll continue this another time."

    The magus could only stare dumbly as his friend stormed off, wondering what he had done to upset him.

    "Well, that could have gone better."

    "Be quiet," Shirou snapped to the fey inside his head. He knew he was right anyway. Satonaka wanted to have care and affection from others, and her Shadow lashed out to the (seemingly) only two people that do. If Ichijo could prove that fact otherwise, it would be all the better for her esteem.

    Besides, she deserves better.

    -MOEL Gas Station-

    "Don't stand too close to this truck, now," Nami smiled. "Or else you'll get run over."

    Shirou, filling up the parked truck with gas, stopped and looked up when Nami spoke. Looking around, he saw his on-break colleague talking to a young, black haired girl wearing a pink sweater standing on the sidewalk just parallel to the gas station, staring at the parked truck. Nami himself was close to the building, claiming to be not a morning or sunny person. He joked about the sun being harmful ("The light! IT BURNS!"), before laughing it off and continuing work. Apparently he favored rain and foggy weather over sunshine, but Shirou never got around to asking why yet.

    "I've decided," the girl said simply. "That I won't go home until the third truck enters and leaves this gas station."

    Despite himself, Shirou was surprised and concerned. "Why won't you go home?" he asked.

    "Because I decided that," she answered stoically. "I won't go home until the third truck enters and leaves." She turned her gaze to the truck in question. "Trucks don't come around often either."
    It made the magus uncomfortable to hear her passive refusal, but Nami pressed the issue at hand. "You're free to stay here, but only as close as the sidewalk. Like I said, you wouldn't want to get run over by this truck here."

    The spacey girl turned blankly to each attendant and the pick-up truck in question. After a moment of contemplation, she walked away and sat by the sidewalk facing the road.

    It was at this point that a boy wearing a green sweater was walking down the street from the direction of the shrine. In his hand were a few bags from the Shiroku Store, and he muttered under his breath along the lines of "stupid sister" and "no money". Just was he was walking by the gas station, he noticed the girl sitting in front of it and stopped.

    "What are you doing?" he asked.

    "I'm waiting for three trucks to enter and leave MOEL," she said. "I've decided that I won't go home until then."

    The boy looked confused. "Why three trucks?"

    "Because I decided that," she said, before mumbling softly to herself, "I won't go back."

    Shirou was growing more concerned about the girl's situation, but didn't know even how to begin to help her through this problem. Was it something serious?

    The boy looked at both ends of the street, seeing the usual lack of traffic. He then looked at his bag, face scrunched in internal thought. "Can I wait with you?"

    The girl turned to him in surprise. Shirou and Nami also raised their eyebrows at his offer, though the children didn't notice. "Why?"

    "You look lonely," the boy explained, sitting beside her. "I got nothing better to do than run errands for my sister, and I can't even get paid for work yet. So, I'll keep you company."

    "Trucks don't often come by," the girl said. "The next two might take a while."

    "I don't mind," the boy said, and the two of them stared ahead in silence. The boy broke it quickly enough with a smile to the girl. "By the way, my name's Hiraku. What's your name?"

    "…Haruka."

    Shirou allowed himself a smile at the scene. It was nice to know he wasn't the only one who would help others, even in small gestures.

    "Ah, kids," Nami grinned whimsically. "So young and idealistic in believing the whole world is ahead of them with their simple choices. It's cute in a way… but also sad."

    "What do you mean?" asked Shirou, eyes torn away from Hiraku and Haruka.

    "The human life is so fleeting that there can only be so many people to know and interact with within a lifetime. Yet so many of them constantly wish to know more, want more material things, and compare themselves to others just for self-validation. Children are innocent to this, but they almost always grow up as blind as their parents or suppressed by the masses of popular opinion."

    "You don't know that," the magus argued. He honestly couldn't picture Nanako growing to be as jaded as Nami insisted, even if she was forced to mature.

    The gas attendant turned to him with a sad, knowing smile. "I've been around for a long time, Shirou-chan. I've seen a lot of kids grow bitter at adolescence when they realize this one truth: that the world is unforgiving."

    "Surely there are some of them that don't follow that norm, and stay hopeful?"

    "Granted," he admitted. "But that would be a minority, and even then they would relapse sooner or later."

    "Maybe they just need to hope again. More Allies of Justice… or heroes."

    Nami chuckled at Shirou's weak proclamation. The tone was more amused than mocking, but his laugh did little to alleviate his colleague's blush. "Again you admit that. You still seem to cling to that childish naivety, but you sound so serious-"

    "That's because I am," Shirou cut in, in spite of himself. Just because he didn't admit his dream enough didn't make his goal less desirable. He would always work to being the hero his father wanted to be but couldn't.

    The proclamation gave the attendant surprise. "So you truly mean to save the world? It is a big place you know; much larger than humble Inaba. What makes you think you, a single person, can handle the responsibility of all the lives around you, good or bad?"

    Shirou frowned, unintentionally thinking back to a bad memory of a burning Fuyuki City, followed by the night Kiritsugu died. "I was told that to save one person means to not save another. That just never sat right with me, and I want to prove that theory wrong by saving people without compromises."

    Nami sighed. "Such a naïve reason for a naïve wish," he lamented. "Still, perhaps I can be a bit hopeful of the world too if our serial murderer is caught by the end of the year."

    "I'll hold you to that," Shirou smiled, discreetly admitting he'll find the killer. He considered the matter closed as he walked over to the next car that pulled in, but Nami, after a fleeting moment of thought, stopped him.

    "Say, Shirou-chan?" he called out. "Have you ever heard of a talking board?"

    Shirou blinked, not expecting such a question. "It's claimed to be a divination tool, right?" he asked cautiously. While Igor wasn't a magus, Tarot cards were just as supernatural to be used by magi for mediums and mystic codes.

    "Yeah," Nami confirmed. "They used to sell a few of those at the toy store here; before Junes anyway. Kids liked playing with them thinking they could communicate with spirits, because it requires such a deft touch and, once again, a little belief."

    "Well, I don't have one if that's what you're asking," Shirou said.

    "No, I wasn't. I was actually leading up to a new rumor I heard about the Midnight Channel." Shirou's eyes widened under the brim of his MOEL cap, but he politely kept quiet to let Nami finish.

    "See, people have said they saw some of the girls on the Midnight Channel before they went missing; Saki Konishi and Yukiko Amagi specifically. Doesn't make much sense that we would see their shadow, however unclear it is, and not the real thing, right? But considering that the channel works under already supernatural circumstances, why can't it be that the channel is just a giant talking board, and everyone that watches it is spiritually aligning it to ask 'Who is my soul mate'?"

    Shirou knew this was important; Nami had been the first one to tell him about the Midnight Channel, and seemed knowledgeable enough about the rumor mill to know when to keep his ear to the ground. But as much as this sounded like a revelation to the case- "I'm not sure if I'm following you," he honestly stated.

    Nami sighed before speaking again. "Well, how a talking board works is when two or more people put their hands on a planchette, move it around in circles and then ask a yes or no question. If this doesn't work, they circle around again to warm it up. The planchette moves over the yes or no or even the letters to answer the question given. For the latter, the letters spell out a name or word. There're a lot of rumors, even outside of Inaba, that claim that talking boards are cursed with spirits, but I firmly believe that the subconscious is involved.

    "Say you want to ask the board 'Who loves me?' You might think of the girl you want to love you and your fingers subtly move the planchette towards the letters to spell her name. This might not even be because of your crush on her, but because you hear her name and you want to know her better. The same principle applies for the Midnight Channel. People want to know their soul mate and are all subconsciously thinking to Mayumi Yamano, Saki Konishi, or Yukiko Amagi. And because so many people have their subconscious towards the same person at the time of each showing, the picture gets clearer as they all edge to the same image. You follow me now?"

    Dumbly, Shirou nodded. The way Nami explained it made so much sense. Never mind how he heard such a rumor, but the fact that the criminal magus would make a universal channel that allowed anyone who watches it make their own image a reality was simply mind-boggling. Then again, I can't be sure if there really is a magus involved.

    The duo continued working in silence after the discussion, until Shirou had to leave. The magus would continue rolling Nami's theory in his mind until he had to go to bed.

    -April 19th, Yukiko's Castle, After School-

    "2days teh day 2 save yukiko. c u @ junes aftr skool."

    That was the text that Chie sent to both boys of the group. For Shirou, he couldn't begin to read what she said, but Yosuke translated for him. Whether she wanted to remind them or stress the fact of going to the Castle again, the group was in consensus to jump in, but not before passing by a friendly Daisuke and awkward Kou about sports clubs starting today.

    A quick regroup at the food court, trek to the big TV and a one-sided happy reunion with Teddie later, the group made it back to the castle for round two.

    "Not that I don't think we should hurry on to find Yukiko as soon as possible," Chie began as they reached the front garden. "But I still don't know how to summon my Persona."

    "Me neither," Yosuke grimaced. "I mean, what happened with your Shadow? I think that was a one-time thing. I'm surprised Jiraiya didn't fizzle out when I got zapped like that, because if he did, I don't think I could have summoned him again."

    "And that's why Shirou-sensei is a natural fighter!" Teddie beamed, ignoring cross looks from the others. "Mind sharing your fruits of knowledge, Shirou-sensei?"

    The magus shrugged. "I just… knew I guess. But I suppose I had the benefit of knowing Structural Analysis and using it to understand the layout of my body from time to time."

    At the other's confused blinks, Shirou explained further. "Structural Analysis is a spell that allows me to understand an object in detail. Composition, structure, condition, even the history of the object is scanned to the smallest detail. Or at least it can be, depending on how well versed the magi in question is. Though until recently, it was the only spell I could do on a regular basis and couldn't do much else with it."

    "That sounds pretty handy, actually," Yosuke smirked. It would be like having a scouter to read power levels off the scale… or possibly a way to know any girl's measurements.

    "What about the other thing you did?" Teddie asked. "The 'reinforcement', was it?"

    Shirou nodded. "It works exactly as expected in the name. Through prana, I can harness any sort of aspect of the material as needed to make it stronger, harder, and even without changing its form. But there's still a limit to how much change an already established object can take."

    "So, it's like trying to add ice into the drink without having it spill over the cup?" Yosuke offered.

    "Something like that."

    Chie knew this was distracting further from the original intent of the discussion (finding out how to summon Personas) but she was just as interested as the others in what their leader can do. "Anything else?"

    Shirou shook his head. "No, that's about it."

    The others were shocked and surprised. "Seriously?" asked Yosuke. "I would have expected something more from magi, like… fireballs or lightning or even disintegration beams."

    "I told you, I'm a third-rate magus," he stressed. "In theory I know only one other skill, and that's only because it's a higher form of Reinforcement. Not only have I failed to get it right, but it's actually kind of useless."

    Teddie tilted his head/body to one side and scratched the other side of his face in confusion. "Useless?"

    "Projection magecraft is where the caster uses their prana to create an image and give it shape and form. It's simple in concept, but the created objects are usually hollow compared to the original thing. The image also tends to break down, though a more creative and clearer design by the caster means it'll last longer.

    "Magi actually find this technique impractical. Unless they need an item for immediate use like ritual offerings, it's better in the long run to create the item through natural means. An object created from thin air is going to fade away as soon as you make it. It's one of the reasons why magi sometimes call it 'Gradation Air'."

    Teddie, for some reason, looked horrified at the end of his explanation. Chie and Yosuke exchanged disbelieving gazes at their own silent questions. Then, Chie blinked and removed her glasses.

    "Wait a minute," she said, holding them out in front of her. "When Teddie made these glasses the other day… didn't you say 'Projection magecraft'?"

    Shirou had nearly forgotten about them, so he was just as surprised as Yosuke as she came to that conclusion. "I'm… not sure," he admitted. "It has similarities to the craft, but that would mean Teddie's-"

    "I knew it," the bear spoke; his voice deeply depressed. "I really am useless."

    "What?" Yosuke gawked. "Teddie, no, no one said that!"

    "Shirou-sensei just did," he weakly argued, trotting away a few steps. "I don't know who I am, I can't fight, and what I have is useless. What good is making stuff if they just go 'poof' later? My nose is nowhere near as good as his Structure scanning, and I can't even make reinforced stuff! What good is a bear like me here?"

    Chie, sensing a breakdown coming, knelt down with Teddie to calm him down. Shirou just watched the scene unfold, wondering where it went wrong. Surprisingly to the red-head, he felt the familiar sensation of a palm smack at the backside of his head. And Yosuke, once again, had a sour expression on his face. "Why do I get the feeling this is going to be a thing?"

    "Only if you continue acting like a dope," his friend whispered back.

    "How was I supposed to know Teddie would get his feelings hurt when I was criticizing my skill set?" Shirou retorted, rubbing the back of his head.

    "It doesn't matter whether you're self-depreciative or obliviously insensitive!" Yosuke snapped back with an accusing finger. "You're our leader now, dammit! And a leader is supposed to inspire confidence, not undermine it!"

    The magus flinched. A leader was to inspire confidence? He never had to do so before, let alone learned how. But everyone would be looking up to help not just in helping others but setting an example. Do allies of justice even need to learn this?

    "Cheer up, Teddie," Chie cooed the bear. "Emiya-kun didn't mean it. He was just being stupid."

    The bear sniffed and turned to her. "R-really?"

    "Really. I mean, I don't know anything about magecraft other than what he's told us, but your glasses are great! We were stumbling around like idiots the first time over before you showed up, and now our heads don't feel like they're splitting open because of the fog."

    "Your nose is pretty helpful too," Yosuke added. "You led us to Saki-senpai's place and this castle where Amagi was. We'd probably never have a snowball's chance in hell finding Amagi-san, let alone saving her, if we didn't run into you."

    The mascot bear beamed a little more from the praise. Shirou decided if there was a time to add and make amends, it was now. "Teddie, I'm sorry for what I said. But it's true that Projection magecraft is seen as pretty useless."

    "Shirou!" Yosuke scolded, as Chie glared and Teddie frowned.

    "On the contrary," he quickly added. "What you do is vastly superior."

    Startled, confused blinks were his response. Shirou smiled and fiddled with the side of his fog glasses. "Any other projection attempt would have broken down by now, but these have stayed stable for over two days now, even when outside of the confines of your world. I'm not sure whether nor not your other creations did indeed go poof, but I think these glasses are a testament to how vital they are to the murder case.

    "You may not have the same powers as us, or are able to fight, but that doesn't make you any less valuable. Please don't think otherwise."

    Chie gave a small smile. "Emiya-kun…"

    "Now that's more like it," Yosuke grinned.

    Teddie simply bawled up in tears. He had been crushed to hear of his skills seemingly brushed aside as useless, but his own sensei was convincing him otherwise, and Yosuke and Chie-chan were just as supportive. It was so good to have friends, to have people to trust. It took all his willpower to not jump from his seat and tackle him to with a body hug. "S-shirou-sensei! Everyone…!"

    "In fact," said Shirou with a growing smile. "I think because of you, I have an idea how to explain summoning our Personas."

    "Whoa, seriously?" asked Yosuke.

    "I haven't perfected Projection myself, but I've been teaching myself how through a step-by-step process. I believe only the first three are necessary for this."

    Hardly containing their excitement, Chie and Yosuke gathered around in a circle in front of their leader, who first instructed them to keep calm and close their eyes. "Now, the first step: Judging the concept of creation. You both saw your Personas and the cards they came from. Imagine again in your mind's eye what they look like." Yosuke and Chie did so.

    "The second step: Hypothesize the basic structure. They represent your bodies, even as an external spirit, and should feel just like yourselves."

    "Can you make that sound more sensible to us non-magi guys?" Yosuke quipped with a peeking eye.

    "Shut up, Hanamura," Chie quipped back, trying hard to focus on Shirou's voice.

    "Now the third step: duplicating the material, or in this case, grabbing it from within. Because once the image of your Persona is there, it answers the call. And once it does…"

    The Izanagi card fluttered before him, emitting a soft blue light as it spun. No sooner had that happened, two other cards appeared before his classmates.

    "You did it!" Teddie cheered.

    "Wow," Chie breathed, cupping the card in her hands again. It was only a day ago, but the light and warmth of her Persona was just as welcoming… and it was still a surprise to her that it came from something so dark and repulsive inside her. I have to make sure I never lose this glow…

    Yosuke was in awe of his summoning as well, but a thought struck him and he started looking over his hands and body in worry. "This isn't a dream, is it? I haven't passed out turning part furnace, right?"

    "You're fine, Yosuke," Shirou grinned. "Now, who's ready to save Amagi-san?"

    <><><>

    -Yukiko's Castle, Fifth Floor-

    Shirou should have gotten used to the unexpected surprises since his visit to Inaba. The murder cases, the on-and-off dreams, the Midnight Channel, the Yasogami teaching staff, Teddie, and killer Shadows from suppressed selves. There was also Igor and Margaret, but that was before the latter dismissed the magi claim.

    And the Personas were just another thing entirely. He resolved to do as much research on the matter as soon as possible after Yukiko was rescued. Not because of his classmates having Shadows representing caricatures of their flaws. Not because of his Wild Card ability having two or more Personas at once. It's not even because each Persona he's seen is as colorful and different like from the ball-monster collecting franchise.

    No, the reason being, after Shadow Yukiko left them a giant chevalier-styled Shadow to distract them, and that he somehow succeeded in grasping the Persona card light in its remains… that he is seriously questioning what constitutes as a Persona.

    The new Persona, a red armored knight holding his lance in the air and mounted on a large brown steed, bellowed a cry as he was made visible to everyone. "Hear my name! For I am Eligor of King Solomon's Ars Goetia! I bid you greetings, summoner! To whom does this Duke of Hell owe his service?"

    Shirou could only blink dumbly at the towering knight and ask the most sensible question at the moment. "…what?"
    Last edited by Kishou the Badger; July 19th, 2018 at 06:25 AM.

  6. #26
    Greatness, at any cost mAc Chaos's Avatar
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    I meant more like his personality.

    SHIROU: Shinji, there's two of you!
    SHADOW SHINJI: I'm You!!!
    SHINJI: Yeah you're me. *high five*
    SHIROU: ...
    SHINJI: All right, let's go.
    He never sleeps. He never dies.

    Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

  7. #27
    Turns out the chapter's too long to fit at once. Gotta split it half.


    Chapter 21: Shadow of the Caged Self

    <><><>

    -April 20th, Daidara Metalworks, After School-

    A lot had happened during the second trek through Yukiko’s Castle yesterday, Shirou reflected. Despite the fear of facing Yukiko’s Shadow, the group had decided to abandon stealth and fight their way through any other Shadow in their way as a form of training with their awakened powers. Yosuke’s initial trouble in summoning his Persona nearly got him killed if simply having access to one didn’t make him so much faster.

    Much to the group’s surprise, many Shadows left bits of themselves behind when they dissolved, usually bits of teeth or strips of the strange materials that made up their combat forms. Shirou collected the spoils to figure out what to do with them later. Even a third-rate magus like himself could appreciate finding obviously magical materials for possible use… not that he had any skills in processing them.

    Odd as those bits were, there were stranger things in the castle. Yosuke, being a casual gamer, was at first excited of finding golden treasure chests in a few of the castle’s side rooms, all but vaulting for them and expecting new weapons or valuable gems. While the contents invariably disappointed Yosuke, they weren’t a total loss either. Rather than riches, they tended to be random odds and ends that you could find at Shiroku’s General Store in the Shopping District. Some of them were useful and practical, like the pain medicine and bandages, while others, such as the firecrackers and peach seeds earned a few raised eyebrows. Among all the treasures they found though, Teddie insisted that the almost glowing purple-blue hard candy “Soul Drops” were rare and very useful, though he wasn't clear on precisely how aside from them being "invigorating."

    The further up the castle they climbed, the more they heard voices echoing through the halls. Most of them were the gibbering nonsense of the agitated Shadows, but there were times where Yukiko’s voice was loud and clear in their ears. The Shadow claimed to be “waiting for her prince” on one floor, while another had her politely greeting someone visiting the Amagi Inn. No one took the time to debate or question these voices and focused more on searching every part of the castle for Yukiko.

    And just when they thought they had finally caught up to Shadow Yukiko, they ran into a Shadow shaped like a hollow suit of armor riding the barding of an invisible horse. It was stronger than all of the other Shadows in the castle they had fought to that point, but was fortunately weaker than Shadow Yosuke or Shadow Chie.

    This of course led to Eligor. Unlike Shirou, neither Satonaka nor Yosuke knew anything about the Ars Goetia, so hearing the transfigured knight introduce himself as a “duke of Hell” had certainly set them all on edge. When the Chariot Arcana spirit had easily joined with Shirou, it cast some uncomfortable possibilities on what their Personas might really be.

    At least they had found the glass key needed to reach the next flight of stairs from the Shadow’s remains.

    The Shadow might have been defeated and progress made, but the quartet was absolutely exhausted by all of the running and fighting up to that point. Frankly, Shirou was amazed at how long they lasted before having to turn back. Real fights were extremely draining on top of exploring the maze-like interior of the castle, but it took over a dozen fights to the death to slow them down even a little.

    Just as the group was about to trudge their way down through the five floors once again, Teddie surprised them all again with his ingenuity. The bear was amazing when he put his mind to it; pulling out what looked to be a small diorama of a house from…somewhere, it called the group around and dropped it to the floor, shattering it in the middle of them all. There was a flash of light, and then they were standing on the road leading up the castle’s gates. Outside.

    Initial gawking aside, Shirou made sure to be the first among his friends to praise the bear; it needed every bit of self-esteem he could get. Besides, even if it was limited to simply taking them back to the red and black door at the castle’s entrance, it was still an incredible feat of magecraft to move them all safely. If Teddie ever figured out how exactly he pulled off half of the Projections he did, Shirou would be first in line to take notes.

    That was for later, though. Exhaustion had the group reluctantly agreeing to take today off to recover their strength before they dove back in to hopefully finish the job and get Yukiko safely home. As eager as they were to find her, it would do her no good if her would-be rescuers ended up dead before even reaching her. Even a good night’s rest was not enough for the worst of their wounds to scab over, even with the reduction that came from leaving the TV World.

    Chie left for home as soon as school got out and Yosuke decided to follow Shirou after hearing he was heading to the Metalworks after grabbing a bag from his house. Meeting the redhead at the shop, Yosuke shrugged off his jacket and visibly cringed at the shop’s heat as they stepped in. Even if the early spring weather was clear and warm over the last few days, it was nothing compared to the dry heat of Daidara’s burning forge.

    “You’re back,” the scarred blacksmith grunted when he saw the two teens. “Want anything new?”

    “You said you wanted materials for inspiration, correct?” Shirou asked. Without waiting for an answer, he unslung the Junes-brand bag and displayed the contents. Seeing the bits of Shadows that Shirou had salvaged from the TV World so openly in this world nearly made Yosuke lose his balance; how the hell was he going to explain having broken teeth that big, let alone the more bizarre materials?

    “Shirou, what the heck are you-?” Yosuke started to protest before he saw the look on Daidara’s face. There was a gleam there now in the blacksmith’s eye, as he gazed hungrily at the seemingly random mess of objects.

    “Where’d you get all this?!” Daidara demanded, never taking his eyes off of the bag.

    “I have my ways,” Shirou answered with a half-shrug. “I take it you want them?”

    The blacksmith stood upright, nodding once. “I do, boy. I’ve been looking for something new, and I think I just found it. Come back in… a week. I’ll have something for you and your friends by then.”

    Now, Yosuke was no expert in forging, but that seemed crazy even to him. Shirou’s reaction only confirmed it. “A week, Daidara-san? I don’t doubt your skills, but I thought forging weapons or armor took longer.”

    The muscled man let out a short bark of laughter, “I have my ways, kid! One week!”

    With that, Daidara heaved the bag up and almost ran to the back room with the forge, the gleam of inspiration in his eye even brighter than earlier and an almost manic grin on his lips.

    “I can’t believe that actually worked,” Yosuke said after a few moments of silence. “I was expecting him to push you more for details.”

    “Daidara-san did say he needed material. Maybe showing him something new was enough to get him to overlook it,” Shirou shrugged. “And it would have been a waste not to use them.” Though, depending on what was made from all of that scrap, he might need to confront Daidara about his profession. There was no way an ordinary blacksmith/metalworker could forge high-quality weapons and armor in a week.

    But a magus might.

    He was pulled out of his thoughts by Yosuke draping an arm over his shoulder. “Well, since we have nothing else better to do, how about that beef steak I promised you?”

    <><><>

    -Souzai Daigaku-

    The food stand that Yosuke led Shirou to was small and nestled between two closed buildings. Somehow, despite larger stores dwindling down to bankruptcy around it, Souzai Daigaku managed to stay afloat with but a single clerk in the back managing the grill. There was only one table made from a simple plank of wood on some crates and a few chairs set up for customers to sit and eat; the majority ordered their food to go from here.

    Shirou quickly discovered the reason why this food stand’s business was still booming. It was nearly unorthodox to stick pieces of steak in croquettes, but each piece was well seasoned and thick in fat. It might as well be eating well cooked beef already cut for the buyer. Sure it was a little tough in places, but the flavor was superb even then.

    “What’d I tell ya?” Yosuke smiled from across the table. “These croquettes are as delicious as they are weird. Tough to chew, maybe, but still.”

    Shirou licked his lips at the third chunk. “Indeed, their meat is very tender.” He would have to remember to ask the clerk where her meat comes from. Cooking for a certain ravenous tiger had instilled in him an appreciation for high-quality ingredients, especially when making meat dishes.

    “Man, you almost sound like Satonaka,” Yosuke chuckled. “But you seem to eat yours just as fast as she does. What kind of teeth do you two have?”

    “A martial artist’s, I’d assume.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “If we can’t hope to even digest our breakfast, we’d shame our disciplines.”

    “That’s kinda deep. Too bad your friend has no idea what you’re talking about, let alone me.”
    Shirou ignored Pixie’s quip and Yosuke’s owlish blink, resuming his meal. The breading was still a little greasy in his opinion, but such was the price for a quick meal versus his usual standards.

    Yosuke shifted in his seat and opened his mouth to say something when two women spoke up from a short distance away, just loud enough for the boys to hear.

    “Say, isn’t that the Junes boy?”

    “I believe he’s classmates with Sato-san’s son.”

    “The poor thing; I heard they went out of business last week.”

    The two continued their walk as if Yosuke hadn’t heard that tidbit of information. He stared at their retreated backs with a blank gaze and clenched fists before turning back to Shirou. “Sorry ‘bout that. I’m kinda infamous around here.”

    “He looks bored, but what those women said really got to him.” Now that Shirou looked with Pixie’s words in mind, he could see the way he slumped slightly more in his chair before forcing himself back into his usual carefree posture.

    “It must be tough,” Shirou said neutrally, hoping to steer the conversation away from them.

    “Eh, not really,” Yosuke shrugged. “It’s my parents that get the brunt of it. I’m not that involved with the ‘Junes Invasion’ other than being another employee, but everyone knows my name and face. Not that I mind, but it sucks having to keep a lid on all the time, ya know?”

    “I can imagine,” Shirou nodded, feeling he should say something to take the focus off of the subject. “I used to get into a lot of trouble fighting bullies growing up.”

    “Whoa, really?” Yosuke never would have thought Shirou to be the kind of guy to-…well, okay, after what he saw in the TV world he could believe that. But as a kid? That part was a bit of a stretch. “How old were you at the time?”

    “Eleven or so. It just wasn’t in me to stand by doing nothing, so I couldn’t ignore them as well as you did right now.” He chuckled a bit at the memories of trying to stare down his dad after coming home covered in bruises and bandages back then.

    “Well, picking a fight with some gossiping women is a lot less cool than with bullies.” And that was the end of it. Yosuke was already smiling again and putting the matter behind him. Having someone to confide in had taken some of the weight off Yosuke’s shoulders.

    I think I understand him a bit better now. Shirou couldn’t help but smile.

    “Da-dadada-DAAAAAAAAAA!”

    As soon as Pixie sang, Shirou felt something tug from the theoretical line between himself and Yosuke, causing him to freeze mid-bite for half a second. The bond between them felt a little thicker and stronger, built up from their short heart-to-heart.

    Yosuke seemed more bothered than Shirou at the recent development, and started to pad his body for something.

    “Something wrong?” asked the magus.

    “I just felt a little funny all of a sudden. Not sure why though.” He kept probing his body and turning his hands, before shrugging it off. “Ah, it’s probably nothing. Another order of croquettes, then!”

    The two ate and chatted casually for the rest of their meal before heading their separate ways, the unspoken agreement to meet up and finish the battle after school tomorrow passing between them.

    On his way back to the Dojima home, Shirou passed by the book store with a sign on the window for new arrivals. Normally, Shirou would just walk on by unless there was a particular book he needed for something, and even then he usually just borrowed it from the local library. Unfortunately, Inaba was too small for a full library, and he didn’t exactly have a lot of cash right now anyway. Being a secret hero was proving frustratingly expensive.

    He was about to move on, but Margaret’s words about his personal life (more accurately his lack of one) brought him to an almost reluctant halt. While none of the new titles displayed interested him (fishing guides and study aids weren’t needed, and he had never heard of self-help books like The Lovely Man before), there was always the chance there was something interesting in there, too. Maybe a book or two wouldn’t hurt.

    Shirou once more felt like the hand of fate was guiding him when he spotted a lone translated copy of The Ars Goetia in the shop’s extremely small occult section. At the very least, it might serve as decent reference for demonically themed Personas like Eligor. With a shrug, he ended up taking it and a copy of The Lovely Man.

    Upon arriving back home, cooking a simple dinner with his cousin pitching in where she could made for a fine close to the evening.

    <><><>

    -April 21st, Dojima Household, Morning-

    Shirou now knew what it felt like to lose a few years of your life to a sudden scare. The moment he woke up today, he nearly had a heart attack at the hissing patter of rain hitting the gutters. If it rained too long, it would fog over and… Amagi would-

    The magus quickly turned on the TV and checked the weather report, pacing his room furiously through every commercial and useless morning gossip show.

    “Calm down, Satonaka. I got the TV on now. The weather report is just about to start.”

    It was truly a uniquely frustrating experience for Shirou trying to juggle calls from his two friends. He never had so many phone calls at the same time before, especially with the calls and voice mails bouncing around like tennis balls between the three of them. He idly wondered if there was a way to set them all up to talk at the same time for situations like this. It would certainly be useful in the future.

    “Yeah, that’s right. Rain should give way to clear skies by the time first period is over. No fog for another few days, it looks like.”

    Relief passed through every one of them as they saw patches of blue sky grow over the course of the morning walk with no fog in sight. It was still a grim reminder that time was running out. They needed to get through that castle and get Yukiko out of there as fast as possible.

    <><><>

    -Yukiko’s Caste, After School-

    After diving into the TV World, the trio tore their way through the first few floors with almost frightening ease compared to previous visits. The Shadows on the lower levels were predictable and slow compared to their own enhanced abilities and Personas, and each strike from their weapons all but pulverized the formerly vicious creatures. One of Chie’s kicks alone was enough to imbed a Shadow halfway into a wall at one point.

    The higher they climbed, though, the more diverse and bizarre the things became. Some were simple creatures, like animated silk gloves the size of large dogs, with masks sticking out of the opening. Others were even stranger, such as a stationary table. That one gave them all headaches as it levitated knives, torches and cups to keep the trio at bay. It wasn’t terribly powerful, but it was a nuisance.

    While none were as dangerous as his friends’ Shadows or the hollow knight, there were also Shadows that were genuinely frightening to face, such as the Phantom Mage and the Black Raven. The former resembled spinning scarecrows with long green cloaks, and the latter were pitch-black birds that each carried a lit oil lantern in their claws.

    After the first few names Teddie gave out, the trio was already fighting in sync and cared less about the details other than their foes’ elemental weaknesses.

    “Garu!” A viridian gust spiraled up beneath the spinning shadow, nearly tearing off its cloak along with bits of loose straw. Yosuke, crouching low and having pointed at the Phantom Mage, turned his knives to the direction of a Laughing Table throwing its floating utensils. His Persona spun behind him, projecting another gale that blew the attack away and sent the Shadow flying.

    Seeing the other Shadows move in to counterattack, Yosuke jumped behind Chie, his Persona moving with inhuman speed and flexibility to join him as his teammate darted forward. A massive scarlet and gold beetle flew to meet her with a shriek, and she almost jumped to meet it when Teddie called out to her.

    “Chie-chan!” the bear called from behind a corner away from the melee. “Burning Beetles reflect physical attacks! Use your magic instead!”

    “Got it!” Instinct and practice took over, and the blue card of her Persona appeared before her. A flick of her wrist brought her whip down through the card, and her Persona rose into existence behind her. It always felt like the she was taller when Tomoe appeared, possibly from the shared link she was still getting used to. And although the action wasn’t necessary, Tomoe stabbed her glowing blade into the ground behind her before cupping her hands together and thrusting them forward. Chie imagined this to be an easier, if not cooler, way to cast magic, as well as go with the intended suffix at the end.

    Bufu-ken!” Frigid ice formed in the space between the Persona’s palms, and was propelled out and through the air like it was a cannon ball. The blast met the beetle in mid-air, stopping it in mid-flight before the ice shattered, sending the Shadow sprawling on its back.

    Chie smiled at her success, and was about to follow up with another Bufu-ken when she heard a hawk-like screech. Persona-enhanced reflexes kicking in, she dropped down in time to avoid the Black Raven’s diving beak.

    Even as the Shadow opened its wings and swooped upward for another pass, it was blasted from the air. “Zio!” A thunderclap later, and the bird Shadow too sprawled to the ground with the rest of its comrades, twitching in pain. Shirou and Izanagi stood a distance from the other two, striking from afar while watching for ambushes from any Shadows drawn to the scuffle.

    Although I would prefer taking them down first in case the Shadows proved too much for them, but they both beat me to the draw.

    With all of the Shadows down and immobilized, there was one thing left to do. “All right guys! Pile on!” Chie shouted and uncoiled her whip, Tomoe taking her blade up from the floor and following.

    With their friend leading the charge, the others joined the fray and smashed into the Shadows in a wild, unorthodox melee. Teddie had to look away from the sheer brutality (although he did try peeking from behind his mittens out of curiosity, his view was obscured by the growing dust cloud of the brawl regardless). As it was, the fight ended with the students brandishing their weapons and dusting their hands off, Yosuke checking the group over for any injuries.

    When Yosuke first learned that Jiraiya could patch up injuries with the Dia ability the last time they were here, the group had stopped to incorporate the new trick into their plans; Shirou’s Pixie could heal wounds as well, but splitting his reserves between healing and fighting with Izanagi, not to mention the delay in switching Persona, meant that it wasn’t ideal to rely on just her. Jiraiya was also much faster to use its magic, making Yosuke’s Persona ideal for support.

    The basic stratagem for the team was thus: Chie would take point in assault and use Tomoe’s Bufu on the select enemies Teddie pointed out as vulnerable to ice, though with much more reserved control than her classmates due to Tomoe’s low magical ability. She would make up for this with extremely strong strikes from her Persona and herself, easily the hardest-hitting of them all. Yosuke would single out priority targets like magic-using Shadows with hit-and-run tactics to take advantage of his enhanced speed, using wind and healing magic whenever necessary. Shirou, being the toughest of the lot but the slowest, would serve to “draw aggro” (Shirou had to have the concept explained to him, as he had no experience with video game lingo) from Shadows and overpower the ones that his teammates couldn’t finish off quickly, especially on enemies weak to electricity.

    “You know, I think I’m finally getting the hang of this,” Yosuke smiled.

    “I’m not sure if I ever will,” Chie winced as she rolled her shoulders. “I mean, it feels fun, but it can’t be healthy to feel that if we’re just killing monsters all the time. I think I’m already starting to get nightmares.”

    “You worry too much,” Yosuke shrugged. “Just pretend we’re in a video game. You already made homage to Street Fighter, anyway.” It certainly helped that they weren’t nearly as badass in the real world as they were in here with their Personas. It created a sense of separation that made the transition easier for him.

    “Don’t even joke about that, Yosuke,” Shirou chided from his rummaging of the Shadow remains. “An experienced magus always runs the risk of dying from unexpected circumstances, and we’re treading a thin enough line as it is. But I think we’ll be alright with our Personas for the time being. They represent our will, so they keep our fears and worries in check to protect us when they’re active.”

    Though their friend clearly meant it as a warning, the casual reference still bothered Yosuke and Chie. Neither of them forgot that he “walked with death” as all magi did, but he never explained further than that. “Listen, Emiya-kun-“

    Whatever Chie was about to say would be left unsaid; the room grew loud with the echoes of Shadows within the walls. Just like before, voices that came from Yukiko’s life came through mockingly distorted.

    “Excuse me! We heard you’re the new manager of the Amagi Inn. Is it true you’re still in high school?” a particularly greasy voice called out.

    Yosuke blinked. “Wait, isn’t that the TV announcer that interviewed Amagi-san?”

    Neither Shirou nor Chie replied, tightening their fists around their weapons, scowling deeply.

    “That’s none of your damn business,” The voice of Yukiko snapped with none of its usual reservation or gentleness.

    Someday, though… That aside, wow! You're looking gorgeous in that kimono. You must have a lot of male visitors.”

    “Shut up!”

    “And your inn’s hot springs are all natural, yes? I recall you sometimes allow-“

    “Leave me alone!” Yukiko’s voice broke out, effectively drowning out and silencing the reporter’s. “I’m sick of everything. I’m sick of it all.” The Shadows calmed down shortly after her outburst, leaving a chilly silence behind.

    Shirou decided then and there that, when this was over, he was going to punch the reporter. Preferably in the mouth.

    He realized that Yosuke and Teddie were suddenly staring at him rather incredulously. It took the magus another moment to realize he had spoken out loud, and he turned away in embarrassment. He usually kept his more snide comments to himself except when bantering with Taiga or Shinji. Anyone watching that would have assumed that was simply him dealing with familial affection with the former and a defense mechanism against the latter, but never as a personality trait that defined him.

    Chie however, didn’t seem to mind, adding her own comment: “You’ll have to wait in line.”

    All eyes turned to her in surprise again as they digested her words. By the time they managed to shake off their stupor, the tomboy was already halfway down the hall, leaving the boys and bear scrambling to catch up.

    <><><>

    Yukiko’s Castle, 7th Floor

    “Hasn’t my Prince come yet?” The halls echoed with Yukiko’s voice again the moment the quartet reached the top of the stairs. “My dear Prince… Please hurry and take me away! Somewhere, anywhere, to a world where no one knows me…”

    When the halls fell silent again, Shirou turned to their unlikely guide. “How much further, Teddie?”

    “She’s close,” the bear sniffed. “Real close… she’s on the next floor up!”

    Chie nearly buckled between relief and anxiety, just barely keeping herself from bolting ahead while Yosuke looked around apprehensively. “We haven’t run into her Shadow yet though. What if she’s at the next floor waiting?” he asked, flipping his knives in his grip.

    “Doubt it,” said Teddie. “I can only smell one Yuki-chan upstairs, and she’s definitely human. I can’t tell where her Shadow is, but I don’t sense her on this floor, let alone the one below or above. That’s all I can be sure of.”

    “So we managed to get a head start,” the magus deduced. “Let’s make for the stairs then. If we’re lucky, we can grab Amagi-san and leave without triggering her Shadow.”

    Chie frowned. “But what will happen to her if she doesn’t, you know… accept herself?”

    “I could only base this on what happened to the last two people in here,” Teddie started to explain. “But after their bear-zerk rage and killing their hosts, they ran deeper into the fog attacking other Shadows. Normally their sense of self would keep them together, but they gradually grew more and more distant from their host, since they killed the person that defined them in the first place.”

    “I almost hate to ask,” Yosuke gulped. “But what happened to the Shadows of the announcer and Saki-senpai?”

    “Still fighting and assimilating other Shadows, I’d assume. At this rate they might even become…”

    “Become?” the teen urged.

    The bear stayed silent, internally debating the issue, before shaking its head rapidly. “No! That’s not even certain to be the case. Saving Yuki-chan is more important anyways!”

    “He’s right,” Shirou nodded. “We can figure out what to do after we make sure Amagi-san is safe. For now, let’s just focus on finding the stairs this time; no unnecessary fights.”

    Stealthy as they were, the group was only forced into one fight with a much smaller and weaker Avenger Knight patrolling the halls. A few doors later, and they found the final ascending staircase.

    “Praise our Persona Gods!” Yosuke cheered and high-fived Shirou.

    Chie could barely contain herself anymore, rushing ahead of the group. “Yukiko, we’re almost there!”

    Teddie was in the midst of dancing when his nose twitched. “Waitaminute… Chie-chan, watch out!”

    The bear’s last second warning proved vital as a white blur dived for her with a sword extended outward. She dodged to the side at the last moment, feeling a thin needle of steel cut through her sleeve and graze her arm, but barely had time to wince when her assailant landed before them.

    The Shadow landed gracefully on both feet, and rose to its full height to gauge its enemies with its shining steel mask… which wasn’t high to begin with. Barely meeting the teen’s chests, the Shadow was of the comical variety with a stocky, almost gourd-shaped figure clad in bright medieval clothing. It wore a small red frock coat with yellow stars decorated across it, a blue mantle reaching its mid-back, a monochrome striped underdress, and pointed yellow boots. It also wore a small yellow crown topping its oddly realistic yellow locks. And, of course, it was armed with a rapier: the very same sword it used to attack Chie. Apparently through gauging them, the Shadow lunged towards Shirou, blade held high.

    Instinctively, Shirou brought his katana up and parried his shorter opponent’s clumsy slashes, but couldn’t set his stance with the Shadow striking so quickly. Yosuke immediately summoned his ninja-frog Persona and had it help the only way he could think of: kicking the Shadow aside from its blind spot.

    “Thanks,” the magus said quickly, eyes not leaving his enemy.

    “Be bear-y careful, Shirou-sensei,” Teddie warned. “This is one tough enemy.”

    “We’ve faced worst. Now, Per-“

    The Shadow reacted first, trembling with a red aura that gave Shirou pause. It reminded him vaguely of the dream apparition he fought, and how it glowed before summoning a Ghoul and blinding fog. Then, the Shadow screamed.

    A sense of terror overwhelmed him, freezing him in place. His ears rang in pain but he couldn’t even cover them with his hands rigid before him, his sword shaking in his suddenly too-tight grip. A miasma of light and shadow seemed to swallow the castle interior, and he swore he was seeing flames and corpses in the light blots.

    The burning fire. A wave of black mud. The fleeing screams. Hell on earth. Death. Murder. Anger. Hatred Rage Anarchy Rape Drug Depression Envy Wrath Pride Lust Gluttony Sloth Greed Sin Vanity Melancholy Die Die Die die die diediediethestartingpenaltyisfive

    Make it stop. Make it stop! MAKE IT-!

    A painful slap impacted across Shirou’s cheek, and the illusion immediately shattered with Yosuke’s voice suddenly filling his ears. “-hold of yourself NOW, man!”

    Snapping to awareness, Shirou saw he was still in the castle with the others; Yosuke was practically shaking him senseless with Teddie behind him. Chie and her Persona were standing a close distance between them and the Shadow, which was now lying face down at the bottom of the stairs.

    As it stirred again, Chie invoked Tomoe’s magic again. “Bufu-ken!” An ice block projectile shattered against the comical Shadow, once again forcing it back down and disorienting it.

    From the looks of things, it would take far more than just blasting it with ice magic and smacking it around to put this Shadow down. It was barely showing any damage despite Satonaka’s attacks. There was no reason to fight this Shadow now that Yukiko Amagi was within reach.

    “Leave it!” he ordered. “Just hurry to the top of the stairs!”

    No one needed to be told twice; they all ran up and left the Shadow as it struggled to stand back up.

    <><><>

    -Yukiko’s Castle, Top Floor-

    Only when the group opened the large double doors at the top and closed them behind them did the quartet slump in relief and exhaustion. Shirou was especially drained after the Shadow’s vision. He finally had time to collect himself and push down the memories.

    After a moment of relative silence to catch their breaths, Yosuke’s voice pulled Shirou’s attention back to the present. “Shirou,” he started carefully, “what happened back there?”

    Not wanting to bring up those painful memories again, Shirou kept his answer brief and discreet. “I saw something no one should ever have to see in their lifetime.” The tone in his voice was clear to everyone, and they offered understanding, if not comforting, gazes before dropping the matter.

    It was just as well, when the Investigation Team found themselves speechless of the room they were in. It was similar to the ballroom Shadow Chie appeared from, but larger and even more regally appointed; red drapes covered over window spaces and gilded candle-lit chandeliers were suspended on either side of the room, with a large metal dome akin to a bird cage made of gold wires forming the ceiling over them. The carpet that acted as the group’s winding road ended at the stoop ascending to a single throne crowned with a red tarp roof. The back of the throne had two drapes pulled closed together, with a decorated image of what looked like a heart with wings stretching upward.

    Teddie sniffed again, unaware of Shirou’s watching eyes; he had started having suspicions that the bear really was attuned to magecraft on some level. Shirou himself could vaguely determine the presence of magecraft through a sort of phantom smell, but an almost electrically-charged sting was the only scent he could ever pick up anywhere in this world. If there was any other “scent” here, it was so faint and distant that he couldn’t pick up on it at all. He wasn’t entirely sure if Teddie’s senses were more refined or just plain different. Unless Yukiko was an active magus using magecraft, there would be no way for him to know.

    “Yuki-chan’s just behind that throne!”

    Well, that’s one mystery solved. Different it is.

    Once again Chie ran ahead, but the others were just as excited as they followed her. Beyond the curtains was another room, about a fraction of the size of the throne room. It was most appropriately a bedroom with a side room stylized as a bathroom, a few open cupboards full of snacks, and the large, queen sized heart-shaped bed smack dab in the middle of it all.

    And there, peacefully lying on the center of the bed, Yukiko Amagi was sleeping with the covers up to her stomach, still wearing the same pink kimono as when they last saw her at the gazebo. For someone lost in this place for so long, she looked healthy and remarkably clean.

    “She’s not-?” Yosuke asked, the immediate concern hanging in the air.

    Chie ignored him, already leaning over the side of the bed to her friend. Her hands hesitantly reached for her shoulders. Taking a moment to just feel the presence of the girl under her hand (if only for reassurance), she gently shook her. “Yukiko, wake up. Yukiko, it’s me.”

    A soft gasp passed her lips as she stirred at the sound of Chie’s voice. Amagi slowly opened her eyes and blinked a few times. To everyone’s immense relief, they were a dark brown.

    “C-Chie? What-?”

    She was cut off when she was pulled upright from her bed and into a hug with her best friend. Chie, her face close to Yukiko’s hair and shoulder, freely cried tears of relief and rubbed her back in reassurance, almost afraid of letting the moment end. “You’re okay,” she wept over and over.

    Shirou and Yosuke weren’t nearly as emotional, but enjoyed a great sense of relief and accomplishment all the same. Aware of the other’s good cheer they exchanged glances, a smile and grin respectively, and bumped their fists together. Teddie watched the gesture in awe before staring at his paws and clapping them together curiously, much to Yosuke’s amusement.

    Amagi, however, was both surprised and confused by the sudden tearful reunion, turning to the boys. “Um… am I missing something?”

    “Nothing’s wrong now, Yukiko!” Chie sniffed. She finally broke out of her hug and let out a big, teary smile. “I’m just… really glad you’re alright!”

    “So, who put you in here?”

    So caught in their elevated cheer, the human members of the IT were caught completely flat-footed when Teddie trotted up to the girls with an innocent yet blunt question. Amagi was visibly startled by the bear, but not as much as everyone was expecting. “What are-? Uh, I mean, who are you?”

    “I’m Teddie the Kuma!” the bear said. It stopped itself and tried again. “Wait, no, that’s ‘Teddie Kuma the bear’. You know what? Just call me Teddie. So, back to my question, who put you in here?”

    Yosuke, Shirou, AND Chie were all contemplating smacking Teddie for his sudden questioning after so much had happened here, but Amagi’s quiet answer brought their attention back to her.

    The inn heiress frowned in strained thought. “Put me in…? I… can’t remember. I think someone called my name, but I can’t remember who or why. The next thing I know, I’m here. I’m sorry, uh, Teddie.

    Teddie hummed, walking away while rubbing his chin contemplatively. “That doesn’t tell us much.”

    “It tells us plenty,” Yosuke affirmed, following him out of the bedroom. “If someone called Amagi-san, they kidnapped her and threw her in this world before anyone had a chance to notice.”

    “This also proves the culprit knows magecraft, at least to a level of using memory-altering hypnotism. It’s not much, but it’s a start,” Shirou added.

    Amagi blinked bewilderedly. “Mage-what?”

    “Not here, Yukiko,” her friend whispered, partly dragging her out of the bed.

    Teddie paced away from the bed, pondering in deep thought as he stepped down the stoop. “She said it was someone she didn’t know, so the culprit is someone unfamiliar to her. Chie-chan’s her best friend, and she’s in the same school as Shirou-sensei and Yosuke, so she has to know them too. Then that means they couldn’t be the culprits that killed the other two like they said, and I won’t have to leave them stranded here when this is over after all!”

    The room was suddenly tense and quiet. Teddie stood up rigid and scared. “Oh whoopee cushions, I just said that all out loud, didn’t I?”

    “Teddie,” Shirou slowly asked. “Have you secretly doubted our innocence this whole time, after you’ve been helping us from the beginning?”

    The bear turned around and, not surprisingly, found Shirou, Yosuke and Chie all glaring down at him from the throne’s dais with varying levels of anger. “W-well, I never doubted you, per say, Shirou-sensei!” Teddie reasoned more animatedly than necessary, sweating all the while. “M-more like keeping a… an open mind for reasonable doubt, ha ha! But I’ve ALWAYS supported and trusted you guys 99%! I just, well, needed the 1% to not trust you on the off chance that you’d, you know… be liars?”

    “Says the lying sack of honey,” Yosuke seethed and stomped towards Teddie. “I can’t believe you considered leaving us to the Shadows again!”

    “Shadows?” Chie’s rage quickly shifted to confusion and then to panicked realization. “Oh crap! Yukiko’s Shadow! It’s still looking for her!”

    In all the excitement, the others had forgotten about her Princess persona as well; Yukiko’s rescue wouldn’t truly be a victory until she made peace with herself or they escaped without running into the Shadow. If she was even aware of the depths of her suppressed feelings, it wouldn’t accomplish anything to simply acknowledge them head on. Chie was proof of that.

    Yosuke turned to their team leader. “Think we can take her on?”

    If Yosuke had asked that when they were in peak condition upon first entering the castle today, Shirou would have tentatively said they had a chance. As it was, they had depleted most of their Soul Candies on the way up, and still used up a bit of their energy to get this far. Even with Satonaka joining the fight with her powerful Persona and martial arts skills, she was still one more potential casualty he would have to focus on defending. For Shirou, it was both easier and harder to fight Shadows with more people in the party.

    And even if they did win the fight, wouldn’t that mean that Amagi would gain a Persona and would fight alongside them? He couldn’t ask that of her. He wouldn’t ask that of her. She had no personal motivation to help them like his classmates did and was too feminine to risk her future fighting for her life regularly in this hidden world. Not that he’d ever say that out loud to either of his teammates, especially after seeing how much Satonaka’s self-confidence suffered with Amagi’s said femininity.

    No, it was better to cut and run rather than pick a fight with something that dangerous. “I’m not sure, but I don’t plan to stay and find out. Let’s do what we came for and take Amagi-san home,” Shirou decided.

    Yukiko turned to him, surprisingly more startled than she was by every other revelation. “Wh-what?”

    “Fine by me,” Yosuke nodded before turning to the bear with a relaxed grin. The little guy was actually pretty useful even if he couldn’t fight at all. “Teddie?”

    “One Goho-M, coming up!” The bear smiled, clapping his hands to conjure a new diorama. But just as soon as it appeared, a white blur smacked the bear aside and snatched the newly crafted item. “Aaaah! Help me!”

    The new enemy smashed the diorama to pieces, cutting off the IT’s means of escape. It took a moment for everyone to recognize it.

    “It’s that Shadow from before!” Chie cried after helping Teddie up.

    “Damn,” said Yosuke. “It must have followed us here!”

    Shirou was already drawing his sword as he gave orders. “I’ll take point. Satonaka, Yosuke, follow my lead and cover your ears the moment it trembles. Let’s-”

    “WAIT!”

    The Persona users were taken aback by the sudden outcry, but were absolutely floored when Yukiko jumped between them and the stout Shadow, arms spread out as if protecting it. “Don’t hurt him!” she cried.

    The others stared back in bewilderment, silently questioning the girl’s sanity. Chie recovered quickly and pointed to the Shadow. “Yukiko, I know it looks cute and harmless, but that Shadow attacked us trying to get up here! Hell, I’m pretty sure it even gave Emiya-kun a seizure!”

    “Prince-kun would never do something like that!”

    “You haven’t seen what the Shadows ca-” Yosuke stopped himself with a confused blink. “Wait: Prince-kun? You named it?”

    “Technically the Shadow’s full name is Charming Prince, so-”

    “Not helping Teddie!”

    “Prince-kun watches over me,” Yukiko explained patiently. “Ever since the moment I woke up in this place, he was there. He found me, saved me from monsters that look like pinned together zombies, and then led me to this room.”

    “To keep you prisoner,” Yosuke accused.

    “To protect me!” she snapped. “Prince-kun’s been nothing but accommodating in my wellbeing! He even brings me food and water whenever I need it!”

    “And you haven’t been getting any sort of headaches from being here?” Shirou asked, remembering the first time the three of them entered the TV world.

    “To be honest, I just sleep a lot in the back room. I get so dizzy that I barely have the energy to go leave here even if I wanted to.”

    Yukiko patted the Shadow’s head affectionately, smiling as she did. “It’s not all bad; Prince-kun is always there when I need him, bringing me food and water and whatever else I need when I ask. And maybe when I get better, I can see the rest of the castle with him protecting me. It’s a little scary at first, with all the monsters around, but it’s also exciting. It’s like I’m living in a fairy tale!”

    The Investigation Team exchanged knowing, winced looks. Teddie looked the saddest. “She should have seen this place before people were dumped in.”

    Chie took a single, slow breath to relieve her tension. “Yukiko,” she spoke softly. “We don’t have time to explain everything, but this place really is dangerous. You know the TV announcer Ms. Yamano? We found the room she could have been in while stuck here. And that school announcement you missed last week? One of our third year classmates died recently, but the timing and circumstances are too much like Ms. Yamano. We think you could be next.”

    Yukiko had the decency to look alarmed. “What? How?”

    “I just said I can’t explain everything,” she calmly reasoned. “But you just got to have to trust me so we can all go home.”

    “I’m fine here. Prince-kun takes care of me.”

    “Even if you’re safe here, you’ve been missing for five days! You have to come back!”

    “Well maybe I don’t want to go back!”

    A deathly silence followed in the wake of Yukiko Amagi’s outburst. The Persona fighters stared at Yukiko, wide-eyed at the violent confession. Even the heiress was surprised by her sudden choice of words, staring faintly at her once clenched hands in horror.

    “Yukiko…” Chie’s voice cracked, about ready to burst into tears. Does she really-?

    “Chie, I-!”

    “Oh my! This room certainly looks crowded!”

    Yukiko froze, surprised to hear someone sound so similar to her. Looking up, she saw Chie and the others looking past her, stiff in horror. She instinctively reached for Prince-kun’s hand, but she was standing alone. Turning around in a frantic search for her Prince, she saw a lookalike to her in a frilly princess dress with a scary looking smile.

    It was worse than any nightmare she’d ever had, because she wasn’t waking up.

    “Aaaaaand of course the Shadow would show up at this moment,” Yosuke sighed.

    “Amagi-san, get back, cover your ears and wait for us,” Shirou said as calmly as he could muster, never taking his eyes off of the Shadow. She didn’t listen, but the trio moved in formation between the two Yukikos.

    “So all this time, you three was all out looking for little old me?” The Shadow grinned. “I’m flattered, really, but none of you properly look the part. No matter! I can fix that!”

    As she spoke, Shadow Yukiko whipped her gloved arm around in a circle and her aura twisted in reply. She finished with a flick of her wrist, sending a plume of blue dust at Shirou, Yosuke, and Chie, engulfing the trio in a flash of light.

    When the light faded, the only thing that changed was their attire, and what they saw struck them silent in awe and more than a little confusion. Yosuke’s clothes had changed from a black school uniform to a white service dress military uniform and pants, made more official with yellow epaulettes on his shoulders and service ribbons on his breast. The clothes made him look regal, but from a low, honorary standing.

    Shirou’s outfit was a slightly baggy coat and pants combo, lined with gold marks around the edges and center of the cloth. This was barely seen, however, by the large black overcoat with the top flaps near his neck buttoned together. The suit struck a certain chord as being dynamic and dramatic, though it felt best worn by someone of great tactical leadership; something Shirou was only starting to get the hang of.

    Chie’s was the most surprising; she was now wearing a red jacket with a yellow insignia outlined around the zipper line in front of her chest. The outfit was complete with matching red pants, white knee high boots and white gloves. It was obviously feminine, but almost tailored to be worn like men’s clothes.

    Teddie was bedazzled by the student’s change of attire, and looked over itself to see if it received the same costume change. When the bear saw no change in itself, it comically made an angry-looking pout. Yukiko found herself blushing at how beautiful the clothes looked. Especially on Chie-

    “So strong and dashing,” The Shadow sighed dreamily. “Yes, these clothes really do make you look like princes!”

    Yukiko felt her heart skip a beat. Her classmates just looked up in confusion. “Princes?” Emiya asked.

    “Th-that includes me too?” Chie glanced down at her outfit again, albeit timidly. She knew Yukiko sought her out as the better girl, but to have the allusion be taken this far was unbelievable.

    Shadow Yukiko walked closer to them, personally examining the students in line. “But I wonder… are any of you the kind of prince that could help me escape?”

    Yosuke was suddenly stricken with a brilliant idea; if he could appease the Shadow enough to follow him as her “prince”, then they could avoid a fight altogether and rescue Yukiko Amagi! On the plus side, if it worked well enough, he might even get the cute heiress as a girlfriend! Motivated by both noble and selfish intentions, he stepped forward with an eager smile and spoke in his best British accent. “Allow me, my princess! I shall be the dashing hero who will whisk you away by the powers love and magic!”

    Chie was gobsmacked by his sudden charisma, but passed as she picked up the intentions. “Love and-Hanamura!”

    “Shirou-sensei!” the bear whispered to his idol. “Is this ‘scoring a hot babe’ that Yosuke mentioned before?” The magus, feeling a heated glare from the red “prince” turn his way, wisely chose not to comment.

    To her credit, Shadow Yukiko spared time to assess Yosuke. “Kind of cute, but… I’m drawing a blank. Who are you again?”

    The white prince was crushed; he shouldn’t be surprised since he kept mostly to himself the semester he moved to Inaba, but was he really that bland? Well, she said she was cute, so there was still hope. “Uh, Yosuke Hanamura? The guy who your best friend kicked in the nads a while back?” A bit of recognition started to dawn on her, so he kept going. “I also asked you out last year but you turned me down.”

    Frowns were mirrored on both Yukiko’s faces, but the Shadow’s was more hostile, and started to turn away from him. “Oh, you’re only another peasant suitor from school. I’ve dealt with enough of you posers to last a lifetime. Pass.”

    “But if you could just recon-”

    “NO.”
    The casual, blunt refusal was powerful enough to break the illusion on Yosuke’s clothes, morphing them back to his school uniform.

    “Thaaat’ll teach me to get my hopes up,” he sighed dejectedly, before tugging his jacket and bitterly adding, “Could’ve at least let me keep the clothes…”

    “And then there’s Shirou-kun,”
    The Shadow cooed, walking to the black prince seductively with wandering eyes. “Now here’s a prince worth mentioning. Yes, a foreigner from the city, who was suddenly forced to move and live in a rural prison, who is strong, kind, polite and chaste. It’s so much like a story book fairy tale where the prince from far, far away who meets his true love in shared melancholy and they manage to escape and live happily ever after!”

    It was déjà vu for Shirou; a Shadow was making open advances to him because of some subconscious attraction again. He certainly thought of the fairer sex from time to time, like Sakura’s growing beauty over the years, or the idol of his last school Rin Tohsaka, but he never believed himself to be worthy of female attention. As it turned out, he didn’t need to worry about making a calm refusal to the Shadow, as she turned away.

    “But that image was broken when you admitted you chose to come to this hellhole on your own volition and to see your gods-ridden extended family. The only family me and my prince would need is from our own children, not from wicked in-laws.”


    Shirou blinked incredulously, barely registering his cape and dress clothes morphing back to normal. Did she just insult Dojima and Nanako? Or was she displacing her own family experiences on him?

    “Last but not least, Chie-chan,”
    Shadow Yukiko smiled brightly, taking the flustered Chie’s hands in hers before doing a mock dance. “Cute, little Chie-chan, who is always by my side and making me feel safe. It’s not as classical, but the childhood friend who saves the princess is even more of a romantic tale.”

    “B-but I’m a girl,” Chie weakly argued.

    “That’s fine; I’m willing to try something new for my prince.”

    Chie blushed, and she turned worriedly to Yukiko as if for clarification. Yosuke, Teddie, and (to his chagrin) Shirou did as well; Yukiko looked thoroughly embarrassed, and suddenly self-conscious of the stares. Uncaring of the reaction, Shadow Yukiko continued waltzing.

    “Yes, I wouldn’t mind spending all of eternity together in bliss, just the two of us, because you’re a kind, strong prince.”
    She ended their dance with their faces close to one another, almost close to a kiss. Then the Shadow’s good cheer disappeared and she shoved Chie away. “Or at least you were.

    Like Shirou before her, Chie was too stunned at the turn of events to notice or care her prince clothes disappearing. “’Were’?”

    “You’re just not good enough. You can’t hope to rescue me, let alone yourself. You needed the help of two wannabe princes to even get this far. I believed in you, thought you were different and could help me, but you told me I had to go back home! And what was that you said the other day again?”
    The Shadow spread her arms out wide, her tone loud and mocking. “’I want security and power and everyone to be my BITCH!’”

    Chie flinched at every insult, feeling worse than when her own subconscious snubbed her face in it). She knew Yukiko would never mean or say this out loud, but deep down she felt betrayed. Just what the hell happened to their friendship to come to this? “Th-that’s-!”

    But the Shadow ignored her, and marched to the top step of the throne with anger. “You’re just like everyone else, telling me what I can or can’t do! ‘Go run some errands for me, Yukiko’! ‘Greet your guests with a smile, Yukiko’! ‘Stop dilly-dallying and do as you’re told, Yukiko’!!”

    Yukiko had enough, and followed her Shadow to the bottom step, to the worry of the others. “You stop this right now, whoever you are. I don’t know why you look like me, but you have no right coming in here and insulting everyone! You better apologize to them right now!”

    “’Apologize’?”
    The princess turned to her double, her aura darkening as she spat the first word. “For what? Being born already chained down to a ‘historic family inn’ in the middle of a shitty little town? Or perhaps thinking that I hate everyone for having such high expectations of me when I never had a choice once in my entire life?!”

    “Wh-what are you implying?”

    The Shadow’s mouth quirked to a smile, but the look in her eyes was vicious, predatory. “Why do think we share the same face? Or sound alike? Or how I know what you know? It’s because we’re the same; I’m Yukiko, and Yukiko is me. Isn’t that right, Prince-kun?”

    To everyone’s surprise, the Charming Prince, once so protective of the inn heiress Yukiko, was kneeling in reverence to Princess Yukiko, who fondly patted its head like it was showing affection to a pet. The tension in the room grew subtly between human and Shadow, and the Investigation Team was stuck watching it play out for the third time.

    “He’s my real prince,” she cooed seductively, kneeling down and caressing its cheek with her hand tenderly. “Saving me from the monsters like a hero and whisking me away in his little arms! Keeping me nice and safe from all that I could care less about, and from that moment on, I knew he would be the one to guide me away from all my troubles. And the best part? He’s soooo much regal than that Hana guy, soooo much cuter than Shirou-kun, and SOOOO much reliable than Chie-chan.”

    “Oh, this is not going to end well,” Yosuke grimaced. The obvious pointed jabs to them were bad, true, but that was distracting from the real escalating problem.

    “Can’t we do something?!” Chie whispered frantically. They all knew exactly what this was building up to, but stopping it was proving harder and harder.

    Yukiko’s stern facade faltered, and the horror that was in the back of her mind since seeing the double was slowly setting in. It was worse that Prince-kun, her protector, was standing by the fake’s side and had betrayed her trust. And that this witch was saying those same hopeful wishes she kept to herself as if she had them first! “How dare you! Prince-kun is my friend!”

    Shadow Yukiko turned with a mock smile. “You want him? Come and take him.” A moment passed, and she found herself rooted on the spot, too afraid to act. “I knew it. Even when you want something so much, you never had the nerve to go do it yourself. You hate the life you never wanted, you hate your family for controlling you, and most of all you hate yourself for being so passive! Even your pet bird was tired of you and flew off!”

    “That’s not true!” she argued. “I would never-!”

    The Shadow then turned opposite to the Prince and looked longingly in the distance with her hands cupped together in prayer. “I just want to go somewhere far away, anywhere but here!” She spoke partly dramatic, partly mocking. “Someone, please take me away! I can't leave here on my own! I'm completely useless!”

    “Stop it. Stop it, please…!” Yukiko’s voice grew weaker and shakier with every word.

    “We can’t hurt one without hurting the other,” Yosuke reminded as the rant went on. “And anything we say will only make things worse. You just heard what she really thought about us.”

    Regardless of the logic in his argument, Chie wasn’t at all happy with it. “So we’re just going to stand around like idiots and do nothing?”

    “Teddie will carry Yukiko back to that room before the Shadow transforms,” said Shirou. “After that, we’ll fight it out.”

    “But you said-!”

    “We don’t have the choice in the matter anymore, Satonaka.” The magus’s voice was resigned at this point. It was like Teddie’s world put in extra effort to make you face yourself or die, no matter how much it hurt.

    “I have no hope if I stay, and no courage to leave,”
    the princess continued, ending her rant with a deliberate plop onto her throne. “So I sit on my ass fantasizing the day my Prince will come. I don't care who he is. I don’t care where we go. As long as I’m not anywhere near that pile of bullshit they call the ‘pride of Inaba’, I don't give a damn!”

    Guess the Shadows of Yosuke and Amagi-san have a lot more in common than I thought, Shirou mentally noted as he glanced back to his friend. From his slightly bewildered expression, he must be thinking along the same lines.

    “Wh-why?” Yukiko weakly scolded. “Why would you say such awful things?”

    Her lookalike just smiled back. “Because that’s how I really feel… me.”

    Yukiko had never felt so insulted. All those hurtful things this person said, and claimed to be her? After she insulted her friends, family, and stole Prince-kun? But… all those things she said, how could she have even known? Is she really-?

    “No!” She suddenly cried, denying both the Shadow and her internal thoughts. This wasn’t possible, it just wasn’t!

    “Yukiko, no!” Chie cried, hoping beyond hope that she would listen. “Don’t say-!”

    “You’re not me!”

  8. #28
    The magus was already moving, not waiting for the Shadow’s transformation to even start. “Get her out of here now,” he ordered the bear.

    “Good luck, everyone,” Teddie said, pulling on a suddenly very tired girl by the arm. “This way, Yuki-chan. Hurry!”

    It wasn’t clear if she was really listening or not, but she was nonetheless dragged away as her classmates grouped together before Shadow Yukiko. The princess rose off of her throne with a giddy laugh as more dark particles streamed into her.

    “Yeeees, this wonderful feeling!”
    The Shadow cooed, one arm hugging her chest and the other rubbing… in a discreet place lower down. “It keeps building up inside me, more and MORE. If this keeps up, I’ll… I’ll…!” Then she screamed as if in ecstasy and the darkness around her exploded.

    For the briefest of moments, and despite the danger that presented itself, Shirou felt exasperated that a Shadow had made such an innuendo as it transformed. As if her actions weren’t obvious in the Midnight Channel.

    The mental jesting stopped as they saw Shadow Yukiko’s new form. What they saw in front of the throne was no longer a princess, but a giant red bird, standing tall on golden talons. In the place of her arms, red feathered wings were outstretched nearly three meters each. Her chest area had white under feathers that was shaped perfectly like a heart and suspiciously made her chest look well endowed. Her neck was long and lanky like a giraffe’s, with three lines of pink feathers ringing her throat. The head however, was not birdlike at all, but nearly a mirror of Yukiko’s own, headband and all, the face colored the same vibrant red as her plumage and long black hair. The horrific difference was that her face was frozen in position like a mask, with golden eyes blank of emotion and her mouth set in a thin, disapproving line.

    “I am a Shadow: the true self,” she spoke, though her mouth did not move. “I’ll allow you failure princes to dance with me, if you can keep up.” The Shadow bird immediately took flight, one beat of her slender wings sending up a veritable storm of wind and dust at the trio, stopping them cold as she ascended towards the ceiling.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yosuke powered through the winds first, his card floating before him. “Let’s do this, Jiraiya!” The moment his knife passed through the card, his Persona exploded into action, leaping into the air with a perfect flying kick… that the Shadow gracefully dodged with a mere turn of its wings.

    The bird’s expressionless face somehow conveyed mockery as it turned to Yosuke. “What was tha-AH!” Before she could even finish the sentence, Jiraiya had kicked off the towering chamber’s ceiling and grabbing a wingtip, swinging his body under the Shadow and yanking the wing across the Shadow’s chest as he went. With its wings tangled, the Shadow was sent into a wild tumble downward while Jiraiya leaped away to land gracefully at the edge of the chamber.

    With the winds halted, Shirou and Chie invoked their Personas as well. The magus reacted first, invoking his Persona’s weakness curse. “Rakunda!” Like Shadow Chie before her, the purple light orb flashed to life around the avian before constricting and sinking into its flesh. For ninety seconds the bird’s physical and magical defenses would be sharply reduced, a fact that Tomoe took immediate advantage of, twirling her two-bladed naginata overhead and bringing it down in a vicious whirling slash. Shadow Yukiko’s shriek of pain was equal parts distorted human and birdlike.

    In spite of the gash ripped into his hide, the Shadow hopped back with surprising agility, though nowhere near the insane level of Yosuke’s own Shadow. Before anyone could close the distance, the Shadow released an eagle-like scream before exhaling a massive torrent of fire straight for the group. Izanagi was clipped by the onslaught. Shirou’s face flushed and small burns marred his body and a scream was torn from his throat.

    “Emiya-kun!”

    “I’m fine,” he assured Chie, calming himself through hastened breaths. “But keep your guard up, Satonaka.” Like Izanagi’s weakness to wind, they had discovered the hard way that fire was Tomoe’s weakness, though Chie and her Persona’s agility were usually enough to avoid the worst of it.

    It was harder to focus than he liked, though. The Charming Prince’s scream had dragged hellish memories long buried back to the surface like ripping open a nearly-healed wound. Forcing the feelings down for now in spite of the burns, Shirou grit his teeth and set his stance. They had to finish this quickly. Numbers were in their favor now, and even if she had a few surprises of her own, they had their own- wait, why is she glowing?

    It took a moment to realize she was bathed in purple, sparkling light that reminded him of Pixie’s Dia, but larger and much more effective. When the light faded, the massive scar she had received from Tomoe was gone, leaving Shadow Yukiko as good as new. She craned her neck affectionately towards the culprit: her Charming Prince settled down as the last traces of concentrated prana left its body.
    “Thank you, Prince-kun!” she doted as a loving wife would. “You’re so thoughtful!”

    Yosuke threw his arms down, almost tempted to throw the nata down as well. “Oh COME ON! She has a back-up healer?! That’s so not fair!”

    That new wrinkle complicated things, but the fight wasn’t over. “Satonaka, you distract the Charming Prince while Yosuke and I fight Amagi’s Shadow,” Shirou said as Izanagi shifted its grip on its polearm.

    Chie blinked. “Huh? Are you sure?”

    “Yeah, shouldn’t we all gang up on him and get rid of him quickly? Healers gotta go down first,” Yosuke asked as Jiraiya tossed its shuriken at the Shadow, doubling it over for a moment from the impact.

    Shirou shook his head. “I was hoping to use that tactic for Amagi’s Shadow, but as long as the Prince is healing her, it’ll only make things harder for us. Same problem applies to attacking the Prince together; she’ll likely take us all down in one strike, especially if she cares that much for him. Satonaka’s vulnerable to fire attacks, but her ice ones can put a buffer on the Prince, who is her ideal target. She doesn’t even have to defeat it; just hold it off and prevent it from healing so we can finish the fight.”

    The tomboy had to admit the plan was sound. She'd be no good to anyone if she got caught vulnerable to an Agi, especially if the Prince could heal whatever damage they dealt away. "Leave it to me! I'll have him wiped out no problem!" she smiled, and dashed off to her new opponent, with Tomoe leading the charge. "Bufu-ken!"

    The ice bullet pelted and knocked the Charming Prince down into a double backwards roll before landing flat on its back. At the same time, Izanagi and Jiraiya threw their own elemental magic towards the avian Shadow, who screeched as wind and thunder struck her body. The pause was short lived as she flew down in an attempt to scratch Yosuke with both talons. The headphone wearing teen jumped back at the last moment, nearly landing back to a tumble, and his previous spot was marked with two large gouges in the carpet. She didn't pull back quick enough before he jumped back and cross slashed her neck while Jiraiya threw another gust of wind her back.

    "Gotta be quicker than that, Princess!" Yosuke smirked even as he jumped away from her fire attack.

    "Don't get ahead of yourself, Yosuke!" Shirou warned, keeping a steady guard and distance from the Shadow with his Persona attacking. No sooner had he made the call, Jiraiya flipped away from the flailing Shadow, keeping low to the ground and bounding like a frog as it dodged darts of flame and blade-like feathers.

    "I got this! Now toss me a Taru! I got an idea!" Shirou, though uncertain, did as he was told and invoked the offense enchantment spell.

    Taking flight again, Shadow Yukiko set her sights on the airborne ninja who was bouncing from walls, ceilings, and sometimes nothing to make fast strikes against her. She barely stopped herself in time to avoid a downward kick that would have smacked her head down. Wary of retaliation, she followed his descent as he landed on the floor and then sprang up again to uppercut her chest. This one was a direct hit, stunning the Shadow as she gagged, and she momentarily lost sight of him before he attempted a haymaker on her back, which she air-rolled away from.

    "That does it!" The Shadow screeched, positioning herself and then flying towards the Ninja Persona with quick reaction time. "Get back here, commoner!" she shouted before unleashing another raging inferno. Burns formed on Yosuke’s clothes as Jiraiya bounded just outside of the flames’ reach. Still releasing the flamethrower-like blast, Shadow Yukiko opened her wings again and pulled out of her dive, sweeping her head towards the would-be rescuers.

    Before she could finish off the Persona users, Izanagi impaled the Shadow in the side, cutting off the flames and drawing a squawk of shock and pain from her throat. The bird flapped wildly and slashed at Izanagi with its talons, but found little purchase against the long coat he wore. She finally dislodged the spirit by whirling in a wild roll and pushing off as hard as she could, sending Izanagi into a wall with a resounding boom. Shirou felt that and grimaced as the impact transferred to him.

    Back in the air and regenerating the black scar in her plumage (thankfully not as fast as Shadow Yosuke did), the Shadow opted instead to stay on the move rather than hover in place like before. Even as Jiraiya started upwards with his bounding leaps, Shadow Yukiko kept on the move, not willing to be a stationary punching bag anymore.

    Even so, trying to counterattack was even harder with the two entities constantly on the move. Down below Shirou and Izanagi held up a hand each, but Shirou refused to release another Zio until he had a clear shot. Instead, he made sure to recast Rakunda and prepare a Tarukaja for the instant Jiraiya had an opening. At least those curses didn’t need to strike the target, merely willed into effect.

    Jiraiya continued to keep the Shadow on the move, the shuriken flashing out to try and hem the Shadow in even as it displayed more aerial agility than something its size should have. "I can do this all day, you overgrown flamingo!" Yosuke taunted again. Shirou was left to worry about his overconfidence, but simply focused on keeping Rakunda and Tarukaja working for as long as possible.

    On the far side of the throne room, Chie had reached a bit more of a stalemate with her own opponent. Due to her already weak and low magic reserves, she couldn't pelt him to submission with ice as much as she'd like to. At best, she had three shots left, and couldn't afford to miss even one. That left her with going with fighting head on. She awkwardly stood in place while spinning her chain whip parallel to her body. It was a basic technique, and not something really useful in hindsight, but it kept the Prince away from her lest it got smacked by the spinning flail.

    She had Tomoe fight back sword to spear, and despite its stout figure, it was just as easily fast as it was strong. Tomoe had the edge earlier for being taller and with a longer weapon, slowly but surely cutting the Shadow to pieces. Chie had thought the fight was as good as over, but then the gourd Prince invoked a green light around it and started all but dancing around the samurai Persona. Attacks that would normally be blocked by its sword would now be dodged outright and expose her to a counterattack by its agility. Chie gritted her teeth with each new cut on her body, but she persists in keeping the link open.

    It seemed like an eternity before she saw one: a sudden, sharp drop in its speed unbalanced the Charming Prince and left it overextended, and Tomoe took full advantage of the lapse. A strong kick shot the Shadow up into the air, and Chie followed through with her limited magic reserves. "Bufu-ken!" To her delight, the Shadow flew higher and higher...

    Right into Shadow Yukiko line of sight. The fighting stopped as everyone turned and watched as the Charming Prince sail through the air with crushed ice crystals before falling down in a metallic thud. The Investigation Team all felt an immediate shift in the larger Shadow, and though her face remained frozen, the emotion seemed to spark with rage anew. Chie nearly flinched and felt her whip dart to the floor as the Shadow turned her predatory glare on her... and flames that started to burn brighter than before. "No one hurts my Prince-kun! Not even you, Chie! Agi!"

    "Shit!" Yosuke cursed; both at the level of danger their teammate was about to face, and to himself for not doing anything to stop her. There was no time to get in the line of fire or push Satonaka away from their angle, so he tried the next best thing; punching the Shadow to divert the trajectory. Had Jiraiya struck earlier, he would have done just that. But a second difference was still vital in a fight, and though he struck another powerful blow to her, the fireball still found its mark by Chie's feet. It was enough.

    "Aaaaaah!" Chie cried in pain as she was blown away. Her sweater quickly caught fire before she rolled on the ground to smother them. Tomoe slumped and started to flicker.

    "Satonaka!" Shirou's heart wavered for a moment; his attention focused solely on his teammate's safety. It was with this pause that his heart subconsciously dismissed Izanagi from the fight and that, while still under the passive blessings of his Persona, ran for her.

    "Damn it," Yosuke cursed. He couldn't blame the magus for his actions, and he had been fighting the Shadow himself this whole time, but it would help to have his Persona as moral support. If he could keep this up though, he could win. She hadn't even hit him yet! Though why was he feeling so tired all of a sudden?

    Shirou felt the bottom of his stomach drop out at the sight of Satonaka lying on the ground in pain. Regret filled every fiber of his being; he should have never allowed anyone to be here with him. No one should ever risk their lives other than his own. Now one of his first friends here in Inaba was hurt and it was because of his stupid plan! If she (had) just stayed safe in the normal world and lived in ignorance, she would never have to endure this pain. Worse, he could switch Izanagi out and heal her, but if he did, Shadow Yukiko would be free to rampage. He could feel Izanagi straining to hold her down through their link.

    He would have reached down to pick her up, but Chie immediately reached up and took his hand. “Okay, now I’m mad. Those two are going down!” she declared before giving the obviously bewildered Shirou a slight glare. “What? I’m not out of this yet! Help me up!”

    Any protest Shirou had to the demand died at the look in Satonaka’s eyes. He felt that trying to convince her to step back would only end in pain later. It also reminded him that this was not the place to argue with her. With a pull, he helped the girl to her feet and turned back to the Shadow, who was pursued by Jiraiya but a lot less aggressively. Somehow, the tables have turned and it was the avian that was dancing in circles around the ninja Persona now, and it left both Shirou and Chie a feeling of worry and dread, especially when he would occasionally flicker between tangibility every few seconds.

    “Yosuke, what's wrong?” Shirou quickly shouted, taking note of the way his friend was visibly trembling, like he could barely stand.

    “I-I don’t know, partner! I feel like I just ran a marathon and a half!” he wheezed, his breathing obviously ragged.

    Teddie provided the answer from the throne room’s door, dreading the thought of having to go deeper into the castle with a weakened Yukiko. “Yosuke’s been using a lot of power to let Jiraiya use his techniques so much! He’s bear-y drained right now!”

    Shirou bit back a curse. Moving and controlling a Persona normally took no effort, but there was a drain whenever they used their Persona’s special powers, physical or magical. Yosuke must have been too caught up in the battle to even notice! He’d need to restore some of his strength to keep him fighting; maybe Pixie could help?

    Shadow Yukiko, now perched atop a chandelier, laughs triumphantly. "You three think you're so smart, but you aren't the only ones with tricks up your sleeves. Prince-kun! Let us dance!"
    As if reinvigorated by her “princess’s” voice, the Charming Prince flipped to its feet instantly. Dark power gathered and it began to shake in a familiar manner. Clapping his hands over his ears, Shirou braced for the memories as the Shadow screamed…

    Nothing. No fire, no anguish. Shirou blinked to awareness slowly, noticing that everything was still the same. He didn't need to look long and hard to figure out why. He wasn't the target.

    No, this time it was Yosuke, sporting an unhealthy mix of pale white and blue, that was affected. Jiraiya, a hair's width away from striking the avian Shadow, froze and flickered away, not unlike what happened to him as Shadow Yosuke. The trauma by the Charming Prince's fear scream was so strong it overrode the power of Persona itself. "S-Saki-senpai? But..."

    With a haughty laugh, the Shadow flew off her chandelier perch and higher up to the ceiling."Now stay right there, and I'll show you a dance I like to call, the 'Shivering Rondo'." Then in one strike with her talons, she severed the chains supporting the chandelier before letting gravity take over.

    There was no time to think. Shirou took off towards their friend, faintly aware of Chie running behind him. He desperately called to his Persona, any Persona, to help him close the gap in time. He pushed his body as far as he could, ramping up his Reinforcement. They were too far away but he just had to reach him in time. He had to! “YOSUKE! LOOK OUT!”

    Another ten yards and he could have shoved Yosuke aside. He could have at least put himself in the way, maybe absorbed some of the damage and healed later.

    But fate was cruel.

    A loud crash shook the room, and the magus was nearly blown back by the force. Debris and dust from overturned, broken tiles was just settling down, and left no imagination to the damage done. Metal bars once supporting candles were bent and broken off, littering the floor around it. Or at least the ones closest to the ground as the chandelier crashed at a tilted angle to the side. The candles themselves were either burnt out or weakly burning to the floor and caved open tile spaces. There was no trace of Yosuke above the structure.

    The scenario slowly settled in of their friend's demise. Chie knelt back down to the floor sobbing. A coldness spread through Shirou’s entire being. Two failures back to back. He had power now, but what good was it if he wasn’t able to save everyone here? He had pulled it off against the other Shadows, so why was he failing so miserably now? What did he do wrong? How could he call himself an Ally of Justice like this? “Yosuke…”

    “I knew it,” said Shadow Yukiko. “He really was such a worthless commoner pretending to be someone else. He couldn’t even make a proper escort. Isn’t that right, Prince-kun?”

    Shirou snapped to the Shadow and saw red, figuratively and literally. He cared not that she was now a myriad projection of Amagi’s feelings made reality. She was an insufferable, violent monster who needed to be stopped. Acting on his growing desire for righteous fury, his newest Persona beckoned to the call and he answered it. “Eligor!”

    Like a chevalier racing to his fellow jousting opponent, Duke and steed galloped from the spiritual flames of their shattered card. With breakneck speed, their distance across the throne room shrank by the second and the rider drew back his weapon, armed and poised towards its grounded enemy. The Charming Prince, as if sensing its impending doom, started to flee as far as its little legs could carry it.

    “If thou calls itself royalty, than accept death with dignity!” Eligor roared, just before he approached striking distance and struck. “Poison Skewer!”

    SRICK!

    “Prince-kuuuuun!” Shadow Yukiko screeched, watching in horror as the deed was done.

    The lance pierced the Shadow’s lesser armor, already weakened by Tomoe. Its smaller body mass left it embedded on the lance’s point as the gallant knight slowed to a stop. As if disgusted with his meager kill, and resonant to Shirou’s thoughts, the Duke of Hell flicked his lance aside, flinging the dead Shadow away. The red avian flew down to the prince’s side, craning her head to its side affectionately. It was for naught as the Charming Prince dissolved to black nothingness, and no trace was left.

    “No… no!” the Shadow cried, ending with a long, loud primal screech to the heavens. Though her grief was far from gone, it was replaced with anger as she directed her gaze to Shirou.

    “YOU!” She roared at the magus. “How DARE YOU kill my one and only true love?!”
    He simply stared back, hands gripping his sword tightly. Eligor righted his lance in position between them, his horse brushing its leg back for another charge. Chie was slowly pulling herself up and wiping the still tears off her eyes before joining the fight.

    “None of you are worthy of me, so you decide to take it out on my Prince-kun? Well you can all die like the worthless commoners that you are! Just like your little friend!”
    Eligor charged forward to strike, but the Shadow was already in the air and beyond his reach. She climbed into the bird cage structure on top of another chandelier which was large enough to fit her inside. She perched herself just outside of the now swaying cage with her wings fully outstretched and paid special attention to the lit candles.

    “Now burn to ashes!” she wailed, and then flapped her wings. The candle flames grew larger, and embers parted them as they flew and rained down on the room, which only grew worse with the constant moving of Shadow Yukiko’s perch. Other chandeliers were blown forward by the wind as well, and in response, more embers scattered.

    In less than a minute, the throne room was engulfed in flames that threatened to burn everything in sight. Chie could already feel the stinging smell of smoke build up from the carpets and drapes, taking extra precaution to dismiss Tomoe while avoiding falling debris. “What do we do now?”

    She hoped that Shirou had a plan. If not, at the very least respond with assurance that they would get by somehow. But when she maneuvered her way next to him, he was in a trance again. Not like seeing Yosuke die, but when the Prince terrorized him into a seizure. He was now staring blankly around the room, as if looking for something. Possibly Eligor, for he upped and vanished around the time the fire started.

    “Emiya-kun?” she tried again, but no answer. Things were going from bad to worse, and everything was literally coming down on their heads!

    “Shirou-sensei! Chie-chan!” Teddie finally called out from the back. “This room is gonna fall apart any second! Get out of there, hurry! And don’t worry; I bearly fetched Yosuke in time, but he’ll live! He’s right here resting with me and Yuki-chan!”

    If the situation wasn’t so dire, she’d probably weep with relief and forgive Teddie for doubting them. But she was stuck with a nearly unresponsive leader in a burning room and a psychotic bird waiting to kill them. “Emiya-kun!” she shook his shoulders. “Snap out it! We need your help! Emiya-kun!”

    When that didn’t work, she slapped him. She felt a little guilty, but it seemed to work with Yosuke earlier. To her relief, she got it to work too, and the redhead’s eyes blinked as if waking up. “S-Satonaka?”

    “No time, just run!”

    She grabbed his arm and dragged him to the back of the hall by the staircase, narrowly avoiding burning ceiling beams blocking their path and/or nearly crushing them. As the bear said, Teddie was waiting near the stairs with two laying down students. Yukiko was leaning against the corner wall, making tired pants and close to passing out due to her Shadow’s presence. Yosuke looked far worse, flat on the ground with rags that was once his school uniform. Teddie was just finishing covering his head gash with wrapping tape before moving to the cuts from shrapnel across his chest when the duo arrived.

    “Things are beary bad out there,” Teddie shock nervously even as he worked. “If this keeps up, we’ll all be bar-bear-qued!”

    Chie winced from the searing hotness and the painful pun. Shirou himself ignored it and considered their options. “Any chance we can escape?”

    “The door’s barred,” said the bear, pointing to a large pile of burning wood in front of the stairway. “And this castle is eight stories high; I counted. Even if we get past here, we have so many other floors to climb down that it’d be too late.”

    The students exchanged forlorn glances, but fortunately for them Teddie wasn’t done yet. “I made another Goho-M,” it said after patching Yosuke, lifting a house diorama for emphasis. “But I was hoping to use it after we beat Shadow Yuki-chan. I… I don’t want to think what would happen if she was left alone, whether or not she killed Yuki-chan.”

    Chie herself didn’t want to think what would happen to Yukiko either if this issue was ignored, now that she thought about it. But they were so weak and the fire was getting closer. “We can’t beat that thing on our own. Not without Hanamura. Can’t you heal him, Emiya-kun?”

    He didn’t answer, but called out Pixie to check their teammate. After a quick look, she sadly shook her head. “This is beyond me. Only alternative is to use some revival beads or that… well, you know.”

    “Beads…” Teddie said aloud even as Pixie dismissed herself. Then he smacked his paws together. “Oh! I know what Pixie-chan’s talking about!”

    “Do we have any to use?” Chie asked hopefully.

    “Nope!” Teddie smiled, much to the dismay of his friends. “But I can make one!”

    Teddie clapped his hands twice, and cupped them together and produced a small curved, clear colored magatama and pressed it on Yosuke’s body. A moment later, he gasped awake, lunging up abruptly and looking around frantically. He calmed down upon wincing in pain and noting his body bandages. “We’re not dead yet, are we?”

    “Not yet,” Shirou weakly joked. “Now the Shadow’s trying to burn us out. You and I could probably make it, but Satonaka…”

    “I only have two ice shots left in me,” she finished.

    “So that’s it then?” he asked. “Man, if only Amagi-san could accept herself.”

    Chie’s expression brightened at the idea. She turned to her friend resting in the corner, and slowly walked over to her before kneeling down. “Yukiko, can you hear me?”

    The inn heiress moaned weakly, barely keeping her eyes open before focusing on her friend. Chie could relate, and she was certain Yosuke could too; the sudden loss of feeling and awareness, where you’d rather just doze off and let yourself roll over and die. It was easy to understand why Ms. Yamano and Konishi-senpai died after their Shadows were born, and it was tempting without a heart to react. But if Yosuke was able to admit his problems to his Shadow under the influence, then so could Yukiko. She just needed to be reminded that her best friend was here for her.

    “Yukiko, I’m sorry. You were right; I’m not good enough, let alone strong enough to help you. I never even noticed all of-“

    “Run, Chie.”
    Chie’s planned speech was interrupted and thoroughly derailed by Yukiko’s words. They were soft spoken as a plea, but had finality to them… and defeat. “Wh-what?!”

    “Run,” she said again, slowly but strongly. “Go and save yourself. It’s me that thing wants, isn’t it? I’d never forgive myself if you died in my place.”

    “We’re not leaving without you,” said Shirou.

    “Damn straight we’re not!” Yosuke added. “We came all this way in the first to rescue you, Satonaka especially! We might not be the princes you were hoping for, but don’t we get points for trying?”

    Yukiko turned to Chie, who nodded in answer. Then the black haired girl chuckled, again with futility. “You were right. This place was dangerous. I knew it from the start, even with Prince-kun by my side. But I’m just like a bird in a cage. I don’t have the strength or courage to leave on my own.”

    A birdlike screech drew Yosuke and Shirou’s attention back, seeing the Shadow’s form blacken and falter. The moment passed and she flapped out more embers and flares to further ignite the room, growing steadily closer to their spot. “Where are you peasants?! I know you’re in here!”

    “Is her guilt a form of confronting her Shadow?” Shirou asked.

    “That’s how it started with me, too,” Yosuke said. “But unless she fully admits it to herself, we’re literally toasted!”

    “I found a baby bird in a dropped nest,” Yukiko continued, eyes focused on her attentive friend. “I saw myself in him; alone and unable to take care of himself. So I took him home, bought a bird cage, and fed him every day. All of last year I looked forward to seeing him grow bigger and stronger, as he was my excuse to believe everything was okay.

    “Then one day, I forgot to lock the cage and he flew away. Everyone thought I was heartbroken, but I was really devastated. A bird had more courage than me to leave his prison, while I need someone to open my door. But I ignored that fact and just went on with my life, pretending it never happened,” Yukiko’s eyes moistened, and she covered her face to hide them. “Because it would remind me how trapped I feel… and how horrible a person I really am!”

    She could tell the others were all watching her. She could hear the red Shadow screaming and yelling both in pain and anger, but she was too ashamed to care. Ashamed of her real desire to run away from home and needing someone to do it for her. The fact she was telling all this to Chie, her best friend, and the one person she secretly hoped to be her savior, did nothing to alleviate her feelings.

    “So what if you’re horrible? I’m just as bad, if not worse.”

    Confused, Yukiko looked up from her hands to see Chie. Strangely enough, she looked just as guilty as she was. “Huh…?”

    “I understand, really. I had a Shadow too recently.” She sighed, steeling herself. “I’m… not as strong as you think I am, either. I’m not as popular or smart or pretty as you. You get boys asking you out every other day and they all just see me as your keeper.”

    She lowered her head and started sniffling; death was the farthest thing on her mind, as feelings of shame crept into her. “You’re my best friend, Yukiko. I would never lie about that. But, *sniff* I was always so jealous of you, getting all the boys and attention, that I wanted to feel important like you were all the time. I just wanted to be noticed so badly. And I felt happy when your Shadow said you depended on me, when for years it felt like the other way around. So happy that… I wanted to keep that feeling and never let it go.”

    When she looked up, her face was red and tears were sliding down her cheeks. “I needed you Yukiko, just to get by. But I wanted you to need me to feel better about myself. Because if you didn’t, if you left me… I’d have nothing.”

    “Chie…”

    “But… now I’m convinced more than ever that it’s okay to have bad qualities. I was afraid you’d hate me for being so selfish, and here you are, telling me to run away because you care, just like always.” She gave a soft smile that Yukiko had grown to appreciate as strong and comforting. “I don’t know my good qualities yet, but I figure I could make it up to you by being there when you need me. You know… because we’re friends.”

    Yukiko felt so silly in comparison. It was never that she needed Chie or Chie needed her; they needed each other because they brought out the best in one another. The only one keeping her locked in the cage was herself, afraid of going out alone. But what was to be afraid of? Chie wasn’t her rescuer, but someone who’d always be by her side, and was waiting for her to leave on her own.

    Yukiko was right that she was like the bird she’d adopted in the past. And she found her courage to take the first step forward.

    “Chie…”

    “Yukiko…”

    The two friends embraced one another, tears of joy and relief freely falling from their eyes, overwhelming ones of grief and sadness. They were close before, but even the boundaries of their secrets couldn’t drive them apart. And as he watched from afar as they whispered thanks, Shirou smiled to himself, glad to know their friendship was saved.

    “LIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR!”


    The whole room shook violently, and more flames erupted out uncontrollably. Everyone turned to the source to see the Shadow discharge like crazy and repeatedly flail in her cage perch while weakly fanning flames around. The desperate action would no doubt engulf the whole castle in flames if not for her body phasing out.

    “Liar liar liar liar liar liar LIAR!”
    she bellowed. “No one can save me but my Prince, and YOU MONSTERS KILLED HIM! I can’t do anything without him so STOP SPREADING LIES!”

    “The Shadow’s weakening!” Yosuke smiled. “This is our opening!”

    “Be careful!” Teddie exclaimed. “She’s like a cornered bear now!”

    “So are we,” said Shirou, feeling his body tension rise as he projected his Persona card. He turned to his injured comrade. He almost lost his friend, and would want nothing more than for him and Satonaka to never fight again. But they were both stubborn and loyal to a fault, and he would insult them telling them otherwise. All he could do is ask if they were still willing: “Think you can still fight, Yosuke?”

    His partner merely grinned. “Who the hell do you think I am?”

    “Right,” he smiled back, before crushing the card. “Persona!”

    The Duke Persona once again galloped into the main hall, effortlessly stomping over the now weakening flames of the Shadow’s rampage. Though he couldn’t reach her, he made due with taunting her. “Come, duchess of flames! Joust me if you wish to avenge your spouse!”

    “If you must refer to me by title, it’s PRINCESS Yukiko! And I’m more than happy to oblige!”
    Her retort made, she cut the chain on her chandelier and watched it fall to crush him.

    This wasn’t the case as Eligor and Shirou knew what to expect. With expert handling, he heeled his horse at the last moment before the chandelier would land. “Next,” he challenged, trotting his horse around.

    Shadow Yukiko dived down with a screech, head first, and bashed firmly at Eligor’s breastplate. The knight gagged on reflex, with Shirou mirroring the action with their synchronized link. The large Shadow kept flapping her wings for momentum in an attempt to topple the rider off.

    But Shirou gritted his teeth and held his ground. Through Eligor’s reins his mount did the same, and slowly but surely forced the attack to a stop. Then he completely overpowered the Shadow and pushed her back with a screaming charge.

    “HUOOOOOOOOOOOOOA!” cried magus and knight, their actions one. The horse joined them, with a hearty neigh.

    “Wh-what?!”
    the Shadow gasped, and found herself flapping to get away instead of advance. She was also constantly conjuring Agi after Agi at the knight, hoping to stop him. “Get back! Begone! Away with you! Why won’t you die? WHY WON’T YOU DIE!?!”

    As one of the many Dukes of Hell from the Ars Goetia, it was fitting that Eligor had control in Agi-aligned magic, and that he was just as resistant to the element. Through the link, Shirou felt each fireball pass over him like heat from an open flame against his face. And that was for the attacks that actually continued and didn’t fizzle out.

    “Surprise!”


    Shadow Yukiko’s retreat was stopped in its tracks when the Ninja Persona, mimicking Yosuke’s voice, struck her exposed back with both hands and their spinning discuses. Her cry of pain doubled when Eligor closed the small gap between them with his piercing lance. Then the Duke Persona backed away before flicking the avian Shadow into the air, and Jiraiya propelled her with a well-timed Garu.

    “Satonaka!” “All you!”

    Now standing in front of the staircase, Chie stood firmly in place, arms pulled back and cupped together. Tomoe was floating above her in a similar position, and her hands were glowing bluish white.

    “This is gonna get messy, Yukiko,” she warned her friend, the only one who followed her while the others split off for the final assault. “You should run when you get the chance.”
    But her friend shook her head confidently. “I’m not leaving, Chie.” It brought a smile to her lips, and gave her the needed boost to finish the job.

    Double… Bufu… KEEEEEEEEEN!”

    She had no idea how fighting game characters really used their hypothetical energy to make their attacks bigger, so she went over Shirou’s instructions on Persona summoning, as well as a bit of wishful thinking of “I want to use two Bufus at once.”

    The result for Tomoe was a very draining, very bright, very big, and very cool-looking ice blast that moved and acted more like freezing wind than anything else. And it was fired directly at the avian sent flying towards her.

    “Noooooooo!”


    And Shadow Yukiko was defeated. She crystalized on the spot into an ice sculpture, but with the fight over, the ice cracked and gave away moments later. With the ice shattered, Shadow particles melted away through the cracks and evaporated helplessly on the ground. All that remained was the Princess lookalike standing in the center, looking more somber and calm than she’d ever been.

    Chie exhaled and dismissed Tomoe, gauging the now silent Shadow. “I’m sorry for all this, Yukiko,” she said to both human and Shadow. “I was so caught up in my own problems I didn’t know how much you really needed me for you.”

    “I wasn’t very considerate either, Chie,” the heiress admitted. “I just wanted an easy way out of all of my problems without facing them head on.” She walked slowly to the Princess, feeling the empty haze clear more with each step. It had already eased up considerably after confining in Chie, but she had to look to herself in the mirror and admit it, so to speak.

    “’I want to run away.’ ‘I want someone to save me.’ I really did have these feelings, but I felt so bound down that I was ashamed to admit it.” She gently took the Princess’ hands in hers, giving them an affectionate squeeze. “I’m sorry I didn’t it get sooner… me.”

    The Shadow smiled faintly and nodded. Before the girl’s eyes, she was enveloped in a bright blue light and transformed. Hovering before them was a young woman in a white skirt, black stockings and thin knee high boots. Her upper body bore a skin-tight white and pink shirt, with the white outlines covering her arms, abdomen, and chest a familiar heart shape, and her face was covered with a bright pink mask similar to the super hero shows. Each corner of her head sported a floral hair decoration of a bloomed sakura. A similar design of sakura was seen attached to both her wrists, but made much larger and mechanical like a chain weapon of sorts that was linked together.

    Yukiko didn’t understand why she knew it was now a Persona like what her friends were using, or how she knew her name (Konohana Sakuya), but she accepted her other self for who she was, no matter the change. In another flash, the being vanished and fluttered down to her open hands as a Tarot Card.

    When she felt the card melt into her soul, she suddenly lost feeling in her legs. Chie caught her right away and smiled. “Don’t worry. It was rough the first time for me too.”

    Yukiko smiled back. Then she realized something, back during the fighting. “Is Prince-kun really-?”

    Chie’s smile quickly faded, and she shook her head. “I’m sorry Yukiko. I know how much he means to you, but when we thought Yosuke died back there…”

    It was understandable. She thought she had something close to the Charming Prince in the days depending on its care, but it was just a facet of someone to save her, not an actual person. Rather, it was the one keeping her in her gilded cage, and it wasn’t until she realized the people that truly mannered were right in front of her that she had the strength to get out.

    “To be honest, it was Emiya-kun that did it. I think the last time I saw him that pissed was- wait a minute. Where is Emiya-kun? And the others?”

    The girls took careful notice of the changed scenery since the final attack. The throne room was a mess; piles of ceiling wood were still scattered across the room, and carpets and drapes had been burnt to the point of being unrecognizable. The fire was all gone now at least, but somehow the room had changed from bright pink to dark blue from the sudden flash freeze. At least the castle wasn't in danger of burning to the ground now. That positive thought gave Chie the confidence that the guys came out all right.

    "Ah-CHOO! Oh, my f-fur's all w-w-wet."

    Turning to the noise, both girls gasped at what they saw, and Chie mentally corrected herself to mostly all right.

    As Yukiko was beside Chie at the time and thus behind the blast radius, the girls were completely healthy despite feeling a slight draft. Shirou, Yosuke and Teddie, on the other hand, were all comically hugging their shivering selves, topped with snow on their heads and shoulders, and were trying their darn hardest to fight back their sneezes.

    “WhwhwhwhwhwhwhWhat the HELL was that?!” Yosuke chattered. “W-w-were you tr-tr-trying to freeze us all to d-d-death?”

    Chie had the decency to blush and rub her head sheepishly. “Heh heh, sorry guys. Didn’t mean to go that far.”

    “H-how you even managed that s-surprises me,” the magus admitted. He couldn’t hold it against her for the unseen circumstance, and he knew she didn’t mean it.

    “I didn’t know I could do it either,” she agreed, teasingly flexing her arms for emphasis. “But man, sometimes I scare myself with my own strength.”

    “Y-your ice was b-beary amazing, Chie-chan!” Teddie smiled, despite the cold. “I-I wish I could do ma-ma-ma-magic as nearly as c-c-cool like that!”

    “I s-s-swear, it’s Fe-Fe-February all over again,” the headphone teen shivered. “N-n-next time? Warn us before you give us a g-giant c-c-cold blast!”

    Chie was about to reply that she would, but Yukiko, who had been quiet since the boys arrived, snorted. Confused, everyone turned to her and saw her trying to keep a serious face, and failing miserably. And then another snort, with it a smile and giggle. Chie couldn’t believe her eyes. “Is she really-?”

    BWAAAA-hahahahaha, ahahahahahaha!” Finally unable to control herself, Yukiko laughed. She laughed and laughed and laughed until she cried. She laughed as she leaned on her friend for support, and pointed at the bewildered bear and students.

    “Y-your faces,” she squeaked between giggles. “Your fa-a-a-aces! They’re so-ahahaha! And the snow! Ahahaha, the sno-o-o-w! It’s-it’s-it’s on your heads li-like a little ha-ahahaha, like ahahaha!”

    Yukiko continued to laugh blissfully, ignoring any looks she got as she did. Yosuke broke the stunned silence, face torn between hurt and accusing as he pointed to her. “I-i-is she la-laughing at our pr-pr-predicament!?”

    “Don’t take it personally,” Chie explained, eyes rolling and hand patting her friend’s back. “She always gets like this when she finds something funny.” Then she sighed and half muttered to herself “But she used to only do it around me.”

    “Hahahaha-like a Haaaaaatahahahaha!” Yukiko finally said, and would have likely gone on laughing further before she started coughing rather violently.

    “Yukiko!” Chie cried, her annoyed expression giving way to worry that mirrored the freezing boys.

    “S-sorry,” she smiled, forced to calm down. “It hurts to laugh, I guess.”

    Shirou gave a strained smile. “W-well, y-you’re safe now, that’s all that matters.”

    “Yes,” Yukiko nodded, and forced herself up. She turned her attention to everyone, one by one.

    To Chie, who had always been her support, and always a dear friend through thick and thin.

    To Hanamura, who she considered an acquaintance at best but proved to be as loyal as when he first moved to Inaba.

    To Emiya, the one she believed to be her savior from afar, and was right for the wrong reasons.

    And to Teddie, who she knew nothing about but was still someone who risked his life for hers.

    With a grateful smile, Yukiko bowed deeply in front of them. “Thank you for saving me everyone.”

  9. #29
    Whew! About to slip down. VelspertheCat's Avatar
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    I always liked the understated ending to Yukiko's arc.
    Spoiler:
    Is it pimping myself out if it's hidden?
    Index of Stories, Conceptual Writing, and Scenes


  10. #30
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
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    I just finished marathon-reading this - and it's as much fun as playing the actual game was.
    “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

  11. #31
    Greatness, at any cost mAc Chaos's Avatar
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    I'm still working through the recently posted chapters, but this part:

    > Mostly due to the fact that "saving someone means not saving everyone else," whatever that meant.

    Shirou knew exactly what Kiritsugu meant. He just rebelled against it. It wasn't that he didn't understand.
    He never sleeps. He never dies.

    Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

  12. #32
    Create History with the light even God doesn't know Der Ritter's Avatar
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    My main hope is that when we finally get to the Grail War, which I understand is gonna be a LOOOOOOONG way away, we can get some Eikichi brand badassery.
    TFW Thomas Edison is a lion, King Arthur is a girl, and Humanity's mom is Shin Godzilla
    My DeviantArt. Sometimes I actually upload something!The Waifu War never truly ends.

  13. #33
    It's Taiga Time! (Again)

    Fuyuki Gaiden 1: The Sunny Days are over
    My name is Taiga Fujimua. I’ve been called many things, from teacher to Yakuza Princess to human rocket to even… that word. I always strive to be a role model for my students and peers. It’s not my fault they don’t know how to have fun most of the time.

    My little protégé-slash-student-slash-cook-slash-brother Shirou is always a handful, getting riled up at the most harmless of my pranks, but we get along well. I worry sometimes that I can never quite help him or reach that level of closeness to do it, but I suppose that’s the downside of not being related by blood.

    I admit that I wasn’t the best older sister figure most of the time, but I believe I finally came through for him with the chance to reconcile with his extended family. This fact alone is what keeps me sleeping soundly (and with a slightly smaller stomach) for the first few nights.

    But I still feel… uneasy. I haven’t forgotten about the blue butterfly that night. I tried doing a bit of research, but nothing I found came even close to what I saw. If I was a little more paranoid and wary, I would think that the butterfly spoke to me that same night.

    Right, and Homurahara High School is secretly teaching students magic. Like I said, “If I was a little more paranoid and wary.”

    That aside, I still wonder if there was some warning of things to come that would happen to Shirou. Something that might happen to his family after all the time and effort I went into looking for them. It was part of the reason I pushed him along to his school year transfer. I didn’t like it any more than Sakura (and I might have backpedalled into reeling him to cook for me again) but I knew he needed this. I just wished I thought of this sooner. Like, five years sooner.

    When Shirou called me two days after he left (despite interrupting my beauty sleep), I was thankful he didn’t automatically forget about me. The last thing I would want is to be forgotten because he didn’t have me mooching off his food anymore. But it still reminded me that he might get back to his old habits of being helpful.

    I would also find myself watching the news every day just wondering how he’s doing. My… intuition (which is clearly NOT the same as paranoia, which I already explained) told me to keep an ear low to the ground on whatever could happen to Shirou and/or Inaba. It wasn’t easy because that town is literally in the middle of nowhere, but it wasn’t hard to pick up how hard they were milking the “Yamano Love Scandal” for days.

    Some days I wished I hadn’t.

    Days after it went public, said scandal had an unexpected and startling twist that resulted in the former news anchor’s death; hanging off a telephone pole no less. It was almost as unexplainable as the string of child killings in Fuyuki a decade ago. To this day, it’s still a somber topic for high school students who were children at the time because of the terror they felt and the friends they lost. I think I also heard rumors that Rin Tohsaka miraculously survived the encounter with the serial killer.

    Instead of grieving though, the Inaba newscast team was ecstatic; going over the mysterious death and anything else relating to the scandal like they had found a way to kill Gojira. A part of me was angry at how careless they were all being, but I had other concerns on my mind. I tried to keep myself calm, thinking that it was just an unfortunate coincidence that happened just as Shirou moved over. The murder topic would eventually die out, and then he’d enjoy the rest of the trip with his family.

    <><><>

    The next day I dialed Shirou’s home phone to Ryutaro Dojima’s cell. He picked up after two rings. “Dojima spea-“

    “I want Shirou to move back in Fuyuki City right now.

    I was never one for tact, but Dojima-san was smart and caught on to things quick. True to my theory, he sighed in a way that indicated he knew who I was and what I was calling for. “You heard about the announcer’s death?”

    I turned back to the house TV. “I’m watching the news right now about a student’s death.”

    Saki Konishi, a third year student from Yasogami High. As usual, the news media was effectively grave-robbing her identity for a story in a complete 180 of doctrine and hiding her face and voice from the public only a day ago. The only details I cared to get were her name and school, especially how close this was all coming to Shirou.

    Dojima wasn’t happy either, but he seemed more annoyed and muttering about the news for some reason. Not that I cared at this point.

    “When I agreed to send him over for his yearlong stay, I expected him to be in a nice, quiet environment to study and get to know you and Nanako-chan better,” I explained calmly. I can’t help but to feel a bit vindictive after the pause. “Not to be caught in the middle of some Western crime drama!”

    “You can’t blame me for how and when these perps act up in this town!” Dojima argued. “Besides, he’s in no more danger than the rest of his friends are.”

    I wanted to believe him, and if it was anyone else I probably would, but I knew that bonehead better than he did. “This is Shirou we’re talking about. If there’s one thing he won’t tolerate, it is injustice. And maybe bad cooking.” Oddly enough, his passion for food was probably one of the more normal tidbits of his personality and what he’d be open with.

    “I still don’t see how this is a problem.”

    “Tell me; are you anywhere close to knowing who did this?”

    “The bastard knows how to cover his tracks,” the detective sighed.

    “Then it’s only a matter of time before Shirou gets the brilliant idea to go try chasing the maniac himself or die trying!”

    The line was quiet as my words slowly sunk in, and I realized just how scared I was for Shirou. I knew I was ever since the first killing, but it just hit me like a ton of bricks in my own argument.

    “You’re kidding,” Dojima replied, as if trying to convince both of us that it was a bad joke. And I honestly wish it was.

    “He got into a lot of fights with bullies growing up,” I frowned, recalling those memories. “And he lost. A lot. Had bandages over his arms and legs every other week, and tried brushing it off like it’s no big deal until the next injury would happen.”

    Why else would I want him to rethink the whole “Ally of Justice” nonsense? It was a cute dream for him as a kid, but it’s only that; a dream. If he was a bit clearer as to why or how he’d go about it, I’d be more than welcoming of his attitude to change the world, but he’s either always vague or half-hearted in explaining what it means. The only person who could probably explain it (since it was his dream to begin with) was Kiritsugu Emiya, and he’s dead (God rest his soul). Not to mention that Shirou would still act so immaturely that I wonder if he even knows how much Sakura-chan really cares about him. In hindsight, I should have pushed them together a bit more.

    But despite this, Dojima gave a small chuckle. I was about ready to snap at him that it was no laughing matter, but his next words stopped me. “He’d make one hell of a cop, then, if he could take a beating.”
    Shirou, a cop? The thought honestly hadn’t occurred to me before. Still, it helped cheer me up a bit. “I fancy him as a part time chef with a food truck.”

    That got Dojima laughing harder, as it did with me. A traveling chef might suit him, really. Making fine cuisine dishes and ending world hunger in all the small European countries too poor for anything else.

    “In any case,” he said after we calmed down. “I’ll let him know you called and see how he feels about moving back.”

    “Thanks. Good luck on the case.”

    I hung up, left once again alone in the empty house. A big, fancy rich house that according to my grandpa’s records was bought by Kiritsugu a few days before the Shinto district fire. It had a lot of rooms, lot of space, classic sliding doors, and a large open yard space with its own storage annex that Shirou has a strange fixation towards for some reason. But it was missing people to fill in that void, and two to three people was never quite enough to fill that space.

    This must have been what Shirou felt every time Sakura-chan and I left for our own homes each night. A constant reminder for five years that there was no family or friends around when sleeping-

    Wait a minute.

    I hurriedly dialed the phone again. Three rings this time. “What is-“

    “What was that you said about Shirou’s friends?”

    The talk following that was mostly short, as Dojima-san stressed he needed to get back to work before complying. My head was still ringing. Two girls. First day of Yasogami High and he was socializing with two girls his same year.

    Dojima-san only knew this because they were walking home from school while he was on duty, looking over the announcer’s dead body. This is all well and dandy but WHAT THE HELL?! The first day in a new school and he’s already got two girls walking with him?!

    I could seriously count on one hand the number of people Shirou knew personally in Homorahara, and they weren’t at all instant made friendships! First was Issei Ryuudou, Reikan’s younger brother and current student body president. Problem is he tends to look a gift horse in the mouth concerning Shirou. Not that I blame him, since he’s probably the closest semblance Shirou has to a friend worried for him.

    Then there was the archery team captain, Ayako Mitsuzuri. From what I know, Shirou used to be in the club before some accident convinced him to drop out last year. She’s been pestering him to join back ever since, but they get along like former acquaintances at best.

    Then there’s Sakura’s brother, Shinji Matou. Enough said.

    Adding Sakura and myself, that’s a whole hand! So why would he suddenly get attention from girls?!

    Wait… THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE HE PERSONALLY KNOWS ARE GIRLS! OH MY GOD HE’S GOING TO GROW UP TO BE A WOMANIZER!

    <><><>

    “Uh… Taiga-chan?”

    I lifted my aching head from the table. Ugh, stupid hazy thoughts. I could barely recognize the room though. Copenhagen, right?

    “Don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink?” I turned to the speaker, and it was ‘ol Neko-chan in all black attire; shirt, pants, apron. Yep, Copenhagen; which means I came here for a heavy drinking binge, as seen by the empty mug in my hand. Next to about a dozen others.

    Damn, why’d I drink so many again?

    Oh that’s right, something about a murder of a student in Inaba, and Shirou walking back with two-

    “Nope!” I slam my glass mug down. I was suddenly sober from that thought, and had no wish to be tonight. “Give me another!”

    <><><>

    I called Dojima the following evening, ready to chew him out. This was the third missing person, and it’s only a matter of time before she became a streetlight ornament. I was in my house this time; hand on my cell, foot tapping, and my gaze glued to the Inaba local news.

    He finally answered at the fourth ring. “He’s staying.”

    Well, color me surprised. The detective can predict when I-wait, what?! “Excuse me?”

    “Shirou’s staying here, at least for now.”

    Okay, what the hell?! He has no right to claim custody like that! I’m his legal guardian, damn it! What possible reason could he have to keep him down there?!

    “I don’t know when this case will be solved, and things are only getting worse with a missing student.” Exactly my point! So why-?! “I’m most likely going to spend a lot of late nights finding this guy while Nanako’s alone in the house.”

    Nanako?

    “You told me once that I should consider my daughter’s feelings with her mother gone and me always working. That was the only reason I even considered meeting half-way to this whole “long-lost-nephew' thing. I don’t know about Shirou in all this, but Nanako’s just starting to open up more now that there’s more company at home. They need each other.”

    …I’d forgotten. In the whole spiraling worry of Shirou’s wellbeing, I didn’t consider how bad it would be for Nanako-chan. And even if I devote more time and attention to him and remind him (that) he’s not alone, the same couldn’t be said for Nanako-chan.

    I feel ashamed for even wanting to break up the family that I’d started and help mend. But it doesn’t help that there’s still a murderer out there, who’d ruin that family connection anyway by killing Shirou.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And I damn well want to hit something right now. Instead, I breath out the leftover anger and guilt away in a long, exhausted sigh.

    “…All right,” I agree. “But if I hear or see the news going over a third murder victim, I’ll come over myself and drag him back home if I have to.”

    “Fair enough,” he replied back. He then adds with a bit of annoyance, “Though you’re making it kind of hard to do my job.”

    “You’re Detective Ryutaro Dojima,” I said with a smile. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out!”

    I hung up, torn between being relieved and upset. That idiot was making a connection by channeling his helper attitude as usual, but the timing couldn’t be worse. I guess the best thing to do would be to call Shirou and see how he was dealing with the whole thing. He was just a call away, like his uncle.

    But why do I hesitate to dial the number?

    <><><>

    Good news, the Amagi Inn girl who went missing for almost a week had finally returned; alive, no less. She didn’t make another appearance like in that one-sided interview, because the mother and father assured that she was safe and sound while recovering. They also kept the questioning short and returned to their business, so good for them.

    But then there’s the bad news: Shirou won’t be coming back yet.

    Well, not that I would have been happy for that girl’s death in any case. I want to eat his delicious free food again, but I also want him to get along with his uncle and cousin.

    It was then, sitting in his empty house once more that I decided to call him and see how he was. One ring goes by. Then two-

    “Hello? Fuji-nee?”

    How I missed hearing him call me that. But I can’t let him know my weakness though.

    “Shirou, it’s good to hear from you! Haven’t had any problems yet, right? Are you studying hard? How’s Junes? Did you buy me any souvenirs yet? What about their recipes?!”

    That should throw him off a bit.​

    “Sl-slow down! I’m fine with studying, Junes is great, I’m working on the souvenirs, and I’m considering how they make their steak skewers…”

    I absently lick my lips. Steak skewers? That sounds kinda-wait. He skipped one. “So I take it you are having problems?”

    I didn’t need to see Shirou to know he was looking panicked at his blunder. “Uh… no?”

    “If you have something to say, you better say it now before I beat it out of you, one way or another.”

    I was angrily tapping my finger to the table. He seemed to clue in to my behavior, for he sighed and said, “Okay, I do. Though it’s… kind of embarrassing to say.”

    I grinned and silently urge him to continue. He’ll admit he’s caught up in the murder case, she’ll talk him out of it, and he’ll be out of risk of endangering himself and Nanako-chan. Plain and simple. “Just say it, Shirou. I won’t judge.” Much.

    “Well…” he sounded doubtful, but went ahead anyway. “What do you do if you found out someone is… attracted to you?”



    “And that you found out about it in the most… humiliating way possible?”



    “And you want to try and help them see someone else but can’t because of a misunderstanding?”



    What?

    Did Shirou just… is he seriously asking me… love advice?!

    “Fuji-?“

    I hung up, unable to listen to his innocent questioning anymore. It took all I had in me to fight back the urge to run for Copenhagen. Remember Taiga, getting drunk off your ass won’t help anyone. Getting drunk off your ass won’t help anyone. Getting drunk off your ass won’t help anyone.

    …Oh who the hell am I kidding?! SHIROU’S A WOMANIZER! THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US!

    Wait. What if it’s Sakura?! Maybe… maybe he’s finally realized that she has feelings for him and was legitimately asking for reasonable advice regarding his underclassman sweetheart! This changes everything!

    I quickly redialed the number, excited and grinning from ear to ear, despite him not seeing it. “Fuji-nee, you’re back! What happened?”

    “Phone died,” I lied easily. “Got it back up with a quick charge. So, mind telling more about this lucky girl?”

    “W-well, she’s very energetic, for starters. A bit violent, but also very protective.”

    I nodded. Sounded like a bit of a handful, but nothing Shirou couldn’t handle. But if she was violent, she couldn’t be Sakura-chan, though. “Yes, yes, go on.”

    “She’s also very strong and athletic. With a healthy metabolism to boot; meaning, she eats a lot, but she works out to keep her figure fit, I’d imagine.”

    Strong and athletic? That’d suit more of Ayako-chan’s description than Sakura-chan’s, and even then they’re both archers. But it’s definitely not Sakura as I usually out-paced her in eating. So it wasn’t her after all…

    “Fuji-nee?”

    “Sorry,” I said and smiled again. I should be happy for him, and at least determine who this crush girl really is. “How did you know she likes you again?”

    “I, uh…” he fumbled. He really was nervous about this. “I walked in and heard the alleged confession. Among other things I shouldn’t have.”

    Ah. That’s always a hazard to go through. I would hate for someone to get the wrong idea of me sleeping over at Shirou’s place every night. I lost count I had to stress it otherwise to more than a few students curious of our arrangement, especially Ayako-chan’s brother. “And what’s this about a misunderstanding?”

    “I was hoping to help someone else get to know her better but there’s still the fact that she likes me.”

    Huh. Well, I got to admit Shirou’s in a real pickle concerning this mystery girl and whether or not he wants to let her down gently. It was almost cute in a way. Still, she sounds vaguely familiar. The description, the rumors… if I didn’t know any better, this crush girl sounds just like-

    The smile on my face froze. Painfully.

    “What do you think I shou-?“

    I hung up again. Screw the power of mental persuasion. I REFUSE TO BE WOMANIZED!

    <><><>

    “Taiga-chan, I really think you should-“

    Nope!”

    <><><>

    Meals with Sakura-chan became a rare occurrence now. I was devastated at first, but it turns out Sakura-chan took Shirou’s move harder than I thought. I convinced her to at least come over every Sunday and spend the entire day in the house with whatever she needed; we could study in separate rooms and she’d cook for both of us all three meals. It’s a good thing because it’ll spare Neko-chan and myself from another night at the bar, for both our sakes.

    Tonight was a simple teriyaki chicken dish with fried rice; not as extravagant, but we both had no real reason to stay longer than necessary. I’d never admit it to Shirou of course, but Sakura-chan really is the better cook of the two, even with the most simplest and bare of ingredients. She just had the unfortunate trade-off of not being around as often as Shirou in the household; prior to this year, anyway.

    Sakura-chan would never say why she would suddenly go straight to her estate, or what her sudden disappearance would be other than “family matters”. Sakura-chan loved her brother more than he deserved, but she never liked talking about her family so Shirou and I never pushed. We just stayed stagnant at our little table for years, enjoying wonderful food and pretending nothing was wrong.

    Pretending that Shirou didn’t miss Kiritsugu. Pretending that Sakura-chan didn’t have an unhappy life outside of the estate. Pretending that I just wanted to have responsibilities without really acting on them.

    “I miss Senpai,” Sakura spoke softly. She was lightly eating through her rice (with her) head hanging down.

    “Yeah,” I agreed, going through my third helping. Things just weren’t the same without him to tease around. Dinner wasn’t lively anymore with just the two of us. Perhaps this was another reason I always ate here.

    “You never should have made him leave.”

    I looked up, surprised to see cute little Sakura-chan glaring at me. It was only a stern frown, but this was still a first from her. I was almost inclined to agree with her, though. But Sakura-chan was ignorant about the murder cases and there was no sense in getting her more worried. As far as she knew, nothing was going on in Inaba.

    I simply shrugged. “I see this as doing it more for Nanako-chan at this point. She’s lost her mother, and her father’s too busy to take care of her all the time. Shirou would make a great nanny for her!”

    I could already see it; the two of them sitting by a small table in princess dresses and large stuffed animals sitting around them, drinking tea that he’d no doubt make for the occasion. Shirou’s lack of backbone led him to be everyone’s favorite fake janitor, but there would be nothing wrong with allowing himself to go along with a little cousin’s play time. In fact, it would sound kind of cute… and hilarious. I honestly had to laugh at the image.
    But I realized that Sakura-chan wasn’t laughing with me. Her glare broke down to a sadder frown, and she ducked her head down as if trying to hide from under her bangs.

    She really was against Shirou’s trip from the start, huh?

    Well, as much as we both hated it, the decision was final and he won’t be back until spring. There was nothing to worry about either; there hasn’t been another murder yet from what I’ve kept up in the Inaba news. Shirou would be fine, and this whole murder crime spree will be a distant memory by the end of the year.

    …I hope.

  14. #34
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
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    Still fun - because I found the FF.net copy, so I'm now a couple of chapters ahead!
    “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

  15. #35
    Quote Originally Posted by Kieran View Post
    Still fun - because I found the FF.net copy, so I'm now a couple of chapters ahead!
    What do you mean ahead? He's already caught up with the latest chapter.

  16. #36
    Who stole my donuts!? Leo Novum's Avatar
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    I thought the latest chapter dealt with Fujimura's arrival at Yasoinaba?
    If I'm an unknown being, then the way I can change is unknown, too…
    So all I have to do… is make them not-unknown.
    - Teddie, Perona 4

    Spoiler:

    Say what again, I dare you!

  17. #37
    Jester of the Moon Cell's Sovereign Kieran's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fsnfan View Post
    What do you mean ahead? He's already caught up with the latest chapter.
    Not quite - the FF.net copy includes this chapter, which should be the next one we see here.



    Quote Originally Posted by Leo Novum View Post
    I thought the latest chapter dealt with Fujimura's arrival at Yasoinaba?
    Pretty much, yes - it's just that the FF.net copy had a couple more chapters (the "Fuyuki Gaiden" and the one after) than had been posted when I began reading this yesterday.
    “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. #38
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Magus's Avatar
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    I definitely like the expanded takes on the shadow fights.
    Not Magus! Magic Emperor Magus!

  19. #39
    With this next one, BL will be fully caught up.

    Chapter 22 - Like a Dream Come True


    -April 24th, Dojima Household, Afternoon-

    It had been a few days since Yukiko was rescued. Officially, the story was that she was found at Junes with no memory of how she got there. It was partially true as her mind was still muddled on the details of being inside Teddie’s world, and she needed plenty of rest. This didn’t seem to satisfy the police, least of all Dojima, as the culprit was still at large, but they allowed the Amagi’s their peace.

    And so, with no reason to stress themselves over fighting Shadows for a while, and deciding to wait for Yukiko’s full recovery before making their next decision, the Investigation Team was left to go about their daily lives as high school students. Chie practically embraced her textbooks, knowing that her friend’s safety meant the return of normality. Yosuke, on the other hand, was somewhat torn between being relieved of being alive and wanting to fight Shadows again.

    For Shirou, he just couldn’t stop feeling giddy. He had learned more and grown stronger in the eight days acquiring the power of Persona than he did studying eight years of magecraft. He had always thought that it would take him years longer with unrelenting persistence to break the threshold of his training and actually achieve true Reinforcement. It was only by the influx of prana from Teddie’s world that it was even possible, but that still paled in comparison to how he and his classmates had gained the power to face the Shadows on even footing.

    He couldn’t forget the feeling of pride and confidence he had when he first summoned Izanagi, as if he was finally rewarded for his hard work despite it being unrelated to magecraft. Then he fought Shadow Yosuke, which had subsequently humbled him. He still felt thrilled about saving Yosuke from himself of course, but the fight proved his nagging doubt that he still had a long way to go before becoming a true Ally of Justice.

    Shirou also felt unease concerning Shadow Yosuke and Shadow Chie; he’d saved the same two people he had endangered in the first place. Perhaps if he had never stuck his hand in the TV of the electronics store, he never would have forced them into fighting alongside him. But he knew that Yosuke was right on some level; that unless they worked together, they wouldn’t be able to save Yukiko Amagi, let alone anyone else.

    And they did save her. That alone was enough to make their past week of struggles all worth it. Shirou expected himself to be the one truly thrilled, but all his Personas felt a resonance that he knew from his heart what they meant.

    A sense of accomplishment from Yosuke. Tearful relief from Satonaka. And a budding sense of camaraderie as a team. The feelings were all pleasant to Shirou, even the latter emotion.

    But three concerns still weighed Shirou’s mind. The first was that the killer, whoever he was, was still an unknown and free to act at his leisure. Directly linking to the second was unless Amagi could help identify the killer, they would most likely be stuck waiting until he made his next move. The last concern was to get strong enough in time to prevent the next attack and apprehend him.

    Staring at the full body mirror in his casual clothes, Shirou sighed and asked himself rhetorically, “But how in the world am I supposed to do that?”

    As if answered by divine intervention, his phone started to ring at that moment. Startled by the call, he quickly checked the caller ID, initially expecting it to be Margaret again. Then he answered, “Good morning, Satonaka.”

    “Good morning Emiya-kun!” she said in such a way that he could hear her smile. “Say, I was wondering if you were busy today.”

    “I was going to make breakfast with Nanako,” he answered honestly. Since moving in, the two had an unspoken agreement that Shirou would assist Nanako in managing breakfast while they would switch roles for dinner. Shirou took pride in making any course meal available, but he wanted to encourage his cousin to feel more at ease with him by taking charge and sharing a hobby. So far it was working.

    “So you’re free this afternoon?” Chie asked, slightly hopeful. “Because I was wondering if you’d like to meet up today. At the floodplain, near the gazebo where we first met.”

    “Any reason why?”

    “I thought it’d be a good spot to train.”

    Shirou was surprised by the offer, but Chie continued when he didn’t answer back.

    “We promised Teddie we’d stop the killer from ruining his home, right? And make sure other people don’t end up like Yukiko? We can’t do that if our fighting skills aren’t up to snuff. I got in trouble already with the umbrella and shoji, so I can’t train at home, but I was wondering if you were willing to train with me! I-if that’s okay I mean…”

    Another pause, as Shirou considered the offer. Training by Samegawa wouldn’t be considered odd as long as it was a simple workout. And there was a higher benefit if two or more people worked together than doing it alone. He had some slight reservation about training with a girl though-

    “And to be perfectly honest,” she added. “My brain hurts from all the studying these last few days. I seriously need to get my mind off it.”

    “Just do it,” Eligor spoke from within. “This is your best chance to know her better.” Social links again. Well, if nothing else, it would give them both an excuse to exercise.

    “Sounds fine,” Shirou nodded, before a thought occurred to him. “Should I also invite Yosuke to-?”

    Absolutely not! A third wheel has no place in such an engagement!”

    So taken aback by the Duke of Hell’s dismissal he almost missed the meaning of his words, as well as Chie’s reply. “I, uh, already called him. Said he was busy with Junes and homework. Besides, he doesn’t have the motivation to work out and would rather go right into fighting Shadows again. All gain and no pain, you know?”

    “Good. The engagement shall commence without falter or distraction.”

    Ignoring the knight, Shirou decided that it was probably for the best that it was just the two of them training. Though she came late to awakening her Persona before himself or Yosuke, Satonaka took to it as naturally as he expected someone enamored with kung-fu. It would probably help if he saw her not as a girl, but as a younger Fuji-nee for their training.

    Speaking of which, Fuji-nee never did help him figure out a way around her crush on him. Oh well. “How does eleven by the river sound?”

    She didn’t respond right away, but when she did she sounded relieved and excited. “Sounds perfect! See you soon!”

    <><><>

    -Samegawa Flood Plain, Afternoon-

    As the one with more self-taught understanding of exercise, Chie was the one leading Shirou with the workout routines. Starting with basic stretches for warm-up, the two students trained vigorously with kata stances, blocks, punches, and even frog leaps. By the time the sun was setting, both were resting on the bench facing the riverbed, panting and sweating.

    “Hah… hah… whoo!” the tomboy heaved. “I can’t remember the last time I worked myself this hard.”

    The red-haired magus only panted and nodded. What Chie said left him thinking about all the nights he would train his magecraft, always driving himself to the point of exhaustion and no clear achievement ever made. No, not magecraft; this was more like the physical workouts in Homurahara’s archery club with the intent of training his muscles than his magic circuits. He had almost forgotten what it was like.

    “I’m kinda surprised though,” she continued, turning to him. “I would have thought you’d given up about halfway through the day.”

    “Not likely,” he smiled. “Compared to magic circuits and fighting Shadows, this is nothing.”

    “I can imagine.” She still shuddered at the memory of him making a circuit at the TV world liquor store.

    “Besides, this case is far from over, and I can’t afford to let the killer get away with this.”

    We can’t afford him to get away with this.”

    Shirou turned to her, confused. Chie simply scowled at him. “We all made a promise to Teddie to help him. I get that you’re worried about me, but I’m not helpless or senseless enough to let you go alone. Besides, the bastard made it personal by kidnapping Yukiko, and I want to be first in line when he gets a square ass-kicking.”

    It was oddly comforting and troubling to hear that Chie was also willing to help, but he knew he would grow used to it. This wasn’t just about him and his altruist quest anymore; this involved the rest of the team and they had their own reasons in finding the culprit. Yosuke to avenge his senpai, Teddie to save his home, Chie out of concern for her friend, and Yukiko-

    “I guess that means that you’ll want Yukiko close by when we go back to Teddie’s?” he asked rhetorically. He almost expected her to smirk or confidently agree, showing that she trusted her friend enough to help.

    Instead, she flinched and turned away, unsure. “Actually, I would prefer if she just went about with her life and acted like none of this ever happened.” Then she sighed. “But that’s probably my Shadow talking, wanting to keep a hold on her ignorance. I don’t want to push her away if she wants to help, but… gah, you probably don’t get what I’m trying to say anyway.”

    Shirou actually had a good idea what Chie was trying to say; it was pretty similar to how he felt about how she and Yosuke were now involved in something no non-magi teen should be caught up in. He wanted to do the same in regards to Yosuke before, but he was determined to help solve the case. Chie was worried it might be the same for Yukiko.

    Silence passed between them, and the two of them sat quietly enjoying the scenery. The chirping birds, the running water, the slight growing hue of dusk.

    Then she broke the silence. “You know, I almost didn’t call you today. Because of my Shadow, and all those things she said…”

    Shirou said nothing, but he had the decency to blush and look away. He honestly had no idea how to handle this situation…

    “It makes feel a bit pathetic,” she sighed. Then she brightened with clenched fists. “But it also makes me want to work harder, and prove to you there’s more to me than that other me!”

    If nothing else, her enthusiasm was contagious. “How is it that you’re so full of energy after that long workout?”

    She chuckled good-heartedly. “I could do this all day! What about you? You’ve been pretty chipper yourself after training.”

    “Well, it’s just…” he smiled whimsically. The feeling of elation and accomplishment just couldn’t leave him, even after acknowledging it. “We actually did it. We saved Amagi.”

    Having been teased and mocked for proudly proclaiming his dreams for years, Shirou had grown to accept that he may never find someone who would understand, let alone acknowledge, his dream as an “Ally of Justice”. It might be easier to explain to his new friends now that they were aware of his secret double life, but the context would most likely still baffle them as to why his dream was so important to him.

    So, it came to him as a complete surprise when, instead of dismissing his joy or nodding off, Chie Satonaka turned to him with an ecstatic expression. “I know, right?!”

    Shirou simply stared back in wide-eyed surprise; no one had ever reacted that strongly before, let alone positively. And that pure joy wasn’t linked to Chie’s gratitude of her friend’s safety. It was something else, much more basic.

    Chie suddenly remembered herself, blushed, and sat back firmly in her seat. “I-I mean, I know… right?” she fumbled and squirmed. “W-we did great out there, considering our situation; a group effort between the four of us, armed with some expensive weapons and armor out of our own pockets and going through so many other Shadows trying to kill us. But hey! Yukiko’s safe and it was all worth it. And that’s what being a hero is all about, right?”

    Silence again. Chie couldn’t believe how stupid she sounded. Going off in a tangent about heroism and openly admitting to wanting to be one? Now she was self-consciously aware how much this sounded like trying to woo him into liking her. Well, it can’t be THAT bad, right? Timidly, she turned to see Shirou’s reaction-

    He just stared at her with the same shocked expression, which somehow escalated over time. “A hero,” he said in a calm, neutral tone.

    That was my reaction. Dammit!

    She immediately snapped her head to the setting sun, too panicked to fake her surprise in her escape. “Wow, look at the time! Better get home for dinner before mom throws a fit and feeds my share to Muku again!” Grabbing her bag, she sprung up and out of the bench and ran for the stairway out of the riverbed. “WellitsbeenfunLetspretendthisdidnthappenokayOkayB yeeeeee!”

    “Fool! Stop her!”

    “S-Satonaka!”

    Shirou’s words came out a bit louder and forced than he intended; the extended arm she noticed when turning back didn’t help. As it was, Chie was near the top of the stairs and was flushing red in embarrassment and trying hard not to look back.

    “Now listen,” said Eligor. “She earnestly empathizes with your ideals but is still worried of coming on too strong since the premature confession. She wants not to have her feelings returned now, but to know she hasn’t made a mistake admitting this to you.”

    Weighing the Duke’s words of wisdom, Shirou exhaled a deep breath to calm his nerves. Honestly his head was still reeling from her admission to be a hero, and wanted to ask her more about this. But her reaction showed that she wasn’t ready to confront her feelings just yet. It was as Eligor said; she needed encouragement that nothing had changed.

    After a long enough silence, he smiled to her and said, “Let’s train again. Same time, next week?”

    Chie turned back to him, not expecting the question. A part of her felt annoyed and upset, but a much larger part of her felt relieved and it clearly showed as her shoulders relaxed. “Yeah,” she smiled back. “I’d like that.”

    “Hmm. It’s a start.”

    The bond of the Chariot grew subtly stronger from that moment, but both teens didn’t even notice.

    <><><>

    -April 29th, Dojima Household, Evening-

    “’In Japan, the government is run by a constitutional monarchy with an emperor. However, the Emperor of Japan is not a typical king like in the Eastern countries, but a symbol of the state and the unity of his people. The position for Emperor is for life, and for each Emperor reigning, we celebrate his birthday as a national holiday. Each year on the Emperor’s Birthday, the Imperial Palace has this big party and invites everyone to celebrate! Today’s era is Heisei, and our current Emperor, Akihito, has his birthday on December 23rd.

    “’Akihito’s father was Emperor Shōwa, and his birthday was today. After Emperor Shōwa’s death, it was renamed to Greenery Day, to honor his love for plants and nature. But later in May 2005, a law was passed to make a new holiday on this day two years later, while moving Greenery Day to May 4th. This holiday was made to honor Emperor Shōwa’s birthday, how we worked hard to rebuild the country after World War II, and to think about our future.’”

    At the end of her speech, Nanako smiled and raised her finger knowingly. “And that’s why we don’t have school on Shōwa Day!”

    After Shirou prepared dinner, the family enjoyed another group meal by the couch and kotatsu. They waited for the news to start, and Nanako passed the time explaining what she knew about the holiday. Both Shirou and Dojima knew about Shōwa Day off-hand, but were amazed and impressed by how much she knew in-depth about history.

    “You’re really smart, Nanako,” the magus said honestly, to which she beamed.

    “My teacher talked all about it yesterday!” she said. He would have commented more on this but the news report drew their attention back to the TV.

    “Due to the weekend weather, clear skies seem unlikely in the area,” the weather announcer explained. “A thick fog is expected to set in tonight and remain until tomorrow morning, with heaviest concentration in the Inaba area. Anyone planning to go out tonight should take care. Now for our hourly weather breakdown…”

    Dojima tuned out the rest of the news and shook his head. “Just what we needed; more fog. Can’t remember the last time we’ve had this much.” He tried to ignore the detective’s intuition in him that explained that it would mean more bad things to come…

    He did, however, catch on right away when Nanako pressed a button on the remote. “Nanako,” he said sternly. “What did I say about changing the channel?”

    The little girl’s head lowered in shame before answering. “Ask permission first.”

    Dojima nodded, but didn’t say anything else. He didn’t mind the channel being changed as the news would have wailed once more about Yukiko Amagi’s reappearance and coming up with conspiracy theories on the last two murders. It was infuriating to him how quick everyone complains about their change in the status quo despite treating the murder case as if it was the best thing to happen to their town. If it weren’t for Chisato’s killer still being out there and needing money to support his daughter, he probably would have quit the police force years ago.

    A commercial broke his reverie, as well as cheering Nanako up right away. “Have a great day even during Golden Week at your local Junes! Come see for yourself, and get in touch with our products!”
    As usual, the commercial ended with their catchy jingle that Nanako sang with on the spot. “Every day's great at your Junes!” as the commercial ended, she turned to Dojima with a smile. “Did you hear that, dad? They’re open during Golden Week!”

    Dojima smiled; it was that time of year again, wasn’t it? “Yeah, I heard. How about we go somewhere during the long holiday?”

    Nanako’s eyes widened slightly. “Really? We get to go somewhere?”

    “Why not? It’ll be good to get out of the house once in a while.” Dojima had been banking on his days off for Golden Week, and was able to get the 4th and 5th of May open, less than a week from now.

    “Yay!” the six year old cheered. “Let’s go to Junes!”

    “I was thinking somewhere further out. Somewhere like…” he turned to Shirou and smiled. “Fuyuki City.”

    The red-haired teen gawked in surprise. “My home?”

    “That’s not a problem, is it?”

    “Well, no, but I wasn’t expecting to go back until spring.”

    Dojima shrugged. “Come on, it’s Golden Week; it shouldn’t be too bad to spend a few days back there. I’m sure your guardian and old classmates wouldn’t mind seeing you again.”

    It was perfect, really. Any other destination would be crowded with vacationing families, and he didn’t want to leave his valuable break time up to chance. It would also give Taiga some reassurance in seeing Shirou again. He could tell from the growing smile that Shirou was excited at the idea as well.

    “Yay! Fuyuki! Fuyuki!” the girl jumped and cheered. It was short-lived as she stopped and stifled a yawn.

    “Looks like it’s someone’s bedtime,” said Dojima. “Shirou, think you can put her to bed for me?”

    “Sure. Come on, Nanako.” He walked over and held her hand, gently guiding her to the stairs.

    “Every day’s great at your Junes,” she sang between yawns, a soft smile on her face.

    Dojima watched them go with a smile, and held it until they went upstairs. He really wanted this trip to happen, but past experience told him something would come up. Maybe it would be the killer again, and maybe it would be another case that someone would slack off on.

    Ryotaro Dojima wasn’t going to take any chances. Even if he wouldn’t be around, Nanako and Shirou will still have their Golden Week vacation.

    With that, he approached the house phone and dialed a number. A few rings later, he got an answer. “Taiga, it’s me. …Yes, Shirou’s doing fine. Listen, do you have any plans for Golden Week?”

    <><><>

    After putting Nanako to bed, Shirou paced restlessly in his room. Even though Amagi was safe, he and the others decided to check the Midnight Channel whenever possible to see if another kidnapping had occurred. It might have been pointless, but the news would talk about nothing else concerning the found inn heiress like the Yamano Scandal at the beginning of April. The fact that it had rained nonstop for the last three days didn’t help to assure their success, or that the midnight fog had rolled in. Tonight would be the boiling point of all Shadows and they would kill any trapped humans like the last two victims.

    So, when the Midnight Channel flickered to a dull yellow screen with no silhouette inside, Shirou had finally allowed himself to relax. It was official. Yukiko Amagi was safe, and he turned himself into bed for the school day tomorrow.

    <><><>

    -April 30th, Yasogami High School Rooftop, After School-

    It came as a pleasant surprise to everyone that Yukiko finally came back to school, and with more energy than anyone remembered. When asked, she told them that her mother had started again since Yamano’s visit and that she was being given a lot of supportive care from the inn staff.

    Many boys tried comforting her and were willing to spend time with her on a masked veil of a date. But after what the dark haired girl had experienced in Teddie’s world and her Shadow, having the courage to say “NO” was simple. And not just a simple “no” or one with a capital N, but one with both of the capital letters and uttered just before her would-be suitors could finish their questions. And Yukiko would say it with a straight smile as if she would accept before crushing their spirits. She broke a lot of hearts that day, and Chie had never felt so proud of her.

    With the school day over, the Investigation Team decided to ask Yukiko privately about what had happened on the night of her kidnapping. After getting instant noodle boxes for Chie and herself, she admitted that she didn’t remember anything more than what she told them back at the castle.

    “I thought that maybe the memory would have come to me if I waited, but instead it just got hazier,” she sighed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be much help.”

    “Its fine, Yukiko, really,” said Chie.

    “Still, that’s one daring criminal,” Yosuke frowned. “I mean, ringing the doorbell? Calling out Amagi-san’s name? Might as well wear bright yellow clothes while you’re at it and scream ‘I’m the culprit, try and catch me!’”

    “I can attest that the inn was busy when I went missing, but I don’t know why I can’t recall the person. Is it because of this ‘hypnotism’ thing magi use?” Yukiko asked innocently.

    Shirou tensed and stared at her in alarm. Then he looked between Yosuke and Satonaka. The former looked just as confused, but the latter flinched in guilt.

    “Well, uh,” she began, finding everyone to be staring at her. “I might have told her everything you told us about magecraft when I visited her while she was recovering the other day?”

    “Satonaka…”

    “Hey! I know the risks and told her about those too! You were the one who blabbed the word out when we found her!”

    Shirou flinched at her accusation. He was doing a horrible job keeping this a secret, it seemed. Still, no use crying over spilt milk. Magecraft may or may not play an important part in the case, and being upfront to Amagi about it might help. Taking the time to look back at the door to the stairs, he decided it was safe enough to continue on.

    “I’m not entirely sure if the culprit is a magus or not,” he admitted, still thinking back to Margaret’s dismissal of being one. “But it’s likely. Magi are deadly serious about the secrecy of their arts and identity from the general populace. Hypnotism is a mind-altering trance that is done to make people forget what they see, and is mainly one of the two methods used to keep magecraft secret.”

    “What’s the other way?” Yosuke asked.

    Shirou paused for a short moment before speaking again. He didn’t wait for anyone to dwell on the implication, if they ever got it. “Regardless, all we can do now is to try and guess the culprit’s patterns before he throws someone else into the TV.”

    Yukiko’s eyebrows shot up in alarm. “You’re going to try and find my kidnapper by yourself? I-I’m flattered, but you don’t have to do this on my behalf.”

    “It’s not just about you Amagi-san,” Shirou shook his head. “He’s killed two people already, and made an attempt on your life. This is beyond something the police can handle.”

    “Besides, he’s not on this alone.” Yosuke smiled while throwing his arm around Shirou’s neck. “He’s got me to watch his back, and my Persona.”

    “Me too!” Chie pumped her fist in the air. “He’s gonna regret the day he pissed Chie Satonaka off!”

    Every guy regrets the day they piss you off,” Yosuke reminded.

    “Exactly!”

    Yukiko said nothing else and stared down at her bowl of heating noodles, lost in her thoughts.

    “Okay, so let’s try and figure out what ties the victims together first.” Yosuke held out his hand with extended fingers for each tally. “First was the announcer Ms. Yamano, followed by… Saki Konishi-senpai. Third so far is Yukiko Amagi. What do they all have in common?”

    Shirou couldn’t tell if there was something very abstract for them, between a city announcer and two high school students, so he opted with the obvious. “They’re all female?”

    “Bingo.”

    “Damn perverted freak!” seethed Chie.

    “Our second lead,” Yosuke continued with surprising focus. “Is that they are connected to the first murder victim, Ms. Yamano.”

    “Something about Konishi dying after seeing the body, and Yukiko’s inn being the place she stayed at?” Chie asked. “Couldn’t that be just coincidence?”

    “Possibly, but there’s no reason not to suspect their connection,” said Shirou. “For now let’s just assume that’s the main motive and keep watch on the Midnight Channel. It’s our last and most important lead that can help us.”

    “So we just have to wait until it rains again?” Yukiko spoke up again. Both Chie and Shirou turned to her in surprise.

    Whether Yosuke also noticed or cared, he merely nodded. “Yep, that’s the plan. It’s hard to tell who’s on at first, but they appear there before they enter the TV, like a ransom note. We’re still not exactly sure why it works like that, though.”

    Yukiko nodded back, and Chie coughed awkwardly for her attention. “Now Yukiko, when you say ‘we’-“

    “I want to help.”

    Shirou winced. Yosuke grinned. Chie paled.

    “That’s alright, isn’t it?” Yukiko asked them.

    “I don’t know.” / “Of course!” / “Absolutely not!”

    Yukiko blinked at the diverse opinion on her. Yosuke, on the other hand, looked between Shirou and Chie, and facepalmed.

    Seriously, guys?” he groaned. “You’re going to turn down the only other person here that has a Persona and wants to help us?”

    “It’s not so much as turning down,” the magus reasoned. “It’s just that-“

    “It’s dangerous!” Chie cried, glaring fiercely at her friend. “We just risked our lives getting you out of the TV, you’re finally all better, and the first thing you want to do is go back?! No Yukiko, you’re going to stay here in the real world, where it’s safe! We can handle things from here!”

    “Damn, you really do have a control thing over her, don’t you?”

    “Yosuke!”

    The barb hurt both girls, Chie especially. It was bad enough she was acting like her Shadow in trying to subconsciously keep control of Yukiko again, but she was trying to chain her down to her insecurities again. “Oh no. Yukiko, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-“

    “No, it’s all right, Chie,” said her black-haired friend. “You’re right that it’s dangerous, and it’s selfish of me to go right back to that same world you saved me from. But all I’ve ever done was ‘sit on my ass’ waiting for someone to come rescue me. If I just stayed behind knowing you would keep fighting for my sake, as well everyone else’s, then I’d just be running away again.”

    Yukiko’s brown eyes hardened to a stare, and everyone could see how committed she was. “If someone hates me enough to want to kill me, I want to know why. And I want to make sure what nearly happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

    Chie was conflicted. On the one hand, she was torn to see Yukiko act so defiantly in a short amount of time that made it hard to relate to her. On the other, she was proud of her for taking a stand and change so quickly that she wanted to accommodate for her wish.

    Shirou was thinking along similar lines for Amagi, and weighing the consideration for her on the team. Yosuke had a point that the chance of finding other Persona users was unlikely, but it defeated the purpose of saving her if she was just going to follow them back into the fray.

    Then, he heard a familiar voice. “Thou shall be blessed in numbers, and thou look no further for a worthy companion than one such as the Priestess. Trust her.”

    For a moment, Shirou was perplexed; it was almost like the voice he heard before summoning Izanagi for the first time, but he hadn’t heard him since. Pixie and Eligor would talk normally when summoned or in interacting with his friends, so why now with Izanagi?

    That’s right; you’re connected to the Fool Arcana, aren’t you? No voice replied back. Shirou had half-expected that, so he decided to act on the advice.

    “Perhaps it would be safer if Amagi’s with us instead,” Shirou suggested, to the surprise of his classmates.

    “What?” Chie spat, torn between confusion and outrage.

    “She was targeted by the killer for a reason we don’t know yet,” he reasoned. “We can’t be certain she won’t be thrown in again, or killed outright, if left alone. At least if she’s with us in the TV, we can keep an eye on her while fighting.”

    “I can fight, too,” Yukiko added, sounding both hopeful and determined. “I can do anything, just please let me help.”

    Shirou nodded, turning to both members of the IT. “Is that acceptable?”

    “Aye!” his auburn haired friend chirped, raising his hand. Everyone turned to the Chie for her input.

    After a long moment, Chie sighed. “Fine, you can join us. Just... don’t stay too far away from me, okay?”

    “I wouldn’t dream of it, Chie.”

    The girls smiled at one another, and the matter was settled. Yukiko Amagi was officially a member of the Investigation Team, and with it the bond grew slightly stronger.

    The moment ended when everyone heard a loud growling noise. Embarrassingly, Shirou patted his stomach and blushed. “I, uh, guess it’s close to dinnertime.”

    Chie brightened as she remembered the soba on her lap. “Oh that’s right! Chow time!”

    At once, both girls tore off the lids of their meals, taking a moment to savor the smell of a fresh meal before pulling out their chopsticks. The boys also caught a whiff of the aroma, and were suddenly feeling ravenous and jealous.

    Absently licking his lips, Yosuke took a step forward with his hands together in pleading. “Say, uh, Satonaka? Could I try some of that? Just one bite?”

    The brown haired girl glared, protectively moving her bowl away. “Hands off the soba pal! Get your own meal!”

    Yosuke frowned, and was considering either cutting his losses or begging harder, but Chie didn’t notice. She instead saw Shirou past his shoulder, looking away and pretending to be uninterested. He was probably just as hungry as Yosuke was, if not more, and wasn’t asking for anything. He wouldn’t think twice about doing favors for others, but he was still shy enough not ask the same courtesy towards him.

    Chie looked down at her soba, a little crestfallen. Then she stood up and walked over to the boys.

    The teen with headphones nearly jumped in glee, ready to accept the bowl to eat on, but Chie stopped in front of the magus instead, thrusting her food bowl to him. “Here.”

    Everyone stared at her. Between Yukiko’s blinks and Yosuke’s dropped jaw, she ignored them. She focused only on Shirou, who looked just as stunned as last Sunday. Annoyed, she lightly shook the bowl in front of him for emphasis. “Well? Aren’t you going to have some? Or did I mistakenly hear your stomach growling?”

    Finally he recovered, but held his hands in a rejecting manner. “I-I appreciate it, but I can’t eat all of your food, Sat-OPH!“

    Expecting an argument of fairness, Chie took the chopsticks in her hand, twirled a good portion of noodles in them, and shoved them into his open mouth mid-sentence. “Of course you aren’t going to have all of it, idiot. I’d kill you if you actually did that. But I wouldn’t feel right if you didn’t have enough to at least quiet down that racket.” She plucked the chopsticks back, still annoyed with Shirou staring at her with a mouth full of soba. “Well? What are you waiting for? Eat!”

    He reluctantly did so, chewing lightly on the noodles. It wasn’t just the aroma, but the flavor and texture combined that made the meal satisfactory, even if it was a simple mass-produced instant noodle bowl. Embarrassingly enough, he wanted more, but knew better than to ask for that.

    He swallowed, and decided he would be in the mood for soba later tonight. He then noticed Satonaka was still staring at him expectantly. “It was good,” he nodded. “Thank you, Satonaka.”
    She smiled and bowed, quickly hiding her lightly flushed cheeks. “You’re welcome.”

    As she walked back to her spot next to Yukiko, Yosuke recovered from his shock and tried again. “So, can I have some now?”

    “You have a pretty bad memory,” she frowned. “I thought I told you to get your own.”

    “Oh come on!” he snapped. “I’m starving here too! Why does he get some?!”

    “Last I checked Emiya-kun was the only one with a growling stomach, and the only guy here who isn’t a pain in the ass.”

    Yosuke gawked at her insult before glaring darkly. “That’s a low blow, Satonaka.”

    “Turnabout, Hanamura,” she smirked with a deliberate point with her sticks. “Turnabout.”

    Satisfied, she dug her chopsticks in for another morsel, and was about to happily take a bite. However, she realized that she was about to put her chopsticks into her mouth… after she had forced them into Shirou Emiya’s. As the thought rolled in her mind, she awkwardly put her chopsticks down and lowered her face to hide her blush. Fortunately, no one noticed.

    Yukiko didn’t know the extent of Yosuke’s Shadow problems, but instead noticed how pained he was at being turned down food. While surprised by Chie’s preference to Emiya-kun (as well as a little jealous), she figured it wouldn’t hurt to share her food either. Sure she thought of Yosuke Hanamura as annoying and bland at times, but he was also dependable when it counted. “Would you like some of mine, Hanamura-kun?”

    “Would I?!” he replied with a sudden burst of glee. Walking over to her, he all but snatched it from her hands and stared lovely at the bowl of food. And in the span of a few seconds, his excited look turned into one of horror and disappointment, and he handed her back the bowl. “O-on second thought, I think I’ll pass. Thanks anyway, Amagi-san.”

    “What’s wrong?” Yukiko asked. “Don’t you like fried tofu?”

    “Of course not; I’m allergic to tofu. Like, deadly allergic. Last time I ate the stuff I had to get rushed to the hospital!”

    Shirou and Yukiko winced sympathetically. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know.”

    “Yeah, well, I think it’s about time I head over to Junes anyway,” he shrugged, making his way to the roof door. “We just got ourselves a new grill, and I’m in the mood for steak.”

    Chie’s head perked up in his direction. “Steak? Did you just say steak?”

    “Yep. I believe we started selling grilled steak today, too, to try and spread the specialty meal around.”

    Before anyone knew it, Chie had abandoned her soba bowl next to Yukiko and latched onto Yosuke’s arm with a wide, predatory grin. “Why didn’t you say so sooner? What kind of steak? Is it filet? I hope it is! Filet sounds nice and delicious. Ooooooh, filet, filet, filet mignon!”

    “Wh-hey! Don’t expect me to pay for you after what you did! Besides, you still have a full bowl of soba left!”

    “Emiya-kun!” she called back over her shoulder. “You can have my soba. I won’t need that anymore when I can have STEAK!”

    With that, Chie bolted for the roof door, and dragged her screaming teammate along without care. The two remaining teens stared and blinked at the roof door long after it closed, and eventually Shirou walked over to the soba. It would be a shame to waste food, after all.

    “Can I sit here?” he asked her, who nodded. They then sat and ate in silence until they both finished and returned home.

    <><><>

    -May 2nd, Yasoinaba News Channel, Evening-

    “Our main story tonight,” the lead anchor announced as the early evening news started. “An Inaba Credit Union ATM to the north of town was destroyed by an earth mover. The vehicle was reported stolen by a local contractor. Security quickly chased the suspect out of the abandoned vehicle, and he proceeded to flee the scene of the crime in a light green Suzuki along with all the cash contents of the ATM.

    “However, in a startling turn of events, a brave young woman intercepted the culprit with her own motorcycle, and then proceeded to hold him down until authorities arrive.”

    The news changed to show the street of Inaba on a security camera. The Suzuki car appeared first, driving down fast, only to be stopped when a motorcycle crashed into it from the side. The rider, wearing a helmet and a long dress, rolled over and out of her motorcycle due to the collision.

    Surprisingly, she got back up, rushed to the driver’s seat of the car, opened the door and pulled the man out, who was holding a large sack. This escalated to a fistfight between them as the man fought desperately to escape, dropping the sack and spilling out yen bills. It was all in vain as the rider easily overpowered him, forced him down to the ground, and mercilessly pounded him until the police arrived, two minutes later. They had to forcibly pull her away from the driver, who seemed all too thankful to be arrested and away from his assaulter.

    As the video played, the news anchor narrated the two people fighting. “The robber was later to be identified as Pumena Sushin, a 26-year old employee to the company owning the stolen earth mover. Police are currently investigating on his motives and now hold him in custody. As for our Good Samaritan, who wishes to remain anonymous, she had this to say to our on-the-scene reporter.”

    The scene changed to the biker, still clad in her helmet, standing tall and hands on either side of her hips, talking to the reporter who had “interviewed” Yukiko Amagi.

    “Miss, what was going in your head when you were speeding towards the criminal?” The reporter asked before moving his microphone towards her.

    “A man’s vacation was at stake,” she said. “The police department’s all tied up with the recent murder case, and the stress is showing. The last thing they need is some idiot who decided to get himself a fat paycheck.”
    “But it was still a dangerous way to stop a criminal. Aren’t you worried about the damages done to your motorcycle?”


    “Mine? Oh, no, I just, uh… borrowed it from a good friend. Had to get to stop him in time so I used the first bike I could fi-uh, borrow from someone. The owner understands.”

    “I’m sure he does, because those were some tiger-like reflexes you showed us!”

    The biker stiffened and lost her triumphant posture. Instead her arms dropped her sides and her helmet tilted down slightly. “…What did you just call me?”

    “Like a tiger!” The reporter praised. Either he was unaware of the reaction that the word was making, or was misreading her body language. Regardless he continued. “Your motorcycle charge was like a pounce, from start to finish! Then you rolled back up and went in for the kill, mauling the criminal down like a cornered rat! Now that has a good ring to it. The Metal Tiger, a vicious biker who is part animal, part machine! Can I get a quote for reference, Metal Ti-GAAHH!”

    The reporter was suddenly grappled by the neck of his coat and viciously punched in the side of his face. The camera shook as if in response, due to the cameraman’s surprise at the attack, but still managed to catch the biker’s sudden burst of rage. All of the sudden, she lifted the man high over her head, her primal scream drowning out his.

    “DON’T CALL ME TIGERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!”

    And then she threw the reporter at the cameraman. The camera itself caught only his close-up of the suit before falling to the side of the road. Static overrode the screen feedback and it instantly flashed to black. Immediately after, the screen flashed to the logo of the news station, followed by a loud and long beep sound. The text on the title card read:

    We are expecting technical difficulties. Please stand-by.

    <><><>

    -May 3rd, Dojima Household area, Morning-

    “Well that was… new,” was Chie’s first choice of words after the live news broadcast was cut off (she also laughed at the slight irony of them). The channel recovered about a minute later with the news anchors obviously as surprised as she was, but they continued on to discuss the weather report. Other than the reminder that it would continue raining into the night, there was nothing else really interesting.

    She stayed up until the Midnight Channel went on, but couldn’t recognize the person as well as she did Yukiko. The figure was lean with a round head, fixed in a fighting pose like in her kung fu movies. She was probably the biker on TV, but not even the news crew knew her name. Calling between Yukiko and Yosuke (while ignoring the latter’s dirty jokes) told her they didn’t know either.

    Emiya didn’t answer though, which was strange. Then again, today was Constitutional Memorial Day. Didn’t he say yesterday that he would be out of town for the rest of Golden Week? A few days off with his uncle and cousin, actually.

    Yukiko probably didn’t mean to sound rude, but she must have thought about her own personal struggles instead of his feelings when she said “That must be tough.” Emiya actually sounded excited to go out for an outing, so it was no surprise he looked a tad hurt and surprised Yukiko would say something like that. Chie herself would have said something, but as quick as the awkward moment came, Yukiko changed the subject and Emiya politely kept quiet.

    Chie decided to pay him a quick visit before leaving, and see if he knew anything about the Midnight Channel. So, after a surprising run-in with Adachi, she was able to get the directions needed toward the Dojima residence. She still didn’t trust the guy to be competent; the night she was eating steak at Junes, he came over to her and Yosuke’s table and talked a bit about Yamano’s murder and Saki Konishi’s connection to it. Nothing really pointed to the “silencing” angle unless she saw something of great significance only to her… and then he ran off, worried after realizing that he had said too much. Policemen were horrible heroes…

    Shaking off her thoughts on Adachi, she was glad to see the familiar redhead ahead of her. Judging by the box in his hands and how he was moving it into an open seat of the car parked outside, he was just about ready to leave. She ran over to him, waving and smiling. “Good morning, Emiya-kun!”

    Shirou turned around, his eyes wide in surprise. “Satonaka? What are you doing here?”

    “I just thought I’d see you off,” she said, glancing at the car. “You’re seriously leaving for the whole week in that?”

    “Only as far as the station,” he answered. “We’ll ride the train the rest of the way to Fuyuki, and come back the same way on Children’s Day.”

    “Fuyuki… isn’t that the city you’re from?”

    He nodded with a slight grin. “Nanako and I have been looking forward to this all week, and I really owe Dojima-san and Fuji-nee for making this possible.”

    “That so? Well, hope you have fun. Oh, by the way, have you-”

    Her voice trailed off as she noticed a brown haired girl she had never seen before come up from behind her. She wore a pink and white patterned dress and carried a black box, as big as a bento, in both her hands. “Ummm…”

    “Oh,” said Shirou. “It’s okay Nanako; she’s just a friend from school.” He gestured to the older girl in green in introduction, before extending it out to Nanako. “Satonaka, this is my cousin Nanako.”

    Ever the friendly girl, Chie smiled and gave a slight wave to her. “Hiya!”

    Nanako blushed and ran past her, ducking behind Shirou’s legs and was very close to climbing in the car herself. “She’s very shy,” he explained.

    Chie didn’t mind; Yukiko was the same way before they were friends. It was kind of cute, really. “So, Nanako-chan,” she said, kneeling down to her height. “What’s in the box?”

    She stared down to the road, clutching the box ever so closely to her body. “Lunch,” she answered softly.

    “A box lunch, huh? Did you make it?”

    Nanako shook her head. “He did.” ‘He’ being the red-haired magus unintentionally shielding her.

    Chie turned to Shirou with new respect. “You can cook? Well, I guess it makes sense with how strong your hands are-uh, I mean, not bad, big bro!”

    Nanako blinked, repeating the last two words uttered. “Big bro…”

    “But I can cook too!” Chie continued, a bit forcefully. “Sometimes, maybe. But I could have definitely made a bento meal if you had asked!”

    She was glad Yosuke wasn’t here right now, so she couldn’t hear him insult her in casual conversation. He wasn’t a bad guy per say; he just had the tendency to act like he knew everything and that he was a chick magnet.

    “Do you know how to make one?” Shirou asked innocently.

    She didn’t want to come across as ignorant wholly in cooking, but she (had never actually made a bento before… or anything else. “No…”

    “I could teach you if you like.”

    “W-would you?” she asked excitedly, to which he nodded in response.

    “Shirou! Nanako-chan! Are you two ready?”

    Again Chie was surprised by a new arrival. Or two, as she saw Detective Dojima was with them; from the two encounters she had had with him, she could tell he was one of the more serious cops, and she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or bad thing yet. He might figure out that they’re involved in a case they shouldn’t be, and through that find out about magecraft…

    That train of thought ended when she saw the woman that had called out. She was fairly pretty, first off, and her attire was simple. She wore a long green dress that reached to her mid-thighs and a yellow shirt with thin black stripes across it. Chie could also see she wore a matching pair of small studded earrings.

    Everything else was like looking at a mirror to the future. True, brown hair and eyes were pretty uncommon, but she was still taken aback by the young features on the woman before her. So much that she couldn’t help but wonder if she would age just as well, as she walked up to her and Dojima just for a closer look…

    “Shirou,” the woman asked, eyes still focused on Chie. “Who’s this?”

    “A friend from school,” he replied.

    “I’m Chie Satonaka,” she nodded. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Dojima-san!”

    In Chie’s case, though the woman looked young, she was also old enough that she could have been Nanako’s mother because of the same hair and eye color. But everyone just stared at her, making her wonder if she was making the wrong assumption. Dojima even let out a side cough. “No? Auntie then?”

    Rather than let her keep embarrassing herself, the woman chuckled a bit behind her warm smile. “I’m actually Shirou’s guardian, but I like to think of myself as a stand-in big sister.” She then extended her hand in greeting. “I’m Taiga Fujimura. It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Chie-chan.”

    She nodded dumbly and shook her hand. “Sorry about that. I just thought because you two look so similar that-” she stopped herself as a thought occurred to her. “But wait, if you’re not her mother, then where’s-“

    Again the mood grew awkward, but in a more somber way, given how everyone looked away from her. In hindsight, she wished she had stopped herself before saying that sentence out loud too.

    “My mom died in an accident.”

    Now Chie felt like kicking herself. Anyone could have told her that, but did it really have to be the six year old girl? Turning to her, she quickly bowed and apologized. “Nanako-chan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.”

    But surprisingly, the girl shook her head. She didn’t look as sad as she’d been a moment ago. “It’s okay. Even if I don’t have a mom, I still have a dad.” Her smile grew, looking up to Shirou. “And now I have a big brother too.”

    Now it was Nanako’s turn to be the center of attention. The little girl grew self-conscious and worried by the stares, looking back to her cousin/brother. “You don’t like it?”

    “I’m just… surprised,” he said softly as he recovered from his shock. “But I wouldn’t mind being called your older brother.”

    Nanako cheered up right away, and hugged his leg. “Yay!” her action got more than a few good-hearted smiles and laughs.

    “Aww, Nanako-chan, you’re just too cute!” Taiga gushed. She walked over and picked the little girl off the ground, or at least did so partway to twirl her around before setting back down. “Please feel free to call me your big sister too, Nanako-chan.”

    “Okay!”

    “Big sister?” Shirou asked with a teasing smile. “You only just met her last night.”

    “I happen to have a way with children,” Taiga countered. “Besides, it was because of me that we could go on this trip in the first place.”

    “Which was moot because your stunt almost cancelled everything,” Dojima frowned, speaking up for the first time today.

    “Dojima-saaaaaaaan!” she wailed comically. “That’s mean! I caught the runaway robber, didn’t I?”

    “Yes, but you also attacked the news reporter unprovoked, on top of totaling two motor vehicles and nearly traumatizing Sushin.”

    ‘Unprovoked’?! He called me tiger! And that guy deserved at least a beating for almost costing you your break! I wouldn’t have to step in if your cop buddies stopped calling sick for stupid reasons!”

    “D-don’t put words in my mouth!”

    Fortunately, Chie broke off the fight with a question and startling epiphany. “Wait a minute; you were on the news special last night?”

    “And had literally dodged a bullet from the news station pressing charges,” Dojima added, glaring sternly at the shameless star. “I called her down here as a back-up so at least Nanako could still go on the trip, but instead she had to make such a scene.”

    Taiga huffed. “Well, it all worked out, didn’t it? I stand by my claim that the reporter had it coming-“

    “And it was awesome!” Chie exclaimed, much to the surprise of everyone else. “I wanted to deck that guy for weeks and you just threw him at the camera like yesterday’s garbage!”

    Dojima and Shirou both felt sweat roll down the backs of their heads, while Nanako tilted hers in confusion. Taiga flushed at the praise, but took it in stride. “W-well, I’m not one to brag, but I have been practicing my technique on that move for quite a while now…”

    “And then how you attacked that criminal!” Chie gushed on. “You literally came out of nowhere and were on him like a tiiiii-“

    She noticed, partway into saying a specific word, Shirou’s eyes widened, shook his head frantically, and made cutting notions with his neck. Then she remembered how Taiga reacted on TV, when the reporter called her that word. Suddenly she was very scared, and ended with the only other English word she could think of.

    “-iiiiiide?”

    “Like a ‘Shio’?” the older woman asked in confirmation, while Shirou sighed in relief.

    “Yeah! Tide! Like a tide! Or a wave, really because you just went up to him, and splash! Heheh!”

    Taiga blinked, and then looked thoughtful. “Never thought of that before. I kinda like the name. Taiga the Tide… no, how about Taiga the Riptide!?”

    Chie shrugged. “Well, if it’s any consolation, you’ll be famous around here in Inaba.” She meant it as a comforting thing, and Taiga’s nod took that into consideration. But her epiphany caught up to what she saw last night, and the Midnight Channel…

    Oh no.

    Dojima took a quick glance at his wristwatch and blanked. “Whoa, look at the time. We better going if we want to catch the train.”

    “Right!” Taiga raised her arm into the air, her mood chipper again. “Onward to Fuyuki City!”

    “Fuyuki City!” Nanako cheered, mimicking the action, and the two of them hurried off to the car.

    “Emiya-kun, wait!” Chie whispered, alarmingly gripping onto his hand. “I need to tell you something!”

    Fortunately no one caught the embarrassing implication of her words as they all entered the family car. But she did notice Shirou staring at where her hands were holding his. There shouldn't be a big deal about it except oh god their hands are touching-

    Like dropping hot iron, Chie pulled her hands away, and Shirou reflexively pulled his back. “Sorry,” they both muttered with blushed faces. It was worse for Chie though. The last time they’d touched hands was in Yukiko’s Castle and she didn’t even notice or care. Of course, her Shadow happened to pop up at the same moment, so maybe she did.

    Shaking those thoughts away for now, she focused on her main concern. “Aren’t you worried about her?”

    Shirou blinked. “Nanako or Fuji-nee?”

    “Your guardian!” she snapped. How could he be missing the obvious?!

    “Fuji-nee always overreacts about little things,” he answered. “And she’s the best kendo fighter in all of Fuyuki. The guy was lucky she didn’t have Torashinai with her.” He shuddered at the thought; demonic weapon or not, it was always painful to get hit by that particular shinai.

    Chie stared at him incredulously. Did he seriously not know? Did he not watch the Midnight Channel last night? How else could he be so oblivious to the fact that his guardian was in danger?

    Taiga Fujimura had appeared on the Midnight Channel. Though she was in her biker suit for both the real and supernatural broadcasts, the fact was she was on it. Could the killer somehow discern her identity and then throw her into a TV? Could he do so even when she would be all the way out of Inaba? What could it mean?

    Sensing her silent apprehension, Shirou asked, “What’s wrong, Satonaka?”

    She wanted to tell him, to warn him, or maybe even get confirmation. That maybe, just maybe, Taiga Fujimura was the person she had seen on the Midnight Channel and was next. It might be true, or it might be a false alarm, but she would hate to have Shirou be put in the same situation as she had with Yukiko; constantly worrying about someone close being next on the kill list.

    She couldn’t tell him; this was Golden Week. They had rescued Yukiko and deserved some time off. He wanted to enjoy his victory as long as possible, and she would endorse that. The last thing she wanted to do was ruin it for them with Shirou constantly worrying over his guardian. Plus, they were looking a bit impatient now that she was delaying their trip.

    So she shook her head and forced a smile. “It’s nothing that can’t wait,” she told him. “Have fun at Fuyuki!”

  20. #40
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Magus's Avatar
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    Now that's different! I wonder what Fuji-nee's persona will be.
    Not Magus! Magic Emperor Magus!

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