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Thread: Persona: The Beautiful

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    LXI. Human Pillar

    Class was interrupted for you that day when you were personally called out to break up a little 'revenge match' between some of Kikuko's supporters and a few students who'd gathered to 'defend' you, with you even recognising some of each side as being from the Tea Ceremony Cub and the Cricket Team respectively, though it seemed like Takako had no knowledge of this (and Kikuko no care for this).

    After that little incident, you thought things could go back to normal, but then a good chunk of Class 2-C started whispering that Suzako, being the Class's Vice-Rep, by technicality qualified her as Jack of Fools, regardless of your statements that you had no desire to choose a Jack for the time being.

    You having to publicly tell your own class, "Hey, knock it off, if I anoint anyone as a jack or whatever, you'll hear it from me," you then sat down again... only for Suzako to then stare right at you.

    "So um I guess this means I'm not in the running, then?" she mumbled by you.

    "What? No, I wasn't trying to say that at all," you tried to explain to her, then saying, "Like, Melissa forcing you to become her Jack has, well, kinda put me off the idea in regards to anyone, not just you. But hey, you remember your old idea of forming a counter-clique to the Aces or something?"

    "Yeah, um, think I got clearly told that wasn't gonna work out," Suzako sighed.

    Lifting her head, you tried to get through to her with, "No, not at all, I've always liked that idea. And with Melissa not basically blackmailing you anymore, you could have a real shot at it," you then smiled.

    "Oh, okay! Hey, it's nice to hear that from you, Honoka, but er... where am I gonna get the funds to do that? I mean, those all dried up when Melissa, well, y'know," she then told you.

    Oh yeah, that. Back to square one I guess, you could only think.

    Even that conversation though was all sunshine compared to what came next. It started with you having to debunk to Colette any rumours about her getting made your Jack that'd been spreading around school. Fortunately she just laughed and said, "No need to fret, I can tell blatantly false gossip when I hear it, I know full well you have no desire to drag me into that".

    As you were talking though, your phone started ringing, with you puzzled to see that the call was from your parents, who usually were too busy to call at this time. Finding somewhere secluded to take the call, you heard your father's voice on the other end.

    "Hey, Honoka, honey," he feebly began, hesitantly saying, "So, er, how're things?"

    "Er, just about fine, I guess. W-what about you, what's the call for?" you pressed him.

    "...'Spose I should just say it. I lost my job today," he told you.

    You almost dropped your phone from your hand after hearing that, before you then told your father in a split-second before he had any chance to react, "Oh no, oh God. I-I'll be right over, hold on!"

    As you were about to race out, Colette had to stop you and ask, "Wait, hold on! I-is it private, what happened?"

    Checking that nobody was in earshot first, you then told Colette, "Ugh, my dad lost his job. Since school's over, I was gonna head right home to see how he and Mum were doing. Er, maybe you could come with me though, maybe telling them about our relationship would help make things seem brighter?"

    Colette smiled at first, but had to say, "Well, I'm not sure how much I could be of help in matters like... these, but I could certainly accompany you if it makes you feel better".

    Heading all the way out to your parents' line train carriage, your Mum and Dad both saw you from the door. While you all waved to each other at first, an awkward silence then followed as the situation unfolded.
    "So, ah, you okay, Dad?" you awkwardly began with.

    Your Dad had to sigh, before telling you, "Probably as fine as I can be, in a situation like this. I, um, don't want to exactly burden you with the details of my firing, there was well, a whole ton of stuff going on at work, I'll just say that for now. I'm mainly just concerned who, if anyone, would hire me next. Might be stuck on just the dole for a while".

    "Well, usually I'd try to give advice like, 'Look on the bright side', say by telling Yozou how much free time he now has... but I feel he's been working so hard and long that, well, it's like a mental blockade has been put up between him and what he used to do for fun" your mother had to admit.

    Your father, who seemed to just want a change of subject, took notice of Colette and said, "Oh, why hello, I remember you being Honoka's friend, yes, Head of the Occult Club, am I right? Were you also concerned?"

    "Indeed, whatever troubles Honoka troubles me," Colette said clearly, before blushing and looking at you, "Er, so, did you wish to break it to them, or should I?"

    "No, I can handle it," you reassured her, before you breathed in and out then told your parents, "Mum, Dad, maybe some lighter news will make things feel better... Colette and I are now dating! She's a published author and all too," Though you left out her book's exact sales figures.

    Colette nodded and grinned, producing a convenient copy of her book Sisters of the Blood Moon.

    Your mother's eyes widened as she clasped her hands, "Why Honoka, that's wonderful to hear! Oh, you really are coming up in the world, aren't you? And, well, I must be honest, I didn't quite think partner material when I first met Colette, but you two look quite happy together so that should be all that matters," she said.

    Your father's reaction was more restrained, but with him nodding and smiling, he was certainly approving. "I hope this doesn't make me seem like a fun-wrecker, but well, I do have to be worried that being a writer isn't exactly stable as a job. But eh, what do know? So far you seem to be making it work".

    Not quite dinner yet, your parents did invite you two in for a little afternoon tea, er, of yams and taro, though your Mum's home-made taro rolls turned out to be surprisingly decent. Then again, maybe you'd just long gotten used to her cooking.

    It was there you finally told your parents the other big news, "Yeah, so I'm a full-fledged All-Ace now, got my own private room at school and everything".

    Your dad had to chuckle, but then said, "I do notice you seem oddly... hesitant about telling us that. I have to imagine a girl in your situation would be proud, but well, perhaps the position's not all it's cracked up to be".

    You can say that again, you thought, Colette likely thinking that in unison. "Yeah, well, you've met the other Aces yourselves, so you can judge from them. I've also had to put up with all new bullshit upon becoming Ace, threats, fandom rivalries, stuff like that," you went over.

    "Oh Honoka, wouldn't you be frightened for your life?" you mother then asked, "All those stories about students dying, especially the Aces. Every time I heard the news again, I could only think of transferring you to another school, but well, there aren't that many other options around..."

    "I get your concern. But like, I dunno, despite all the harassment, all the deaths... I don't exactly wanna leave Hanataba. Like, almost all of my friends are there," you said, looking at Colette. On a less positive note, you added, "Besides, if anyone really wants to kill me, I doubt simply transferring will put them off. But like, we've got Tokyo lawyers and others on the case now, I'm sure I'll be... fine".

    "Well, let's just hope," your father had to say, trying to smile again, "With how bad my luck's just gotten, I doubt yours could get any worse".

    - The Star has Journeyed to Rank 5! -

    "On a lighter note, this was indeed a delightful meal," Colette stood up, smiled, and curtseyed, "If a little, ahem, of an acquired taste".

    "Ah, that's because I replaced the pepper in the recipe with turmeric!" your mother seemed quite pleased with herself, even if nobody else did.


    * * *

    "Okay, told you all I'd made some real progress," you beamed at the rest of Dead Hand as you all gathered in No One's Land, "I've found out Rin's killer, hell they personally confessed to me!"

    "Ah, that's er, certainly some progress," Makoto tried to seem positive, though she was obviously cautious, "And they'd be?"

    "It's Kikuko," you told the three, "She let it out that she slew her in a fit of rage, and Azuma was responsible for covering it up".

    "And... the only proof you have is her word?" Sae had to ask, "Or rather, your word of her word".

    "Sis, do you have to be like this?" Makoto asked.

    Sae shrugged, "Just doing my job. While my own instincts make me distrust the Maeda girl, I still don't want to risk convicting someone innocent," she made clear.

    "If we wanna be sure, all we have to do is check her Empire," you told them, "Like, it's her heart of hearts, so we're bound to find something there, and definitely in her Arena".

    "Er, not exactly sure if objects, that aren't humans or anything, can travel back from a cognitive reality to our one?" Rise questioned.

    "Oh, I can confirm they can," Makoto said, "Although, they don't exactly tend to stay in the same form back in our reality. But yeah, we should find something in her Empire.
    That said..." she then had to say, "You do seem awfully insistent on getting to Kikuko's Arena, Mirror. This-this wouldn't happen to be due to another Duel, would it?"

    You had to sigh, "Yeah, Kikuko went all berserk and challenged me last Friday. But if we can scrounge up real evidence of her having killed Rin, then we won't have to worry about the Duel at all. Like, Empires represent the impact you have on other people, so everyone finding out Kikuko killed Rin's gonna completely shatter that, right?" you tried to lighten up.

    "She is Maeda Iemitsu's heiress though, convicting her would be no simple task," Sae had to bring up.

    "Actually, um, I don't think that's gonna be a problem," you then said, "From everything I know about Iemitsu, it seems like he'd happily ditch his own daughter if given the chance to. She's not even the Heir to his zaibatsu, despite her being the eldest. Convicting Azuma though, if he's complicit in this, yeah, that's gonna be tricky".

    "Sheesh, like I don't know anything about shipping companies, but her Dad sounds horrible!" Rise blurted out.

    "Oh indeed he is, the stuff I've heard about Maeda Iemitsu is nightmarish," Sae chimed in.

    "Having a good father who died young, or a cruel father who's still around. It's... not really a dichotomy I wanna think about," Makoto muttered.

    <<BGM: Sengoku Basara 3 - Kanegasaki Dream Battle>>


    Descending to the stormy shores that bordered Kikuko's Empire, no apparent path across due to all the pagodas floating around, you had to ask, "Er, can you make out any routes, Rise? Makoto?"

    "Not really," said Makoto, before she went, "Although, I do have an idea. Once a floating pagoda does come by, why don't we try commandeering one of them, move them around like a ship?"

    "Er, can't exactly spot any steering wheels on them," Rise said, before she shrugged, "Still, don't knock it till you try it, I guess".

    The four of you soon getting aboard a nearby pagoda, you took one step forward and almost feel through, as the floorboards below suddenly sprang down like a trapdoor. Stumbling back you were caught by Makoto, but Rise had already taken a step forward... yet the floor beneath her stayed right where it was.

    Sae cautiously put a foot forward herself, to find that the floor stayed unchanged for her too. Yet when you slowly tried to move forward again, the floor split open a second time, though at least you knew to instantly move back.

    "I get what's going on here," you muttered, "That day Kikuko told me she was the murderer, well, he was in such a rage that it broke any connection with her I had. Her whole Empire's turned against me, well, more than it already had".

    "Hey, it's okay. We're veterans at this, you just get to safety while we take on her Empire," a smiling Rise offered.

    "I'm not," Sae had to say.

    "No, like, at the same time, Kikuko barely knows you. That means without me, her Empire will only let you so far in before you get hit by a Barrier," you told them.

    "All you have to do is not touch the floor, right?" Makoto asked, before summoning Santabarbara, "Here, climb on, I can have my Persona carry you through".

    [ ] Take Makoto's offer and ride on her Persona, even if it means her SP will constantly drain point by point.
    [x] You'll handle this, fly on Aradia instead.
    [ ] Good thing you've still got Arachne.
    [ ] Could you ride using Ishtar's lions?
    [ ] Having Ahriman as your Persona informs you there's tales of ancient kings lassoing and riding him.
    [ ] Just keep using Wind, Nuclear, and Ice spells to keep getting you forward, though you'll have little SP for anything else.
    [ ] Maybe you should just stick to the beach and do Analysis stuff for everyone else?
    [ ] Write-in.
    "Thanks, but I can call up my own flight. Don't want to put you through gradually losing your cognition for me" you smiled and nodded at Makoto, before summoning Aradia.

    Balancing yourself on Aradia's crescent moon, her making it look a lot easier than it was, you gradually levitated up to the top of this pagoda. Seeing no reason to split the party, Rise, Makoto, and Sae began climbing up the pagoda balconies after you, Makoto being by far the most adept at doing so, though Rise's dancing left her athletic enough to not completely fall behind.

    However, this turned out not to be the sneakiest route, as Kikuko's Shadow-subjects then began launching attacks from out of the windows, be it arrows or pouring boiling oil. Rise's and to an extent Makoto's Personae though had let them see this coming, with Rise able to dodge and back and forth to the sides while Makoto quickly pulled Sae out of the way.

    Nodding in unison, Makoto and Sae were both swift to retaliate by having Santabarbara and Sovereign both smash into the pagoda wall, bombarding the Shadows behind it with a sudden blast of force and sending some of them falling from above. However, this little stunt had gotten the attention of the nearby Shadow in command guarding the border, the dual-cross-bearing knight Kikuko's Shadow had called Hanged Jeanne.

    Rise however couldn't join the Niijima sisters against this Shadow, as from out of nowhere she now had a major target of her own to deal with on the balcony. Had she not detected it beforehand, she would've gotten struck dead-centre by a Freidyne blast from that alien knight you'd seen several times now, Star Zorya.

    Rise was then able to counter with a Psiodyne courtesy of Xuannu, then went Zorya had been briefly staggered by its mind-altering rays, Rise quickly planted her mic down and, rather than simply whack Zorya with it, instead swung around on it to deliver a flying kick right at Zorya's sides. You were able to quickly follow her up by having Aradia cast Megidola on Zorya, not using Megidolaon due to having to reserve SP, but with the Amp and Boost still doing more than enough damage.

    As Zorya was blasted back up to you, she stared at you a second almost like she recognised you, which'd make sense as you'd seen her a couple of times before. Nevertheless, she grinned and drew her sword back out with glee as she tried bearing it down on you, which made you cover your face with your arms to have your tonfas block the blow, not that easy to do while riding with Aradia at the same time. You then moved both your arms out to the sides, striking Zorya twice with your tonfas, before Rise, having used her mic stand as a pole vault to spring herself up here along with Xuannu being airborne, the turned her mic volume up and blasted Zorya with soundwaves, you swerving out of the way with Aradia.

    Meanwhile, the Niijima sisters were both confronting Jeanne, whose first move had been to try tripping them both up by entangling them in her banner. Makoto swiftly leapt over it but Sae had been successfully ensnared, at least till she brought forth Sovereign's power to quickly shred herself out.

    Makoto moved to have Santabarbara open fire upon Jeanne, only for the Shadow to swiftly revive most of the subjects she'd been leading, sending them all after Makoto. This did leave Sae though to deliver a rapid kick straight at the side of Jeanne's armour, but the Shadow turned out to be quite physically resistant, and she then tried to blast Sae with blinding Blessed light... which Sovereign easily shrugged off.

    As you tried to lower yourself back down there, your issues with riding on a crescent moon while balancing became apparent, as you accidentally fell off and down the pagoda. True, you could easily remedy this situation by re-summoning Aradia, but it then turned out you didn't need to.

    Zorya, out of some change of heart or being impressed with your fighting skills, suddenly swooped down and picked you up. Pointing to the balcony where the Niijimas were fighting Jeanne, she floated back up there and placed you down by the hole they'd torn, you knowing another step further would activate Kikuko's trapdoors.

    Seeing you in person also seemed to trigger something for Jeanne, as she promptly lay down her two crosses and bowed before you, even offering to carry you across the rigged floor.
    Makoto paused at the sight, before saying, "Mirror, do you think this Shadow's... someone you know?"

    "Well, that sorta thing happened before in these Empires," you said, remembering back to Arachne.

    This struggle seemingly resolved, Sae then said, "Well then, how are we supposed to go about commandeering this, ahem, 'vessel'? I haven't exactly spied a rudder or steering wheel anywhere".

    "Well, Mirror's got the Wild Card, I'm sure she can just call on a Wind Persona," Rise chimed in, "I mean, Xuannu's got clouds and stuff, but I doubt wind's really her specialty".

    You smiled hearing that at first, but then a realisation dawned on you.

    "...Ah, you have no Wind Personae in stock, I take it?" Makoto observed. You nodded. Trying to think of something, she then formulated, "Well, we certainly have Nuclear spells".

    "Whoa, hold on, you're honestly saying we should blast our way there?" the usually enthusiastic Rise had to be cautious.

    "King has a good point, you mean to endanger ourselves?" Sae spoke up.

    Makoto sighed and said, "If it helps, I don't think it's exactly a smart plan either, but... it's not like we've got any other option, really, unless you fancy waiting around for all these pagodas to line up".

    "Hey look, I can just go back to the Velvet Room and change personae, if it's an issue," you tried to say, "Like, we're not that far in her Empire yet".

    "There's no need. I certainly doubt we'll be harmed by our own Persona's skills," Makoto told you, before saying, "And I know you at least have Ice spells to create platforms in the water in case we end up sinking this pagoda".

    "Yeah, but... I only have so much SP for those," you mumbled, but it looked like the plan was in place anyway.

    Rather than risk contaminating the air with Nuclear spells, you stood out on the balcony with Sae to instead blast your conquered tower across the sea with nothing less than Almighty magic, you figuring you could at least switch to Aiwass with Invigorate if SP became a problem, while Sae had mostly been using physical attacks this far. Rise and Makoto meanwhile had climbed to the top of the pagoda to check your route was clear.

    As approval came from above, a Megidola and an Amped and Boosted Megidolaon were more than enough to blast the pagoda across the waves, and even through fog, although an entire side of it beyond that one hole in the wall was blown off in the process.
    Rise guiding you to where the strongest signal she could pick up was, you and Sae braced yourselves as your Personae unleashed another set of blasts. Rocketing across the waters again, the mists began to part as you saw a giant torii looming over you, emerging from out of the water. Through this torii was nothing less than a whole palace floating atop the water, while all this time you'd just been expecting a flagship or something. Strangely, this palace only showed up when you peered through the torii, if you tried to look where it was not through it, it didn't show up.

    This led to the concern of whether this pagoda could even fit through that torii... but first a whole new problem reared its head, as the whole tower jolted to a halt. Glancing down, you could see the pagoda's base had become completely encrusted in a marshy bog, as a haunting, bass-baritone song filled the air, even tempting Rise to sing along despite the difference in pitch.

    "Sirens?" you said at first, before thinking, "No, unless they can also get their voices really low".

    Jeanne then dragged you back inside as a rain of icicles suddenly came pelting down your way. Flying above you was a grey-bearded man, said beard looking like clouds, stranding astride his own personal spacecraft, playing a bell-like melody on a giant fish skeleton with strings attached.

    "Star Vainamoinen. Ice, Wind, and Psy aren't gonna do anything, but it looks like we can get him with Light, er, Bless" Rise observed.

    This was essentially an open invitation to Jeanne, as after casting a threefold Heat Riser on herself, she ran out to disintegrate this Vainamoinen with Hamaon. Still on Aiwass, you leapt onto the balcony just before the floors could collapse on you and, when Vainamoinen went to swerve out of the way of Jeanne's spell, you were able to instead blast him with Kougaon.

    However, it turned out the balcony wasn't as safe as you thought, as this one unfolded blow you, sending you falling to the one below which did the same thing. It was then this Vainamoinen swooped down to stop your fall, but unlike with Zorya, this turned out to be a trick, as he froze your fingertips to the sides of his spacecraft, before looking to bludgeon you with his kantele.

    It was then though that Jeanne made the leap to be right on top of Vainamoinen, and as she encircled him with her banner, held her cross up in front of the old sorcerer to vapourise him with a much harder to dodge Hamaon. Vainamoinen's song ending on an untimely crescendo as he disintegrated, you then collapsed down onto the swamp he'd made, but then found yourself racing to get back up and in as without its caster it started dissolving back into mud.

    As you summoned Aradia again to hoist you up, the whole pagoda was now drifting through that torii regardless of whether anyone'd pushed it. It quickly turned out that it was in fact not big enough to fit, as the whole structure began to crumble as the current dragged it through. However, the entire thing toppled forward like the Tower of Pisa as it did so, giving everyone something of a makeshift bridge to leap across onto the floating palace, before the wreckage of the pagoda all collapsed into a ring of whirlpools surrounding said palace.

    <<BGM: Okami - Oni Island>>

    "Well, looks like we're here," Rise spoke up, "I mean, where else could this Arena be?"

    After all it'd taken to get here, you four were relieved to find this palace was strangely deserted. Passing through two monstrous guardian statues, one red one blue, you found that most of this place was taken up by a single large courtyard, and most of this courtyard was taken up by a giant wooden statue of, you figured, a kami-bodhisattva fusion. Rise took notice of its thousands of arms, Makoto glanced up at its triple-faced head, while Sae looked down at all the lotuses placed around this thing, each with a miniature replica of the statue placed on them.

    You froze, fearing this statue would rise to attack you when, even with Aiwass, you'd still used up a ton of SP. Yet that didn't happen, the statue just continued meditating there, as Rise then pulled down on one hand in particular she'd taken notice of, which with a slight rumbling opened a backdoor into this statue.

    Stepping through this door, you then almost wished you hadn't, as you'd found this statue had been built over a deep pit down into the waters. Though that wasn't the bad part, the bad part was this pit had filled with a whole mountain of sacrificed human bodies, or at least cognitions of human bodies, bound together with a net.

    Pointing at one of these bodies tied near the top, the spitting image of Rokudo Rin, you said back to Sae, "Well, does this convince you she's her killer?"

    "Lots of disturbing stuff can show up in a person's mind, killer or not," Rise then said, before admitting, "That said, I've been inside the psyches of murderers before, and even they were less on-the-nose than this".

    "Same. But I don't think we'll exactly be able to take her entire corpse back with us though," Makoto said.

    "Oh, we should, if I use Escape Route while I'm touching her," you then told them. Doing so, you saw Lauryn's hand broke off just as you were grabbing onto it, yet the spell took effect anyway.

    Teleporting back into the prized Pupil lounge, you then saw your entire trip hadn't been for nothing, as her cognitive hand had transformed into a VHS tape with 'Death - Rokudo Rin' scribbled in red ink on the side.

    You immediately handed it to Sae, telling her, "While I do think my dad has an old VHS player stored away, I do feel I should probably turn this over to you for evidence, guess that's how it works".

    "Thank you, Mirror, but..." Sae then became lost in thought, "You told us your Duel was on Friday, correct? I'm sure you're aware that law isn't exactly fast-moving, so that likely won't be enough time to convict Kikuko, Azuma, or anyone by, let alone finding someone who will. In the worst case, I can promise you that, even if you become one of her victims this Friday, the killer will certainly not escape with their crimes".

    "Yeah well, past Friday, um, the thing is-" you started stuttering, "Guess it's about time you learned what happens when you 'win' the Gameboard. Either Kikuko or Azuma could be a full-blown deity by the time you're ready to convict them".

    "Huh, what do you mean?" Rise asked.

    "The 'prize' for winning the Persona Game? You get made the next Morrigan, Ruler of War, Aspect of Death," you told them, "Getting the chance to meet with the current Morrigan, she told me herself".

    "...Aspect of Death?" Rise gasped, "I-I've heard that term before. That won't make Azuma or Kikuko or whoever invincible or anything, but definitely way than the justice system alone can rein in".

    "But wait, by that logic, wouldn't that mean you'd have the chance to become the next Morrigan?" Makoto noticed.

    You sighed, "It's not exactly something I like thinking about, right now I'm just focused on surviving these next two fights, and making sure they don't end in death again, let alone any 'prize' waiting for me," you made clear.

    "Hey look, Honoka, there's like a whole community of Persona-users out there," Makoto stepped forth and smiled to comfort you, "So... even if you really do get killed on Friday, then the new Morrigan oughta know that they'll have painted a huge target on their backs, as us three alert every Persona-user we know of them".

    - Rebirth has Journeyed to Rank 9! -

    You had to smile, "Hey thanks, I needed to hear that".

  2. #62
    Cruciforme NailsInYourFeet's Avatar
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    LXII. Final Preparations

    You had to do some searching to find Na-Rae that night, with you even asking Colette to help you find her. Soon enough though, you located her out on the streets of Kuchinashi along with none other than Suzako, the two in the middle of quite the conversation as you approached.

    "Hmm, do you think we should really interrupt them, they seem to be getting along quite nicely" Colette said to you.

    That was a thought, but soon enough Na-Rae took notice of you two and waved. As you approached, she told you, "Ah, I was just discussing outfits and the like with your friend here, who I met the other day. You were there I recall, Miss Honoka".

    "Hmm, the Jack of Swords," Colette then took notice of, inspecting Na-Rae, "You've always appeared a nice enough person to me, such a shame you had to be pressed into Kikuko's service".

    "Ah, but only on the surface!" Suzako beamed, her then telling you, "I'm back to forming my own group to rival the All-Aces, and Na-er, Tsubasa's gonna help me do it," her pause was as she had no idea if Colette was clued into Na-Rae's identity, "Oh yeah, you're Colette right? I'm Honoka's childhood friend, she's told me a bunch of stuff about you. Like, I saw you were both in the same band that one time".

    "Er, yeah, though Nightshade and the Lady Devils are... on hold at present" was all Colette said, "Though my, a group of Alternative Aces, you could say? Sounds like quite the project, one which Hanataba at least could genuinely benefit from".

    Huh, soon any Alternative Aces may be the only Aces, you thought, but just said, "Yeah, it's great you're finally getting around to that, Suzako.
    Funny thing is, Na-Tsubasa, ugh," you said as you then turned to her, "I was actually wanting to introduce Colette to you, but well, I guess that's been kinda complicated", you then twirled your fingers.

    "It's okay, she seems perfectly fine with me," Colette whispered into your ear, "Very little of Kikuko seems to have rubbed off on her".

    "Huh, but you've only just met her?" you privately said back, as by now both Suzako and even Na-rae had to stare at you, wondering what as with your sudden behaviour.

    "Well anyway, I've gotta get going, moon's rising and stuff," Suzako said, "But hey, it was super-cool hanging with... Tsubasa, like she even helped clean my house and all!" she grinned one last time at Na-Rae.

    "Ah, we'll meet again soon, Miss Suzako," Na-rae said, you no longer sure if she was saying that on instinct.

    "I too should be off," Colette said, "Preparations for the test of courage and whatnot".

    As you and Na-Rae then started walking back to the school, Na-Rae had to ask, "Take it that was your girlfriend you brought up last time?"

    "Colette you mean? Yep, she sure is," you had to smile, before you said, "She seems fine with us having a thing on the side, but, well it's just... you seem pretty happy with Suzako right now".

    "What? Oh, heavens forbid, why I've barely known your childhood friend long enough to form... anything... for her," Na-Rae then mumbled out, looking at the ground, "Believe you me, starting my own little romance together with you would be a dream come true, Miss Honoka!"

    "Okay then, that brings me to my first thing," you had to say, "Yeah, I'm cool with dating you, Na-rae, but like, if we're gonna start going out together, and right under Kikuko's nose and that," you then took a deep breath, "You gotta promise me, no more calling me 'Miss' or 'Mistress'. We're equals in romance, you and I".

    "Well er, I do see your point, Mi- Honoka. It's just, like... Mistress Kikuko's been drilling it into me that I hafta act that way around her ever since she started employing me, that, well, by now it's kinda hard ta shake that habit off," she sighed out.

    You felt a little bad about yourself, as you turned to Na-Rae and said, "Yeah, I see your point. And sorry, should've thought about that".

    Na-Rae then had to blush and smile at you, "Honoka, please don't beat yerself up over it. People have looked up to me as an ulzzang, then down to me as a maid. That you do see me as an equal, well that really warms my heart. Thank you, Honoka".

    The two of you then leaned in together to kiss, as you had to nervously think, Well, always the possibility you won't have to deal with Kikuko much longer...

    - The Hanged Man has Journeyed to Rank 7! -

    Tomorrow would be your final day, not just before the Duel, but likely before the finale to the Persona Game:

    [ ] Drama Club.
    [ ] Hanging with Suzako.
    [ ] Trying to be normal again around Ryouko.
    [ ] Sweets shop with Yuya.
    [ ] Tabletop store with Hotaru.
    [ ] Parents' place.
    [ ] Gameboard:
    - [ ] Write-in Empire.
    - [ ] Write-in party.
    - [ ] The Morrigan (write-in questions)
    [x] Write-in: Hanging with Suzako, visit Yuya's sweets shop together

    And for your last evening:

    [ ] Megumi.
    [ ] Na-Rae.
    [ ] Koyomi.
    [ ] Phone your parents.
    [ ] Studying.
    - [ ] Write-in partners.
    [ ] Sleepover.
    - [ ] Write-in invites.
    [x] Late night Gameboard:
    - [ ] Write-in Empire.
    - [ ] Write-in party.
    - [x] The Morrigan (write-in questions)
    --[X] This won't end with me having to kill you, will it?
    --[X] Why do you want to pass on the position to somebody else?
    --[X] Is there a way to just shut down the Gameboard for good?
    --[X] Are there any ways to balance becoming the Morrigan with my current mortal life?
    --[X] How did your experience with the Gameboard go, if you can remember it?
    [ ] Write-in.

    * * *



    Kikuko Duel Tomorrow

    Keiko and Yuya were your friends from the beginning, regardless of any attempt by Azuma to insist otherwise, so it only felt right that you say hi to them the day before, well, everything went down.
    After getting some Class Rep stuff out of the way, you went over to Suzako and asked, "Oh hey, you know Yuya has a part-time job at a downtown lolly shop, right? Did you ever feel like checking it out?"

    "Yeah, I've been a few times, but sounds like it'd be fun for us to all go together. Like, I hear things a lot more chill there now what with Yuya's old boss having left" Suzako nodded at you.

    The three of you gathering at the school gate, you then got the urge to rapidly scan around for anyone saying anything about two of Melissa's old Jacks being seen with the Ace replacing her. You then breathed a sigh of relief when you heard nothing, although that didn't rule out something nasty about the three of you being typed up online.

    "Honoka? You looked like something was bothering you for a second" Yuya had to notice.

    "What? No, I'm fine," you told the two, then elaborated, "Just got to thinking how people have been treating you since Melissa, y'know, died. Felt it was only natural as the replacement All-Ace".

    "Eh, people were kinda real nasty to us even when Melissa was still alive," Suzako said, "Like, well, I got a bunch of shit for being a 'leech', plus they felt they could spout out every negative thought they had on Melissa to me, since I wasn't Melissa herself. Granted, at least half the nasty shit they said about Melissa was true, I can confirm".

    You twitched. You couldn't tell if it was just change over time or Stockholm Syndrome, but you ever expectedly Suzako to say anything slightly defensive of Melissa.

    "A lot of guys got really nasty to me since, due to Melissa's whole 'fake boyfriend to make Azuma jealous' scheme, they thought I was taking her from them. I just wanted to tell them I'm not even into girls" Yuya broke it to you himself.

    As you stopped by the local sweets store and stepped inside, Yuya then said to you, "Ah, I'll be right back, just have to change out of my school uniform".

    With him behind a curtain, you and Suzako spent the while looking over the various sweets on display. The whole shop was mostly brown in colour, from its checkerboard floor altering lighter and darker browns, to the almost black brown of its cabinets. While most of the racks held chain candies like assorted KitKats and gummies, lower down by the counter you could spot a lot more home-made stuff, like various dango sticks and wagashi displays.
    Suzako was mostly salivating over a dango stick, while you yourself had to go for:

    [ ] Red bean dango. (+3 Perception)
    [x] Cherry blossom wagashi. (+3 Etiquette)
    [ ] Inside-out KitKat (+3 Education)
    [ ] Licorice. (+3 Resolve)
    [ ] Assorted lolly bag. (+1 All)
    [ ] Write-in.

    Yuya then came out again in full crossdressing attire, with a long braid extension, stockings, butterfly bows, and pink contacts, although he clearly looked nervous in front of the two of you as he did so, despite both of you knowing about it. He still had to blush as he asked, "Er, you don't mind?"

    "You dressed like that to school once, right?" you recalled, "Hey, you look fine, especially for someone who's still learning about girls' clothes and stuff".

    "I'm a cosplayer, so the stuff I wear's way more out there," Suzako had to assure him, "No problem, Yuya".

    He breathed a sigh of relief, "T-thanks, Honoka, Suzako, it's really nice to hear someone say that. It's just, y'know, Melissa had me kicked out of school for the day when she saw me like this, and my old boss nearly fired me when he found out about how I like to dress. Fortunately, their daughter's taken over management since, and she's much more cool with it".

    He then quickly served you the candies you two had chosen, and as the three of you sat down to eat, Suzako then said, "I've been telling Honoka about how I'm gonna form an Alternate Aces, er it's a working title, and like I can fit the niche of Cosplayer, Tsubasa can certainly be our Maid, and that's where you can come in Yuya, like I know down in Tokyo or wherever, there's communities and bands that are like a-okay with female presenters".

    "Er, that sounds... nice and all, but like, be open about cross-dressing in front of the whole school?" Yuya was uncomfortable bringing up.

    "Oh yeah, I can see why ya'd get stage-fright and all. Okay, what you gotta do then is invent a fake identity for yourself, like I did with Suzako instead of just being Keiko" she then offered.

    "Here's the thing though. I hate to break it to you, Suzako, but... I don't think the problem is just the people who made up the All-Aces, well the ones left anyway. I think the problem is with the very idea of an 'All-Ace' itself," you spoke up, "Like, does our school really need any hierarchies beyond seniors over juniors? I can say from experience that there's something beyond being an All-Ace that just teaches you to be a shitty person, except Himawari, but even she suffered for it. If you just wanna create an Otaku Club, that's fine, go ahead".

    Suzako twitched at your words, before she protested "Of course we have to form our own All-Aces! Like, who's gonna do anything about the current ones if we don't?"

    Actually, quite the something's about to be done, you thought, but ended up just saying, "Well, er, I can tell you that you shouldn't convincing Colette to join, she'll laugh and say no, and probably tell you what I just did".

    "Also, don't the students decide the All-Aces? Like, the system goes whoever's the most popular counts, right?" Yuya brought up, "I mean, am I that popular?"

    "You will be if we can present you to the school in the right way, with marketing and all that stuff," Suzako went on, "A new identity's still necessary though".

    "God, you really are an Azuma fangirl," you muttered, before saying, "Yuya, you may have an uphill battle there. The only two Aces who didn't get there through being rich were either super-athletic or, well me, but I was mostly a charity case".

    "Huh. You know, you can be really cynical about your own school, Honoka, and that's after becoming an All-Ace yourself," Suzako had to point out, "Like, seeing your makeover was my whole inspiration to change how I looked and acted, like I wouldn't have gotten into cosplay otherwise. Besides, I know the other students can come around on us".

    "Well, it's just... your situation's not gonna be easy, given that Melissa's whole scheme was to drag your name through the mud as her Jack," you had to tell Suzako, "Speaking of which, promise me one thing. If you're gonna set up an 'Alt-Aces' or whatever, no Jacks. Like, having been one for a while, I've come to the conclusion that the whole point of them is to serve as social meat-shields for the Aces".

    That rocky conversation done, Yuya offered to throw in hot chocolates with whipped cream and flakes for you on the house. You both nodding eagerly, you also asked Suzako while he was busy, "Hey, so, on a whole 'nother subject, how are you getting along with Na-Rae? Like, you seem awful friendly".

    "Yeah, at first I just thought, 'Oh she's a maid, cool!', but then as I started learning more about her, I started to see what we had in common. Like, she also came from a poor background, hence why she has all these difficulties standing up to Kikuko, and she's into physical fitness and super-nice too" Suzako started getting carried away a little by now.

    "Ah, okay. Um, I was just checking up and stuff, that's all" you told her, your talk cut a little short when Yuya returned with the chocolates.

    You three then continued on, talking about what you'd do over the summer break. Suzako had to shrug, saying she'd probably just catch up on shows and games online that'd been sitting in her backlog, given her family didn't have the money for much else. Yuya talked about wanting to go down to Tokyo, whereas you...

    "Haven't thought about it, really," you admitted, "Mostly just been thinking about making it to the end of term" Namely, surviving till then.

    "That's okay," Yuya smiled, "I think a whole bunch of other teens feel the same way".

    And so went your last normal human interaction before the endgame. But not your last interaction altogether.

    - Justice has Journeyed to Rank 7! -



    Sitting down for possibly the last time in the Velvet Room, you said, "Well, tomorrow's gonna be the end of all this, everything the four of us have been working towards, at least this year".

    "But you told us the Morrigan told you that you did have an Empire of your own," Lauryn protested, "If granted a less apparent one. So whether Kikuko wins or loses, there will still be two Empires standing... well, I expect Azuma will find some excuse to not even acknowledge your Empire".

    "The Fool is like the number 0, empty on its own, yet able to become anything, so it's only logical that a Fool's domain would take no assumed shame," Igor went over.

    "Yeah, but the thing is even if I win, it's likely Azuma will just assume I'm lying when I tell him that I really do have an Empire, and then God knows what shit he'll pull," you sighed, "There's even the possibility I'll lose my grip on my own Empire if I really do end up killing another, directly or not.
    But yeah, I guess the whole 'Empire' thing should've been obvious to me the whole time," you had to say, "My Social Links, and the Personae forged with them, are my subjects, and you've even said this Velvet Room conforms to my mind like an Empire, isn't that right?"

    "Precisely," Igor said, "Although, perhaps not. It would be a stretch to call any of our other Guests 'Imperials'."

    "Miss 'Onoka," Popo began, though hesitated before saying, "I feel like I should apologise for draggin' you into all this, but I 'spose you're probably sick of me constantly beating meself up, aren't ya? So, um, I'd like ta congratulate ya, Miss 'Onoka, for handling this whole daft thing better than... possibly anyone else could've. Ah, not meaning to offend, Miss Rin".

    Oh yeah. Popo, there's something I've been meaning to talk with you about," you said, taking a deep breath in-between "Soon enough, you'll have a whole new Morrigan, it being only a title and all. That's what she told me we were even fighting these Duels for, that whoever wins the Gameboard gets to be the new Morrigan. So like, er, there's definitely the risk that'll end up being Kikuko or Azuma, and... I have no idea how they're gonna treat you, except probably badly".

    "Can't say much for Miss Kikuko, though killin' in cold blood is... something, but with Master Azuma, well, likely he'll just scrap me and make a spitting new Gameboard Emissary, assumin' he'd even want one. It ain't the first time something like that's 'appened, like I believe even the Mistress Macha's had Emissaries before me," Popo drooped down, this time having every reason to.

    You gritted your teeth, before saying, "I can't make any promises Popo, but if I won't let Kikuko kill me for Lauryn, I won't let Azuma for you... no, for Colette, for Suzako, for everyone".

    "Thou art I... I art thou
    Though thy kingdom fall, thou hast gained a champion who shall not leave thy side
    We bestow upon them a piece of thy crown,
    And on thou, the road to Kali, Ultimate Persona of the Tower Arcana"

    - The Tower Journeys Anew at Rank 10! -


    "Nakamura Honoka," Lauryn stated directly to you, "During my time on the Gameboard, I never believed in killing anyone, but... I will make an exception for Kikuko in your case. I-It's not just because she killed me, it's..." she was clearly trying to think of something to justify her speech, but kept losing her words.

    "Hey, there's a whole hitobashira-style human sacrifice den in her Arena, I perfectly understand how dangerous Kikuko is," you told her, before changing the subject, "Ah, guess I should see to what may be my final Persona line-up".

    [ ] Special Fusion: Tower PITT + Tower Chernobog + Tower Heracles = Tower Kali
    [ ] Summon Hanged Man Jeanne (Bless and Almighty)
    [ ] Summon Star Zorya (Physical and Nuclear)
    [ ] Strength Ishtar + Rebirth Izanami = Star+5 Vainamoinen (Psy and Ice)
    [ ] Strength + Devil Black Frost = Death+4 Baron Samedi (Curse and Psy)
    - [ ] Switch Devil for Fool Aiwass
    [ ] Rebirth Izanami + Fool Aiwass = Sage+1 Bodhidharma (Physical and Psy)
    [ ] Rebirth + Devil = Chariot+4 Sandalphon (Fire and Bless)
    - [ ] Switch Devil for Moon
    [ ] Rebirth + Moon Dokuganryuu = Sun+4 Saule (Fire and Nuclear)
    [ ] Fool Aiwass + Devil Black Frost = Temperance+6 Harihara (Bless and Curse)
    [ ] Fool + Moon = Justice+7 Metatron (Nuclear and Almighty)
    [ ] Special Fusion: Tower PITT + Tower Chernobog + Tower Heracles = Tower Kali (inherit Analysis and Escape Route), resummon Star Barnumbirr, replace Devil Ahriman with Hanged Man Jeanne. (Edgedancer write-in)
    [x] Write-in: Special Fusion: Tower PITT + Tower Chernobog + Tower Heracles = Tower Kali (inherit Analysis and Escape Route), resummon Star Barnumbirr, replace Devil Ahriman with Hanged Man Jeanne.
    [X] Write-in: Use the Evade Fire Skill Card on Dokuganryuu, replace Stagnant Air.
    [X] Write-in: Use the Niflheim Skill Card on Aradia, replace Megidola.


    I am Hanged Man Jeanne, Maid of Knights," said the Shadow you had more than an inkling of who belonged to, "Captured and branded as corrupt by our enemy, your presence has shone the light of salvation on my soul, Mistress Honoka Elements: Reflect Bless, Null Physical and Curse, resists Gun, Wind, Ice, and Electric, weak to Fire
    Stats:
    - Strength: |||
    - Cognition: |||
    - Agility: ||
    - Luck: |||
    - Endurance: ||||
    Skills: Orleans Prayer, Samarecarm, War Cry, Makarakarn, Heat Riser
    - Hanged Man Bonus: Makougaon, Hamaon, Megidola


    I am Tower Kali, Time itself dies by my blade," shrieked a blue goddess with spiky red hair, blood dripping from her mouth, her arms carrying scimitars and a trident, and her body covered by human skulls, "As none may escape entropy, so Evil cannot escape my wrath! Elements: Reflect Physical, Absorb Bless and Curse, null Psy and Gun, weak to Wind, Ice, and Electric
    Stats:
    - Strength: |||||
    - Cognition: |||
    - Agility: |||
    - Luck: |
    - Endurance: |||
    Skills: Counterstrike, High Counter, Vorpal Blade, Psiodyne
    - Inherit Bonus: Analyse, Power Charge, Invigorate
    - Tower Bonus: Pralaya



    * * *

    That just left one final visit to the Morrigan, given you still had even more questions.

    This time, after you stumbled once more through the void, you entered into a classy restaurant at the top of a skyscraper, with you seen feeling the place was even revolving. You again spied more of your Personae as customers or staff, like Franken taking orders or Skuld and Verdandi at a table. Gretchen then appeared to show you over to a seat reserved for you.

    Sitting down by candlelight, you gazed once again into the eyes of Morrigan, her wearing a glittering red velvet dress this time. You winced as you felt there was no other way to ask this, as you said, "This won't end with me having to kill you, won't it? I mean, I assumed that came with the job, Goddess of War and that?"

    "My, do you begin all your conversations with that line?" she laughed, but would tell you, "Upon the gameboard falling completely under one Empire, we shall see, there shall be a final judgment of your efforts. But I can confirm I have no wish to die, for even if we do come to blows, it was always my intent to step down gracefully upon acknowledging you'd shown your strength enough".

    You at least sighed with some relief, before you said, "Okay, good to know. But um, that does bring me to my next question, why do you want to pass on the position to someone else?"

    "Hmm, I thought I told you last time? The desensitization to death and violence I've picked up after, what, aeons running the Gameboard has, well, given me trouble connecting to the people whose lives are caught in it. Why do you think I only just agreed to meet with you last week, in your time? You may think a human touch is a weakness on the Gameboard, but I assure you, it's exactly what the boards been yearning for. Plus, well, I've so greedily hogged this thing for long enough".

    "Alright, I get it. But wait, weren't you human, once?" you had to ask.

    "Yes, true, but I've long had the human part beaten out of me," she sighed, "As human as I may look. Retiring to a normal-ish life as Tanizawa Ryouko may be the only chance I have of genuinely regaining my humanity. My own time with the Gameboard was, well, I'll just say it wasn't pleasant, very medieval in a sense".

    "But like, won't it eventually do the same to me, by that logic?" you bit your lip, before you breathed in and out then said more calmly, "Okay, is there just... any way to shut down the Gameboard for good?"

    The Morrigan had to smirk at that, before saying, "Sorry, I can tell you are in distress. Hmm, while shutting down the Gameboard would be technically possible, it'd be a nightmarish feat to accomplish. The Gameboard is human conflict, nothing less than achieving a world where all human wills work in perfect harmony would be needed to make it obsolete. Hence 'technically'". She then sipped down what you assumed was wine.

    "Ah, oh, right," you mumbled, before getting your voice back and asking, "At least tell me there'd be a way of balancing my mortal life with... being the Morrigan".

    "My own advice would be to will forth your own mortal shell, as I've done with Ryouko. Keep her memories, erase them, it's your own decision. If you wanted, you could even go back out into the corporeal world just in your form as Morrigan, although... I wouldn't recommend it. Casually walking around as a Goddess of War will, naturally, cause more than a few incidents. Regardless, it was never my intent to keep you from the bonds you've formed" she told you, all your currents questions answered.

    - Judgment has Journeyed to Rank 6! -

    With that, the revolving restaurant faded, as you and the Morrigan now stood on the deck of a speedboat, heading across a limitless ocean like that day on Golden Week.
    "Honoka, if we had the chance to meet again before the next Duel, I honestly would've just asked to simply hang out and have fun with you. I mean, that's what I've been trying to do this whole time. Alas, your Duel with the Ace of Swords is just over the horizon, so I think I'll finally ask a question of you," the Morrigan then turned to look at you, "Did you tell any of the Aces about your Empire?"

    "Ah, no, no I didn't. Thought it'd risk ruining the element of surprise," you told her, "Or make them crack down even harder on my Social Links, not that they already haven't already".

    "Huh, so I'd assume if you told the remaining one after the Duel that you still had an Empire, they'd think you were bluffing? Hmm, a tactical move" the Morrigan stated, before looking ahead to a distant, stormy island that'd appeared from nowhere. "Okay, then the last of my own questions..."

    The world passing by you in a blur, you were now on that island in the middle of that same group of menhirs from when you'd first met the Morrigan. She slowly turned around to meet your eyes and said, the minute before you left the Gameboard, "Well now, how do you plan to deal with this upcoming Duel?"

    [x] "Go all-out offence, I'm pretty secure in my Personae's defences."
    [x] "Keep buffing, especially defence and agility, and debuff her attack if I can"
    [ ] "Keep my distance if she'll let me. Spells, gunfire, dodging, that sorta thing"
    [ ] "Hit her psychologically, bring up every little thing she's uncomfortable with"
    [ ] "Know my own weapons. Not just my personae, but my own two tonfas"
    [ ] "Keep switching my Personae until she won't know what'll work, if anything"
    [ ] "I... don't know if any single strategy will work on her"
    [ ] Write-in.

    - Judgment has Journeyed to Rank 7! -

  3. #63
    Cruciforme NailsInYourFeet's Avatar
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    LXIII. Kikuko Duel

    Day of the Duel

    Your eyes baggy after what had been a very rough night's sleep, you woke up to see Azuma standing right over your bed. He had to laugh as he then sat down right beside you, saying, "I thought I may spare you the shock of walking over to the door out of the lounge, only to see that Kikuko has had it chained shut, likely to prevent any intervention by those teachers who've taken a liking to you. Same goes for the window. It seems it's fallen on me to tell you that Kikuko expects you on the board the moment you're up and ready".

    You immediately huddled up away from him and yelled out, "Wait, what the Hell?"

    "Well, what else did you expect from her?" Azuma smirked as he stood up again, before he had to take your hand, "Honoka, I am truly rooting for you out there, as should Kikuko fall, this entire Persona Game of ours will have reached its conclusion. Ha, the perfect Tanabata, wouldn't you say?"

    Yanking your hand back and leaping out of bed, you had to force yourself to keep quiet about the fact that Kikuko's Empire wasn't the last in Azuma's way... if he'd even acknowledge yours, or yours being an exception meant it even factored into the 'Persona Game'.

    Firmly locking the bathroom door behind you, you got ready for the 'day' as it were, then stepped out into the Lounge to see that the door and window were indeed both locked, not by any passcode but by quite a hefty series of chains and padlocks on each. Something maybe Dead Hand could break down, but not any time soon.

    Sighing, you did the only thing you could for now and placed your card upon Gameboard, heading back down there for what may've been the final time. Upon reaching the grey, windswept shoreline at the borders of her Empire, you saw that all of the floating pagodas had formed into a straight line, the hallways leading through to the Imperial courtyard at the far end, though you'd had to head over and see what if anything had been one about those whirlpools.

    You started walking through empty pagoda after pagoda, hearing nothing but the silence... before you heard Kikuko's voice from behind saying, "I've given you enough of a head start. Now Usurper Jack, we end this. Marishi-Ten!"

    <<BGM: Kamen Rider Gaim - Ranbu Escalation>>


    The pagoda behind you was then consumed by flames, Kikuko standing right in the middle of the inferno. Even if you switched to a Fire-blocking Persona, that wouldn't help at all when the pagoda sunk into the waters, let alone be enough to deal with Kikuko.
    So after casting heat riser upon yourself with Zarathustra, you took the only option you really had and ran, bolting from pagoda to pagoda and towards the Arena, Kikuko charging forth right behind you. At the end of the line, you had Aradia cast Niflheim to get across the final stretch of water to the Arena, before Kikuko blasting through with her flames caused it all to evaporate.

    As you gasped for air right in front of the thousand-armed bodhisattva, Kikuko strode forth and pointed her blade at your neck, her Persona Marishi-ten radiating above her, a multi-headed, multi-armed being of solar light, with every single weapon ever wielded by a samurai, swords, spears, naginata, iron clubs, war fans, bows, guns, circling around her.

    All at once she gave Marishi the order to bring them all down on you, with you having to switch to kali in a split-second to reflect them all back, though Marishi's own attacks did relatively little harm back to her.

    "Kikuko!" you then screamed out, charging in with your own tonfas empowered by Kali, Kikuko trying to shoot you in the face as you did so. Taking that bullet, you called out, "Whether either of us make it out of here being alive, I'm taking you down!" as you swung your right tonfa up to hit her in the jaw, only for her own sword to catch and push off your attack.

    "Your fighting skills insult me, implying I did not teach you better," Kikuko hissed, before she had Marishi blast you with fire, Kali having no resistance to that. As you were knocked to the ground, she then had Marishi's flames encircle you, before she continued, "Or rather, you never once listened!"

    The second you could, you switched to Dokuganryuu to have him unleash a War Cry upon Kikuko, but Kikuko was able to not only blast you back with one, but also block the attack from you by making a Claim Stake.
    Gasping, you then switched bac to Zarathustra to run out through the flames and right towards the bodhisattva statue. Glaring back at Kikuko as you vividly remembered what lay below this statue, you snarled at her, "Drop the noble warrior bullshit, Kikuko, you're little but a serial killer! You came after Rin, then Melissa, now me, so why act all high and mighty?"

    She laughed, "It's hard not for me to act like that, Honoka, when you've just cornered yourself!" You expected her to try lighting the wooden statue alight, which she did but not with fire. Instead, she had Marishi-ten engulf it in a nuclear blast, not only splitting it in two, but also making the irradiated corpses drowned below rise up in the irradiated water.

    You had to call upon Aiwass's light, Zarathustra being weak to Nuclear, to blast away at all the ghoulish hands trying to drag you down to a poisoned grave, forcing yourself to push back down corpses akin to both Lauryn and Melissa. At the same time though, Kikuko had Marishi-ten wield her gravitational force to collect all of the wooden bodhisattva hands, then throw all thousand of them right at you while you dealt with the corpses.

    A thousand blows about to be launched upon you, and Tetrakarn minimally effective against multi-hit attacks, you had to switch to Kali to knock all of these hands back at Kikuko. As the Ace of Swords had Marishiten eliminate these hands in an encircling blaze, you then called on Arachne to web you up and over to the palace rooftops, away from all the irradiated corpses.

    Kikuko responded by using a combination of nuclear explosions and infernal sparks to destroy each section of the roof from beneath you, which forced you to keep running along the slippery tiles until you were cornered right near where the torii loomed above and in front of you.

    Struggling to think of which of your Personae could counter Physical, Gun, Fire, and Nuclear all at once, and knowing if you switched to Dokuganryuu for Ziodyne she'd just hit you with Freidyne or something, you instead snuck in last Heat Riser with Jeanne before, as Kikuko was about to unleashed one last explosion to finish you off, you then switched back to Arachne to sling yourself up and over to the side of the torii.

    Kikuko however was able to follow you up there while you caught your breath, having Marishiten blast her over before she anchored herself on the other pole with her sword, as she then shot out a torrent of fire at you with her over hand. Acting fast, you had to have Arachne swing you further and further up the torii pillars as more of Kikuko's fireballs kept coming after you, before you finally hoisted yourself up to the very top of the torii.

    Basically out of SP at this point, with you not knowing how much switching to Aiwass to recover would leave you unguarded against the elements, you had little time to think away before Kikuko too made it up to the top of the torii.

    "Serial killer? How dare you think I slew Rin and Melissa just for the hell of it," she spat out, before gritting her teeth, "They died for the gameboard, for my rightful rule over it! This has been the one Arena in life where my right to rule hasn't been shot down! I..." she then seethed in a lower tone, "I will be the new Morrigan, Honoka, and I don't care who has to die if they're in my way".

    Gripping your tonfas tighter, you then hissed, "Then here and now, I'll avenge everyone you stepped on, or killed, to get here. Goodbye, Kikuko", before you roared out as you and Kikuko both charged at each other.

    [ ] Strike her arms to knock away her weapons.
    [ ] Strike her below the belt to push Kikuko over.
    [ ] Aim right for the jaw.
    [x] Use your tonfa handles as hooks to drag Kikuko down.
    [ ] Hold your tonfas in reverse-grip to poke out both eyes.
    [ ] Tackle Kikuko right in the torso.
    [ ] Suddenly leap off onto the burning pagoda.
    [ ] Write-in.


    You charged forth to grapple Kikuko down with your tonfas in the specialised grip, hooking her down with what would've been the handle while trying to puncture her with your other. Kikuko responded by headbutting you when you tried to pull her to the floor, then shoulder-ramming you to the side, pushing you closer to the edge of this torii. At this, you then tried sweeping her with your leg, then grappling her with your tonfa handles again, but she then raised her other hand and shot you straight in the stomach, sending you reeling.

    You'd been on Aiwass all this time needing to recover SP, but after staggering back, you quickly switched to Jeanne for her Orleanais Prayer, flooding you with healing light and purifying any statuses. Kikuko's next sword strike bouncing off you, she instead let out another Agidyne inferno, but a swift Makarakarn from Jeanne sent what would've otherwise been a weakness-puncturing blow back at her.

    Makarakarn didn't come cognitively cheap though, and combined with Kikuko taking no damage from it back, you knew this tactic wouldn't work in the long run. So you then switched to Ishtar and, after striking back at Kikuko with another grapple and then a blow to her stomach, promptly blasted yourself off the torii with a Freidyne and, as you tumbled through the air, switched to the fire-nulling, physical and nuclear-resistant Black Frost before you landed in a heap on one of the floating pagodas now ravaged with flame and succumbing to the sea.

    It didn't take long though for a raging Kikuko to scream and leap after you, trying to shoot you right in the face with her musket as she landed. That shot sent you stumbling back almost to the edge of the crumbling pagoda's roof, but on the verge of falling, you decided to finally risk it and called on Dokuganryuu to electrocute Kikuko with Ziodyne.

    Kikuko stunned for a second, you then leapt over to the next pagoda, it having fallen further. Switching back to Zarathustra while keeping an eye out for Kikuko to cast another Nuclear spell, you were shortly enough met with her blade as she leapt and slashed after you. You then tried shooting her with your tonfas' own gun compartment, but that barely fazing her, you shifted back to Black Frost and went on to leap to the next, half-collapsed pagoda.

    Being no secret what route you were taking, Kikuko then cast Freidyne to blast herself over first to the pagoda ahead of you, then shot you point blank when you tried to leap over yourself. Now about to fall down into the rough seas below, pagodas collapsing all around you, you could only resort to a last-ditch effort as you summoned Aradia to cast an amped and boosted Megidolaon.

    That all but disintegrated every pagoda around, sending Kikuko plunging into the waters with you. Being a while before either of you regained consciousness, you floundered in he waves as you saw her trying to swim over to some driftwood. Anticipating her to have Marishi irradiate the whole ocean, you instead called on Dokuganryuu to electrify all the water instead, sending a caught Kikuko howling in agony.

    Some time later, the two of you both washed up on shore, and you figured that you being able to pick yourself up first, combined with nothing of Kikuko's Empire still left above the waves, meant you were the winner. While a prone Kikuko lay bleeding from the mouth, you had to face that you were in no condition to keep on fighting either, as your knees quaked and struggled to not collapse.

    You then heard a cold, chilling laugh pierce the air, but too feminine to be Azuma, not to mention too distorted. Kikuko clutching her head as she could barely even get to her knees, her Shadow on the other hand had re-emerged, standing mockingly over her.

    "How pathetic! The moment you get to be the noble duellist you trained all your life to be, you crash and burn!" Shadow Kikuko laughed at her corporeal self, "Just give it up, you filthy fleshbag, stabbing people in the back like a loathsome little coward was the only way you could ever succeed.
    You were half-right though, lesser Kikuko, in that you are going to be Morrigan," Shadow Kikuko then said to herself, "In that I am you, and Mor-Rioghain is a title I shall be taking! That the Gameboard will belong to the real Maeda Kikuko, not the pathetic outer shell. Now," the Shadow then gazed at you, "Let me show you how a Duel is won!"

    Any of your strength to call forth any Persona long exhausted, you may've stood but were barely even able to swing a tonfa after going through all that. That left you defenceless against Shadow Kikuko as her fingernails sprouted forth into swords and she moved to vivisect you...

    Or it would've, had the corporeal Kikuko not suddenly found it in herself to leap in front of her Shadow, screaming in pain as she took the soul-shredding blow intended for you.
    "Kikuko..." you could only say, as who had been your mortal enemy now lay down her life for you.

    "W-What? You-you idiot! Now we'll both die, and for what, this-this worthless girl?!" Shadow Kikuko shrieked out.

    "I... I was an idiot, Honoka," Kikuko tried to speak out, "I should've appreciated you more while I could, I kept pushing away the one person who was still there for me. I wish... there was some way to make this up for you... other than through death. I wish I hadn't been so blinded by hate..." came her last words, as the Ace of Swords, your one-time Ace, now lay dead in your arms, having sacrificed herself for you.

    "Thou art I... I art thou
    Though thy kingdom fall, thou hast gained a champion who hast not left thy side
    We bestow upon their remains a piece of thy crown,
    And on thou, the road to Gaea, Ultimate Persona of the Empress Arcana"

    - The Empress' Journey Ends at Rank 10! -


    Her Shadow having disintegrated, you collapsed into a heap, crying over Kikuko's corpse, there on the colourless coast.

    "Tragic, is it not?" you then heard Azuma say, with you looking up to see him standing there atop the cliff, "Still, possibly the best ending one as wretched as Kikuko could've ever hoped to achieve. Unable to truly confront her Shadow, she died by its hand, but at least her sorry flame could be extinguished for another's sake".

    "Shut the hell up, Azuma!" you instantly yelled out, "What do you want, anyway? The Gameboard? Haha, well you're not getting it! The Overseer said I had an Empire all along, you just couldn't see it because I didn't force anyone to change!"

    "Am I honestly meant to believe that?" Azuma muttered and folded his arms, "Sounds to me like the pathetic ravings of a distraught madwoman, or someone who didn't pick up that the Morrigan was merely trying to placate them. Besides, if the strength of your Vision cannot, or will not, alter anything, then can that even be called a Vision at all? Certainly no contender for the Persona Game".

    <<BGM: Heathers - Meant to be Yours (Instrumental)>>


    "No, as I see it," he smirked, as a whole forest of thorny vines spread down the cliffs and along the shores, "The Gameboard is, after all this time, finally mine, the last Empire standing in my way now fallen! And of course, through ownership of the Gameboard, I take ownership of souls of everyone at Hanataba. Students, staff, their psyches belong to me".

    "What? Azuma, what the hell are you even saying?!" you spat out, standing straight up.

    "Remember my opening speech this school year? That everyone plays a role, yet there's ultimately nothing behind the mask. Do you honestly think I chose those words at random?" Azuma kept going, "You've seen yourself how superficial everyone at Hanataba is, how they're barely even people, why the fictional roles I play have more life and meaning than them. I thought appointing you an Ace and having every last ounce of pettiness at school directed at you would make you finally realise that".

    "Azuma, that's not- wait, now I get it. Of course you'd think garbage like that, getting to live above everyone all the time," you called out to him, "But I know Hanataba, I know Yuya, Suzako, Colette, Hotaru, Kaneto, Takako, Reina... they're nothing like what you say. They're not my subordinates, they're my friends!"

    "But of course, Honoka, one such as you would so desperately search for meaning where there is none, to find any light in the darkness," Azuma snarled, "But don't worry, I shall use my authority over the Gameboard to so generously grant meaning to the people at Hanataba's- Kuchinashi's- Hokkaido's lives. I shall save them from the inevitably mediocre, meaningless lives in front of them, I will personally grant an ending fitting of, no, exceeding any great drama!"

    "Not while I live you won't! Aradia!" you roared out, having found the inner strength to call forth your Persona again. But you cast an ice age Niflheim upon Azuma, what should've been a piercing blow instead barely scratched him.

    "Yoshitsune!" Azuma called out the Persona that lacked Richard III's weakness to Ice, or seemingly a weakness to anything. He then began laughing and said, "You truly think I'd show up with merely Richard III to an event such as this? Why, for no less than our finale, I brought my whole fusion arsenal, the power of the real Wild Card! Now, White Rider, show her what happens to those who reject our love!"

    Azuma called forth a crucified messiah whose flesh and skeleton had split in two, that skeleton wielding a long black bow atop a pale steed while the flesh gripped the reins. His switched-in Persona about to bombard you with a Myriad Arrows, it was out of nowhere a stranger stepped in to deflect the barrage. "Athena Alcidemos!" she proclaimed.

    Her own war-goddess Persona taking White Rider's assault, this stranger then grabbed you with a metal hand and stared at you with neon eyes. "Nakamura Honoka? I'm glad, it appears I found you just in time, Rise and Makoto called me and told me everything this day. My name is Aigis, and... perhaps we should continue this conversation in safety?"

    As this seemingly welcome stranger ran away with you, your thoughts were torn between her, and whatever out there thing Azuma had been talking out. You knew two things though, that Azuma couldn't be the owner of the gameboard no matter what he said, and that, with him having revealed his true intentions, that the final chain keeping you at the All-Aces' mercy had broken...

    "Thou art I... I art thou
    Thou now witness thy foe in their entirety, their true nature
    Your final great battle approaches,
    And at thine side shall be Theodora Sancta, Ultimate Persona of the Lust Arcana"

    - Lust's Journey Ends at Rank 10! -


    * * *

    You'd been brought to safety in the Velvet Room, where you stood there gasping to get your breath back.
    "My, not every day we see a former guest make their return" Igor then said, which made you spin around to see this Aigis was right there with you in this room.

    This Aigis was a blonde gynoid with neon blue eyes, her human-passing face mask having been pulled off to show her sleek, chrome skin beneath, her whole body glinting with a mirror sheen. Being a robot... apparently, she could get away with wearing only a flowing trench-coat, a deep black to contrast her metallic shine.

    "My apologies for not properly introducing myself, Honoka," she then bowed to you, before saying, "I know Kujikawa Rise through our affiliation with a unit called the Shadow Operatives. We were already aware of the Gameboard, but it appears the situation here has become critical, necessitating my intervention. From... seeing what has ensued outside, I knew I could not stand idly by".

    "Wait, you're a robot?" you first said, although it wasn't as if you hadn't seen weirder. "And what? What has ensued outside, what has Azuma done?!"

    "Everyone at your academy has become encased in thorns, looking like their life and mind has been stripped from them. If this 'Azuma' is not confronted, I'm afraid the deaths of everyone at Hanataba are inevitable," Aigis told you.
    "I'm... sorry, there was probably an easier way to break that to you," Aigis then apologised.

    "No, t-that's okay," you then told her, "Yeah, that matches up with just how shitty a person Azuma's been from, from the start. B-but if you can get in here, does that make you a Wild Card too?"

    "Correct," Aigis nodded, "Athena Alcidemos, for instance, was a Fusion of Chariot Athena and Judgment Messiah. Ah, if your current Ruler of Power does not recognise me," she then turned to Lauryn "It is because I was before her time".

    "Yeah, I expected that," Lauryn said, before saying, "But Azuma- oh Lord, I knew he was unhinged but, but I never expected him to pull anything like this..."

    "Wait, did you know he was a Wild Card?" you had to ask Lauryn.

    "No, not at all. I guess keeping that secret from everyone was his gambit all along..." Lauryn muttered.

    "And what about you two, why didn't either of you tell me?" you burst out at both Popo and Igor.

    "I- I didn't know! Azuma received his Persona from the Morrigan directly!" Popo blurted out, you noticing he distinctly hadn't said 'Mister'. "B-but killing everyone at school? I-I'm an imbecile, I shoulda seen what he had planned all along!"

    "I had no authority to tell you, doing so would've been a breach of Velvet Room terms of service," Igor put it simply, "Our past guest here was an exception, as her Wild Card was already apparent".

    Wait, if Lauryn and Popo didn't know, either there are different attendants in the room while Azuma's here, or... you had to think, Azuma hasn't used the room since her death.

    Talking with Lauryn, possibly for the last time, made you say something else. "Lauryn, I guess you can tell since Azuma's taken the Gameboard, but... Kikuko's dead. And yet, she died defending me," you muttered.

    Lauryn had no words for this, but at least had to nod in response.

    "A final Fusion session before facing Azuma should be crucial, we must be fully prepared," Aigis stated, before looking at you as her expression suddenly shifted to a smile, "Nakamura Honoka, Rise and Makoto have... told me so much about you. I am, I admit, honoured to finally meet you".

    "Yeah, thanks," you had to say, "Let's hope this meeting isn't cut short then".

    "Thou art I... I art thou
    Though thy kingdom fall, thou hast gained a champion who shall not leave thy side
    We bestow upon them a piece of thy crown,
    And on thou, the road to Pixie, Ultimate Persona of the Rebirth Arcana"

    - Rebirth Journeys Anew at Rank 10! -


    [ ] Summon Empress Marishi-ten (Physical, Gun, Fire, Nuclear)
    [ ] Special Fusion: Fool Theodora + up to 5 Personae of your choice = Theodora Sancta (only innate skill Victory Cry)
    [ ] Special Fusion: Empress Tsuruhime + Empress Marishiten = Empress Gaea
    [ ] Special Fusion: Rebirth Arsene + Izanagi + Nyarlathotep + Izanami = Rebirth Pixie
    [ ] Head out now.
    [x] Write-in: Special Fusion: Fool Theodora + Aradia + Barnumbirr + Hades + Inanna-Ishtar + Izanagi = Theodora Sancta (only innate skill Victory Cry) Agidyne, Niflheim, Garudyne, Ziodyne, Psiodyne, Freidyne, Null Physical. Resummon Barnumbirr, Aradia, Special Fusion: Empress Tsuruhime + Empress Marishiten = Empress Gaea, Special Fusion: Rebirth Arsene + Izanagi + Nyarlathotep + Izanami = Rebirth Pixie, Summon Empress Marishi-ten (Physical, Gun, Fire, Nuclear), swap out Moon Dokuganryuu


    <<Persona Fusion Results>>"I am Fool Theodora Sancta, your Wisdom reborn as Divine," said your very first Persona, her halo crown now purple and her cloak switched to gold, "As I was at the beginning, so am I at the end."<br />
    Elements: Absorb Psy, neutral to Nuclear, resist all else... including Almighty
    Stats:
    - Strength: ||||
    - Cognition: ||||
    - Agility: |||
    - Luck: ||||
    - Endurance: |||
    Skills: Victory Cry
    - Inherit: Agidyne, Niflheim, Garudyne, Ziodyne, Psiodyne, Freidyne, Null Physical


    "I am Empress Gaea, the Earth upon which you live," spoke a woman with leaves for hair and volcanic lines for veins, clutching two large shields either side of her that resembled each hemisphere, "From out of chaos, I am the whole world within your soul."
    Elements: Reflects Curse, nulls Bless and Physical, resists Fire and Ice, weak to Wind
    Stats:
    - Strength: |||||
    - Cognition: ||||
    - Agility: |
    - Luck: ||
    - Endurance: |||||
    Skills: Attack All, Gaea Rage, Diarahan, Makarakarn, Power Charge
    - Inherit: Triple Down, One-Shot Kill
    - Empress Bonus: Samarecarm


    "I'm Rebirth Pixie, I get to be your mask now!" chirped a pint-size insect-winged maiden, "My friends tell me you're an accepting soul, so you've earned my full potential!"
    Elements: Absorb Electricity
    Stats:
    - Strength: ||||
    - Cognition: ||||
    - Agility: ||||
    - Luck: ||||
    - Endurance: ||||
    Skills: Ziodyne, Mediarahan, Megidolaon
    - Inherit: Survival Trick, Null Physical, Debilitate, Die For Me!
    - Rebirth Bonus: Electric Amp


    "I am Empress Marishi-ten, the light that dawns upon all samurai," proclaimed Kikuko's Ultimate Persona, "You bested my master in a duel yet tried to spare her life, for that, I am in your debt."
    Elements: Reflect Fire, null Gun and Bless, resist Physical and Nuclear, weak to Electric
    Stats:
    - Strength: |||||
    - Cognition: ||||
    - Agility: ||||
    - Luck: |||
    - Endurance: ||||
    Skills: Agidyne, Maragidyne, Freidyne, War Cry, One-Shot Kill, Brave Blade
    - Empress Bonus: Fire Boost, Fire Amp


    Lust - Rank 10
    Magician - 10
    Priestess - 4
    Empress - 10
    Emperor - 3
    Hierophant - 4
    Lovers - 2
    Chariot - 4
    Justice - 7
    Hermit - 3
    Fortune - 3
    Strength - 8
    Hanged Man - 7
    Death - 4
    Rebirth - 10
    Temperance - 6
    Devil - 10
    Tower - 10
    Star - 5
    Moon - 10
    Sun - 4
    Judgment - 7

  4. #64
    Cruciforme NailsInYourFeet's Avatar
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    LXIV. Azuma Duel - Crown of Thorns

    Your Personae all sorted for the last time, you and Aigis headed out also accompanied by Popo, who turned to the two of you and said, "Right, I'll fly up and scout out how the Gameboard's been morphed, I should be able to give you a heads up on any Shadows Azuma sends after ya".
    As he said this, clouds of tiny stars started to sparkle around him, as right in front of you the pony suddenly grew into a full-size pegasus stallion. "I'll be in touch, Miss 'Onoka, ah, and Miss Aigis, godspeed!" he said before he flew up, his accent at least unchanged.

    Looking out at the gameboard before you, seeing those thorns in Azuma's Empire having grown forth to claim almost everything, you had to breathe deep before setting out across the corrupt terrain.
    "Honoka," Aigis started a conversation with you, "I was told you were made to participation in an elimination contest turned deadly, this being its final result?"

    "Yeah, that's what it was. For the prize of becoming an Aspect of Death, I'm told, if I can even trust that info," you sighed out, "Well, you definitely get control of every soul on this Gameboard, anyway, I can see that for myself now".

    "It's just..." Aigis began, "I was in a similar situation myself. Twice, the first indeed deadly, if more private. The second was at least cut short before it could turn worse. Both incidents made me immediately take notice when I heard of yours" she told you.

    "Sheesh, no offence but... it's sad that's the first thing we bond over," you muttered.

    "Perhaps we should discuss more positive, to 'lighten the spirits' so to say," Aigis the offered.

    "Like, er, romance?" was your first thought, "Because my girlfriend's really nice, like we both stood up for each other when we were at our worst. Well, ah, my main girlfriend, Colette, anyway, 'cause like you see we have..."

    "A polygamous arrangement?" Aigis sensed, "I am aware of the term. I was once in a romantic relationship with another girl myself, her also seeing a Velvet Room denizen, before..." she suddenly paused again. "Before my girlfriend 'died', well in the practical sense if not technical".

    Geez, you were trying to lighten the mood, right? you kept that thought to yourself, saying instead, "Yeah, I haven't been through something too similar myself, but... I can understand what you're dealing with".

    "I've considered seeing other people since, as I'm sure she would not mind me doing so, however..." Aigis continued to be troubled, "I don't know, I could only feel 'guilt' doing so. I did go on some practice dates with Mitsuru, my Boss that is..."

    <<BGM: Silent Hill 4 - Room of Angel>>

    Your conversation was cut off when you came a field of charcoal-strewn scrolls, stacked in front of a broken wall 'fixed' with those thorny vines. A closer look at those burnt scrolls revealed them to be scripts for plays actually.

    At that moment a flock of wailing angels chained to giant, eyed wheels came spinning down from above, each of them reigning either fireballs or beams of light down upon you. "These 'ere are Ophanim, Miss. They're angels, so y'might wanna take a chance on Curse" Popo observed from above.

    "On it! Pixie!" you called, having your petite Cornish sprite open by siccing the sheer darkness of Die For Me on the Ophanim flock. While that killing curse caught some of them, a couple remained, giving Aigis the chance to spring into action.

    "Alcidemos!" she called again, calling forth the protector goddess with a helmet of three owl wings, a great shield formed from a circle of coffins with an olive ring around her holding it in place, and piercing crucifix for a lance with two snakes entwined around it. The great defender struck at the Ophanim with an Akashic Arts, enough to obliterate one but still leaving one alive, which Aigis then kicked up into the air again before firing upon it with the guns in her hand.

    Those foes finished, you two tried to head over the wall, but found the thorns kept growing higher as you neared. Your first thought was fire spells, but you then saw that wouldn't be necessary, as you then spied a tunnel under the wall.
    Venturing down there, you thought to say to Aigis, "Hey, just so you know, robots aren't new to me. Like, I have this friend who's an A.I., and she can pack some serious firepower too, well at least her Shadow can".

    Before Aigis could respond, the two of you found yourselves in a dark, dripping cavern, or possibly a dungeon even from the brickwork, taken up by a massive piano that looked to you like the non-aerophone version of the organ in Melissa's Empire, though you suspected Azuma had actually taken this from Himawari's.

    Out of the piano then sprung a faceless, scythe-wielding mannequin clown with skulls and snakes patterned onto him, followed by a dancing string quartet of red-clad, feather-capped skeletons. "The Danse Macabre. You'll want the opposite, Bless for these 'ere folks" Popo communicated from through the cavern roof.

    You called forth Jeanne for this, casting a cavern-lighting Makougaon on the troupe, while Aigis combined that with a raw Megidolaon from Alcidemos. That only left the main Macabre, who acted swiftly by casting forth a deathly Mudoon on Aigis, striking at her Persona's weakness.
    Or at least, it would've, if Alcidemos didn't possess the skill enduring Soul which allowed Aigis to get right back up. An incensed Aigis swiftly picked up a great ball-and-chain weighing the piano down, before throwing it right back at the Macabre and slamming him straight down into the piano.

    That then left the way open though continue through this cavern, as you made your way up a spiralling series of vines towards the darkened roof. "So you are friends with a fellow Artificial Intelligence, may I inquire as to her name?" Aigis continued your conversation like nothing had happened.

    "Oh yeah, it's Aimoto Koyomi," you told her, "She was like some 'ideal woman' program made by- by, one of the casualties of the Gameboard. But like, he treated her pretty badly, programming anything he didn't like out of her until it became a whole Shadow".

    "I see. I was... mistreated much the same way by my creators, forced against my sisters once, the first of the death-games I was roped into," Aigis had to tell you, illuminating your situation if not your surroundings.

    Speaking of Gakuto, you then noticed your way forward was getting increasingly... electrical. Snapped and fraying wires now abounded, sliced through by Azuma's thorns, and lemons of all fruits were growing and crackling with volts. reaching the top of the cavern, you came across a mechanical, wind-up doll, though also electric given the frayed wires coming out of her. unlike Aigis, this machine was in no capacity to operate, being decayed and glitch-riddled, spouting the same phrases 'Whatever. I-don't-care...' over and over.
    Kneeling down through the darkness, you gasped when you saw that this doll had a striking similarity to... Tomomi?

    "A cognitive self, at least hopefully that's that case," Aigis told you once you explained the likeness to her.

    Shaking the image out of your head and heading on up a flight of stairs, you found yourself backstage at one of Azuma's theatres. There was quite a collection of costumes available, Greco-Roman, Elizabethan, Victorian, kabuki, and then a whole bunch of modern, or at least late 20th century, fashions likely seized from Melissa's Empire. Stuffed in all these costumes were yet more cognitions, or rather you assumed cognitions, of... your fellow students, their clothes stitched so tight that they had no room to breathe.

    Then from out of the seized clothing gallery flew a giant, man-sized moth, while from out of the cave strewn with wires came a scuttling spider-woman, similar to Arachne but clad in a dark noble yukata.
    "Mothman and Jorougumo," Popo called out, "Let's see, silk doesn't conduct Electricity well, gets staticky and whatnot. That may be your ticket!"

    You called forth Pixie to blast Mothman with Ziodyne, as he hit you with a Garudyne straight back. Meanwhile, Aigis acquired a chainsaw that was likely intended for Melissa, then raced over and slashed at Jorougumo, while the spider tried feebly to poison her in return.

    As Jorougumo tried to web-shot her way up to the ceiling, Aigis was able to churn out a bulkier, almost cannon-like gun from one of her compartments, rapid-firing at Jorougumo to halt her climb. The spider at least prevented from swinging side-to-side, Aigis then called for Alcidemos to rise up and skewer the Shadow.
    With Mothman, you used Debilitate to slow him down among other things, before opening two-handed fire on him yourself. The way cleared yet again, you and Aigis then stepped out of the backstage and into what looked like the very same theatre you'd entered with Melissa all that time ago. Only rather than the cognitive audience being skewered in their seats, instead they were being led out of the theatre in a long line, all of them shackled by the thorns wrapped around them.

    The two of you followed this procession out of the theatre until you noticed that it led to an executioner's chopping block out in the gardens, with a cognition of Shinsuke made to wield the axe, and both Sakurazuka Munehiro and Rurina on the front of the line. You also saw that this 'chopping block' was on top of a crashed satellite, seized from Lauryn's Empire?

    Being a place of death, naturally the flies couldn't wait to descend, as both an ancient, tiger-clad king and a monstrous, giant, crimson-eyed fly, both carrying necklaces and scepters of skulls, emerged ready to devour. "Baal Zebul and Beelzebub. No clear weaknesses, but Curse definitely won't work. We may need to brute force these two," came an analysing voice... but not one belonging to Popo.

    <<Heathers - Dead Girl Walking (Reprise, Instrumental)>>

    It was Makoto who opened by ramming Santabarbara right into Baal, with Sae following up with a Severing Slash from Sovereign once the ancient God-King was pinned against a wall of roses. The other great Shadow, Beelzebub, tried to respond to this with an annihilating swarm of Death-Flies, but Rise stepped forth to blast him with her speakers' sonic power, while Himawari in full Nightshade Regalia leapt down from above and hammered her flail into his compound eyes.

    "Mirror! Came as soon as we heard!" Makoto called out in the brief moment she wasn't busy with that Shadow.

    "Damn right we did! Wouldn't miss the chance to see Azuma get the punishment he deserves for the world!" Nightshade proclaimed, a statement that the Arcana gave new meaning to.

    "Miss 'Onoka, oh thank goodness yer in one piece!" Popo called out as he flew down in front of you. "Listen, I've located right where Azuma is over at his Arena, but... well there's an issue. I couldn't spot any way to get up there other than flyin', but at the same time, I can only carry one person with me at a time without me spine breaking. N-not saying you'll have to face 'im alone, I can pull multiple trips if you lot like".

    "Yeah, I figured," you muttered, looking around at your allies. "Suppose if anyone should take him on, at least to start with, it should be me. I have been through multiple one-on-one Duels before, and my Wild Card's more than strengthened by my bonds to combat anything Azuma has".

    "Er, while we didn't come all the way here to let you face the villain alone, at the same time..." Rise said, swiftly dodging another of Beelzebub's attacks by swinging around on her mic stand, "Yeah, we've seriously gone and got our hands occupied, so we might have to resort to it".

    "My information indicates that, if this Azuma must be faced alone, you may be the best-suited, now that his Wild Card is no longer a surprise to you," Aigis told you, "But if your Popo can manage the journey, know that I won't be far behind".

    Well, that settled it. Leaping up on the fly gown Popo's back and remembering everything Kikuko had told you about horse-riding, let alone horse-flying, the Gameboard Emissary and you then sprang off into the shrouded skies.

    Okay, don't look down, don't look down, you kept on telling yourself, given that this experience combined the two big things you were uncomfortable doing. Not that it'd be a straight trip to the Arena, as a cannonball then suddenly shot past you up in these skies.

    You turned your head to see a whole flying galleon firing at you, flying a demonic flag and crewed by staff of ghosts and skeletons. "Flying Dutchman, Miss, should be the last obstacle Azuma's put in your way," Popo told you.

    "Grr, I don't have time for this, let's just speed on past them!" you cried out, switching to Kali till you'd done so. You then had Popo fly right at this Flying Dutchman, but before the airship could hit you with a blast of hellfire, you leapt up onto its decks while Popo soared beneath it, having Kali's Reflect Physical knock back any of the crew's strikes on you, Gaea's Attack All then hitting any of them left. You then leapt over the other side of the ship and expertly landed on Popo's back, though with some wincing from the impact on his part, before you soared straight over to a tower cobbled together like Jenga.

    Being made from a Colosseum, digital rink, concert hall, chapel, spaceship bridge, and pagoda all roped together with roses and thorns, teetering on the very top was what looked like one of your school buildings. Crashing into this Arena through a window atop Popo, your eyes widened as you saw you'd entered what looked like just Hanataba's assembly hall. Of course, the assembly hall you knew didn't have every student there skewered by thorns, with seats knocked to the sides as if someone had been on a shooting spree within it.

    "Well Honoka, your punctuality is a welcome trait," laughed out Azuma, him standing by the podium as he had the very first day of that year, the corpses of every other Ace save Himawari strung up on vines around him. "Wouldn't want to be late to this school day, the day before an eternal summer".

    "Azuma, you haven't won anything!" you called out, leaping off Popo's back and running forth.

    "Master Azuma, Sir, please!" Popo pleaded, "You still have a chance to show you are the leading light I believed you to be, in that you can call this whole thing off!"

    "Silence, Poe," Azuma then rasped, "As my subject, you shall learn when it's your turn to speak. Namely, never, as I decree your dismantling the moment I'm through with our Honoka here," as he called a forest of thorny vines to come and restrain Popo by each of his limbs.

    "Your Gameboard? You mean mine, don't you?!" you snarled at him, gripping your tonfas, "Kikuko killed Rin and Melissa, before dying to her own Shadow. Gakuto, his AI's Shadow. Eitaro, much as I can't bear to admit it, me! Himawari, alive and fighting! What the hell have you ever done to deserve this Gameboard, aside from steal a whole bunch of people's Shadows and call them your Personae?"

    "Simple, I had you take care of all the dirty work for me," Azuma mocked, before he said, "Your words do wound me, Honoka, my love, for I am not all cruelty, as you've been brainwashed into thinking. You see, whether or not you returned my love, here you shall meet the same fate regardless, dead by my hand!" His face then softened, "Ah, but do not fear, Honoka, for death shall not be the end for you. Resurrected as my corpse bride, you shall be with me in eternity- though of course, the revival process being what it is, you shall keep your youth... but your mind shall forever belong to me".

    The final Duel, against another Wild Card. How do you approach this?

    [ ] With an all-out offence, no reason to hold back on your last opponent.
    [ ] With an impenetrable defence, tighten your resistance until you've seen what he's capable of.
    [ ] With uncatchable agility, speed up till all his attacks miss.
    [ ] By reducing him to nothing with every debuff you can throw.
    [ ] By using up every last SP restorer you have, as you heal and nuke him.
    [ ] By telling him exactly why he's bound to fail, breaking his will.
    [x] No one set plan can work against a Wild Card, get ready to improvise.
    [ ] Write-in.

    <<BGM: Silent Hill 2 - Promise>>

    "Get real. Aradia!" you started this battle by calling out, opening to end with a Megidolaon blast.

    Knocked back, Azuma then hooked himself up to the rafters by wrapping them with his whip-sword, before he smirked and told you, "Barely a scratch on flawless marble. Lovers Pygmalion!" he called out, as a blue-and-orange clad sculptor with a chisel and hammer instead of hands came out restored him to full.
    Azuma then took his crossbow and began firing off bolts in each direction, creating a ricocheting spiral about to close in on you. You reacted by switching to Kali and dashing on through the ring of bolts.

    Leaping up and striking down Azuma with an activated High Counter, you then stood over him and took the opportunity to cat a Power Charge. Azuma however promptly got back onto his feet, laughed and then called upon, "Hanged Allfather, subjugate her!"
    A gold and purple one-eyed king, raven on one hand and jagged spear in the other, then blasted you with tornado-force gale, throwing you all the way to the other end of the stage, right between the Hanged Eitaro and Kikuko. Groaning in pain, you on instinct shifted to Theodora Sancta and tried to fire off and up a Ziodyne, the teetering hall having titled down to where Azuma stood above you.

    That upward lightning bolt hitting him, Azuma shrieked only to use his whip-sword to grab onto the hanging Melissa, before he could fall all the way. As the hall had tilted enough for you to run up the wall like it was the floor, Azuma regained himself and said "Of course, since I have all the pieces with me, that means I can now put the dead Aces' Persona to some actual use. Prove your worth, Inanna-Ishtar!"

    That Nuclear blast of Melissa's stolen Persona sent you hurtling up to the ceiling, a last-second switch to Marishi-ten at least giving you some resistance to a spell that would've struck at Theodora's weakness. Screaming out, you then pushed yourself off the ceiling and used the force from the fall to dive-bomb Azuma with both your tonfas.

    Raising them again to strike down, Azuma only nulled your blow by switching to a new Persona, "Dissolve into despair, Chariot Ozymandias!" You stumbled back, face to face with a mummified fallen god-king half-submerged in sand, wielding a broken statue of his living self like a war-axe.

    With you off him, Azuma then had Ozymandias cast Power Charge on him now, before then calling forth the familiar Yoshitsune. The early samurai's thunderbolt sword glinting, he then sped out to deal eight consecutive slashes to you, you only being saved from getting shredded to pieces by a quick switch to Kali.

    The eight blows all being reflected back at Azuma, Yoshitsune's physical resistance was what saved him utter vivisection. Hissing, he then wrapped his whip-sword around the corpse of Gakuto, calling forth "Divus Augustus!" calling forth an imperial, grid-patterned hologram colossus with information streams converging at his feet like roads, who with a single gesture rained down a whole thunderstorm upon you.

    Calling on Pixie to absorb was what saved you from getting fried, with you then shifting to Barnumbirr to blast back with Garudyne. "You sure you wanna drag up the other Aces' Persona? 'Cause I know all their weaknesses firsthand!" you yelled out.

    As you ran back over to deliver a one-two to Azuma, he had time to take out his crossbow and fire upon you, before healing again with Pygmalion. "Let the curtain fall, Erik!" he then seethed, calling forth a shrouded figure wielding a lasso, half his face rotten like a corpse and the other half a skull, who warped the sound the air to force total silence upon you.
    With you under an effect that prevented magic-casting, Azuma looked at you and laughed. "Finally there'll be no speaking back from you, Honoka. Now the final act is upon us, Star Hastur Hastur Hastur!" he called out thrice, having a dark tentacled monster with bulging eyes, fangs, and stringy white hair try to blast you with nuclear force from the heart of a star. However, you switching to Aradia, which you could still do even if you couldn't cast spells, let you take the attack head on.

    Then switching to Gaea for power and vitality, you somersaulted in the air as the assembly hall kept tilting, before crashing back down on Azuma, knocking him this time over into the seats where the other students lay stabbed with thorns. He then however slashed with his bladed whip to knock you off, before leaping back on stage and saying, "So we keep continuing. Well, no more playing games with resistances. Judgment Maria, force upon her the truth of God!"

    A woman in sheer white with chains and shields of gold, surrounded by a swarm of angels with a great, empyrean rose behind them, then moved to obliterate you with Megidolaon. But then one Persona that could resist even Almighty, and your voice finally back, you called forth "Theodora Sancta!" and took the divine blast, though not without having to brace yourself.

    Azuma, wide-eyed and shaking that you could resist Almighty, then as a last resort switched back to his Ultimate Persona, White Rider, then snarled, "Well then Honoka, if you won't die like a lover, then you can at least die like a martyr!" He had White Rider launch that same Myriad Arrows attack from before, but you just ran through it, finally delivered that one-two tonfa blow to Azuma, before having Theodora cast Niflheim.

    As the coldest winter of the underworld shattered upon Azuma, he collapsed onto the floor. You pointed the gun ends of both tonfas at the helpless Azuma, spitting down at him "Kikuko was a thousand times stronger than you".

    "So... the Ace of Aces... goes down with the school..." Azuma sputtered, coughing up blood.

    Before you could personally finish him off, the mass of thorns under Azuma's command then surged out of control, as one vine lashed out to stab him right in the heart. Azuma's corpse was then dragged back past the stage and through a stretch of purple curtains. Despite your trepidation, you then ran through the curtains and after those thorns, finding yourself outside again upon a floating bridge, sewn together from raven feathers. This bridge however connected to nowhere, with only a plummet down into nowhere at the end.

    A blood-curdling shriek erupting from behind you, you spun around to see the very heart of all these thorns. A giant two-fold rose, a white outer layer and a red inner layer, had covered the entrance back inside, with all the thorn-strewn vines spreading out from it completely covering the assembly hall and the tower below it. On five thorny tendrils around the rose-monster were impaled the corpses of Eitaro, Gakuto, Rin, Melissa, and Kikuko, with the corpse of Azuma pinned to a wicker throne resting in the centre of the rose itself. Further out, you could see a whole army of Personae entangled in this thing's vines, including every single one Azuma had used in your Duel.

    <<Silent Hill 2 - Theme of Laura>>

    "Crown of Thorns, the culmination of every Shadow on the gameboard, called together by Azuma! Miss 'Onoka, I'm-I'm sorry, I've got no clue what pointers I can offer you against a beast like this... but if anyone I know can stop it, it's you!" you heard Popo's voice echoing.

    "Yeah, I can. Azuma, or whoever you are, I'm not going down at the final stretch!" you roared out. All restored with Victory Cry, you blasted the Crown of Thorns with another Megidolaon from Aradia.

    The tentacled omni-Shadow shrieking again, it tried to barrage you with an inescapable rain of thorns. Nulling it with Marishi, you ran forth through the thorn-fire to keep striking it with a flurry of tonfa blows. The Crown then raised the tentacle that gripped Eitaro to call forth Huang Di, a golden emperor standing atop a circling dragon, light pouring out of him where once poured mercury. He called forth a galestream to push you ever closer to the broken end of the bridge, but casting Freidyne let you rocket back towards the monster, striking up at the Eitaro tendril.

    With another unearthly shriek, the Crown of Thorns dragged itself forward, giving you less room to maneuver on this bridge of feathers. It lashed out twice, first by slashing horizontally with a whole vine before doing the same thing vertically by stabbing up from below the bridge, but you reflected both strikes by calling back Kali. For its next move though, it then called upon the Lauryn tendril to drown you in the darkness, summoning the Ultimate Death Personae Scathach, a warrior-witch born from shadow wielding an arsenal of bone-hewn weapons.

    You had to switch to Gaea in a split-second to reflect it all back, leaving the Crown of Thorns howling in pain as several of it vines withered. this didn't stop it though from inching even further along the bridge, pushing you to the very end and the long drop below. Casting a Megidolaon of its own upon you, while you could resist it with Theodora Sancta, that still left you only one step from falling to your death, with the monster not wasting this chance by calling on White Rider to blitz you over with a rainstorm of arrows.

    Then, suddenly, each and every arrow stopped, as a spectral force appeared in front of you to grab onto you before you could fall. For a second you thought that Dead hand had finally arrived up here, but looking into the faces of... Reina and Kikuko, of all people, you could see that wasn't the case.
    "I won't let you fall!" 'Reina' called out, pulling you back up, "You'll always be my Ace!"

    "You'd think I'd let my name be further disgraced by having the one who defeated me die her next Duel?" the spirit of Kikuko roared, hosting you back onto the bridge, "If all us Aces go down, then we're taking Azuma with us!"

    Then it was then three consecutive blows were dealt to the Crown of Thorns, one by the image of Makoto, one by Sae, and one by Rise. As Aigis then shot at the arch-Shadow from above, she landed right beside you and said, "I know the power of the Wild Card, which this monstrosity can only dream of!"

    Nightshade, well er, her image anyway, then appeared and hacked off each of the other Aces' corpses from their vines with a spinning revolution from her ball-and-chain, then said to you, "Abyssa, are ya gonna let this end on the wrong note? Or are ya gonna leave everyone begging for an encore?!"

    "Yes, don't let anything else write your own ending for you" Colette appeared in front of you and said, handing you a whole new Tarot card, that of a floating woman with the title XXI - The World.

    Taking this card, an endless tarot deck started to spiral out from the other end of the bridge, with every Persona you had or could have emerging from it like a constellation, to match each shadow held captive by the Crown of Thorns.
    "Nakamura Honoka," your own Persona, Theodora, intoned as she manifested, "I've always said purple is a fine colour for a shroud, but you won't need it, as your destiny is not to die here. I must go now, but I leave you in the hands of World Discordia, the most powerful Persona from the core of your heart".

    As Theodora evaporated into purple mist, from her emerged a grey-skinned rogue with stark white hair and feathered wings, claws, and talons of ebon black. On her heart there grew an apple of purest gold, with its branches spreading out to armour her. With one hand she held the whole gameboard, as it appeared in the All-Aces' Lounge.

    "I am Discordia, the Chaos Imperatrix who make the Gods fall to civil war. But you knew that already, didn't you Honoka? After all, thou art I... I art thou, and thou hast rebelled against the All-Aces' false heaven to become the true Ruler of All, this is our Gameboard now!" your Ultimate of Ultimate Personae spoke.

    As she encased everything in golden radiance, each and every Shadow held by the Crown of Thorns turned to attack each other, before they all rebelled against the royal rose in its centre. The Crown of Thorns rending itself apart, the entire arch-Shadow was torn back into the primordial chaos.

    You sighing with relief, your final battle finished, your exhausted self then fell off the raven bridge and down into the depths, only for you to be promptly caught by a swooping Popo.
    "See, Miss 'Onoka? Knew ya could do it!" he spoke up, you resting on his back.

    "I won... it's over... I won," you could only mutter.

    * * *


    When your eyes opened, you found yourself standing at that menhir circle the Morrigan had met you at. Indeed, said Morrigan was right in front of you, smiling and saying, "Well done, Honoka. Ah, or as I suppose I should now call you, Mor-Rioghain Discordia!"

    Those words definitely woke you up. As you checked yourself all over, you had to say, "W-wait, hold on, I don't look or feel any different!"

    "Oh, you don't, not at first anyway. But trust me, you are now indeed a goddess, an Aspect of Death. Hmm, try waving your hands around, to test out your new powers for yourself" she suggested.

    Shrugging and doing so, you willed the both of you back to the No One's Land, the very place where you'd first appeared on the Gameboard. Sure enough, you did so, leaving you to blink and inspect your hands again.

    "I'll admit, it does take some getting used to" the former Morrigan, just Macha now you guessed, had to laugh.

    "Er, I don't have to fight you now or something, do I?" you felt the need to ask, not up to any more duels after what you'd just been through. "I mean, there's not gonna be a final test, is there?"

    Macha smiled at you, saying, "There was, and you just passed it." She then elaborated, "Originally, I'd actually brought you as the Wild Card in to be the All-Aces' final test, but you proved to be an especially effective one. So the tables flipped, and when Azuma's corpse became the catalyst to call forth the Crown of Thorns, the strongest Shadow the Gameboard can muster, only for you to retaliate with your strongest ever Persona... well, I'd say you've more than passed any test I could come up with. Congratulations, the Gameboard is yours!"

    "Ah, cool, I guess" you had to say, "So you're just Macha now, or rather Ryouko, er sorry, Tanizawa-sensei?"

    Those words brought another smile to the former Morrigan's face, as she said, "Indeed, I'm off to live out my much-earned retirement as Tanizawa Ryouko now. I'll be opening up all my memories as Morrigan to her, so forgive her, that is, forgive me, if I'm a bit overwhelmed at first".

    In a second, Macha had turned back into your teacher, Ryouko, who at first shad to ask, "H-Honoka, where are we?!" before she clutched her head, her entire knowledge of being Morrigan unlocking itself in her mind, "Oh, wow, huh. That's sure a whole lot to take in. I mean, me having been a Goddess and all that".

    "Yeah, and now you've dumped all your duties on me," you had to grumble, "Er, but you're okay now with all of this, no regrets or anything, Tanizawa-sensei?"

    She certainly seemed okay, as Ryouko couldn't help but be amused by those words. "Aw, how sweet, Honoka. After all this time, and having learned who I truly am, to you I'm still 'Tanizawa-sensei'.
    Well, er, now that schools' out, and all my students are alive and well despite Azuma's Gameboard-assisted homicide attempt, I guess I'll have to explain all this to Megumi, won't I? Ooh boy, wish me luck," she grinned, before saying, "At least now I've got all summer break to do that".

    You nodded, but could only think that for you, all the real work was about to begin.

    * * *


    Warping back off the Gameboard and back into the Prized Pupil Lounge, you looked around at Makoto, Sae, Rise, Aigis, and Himawari and began by asking, "Er, everyone okay?"

    "Physically, yeah, but the thought of having to explain Azuma's and Kikuko's deaths fills me with dread," Makoto sighed.

    Sae then had to narrow her eyes at you, "So, Honoka, I assume you are now a Goddess, correct?"

    You looked down at your hand, which covered itself in raven feathers for a second before shifting back to normal, and told her, "Yeah, guess I am now, Aspect of Death and everything. But hey, y'know, I'm still the same old Honoka".

    Aigis and Rise both flinched when they heard the phrase 'Aspect of Death', before Rise said, "Well, you still look enough like Nakamura Honoka to me, so I'm sure we've got nothing to fear".

    "I only just met you, so forgive me if I'm more tempted to keep a closer eye on you," Aigis had to tell you. "But... yes, I can't sense any hostile intent".

    "Hey, while I'm more than happy this damn Persona Game's over, I'm not that pleased about being the new Morrigan myself," you spoke out, but also said, "At the same time though, there's no way I'm gonna just hand this position to someone else. So hey, Aigis, you've got my permission as Morrigan to just... dump the gameboard at the bottom of the sea, or throw it in a volcano, or something".

    "Er, hey, I'm proud of you, Honoka," Himawari then walked over and smiled at you, "You're probably the best person to become the new Morrigan, but... at the same time, it's not exactly easy to accept that every All-Ace but us is... dead".

    Images of Kikuko and Azuma flashing in your mind, you sighed and said, "Yeah, I know. That's why, as the last Ace standing, plus goddess and stuff, I hereby dissolve the All-Aces altogether. Ah, assuming our entire school doesn't get shut down, anyway".

    "But hey, way more people made it out alive, didn't they?" Himawari then asked, "We should probably get to checking on everyone else at Hanataba, see they're all okay after what Azuma tried to do to them. Er, well you should, I have to be careful around here myself".

    "Oh yeah, this whole school was almost slaughtered. Rise, as teachers, we've gotta check what happened to everyone" Makoto said, as the two teachers rushed out of the room.

    Sure enough, everyone at Hanataba, save Azuma and Kikuko, appeared to be all alive. You saw Hotaru sitting down as normal in the Student Council room, Kaneto, Takako and Ikue out on the field, Shion practicing slashes while Na-rae was busy sweeping the Tea Ceremony clubroom, Shinsuke bringing the tea, Colette setting up Occult Club for the day with some help from Reina, and finally Keiko and Yuya exiting Class 2-C.

    in an instant you raced up and hugged both of them, prompting Keiko to say, "Er, you sure look awfully happy, Honoka? Especially after being gone the whole day. Ah, did we miss anything?"

    "Oh you're alive, you're alive!" you continued to exclaim regardless of the looks you got.

    "Yeah, ah, of course we're alive, Honoka," Yuya had to say.

    Embarrassed, you blushed and said, "Ah, oh good. Er, no signs of thorns around your necks or anything? Oh geez, this is gonna take a lot of explaining..."

    * * *


    The end of this school day meant you had Tanabata festivities to mark the end of this semester, well, technically there was one more half-day tomorrow, but you suspected that the school would probably call it off so everyone could react to Azuma's and Kikuko's deaths.

    Before you could celebrate Tanabata though, you had to pay possibly your last ever visit to the Velvet Room. As you entered, Lauryn stepped over to speak to you, a deathly white light now surrounding her.

    "Nakamura Honoka, er, is Hotaru okay? Is Hanataba all in one piece?" she had to ask.

    You nodded and told her, "Yeah, we all survived, well, all of us except Kikuko and Azuma, I guess".

    Lauryn smiled and said, "Then I guess... with you having won the Persona Game, my killer dead, and the Aces all over, I- I suppose it's time for me to go... Every last tether I had to life has been severed".

    "Ah, do you want me to stay with you, uh, as you fade away? I guess this must be scary for you" you muttered and offered.

    Tears welling up in Lauryn's eyes, she said "Yes, oh yes please".

    You embraced your Ruler of Power, the zeppelin pilot and Galactic Empress, until her spirit had finally faded from this world, or rather world between worlds.
    Rokudo Rin at rest, you turned to Igor and asked, "I guess you're all alone now, huh? Lauryn passed, Popo back on the Gameboard, my time as 'Guest' over".

    Igor however only smiled as usual, "It would not be the first time, but from experience, it will not be long before another enters our Velvet Room. Ah, but before you go, there is one last person I've yet to introduce you to, he who I ultimately report to. He would like to congratulate you".

    "Well done, Nakamura Honoka," a new, deeper voice flooded the Velvet Room, "The First Emperor, the Red Hawk and Blue Swan, the Great Seal, the Mechanical Maiden, the Seeker of Truths, the Trickster of Hearts, and now you, the High Queen, Ace of Fools. You now count yourself among the few to have completed their Fool's Journey, with the aid of my Velvet Room. Henceforth, the Personae with you at your Final Battle shall be enshrined here as exemplars of the Heart!"

    Aiwass


    Elements: Null Bless and Curse
    Skills: Kougaon, Eigaon, Mahamaon, Mamudoon, Megidola
    - Inherit Bonus: Debilitate, Tetrakarn
    - Fool Bonus: Invigorate 3


    * Theodora Sancta *
    Elements: Absorb Psy, neutral to Nuclear, resist all else... including Almighty
    Skills: Victory Cry
    - Inherit: Agidyne, Niflheim, Garudyne, Ziodyne, Psiodyne, Freidyne, Null Physical



    Arachne
    Elements: Absorbs Gun, Null Curse, resists Psy, weak to Ice and Wind
    Skills: Rakukaja, Sukukaja, Stun Needles, Mazionga, Poison Arrow
    - Magician+6 Bonus: Kougaon


    * Zarathustra *
    Elements: Reflect Bless, Absorb Fire, weak to Curse and Nuclear, Resist all other Elements
    Skills: Kougaon, Agidyne, Mahamaon
    - Inherit Bonus: Diarahan, Mind Charge, War Cry,
    - Magician Bonus: Heat Riser



    Marishi-Ten
    Elements: Reflect Fire, null Gun and Bless, resist Physical and Nuclear, weak to Electric
    Skills: Agidyne, Maragidyne, Freidyne, War Cry, One-Shot Kill, Brave Blade
    - Empress Bonus: Fire Boost, Fire Amp



    * Gaea *
    Elements: Reflects Curse, nulls Bless and Physical, resists Fire and Ice, weak to Wind
    Skills: Attack All, Gaea Rage, Diarahan, Makarakarn, Power Charge,
    - Inherit: Triple Down, One-Shot Kill
    - Empress Bonus: Samarecarm


    Jeanne d'Arc
    Elements: Reflect Bless, Null Physical and Curse, resists Gun, Wind, Ice, and Electric, weak to Fire
    Skills: Orleans Prayer, Samarecarm, War Cry, Makarakarn, Heat Riser
    - Hanged Man Bonus: Makougaon, Hamaon, Megidola



    * Pixie *
    Elements: Absorb Electricity
    Skills: Ziodyne, Mediarahan, Megidolaon
    - Inherit: Survival Trick, Null Physical, Debilitate, Die For Me!
    - Rebirth Bonus: Electric Amp



    Black Frost
    Elements: Absorbs Ice, Nulls Curse and Fire, resists Physical, weak to Elec and Bless
    Skills: Mamudoon, Mabufula, Maragion, Miracle Punch, Bufudyne
    - Devil Bonus +8: Resist Nuclear, Resist Psy



    * Kali *
    Elements: Reflect Physical, Absorb Bless and Curse, null Psy and Gun, weak to Wind, Ice, and Electric
    Skills: Counterstrike, High Counter, Vorpal Blade, Psiodyne
    - Inherit Bonus: Analyse, Power Charge, Invigorate
    - Tower Bonus: Pralaya


    Barnumbirr
    Elements: Reflect Bless, Null Wind and Curse, resist Fire, weak to Ice and Electric
    Skills: Sukukaja, Maragion, Garudyne, Mamudoon, Kougaon
    - Inherit: Tetrakarn, Claim Stake
    - Star Bonus: Samarecarm



    * Aradia *
    Elements: Absorb Curse and Bless, weak to Fire, Null all other Magic
    Skills: Megidola, Almighty Boost, Almighty Amp
    - Inherit Bonus: Ziodyne, Analyse, Life Drain, Marakukaja
    - Moon Bonus: Megidolaon
    - Skill Card: Niflheim


    * Discordia *
    Elements: Null All
    Stats:
    - Strength: |||||
    - Cognition: |||||
    - Agility: |||||
    - Luck: |||||
    - Endurance: |||||
    Skills: Pantheomachia, Megidolaon, Almighty Amp, God Hand, Power Charge, Mind Charge, Heat Riser, Debilitate





    With that, the storm clouds around the Velvet Zeppelin parted, with what looked like only bright, sunny skies ahead.

    * * *


    After school that day, you took a pleasant walk with Colette down the main street of Kuchinashi, which had been covered in hand-made lanterns and streamer in celebration of Tanabata.

    As people gathered around, busying themselves with food stalls and writing and tying wishes, you and Colette kissed which made her remark, "My, so that's what it's like to kiss a goddess, hmm?" she grinned.

    You couldn't help but blush, before you said, "Hey, don't go setting up any shrines to me yet. This is Orihime and Hikoboshi's day after all, wait till their celebration's over before you start worshipping the ground I walk on or something" you laughed.

    Colette took your jest in stride, adding to that, "You certainly have a unique way of making me feel like the most important girl in the world, huh?" More seriously, she had to ask, "Although, this means the All-Aces are over, aren't they?"

    You nodded, as you were able to warp the world around you to show the days of Azuma's and Kikuko's funerals to Colette. Sure enough, huge crowds had gathered for each, with their fanbases in tears at both their deaths, before you couldn't take it and had to transport yourself and Colette back to that Tanabata day. "Yeah, the All-Aces are definitely over," you murmured, Rest in peace, Kikuko, Rin....

    "I'm just thinking were I'm gonna go to school now, since I doubt even the lofty Hanataba can survive the deaths or expulsions of so many Aces," Colette had to wonder.

    "Hey, don't worry, the Gameboard's all mine now, I can just, I dunno, conjure you up a school there or something," you offered, before you shrugged and said, "Or at least I can write you a damn good letter of recommendation to, well, any University really".

    "Hmm, I beg your pardon, but I can't help but find it funny,' Colette then said, "You're a Goddess, 'Aspect of Death' you said, and yet you're still only halfway through high school".

    You had to smile and say, "Ah, I'm not worried. I'd say my graduation all but secured, since I can just get, y'know, the whole friggin' universe to write my exams for me".

    You and Colette then arrived at the tree where everyone in town was writing up and hanging their wishes. You assumed Colette would just wish for her next book to reach the bestseller list this time around, though polite as ever you didn't sneak a peek, trusting that she'd tell you. Meanwhile, despite in theory being capable of granting any wish, you wrote down your own wish for this Tanabata...
    [ ] Write-in

    That done, you were soon joined by Reina, Ryouko, and Megumi as they came running over to you, clad in yukatas like everyone here.

    "Oh hey you guys. Er, hope I'm not interrupting or anything, but Yuya's setting up his shop's sweets stall, you wanna come over?" Reina asked.

    "Ah, now I remember! You did say your friend worked part-time as a confectioner, didn't you?" Colette smiled at you.

    "Eh, I dunno 'bout you, but I'm personally feeling kinda full already," Ryouko surprisingly said, before going, "Ah, what the hell".

    You had to meet your former roommate's eyes, before asking them, "Er, so, how's things?"

    "Heh, you tell me," they said, before telling you, "Not sure a crowded street in Tanabata is the best place to discuss this sorta thing".

    "Right, I see your point," you smiled.

    "Yo, if you're done hogging the wishing tree..." Tomomi then muttered as she walked past, having to admit, "I could kinda use it, no idea where my life's gonna go from here..."
    Or all our lives, you thought, still hesitant to ask Tomomi her thoughts on her brother's death, But if we can get through this, what can't we get through?

    You then went on to enjoy the rest of the festivities that day. Not in celebration of your apotheosis necessarily, more to feel joyful again after finally making it through one of the darkest times of your young life, yet making it out into the light.

    <<Harvey Danger - Save It For Later>>


    The End

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