Disclaimer: I own neither My Hero Academia or the Persona series

Chapter 38

Izuku gnashed his teeth as he watched the two monstrous yakuza stomp their way toward him and his team, eyes dancing between both the hungry Tabe and the hulking Hojo. The crystals surrounding his body likely enhance both his offense and his defense. He spoke like the leader as well and is probably the biggest threat. We should focus him down while keeping the others at bay.

"Everyone, bullet hail!" Izuku ordered, reaching into his jacket to draw his pistol. During what strategy meetings they had in the past weeks, they had decided on several code names for easy orders and team up combos. So upon his word, the rest of the Thieves quickly drew out their guns, ready to unload their magazines at their targets.

It might not do much, but if we can get them to divide, then-

Izuku's thoughts were quickly shut down when he felt his pistol yanked from his hand. "Wha-"

"What the eff?!" Ryuji's voice quickly made Izuku aware that the rest of the team had suddenly lost their long-range weapons, also followed by their close ranged ones. His eyes widened in horror when he saw their guns fly through the air and passing by their opponents.

"Oi, oi… kids shouldn't be playing with such dangerous toys, you know~?" The blond yakuza, Setsuno Izuku recalled, taunted as their guns piled into his arms before swiftly being dropped at his feet. "Quite a collection you got here, too! I don't know which one to pick!"

"What the hell was that?! Some kinda Quirk?!" Ryuji grimaced. "But it's just a cognitive monster, right?"

"As long as the owner knows how it works, then it shouldn't be any different than real life, moron." Bakugou snarled, sweat trailing down his brow.

"You children have rambled long enough. Prepare to meet your maker!" Hojo roared as he cocked his arm back, crystals doubling its size and weight as he brought it down like a hammer. The team quickly darted to the sides, dividing them as they narrowly avoided the ground quaking swing.

"EAT~! EAT~!" Tabe shrieked as he lunged at the Thieves closest to him, namely Ann.

"Stay away, you freak!" Ann screamed as she drew her mask away. Carmen materialized in front of her, barely restraining the ravenous yakuza with its whip. Tabe snapped like a mad dog, pressing the Persona back.

"Get off her, you psycho-"

*BANG*

Just as Ryuji prepared to jump on Tabe with Captain Kidd, he stopped short when bullets sailed just a hair past him, causing him to stumble back.

"Now, now! Don't forget who has all of your sweet toys!" Setsuno cackled, holding Makoto's peacekeeper and cocking the hammer back again. "Always loved these old timey revolvers! But you know...:" Activating his Quirk, Setsuno picked up Bakugou's minii-gun and took aim from the hip. "I have ALWAYS wanted to try one of these~!"

"Shit! Watch out, Skull!" Morgana warned, the two quickly running to avoid the bullet storm now blasting their way.

"We have to take out their backline or he'll make a direct attack on the others more difficult!" Yusuke suggested, wishing he had his sword in hand. "Goemon!"

"Do not forget the shield protecting the back line!" Just as Goemon was about to draw its blade, Hojo quickly slammed his crystal covered arm into the Persona, knocking it back with pure force.

"It's strong enough to fight our Personas?" Makoto cursed, summoning Johanna and scanning their options.

"Tch! We don't need weapons to take you losers down!" Bakugou snarled, blasting forward and lashing out with a concussive blast against Hojo. "I'll blow all those crystals away!"

"We'll see about that, brat!" Hojo responded by swiping with his left arm, attempting to bat Bakugou away. The explosive teen dodged with a quick blast, launching him just a short distance above the arm as it swung below him.

"Agilao!" Ann called out, Carmen unleashing a spell of flames that seared into Tabe's bagged face. The cognitive being hissed in agony, stumbling back from her. It was clearly affected, but the yakuza was no less deterred than before, grinding its teeth together as it stalked around.

"I'm gonna take my stuff back, you dick!" Ryuji snarled, his boots skidding against the ground as his knee brace charged up. With a sudden burst of speed, he darted forward at Setsuno, arm cocked back before slamming it into the yakuza's jaw at super speed.

"GAGH!" Setsuno coughed, stumbling back from the punch before snarling. "You little brat! I'm gonna shoot you in the damn kneecaps!"

"Fat chance, asshole!" Ryuji kept his superspeed up even as his knees began to overheat, getting in Setsuno's face just as he used his Quirk to bring Izuku's gun to his hand. Ryuji smashed his forehead into Setsuno's, the cognition's head bucking back from the force. The gun fell to the ground as he was unable to complete the action and Ryuji was given free reign.

"Now to finish you off!" Ryuji ripped off his mask, Captain Kidd materializing above him. "Eat this!"

Setsuno's eyes flared in fear as the Persona leveled the cannon with his body before unleashing a bolt of lightning.

"GAAAAAGH!" his body was left burnt to a crisp, falling to the ground unconscious.

"Setsuno!" Hojo called out in concern, Tabe also momentarily drawing his gaze away from Ann to look back at their comrade in trouble.

Their attention was drawn away? Izuku noted, surprised by the amount of concern evident in the yakuza for their comrade's safety. He didn't want to miss his chance, quickly drawing off his mask. "Carter!"

The heroic Persona manifested, drawing its fist back as it ignited with pure white energy. "Virginia Smash!"

Carter threw its signature attack, Hojo turning back at the last second and raising his arm in defense. Izuku's arm throbbed with pain but tightened his fist, ignoring the aching as he waited for the smoke to clear. Crystals had bursted off Hojo's arm, leaving it bare as a clear bruise formed from the attack. But despite that, he held his guard up still, arm trembling.

"Not bad, kid… but my crystals absorbed most of the impact…" Hojo declared, pushing back against Carter and quickly reforming crystals on his arm. He followed up with his other arm, slamming it into Carter's gut. The impact was reflected in Izuku, knocking the wind out of him as he strangled a cough out.

"As long as we can break through, that's all we'll need!" Makoto revved Johanna's engine before blazing forth, smashing the front wheel of her Persona into his chest and spinning the wheel up.

"GAGH!" Hojo staggered back, Knocked off balance by Makoto's charge.

"Time to knock you flat on your ass!" Bakugou snarled as he ripped off his mask. "Blow him away, Tombstone!"

The smoking barrels of Tombstone's shotgun ignited with an orange energy, preparing to blast a hole into the cognitive being's stomach. But just before it could fire, Tombstone's gun was suddenly bit into, a chunk taken out by Tabi the ravenous yakuza.

"What the hell?!" Bakugou's eyes flared, cocking his hand back to launch an explosion at the monster.

"Tabi, look out!" Hojo called out, but too late as a gale of wind cut into the monster's back.

"Don't forget that we're a team as well!" Morgana called out, standing next to Ann.

"E-Eat?! Meat?!" Tabe flailed in pain, struggling to stand after taking the direct hit.

"Eat this!" Carmen formed a circle of flame above, scorching Tabe and Hojo as the flames enveloped them.

"Defeat is all you'll be tasting today. Now for the finale!" Yusuke removed his mask, Goemon once again taking shape. It raised its bladed pipe before slamming it into the ground, sending a sharp wave of energy out that cut into both Tabi and Hojo. "Giant Slice!"

The attack cut into both cognitive yakuza, black ooze spilling out in place of blood as they both fell to the ground. The Thieves gathered around, Ryuji dragging Setsuno over and tossing him with the other three.

"They worked pretty well as a team. But I'd say ours is better!" Morgana smirked, looking at the others with a smile. "Good job, phantom thieves!"

"You… you brats…" Hojo's mumbling brought their attention to the fallen yakuza. "Perhaps you've… gotten past us… But don't expect the rest of the Bullets to be… so easy…"

"We'll save Eri-chan no matter what." Izuku declared, brow furrowing. "Even if it means fighting the rest of the Precepts."

"... hmph." Hojo scoffed, laying his head back down as the three began to dissipate into black ooze. "You have a… strong resolve, boy. You'll need it… for what's to come…"

The three cognitions finally faded into thin air, allowing the Thieves to relax their shoulders now that the coast was clear.

"That was so weird. I didn't think non-Shadows like that would be so tough…" Ann mumbled, stretching out her back.

"It's like I said. If they have a big enough impression on the Palace Ruler, anything's possible. As we all just saw." Morgana sighed, scratching the back of his head. "Still, that was more than I was expecting, too. And from the sound of it, the rest of these Eight Precepts or Bullets or whatever they're called are going to be in here too."

"Like it matters. If they aren't even the Shadows of their real world counterparts, then we can murder them without hesitation." Bakugou spat, walking past the others and to the spot the three Bullets had faded from. "This what we need?" He tossed something toward Izuku, the leader catching it before it could smack him in the face.

Izuku took a good look, seeing a FLOOR OFFICER HOJO label on the front next to a picture and barcode. "Yeah, I think this is it! I guess we needed to fight them regardless…"

"Oh, sweet! Sometimes jumpin' into traps pays off!" Ryuji grinned, giving a thumbs up. "Let's get goin'!"

"Wait. Why don't we take a look at this 'Clean Room' while we're here?" Makoto suggested, bringing the Thieves' attention to her. She stared at the solid steel door, grasping the tip of her chin. "It might give us some valuable insight on our target."

"Isn't that just a waste of time?" Bakugou argued, eyes glaring at the door. "We should just keep barrellin' through this place."

"I agree with Queen." Izuku spoke this time, walking up next to her. "We still don't know a lot about who we're taking down. Any intel we can gather would be valuable."

"They're right. We still have no idea what's to come. Besides, it may give us access to a map of the lower floor, if we're lucky." Morgana added, causing Bakugou to click his tongue.

"Whatever. Let's get it over with, then." Bakugou walked up to the door and held his hand up, ready to blow it down.

"W-Wait! We don't need to blow everything up! That's why we have the key card!" Ann snapped, causing Bakugou to click his tongue.

"Hurry up then!"

"Oh, relax." Makoto sighed, walking past him and using the key card to open the door.

Access Denied.

Only for the door to remain shut.

"Wait, what? Why ain't it openin'?" Ryuji was the first to ask.

"Odd. You would think that at least the Floor Officers would have access to this 'Clean Room'." Yusuke held his elbow up as he stroked his chin.

"I guess, even with as much trust as they had given to them, they were still kept at a certain distance." Morgana surmised, tapping his foot. "Have any ideas for how to proceed, Hero?"

"Well…" Izuku spared a look at Bakugou, biting his bottom lip before sighing. "If you can open it, Nitro, then let's do it."

"Wait, we're really gonna let 'im?" Ryuji blurted in shock.

"Hell yeah, outta the way losers! I'll blast that thing away!" Bakugou grinned ear to ear as he stomped back to the head of the group. Seeing that there was no stopping it now, everyone quickly moved away from the door, watching as Bakugou released a powerful concussive blast that quickly dispatched the door, sending it flying inside.

"Well, we should definitely hurry now… who knows who heard that." Ann sighed, massaging the bridge of her nose.

"Please. If they didn't come runnin' when we were fightin', they ain't coming now." Bakugou scoffed, walking inside.

"There's… some logic to that. I suppose." Makoto sighed, walking in after him along with the others soon following. What they were greeted with was something out of a film: a room of pure white. The walls, the desks, the chairs, everything looked pristine. It was in complete contrast to the rustic aesthetic of the outside and more in line with the laboratory they had named when searching for the location on the Nav.

"Not really much in here…" Ryuji pointed out, scratching his head. "Thought there'd be more to a place cut off like this."

"Let's see what's on his desk." Morgana hopped on top of it, pushing some papers across for the others to look at. Izuku joined him, pulling open the drawers and searching their contents. He found a handheld tape recorder, cocking a brow as he pulled it out.

"Score! Looks like we've got our map of the second floor!" Morgana announced before Izuku could speak, drawing his attention to the cat. Everyone gathered around to take a look.

"What the eff?! The second floor's way bigger!" Ryuji spat in awe. Indeed, it looked massive in comparison to the first map when compared to the map of the first floor. Like the Thieves had barely scratched the surface of this Palace.

"Looks like we were right to assume this was only the beginning. I don't see anything about the Treasure's location on here either," said Morgana, paws crossed over his chest.

"If it's not on the map, then that might mean another floor as well." Makoto pointed out.

"Damn, just how big is this place?" Ryuji cursed in frustration.

"No use complaining about it. We did prepare for a long day, after all." Ann sighed, clearly no more thrilled about the development either.

"What is it you're holding, Hero?" Yusuke asked, drawing eyes to their leader.

"Oh, um, a recorder I think. Not sure what's on it but I thought it might be worth listening to." Izuku held it out to show the others.

"Might as well give it a listen. Go ahead and play it, Hero." Morgana said. Izuku gave a brisk nod, pressing play.

"Kai Chisaki's log, March 28th, year 20XX… Ever since taking over as leader of the Eight Precepts I've been forced to deal with a good number of the old guard. It's been… nauseating."

Izuku's eyes flared in surprise, looking at the others and seeing a similar reaction.

"Every day I come to the upper floor is a day I dread. Hojo does a better job dealing with the rank and file better than most, but I can't always avoid going out. I have to make some sort of appearance or else they'll begin to believe that they're no longer being cared for. As much as I'd like to be rid of them all, they still fulfill certain uses. Such as being human shields, scapegoats and cannon fodder in the battles surely to come."

"What the hell? He doesn't even care about his own guys?!" Izuku paused the recording as Ryuji began to rant, brow furrowing in frustration. "I get that they're criminals but… The movies made it sound like yakuza had some kinda code! Stuff like loyalty and brotherhood or some shit."

"That may just be the romanticized ideals that television has tried to sell to people, but… even this is a little more than I was expecting." Makoto bit the inside of her cheek. "Certainly not what Like a Dragon tries to sell…"

"Hey, we don't have time to blabber. Either finish the recording or let's go." Bakugou told them, silencing the others. Izuku quickly resumed.

"Every day I see the garbage gather as my 'underlings' I feel the urge to tighten my mask. I can't stomach be forced to breathe even a little of the same air as those pissants. They're a constant reminder of a long lost age of yakuza. Like relics of a museum built to remind others of what failures they were. An age filled with honorable fools unwilling to bend their code and stand up to the Heroes. Unwilling to do what's necessary to survive. It falls upon me to bring us back from the brink. And unlike those worthless dregs, I'll do whatever it takes to bring us back to glory."

The tape ended, a short silence following after it. Izuku pursed his lips, taking out the tape inside. "I think that's all. There's no other tapes, either."

"Good. Then let's hurry up and get to the second floor already." Bakugou huffed, turning around and first to leave.

"Talk about callous, though. You'd think he'd care more about his guys, at least." Ryuji said as they trailed after Bakugou. "But I guess I shouldn't be too surprised."

"It makes sense to me…" Izuku's grave tone drew the eyes of his team, his brow furrowed in frustration. "If he was willing to hurt Eri-chan... his own daughter, then he's even less likely to care for his underlings."

"I… hadn't thought about it that way." Ann rubbed her arm, somewhat uncomfortable at the implication. "But that's why we're here, at least. We'll get Eri away from that monster as soon as possible. Don't worry, Hero."

"Right." Izuku nodded, electing to believe his teammate's reassurance.

It wasn't long until they reached the elevators, dispatching of the couple of fodder Shadows in their path with little trouble. Izuku quickly scanned the badge in their possession, and thankfully got a better result than with the clean room, the elevator doors sliding open for them.

"Remember, everyone. Things won't be as straightforward from here!" Morgana reminded them once they all stepped onto the elevator.

"Just how crazy can it get?" Bakugou cocked a brow, eyes narrowed.

"Imagine an entire school being turned into an actual castle. Go from there." Ann said.

"Or a hut being turned into a grotesque museum." Yusuke added.

"The hell?" Bakugou spat, not entirely getting the picture.

"You'll understand soon enough." Makoto assured, not that it was any less to the explosive teen's irritation. It was a surprisingly long trip down, taking a little over two minutes for what felt like a speedy elevator to finally come to a stop. The doors opened, revealing a small white room that looked like a trailer or production office of some kind. Desks with standing monitors were lined up in a neat row beneath windows along the wall opposite them. On either side of them were two large sealed doors, much like the ones barring their entry to Chisaki's Clean Room.

"Maybe not that soon. This is a pretty modest start to…" Makoto began before her eyes lit up, walking toward the windows. Everyone followed close, their reactions mirroring hers as they gazed out the window. What laid before them was an industrial chemical plant. Vats filled with glowing green and sickly white liquids frothed as they were stirred by machines. Production lines below them being fed the unknown compounds. Shadows dressed in hazmat suits walking back and forth along the conveyor belts while ones dressed in doctor's coats stood over the vats in the upper walkways. Against the walls were supported buildings that wrapped around the lab below, connecting on both sides to the building the Thieves stood in.

"Well, starting to get it now?" Makoto asked, looking at Bakugou.

"... Yeah…" He muttered as he stared wide-eyed at the sheer size of the Palace before him.

"So… where are we goin' from here?" Ryuji asked, looking at the doors on both sides, scratching his head. "The treasure ain't on this floor, right?"

"From what the map showed, no." Izuku pulled out the map, opening it again. "I think we'll have to find the officers on this floor before proceeding. They might have the map for any further floors."

"That means more of those cognitive beings to deal with." Ann sounded anxious, rubbing her arm in worry.

"They're not even a problem. If they're anything like the first guys, we'll blow them away all the same." Bakugou scoffed

"You shouldn't be so quick to dismiss them. The deeper we go into the Palace, the stronger our opponents become. The same will likely be the case for the cognitive beings." Morgana scolded.

"Good. It'd be pointless if we kept fighting the same weaklings over and over again. How the hell would we even get any stronger?" Bakugou brushed it off still. "But that doesn't mean we're not gonna thrash them. So long as you all can keep up."

"Don't think you can leave us all behind that easy. We're the ones who got more experience with this stuff." Ryuji huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Alright, enough. Let's focus on the matter at hand." Makoto pointed a finger at Bakugou, making him click his tongue. "First: let's see what the elevator needs. My guess is at least one of the Officer's badges from this floor."

"Allow me." Yusuke walked over to the elevator panel, pressing the down button.

"Laboratory Officer's badges required."

"As expected…" Izuku sighed, holding his chin. "And from the sound of it, we'll need multiple. We'll have to scour the floor and look for each of them."

"Then let's split up." Bakugou said, jerking a thumb at the door behind him. "I'll go look for one of the badges through this door, you losers go the other way."

"What? No way! We don't split the team up!" Morgana shook his head. "We especially wouldn't send you on your own! That's far too dangerous!"

"Why not?! Even if we split the team up, we'd be fine!" Bakugou argued, arms crossed over his chest. "We'll cover more ground and make this faster!"

"We're not in so much of a rush that we want to risk anyone being seriously hurt or worse because we lack numbers." Izuku answered, stepping up. "If we had eight members or more, it might be feasible. But right now, we only have seven, meaning one team would be short on manpower. It's too dangerous, especially when we don't even know the full layout of this place."

"Don't underestimate me! I'm strong enough to cover up for two!" Bakugou argued, confidently jerking a thumb at his chest. "I'll find that damn key card in no time!"

"We're not splitting up! You still don't know everything there is to this Palace! It could be way worse than what we saw up top!" Ann stamped her foot in frustration.

"Split up? Sounds like a gre~at idea to me!"

The Thieves tensed, heads on a swivel as an unfamiliar voice echoed around them.

"There!" Morgana pointed toward the ceiling just above the monitors. What stared back at the group was nothing short of something out of a horror flick. An empty-eyed bone white plague mask attached to a black cloth body, the bottom fused to the ceiling.

"We thought there we heard some odd noises comin' from the first floor. Looks like you made it past the officers on that floor somehow and made it down here!" The strange creature mused, its beaked face trailing across the Thieves. "You all aren't welcome in the lab! But hey, since you've made it this far, why not take a tour? Although…"

The room began to rumble, the Thieves looking around in alert. Before they knew it, the ceiling twisted like play dough. A white wall descended like a falling anvil in a cartoon. The Thieves each dove out of the way as it split the room in half. Izuku, Morgana and Makoto stood on one side while the rest on the other. The wall then split in two, curling like a wave and pushing against each group.

"Skull! Everyone!" Izuku called out, but didn't act fast enough to stop the wall from pushing him and the two companions with him out of the room. Bakugou's group was met with the same result, each side shoved from the room before the steel doors shut on them, cutting off their escape.

"Bastard! Come out and fight us!" Bakugou snarled, quickly back on his feet as he launched an explosion at the wall barring their way. His eyes bulged in shock, realizing that the door in their way this time wasn't so easily destroyed.

"Don't worry, brat! You and the others will get what's coming to you~!" The voice of the strange Yakuza creature echoed through speakers hanging on the wall. "But from here on, your tours will have to be taken separately! Feel free to look around and meet some of the staff! Trust me, they're itchin' to meet ya!"

"Bastard! Give us back our friends!" Ryuji kicked the wall in frustration.

"It seems futile. If Nitro's explosion wasn't enough to dent it, I doubt we can do much else to destroy it." Yusuke pointed out, holding the tip of his chin.

"Looks like we only have one way to open it." Ann pointed to the console against the wall, a key card scanner on it.

"Damn it. That jerk really got us." Ryuji cursed, scratching his head furiously. "What're we gonna do now?"

"You need Deku to hold your hand that much?" The three turned to look at Bakugou, the explosive teen's eyes narrowed. "It should be obvious what we're gonna do. We're gettin' that key card."

The others looked at one another, clearly hesitant. "Well… guess we really don't got a choice." Ryuji admitted, frowning.

"We are short on options. Trying to find another way around would likely waste time as well as energy." Yusuke admitted with a sigh. "Our best course of action is to retrieve the key card."

"Well, I guess as long as we're all on board, then I can't complain." Ann nodded before shifting a small glare Bakugou's way. "But don't think that just because Hero and Queen aren't here that you're suddenly the leader. We're a team, so we work together as one, got it?"

"Tch, whatever! As long as you don't get in my way, I couldn't care less." Bakugou huffed, turning his back to them as he started to walk down the white walled hallway.

"We're off to a great start…" Ryuji grunted in irritation, looking at the others. "Let's just do our best to make sure he doesn't get himself killed."

"Must be nice, Skull. Not being the one who has to be looked after for once." Ann teased, causing Ryuji to blanch. "Kidding. But seriously, I do wonder how things will go without the others to keep him in line…"

"Yeah. Guess we're about to find out... " Ryuji let out a deep sigh, walking after Bakugou with Ann and Yusuke falling in line next to him.

"We must all do our best to work with him. As well as show him that we are not his lessers." Yusuke declared, eyes narrowing behind his mask.


Izuku's lips thinned into a line as his hand brushed over the steel door. His chest tightened as he felt concern fill him.

"Just the three of us, huh?" Morgana mumbled behind him, the concern clear in his voice. "Whatever that thing was, it got us good."

"We let our guard down. We might not have been near ordinary Shadows, but we're still dealing with the cognitive beings lurking around." Izuku turned around to look at Makoto, her eyes furrowed behind her steel mask. "I hope everyone's alright."

"I'm… sure they're in the same position we are, but… I'm still worried." Izuku admitted, looking back at the door. "Kacchan was willing to listen to us, but I don't know how he's going to be with the others."

"Well, knowing Skull, they're definitely going to butt heads a bit. I just hope Panther and Fox are able to keep them in line somehow." Morgana sighed next to him, the three forming a small triangle. "Well, nothing we can do but try and find the officers on this side of the floor. It looked pretty straight forward, but we'll have quite a bit of ground to cover."

"Yeah. We'll follow the production line down to the office. The others saw the map so they should be able to navigate their side." Izuku activated his Third Eye, scanning the area to see if there were any secrets hidden in plain sight that might allow them back in the room. To his dismay, there was nothing. "Damn it…"

"Let's do our best to trust that they'll be okay. Nitro might make some noise, but he's not going to do anything that will compromise the team. He knows he'd never hear the end of it from us." Makoto's words were somewhat reassuring for Izuku. Perhaps relying on Bakugou's stubbornness was their best, and only, option of hope.

"Well, since it's just the three of us, I think it's best to avoid unnecessary conflict. We're going to have to take on at least one member of these Eight Bullets soon enough, and who knows what they've got waiting for us." Morgana advised, skipping down the white hall and peering down it to get an idea of their path. "It's clear… for now. There's a safe room right ahead too. Maybe we should save it on the Nav in case we need to come back."

"Right. Let's go." Izuku tried to wipe the concern from his voice, not wanting to overlook the danger that they were soon to meet themselves. But it was hard to shake the worry of just how the others would do with Bakugou alone.


"Here's your strategy: follow my lead and let me take care of it."

,,, God, I'm already gettin' annoyed. Why'd we have to get stuck with him?

Ryuji once again found himself questioning Izuku's decision to bring Bakugou along. Sure, both his Quirk and Persona were undeniably powerful. Ryuji didn't have to be a genius to see that much. But unlike the others, he was clearly incapable of basic teamwork. Or, at the very least, he made it seem like a chore.

"If you wanna take the lead, fine. But make sure you don't get in the way when we're goin' in for assists!" Ryuji snapped back as they followed close after their newest teammate. "We all make sure to get a hit in so we can figure out a Shadow's weak spot!"

"Hero isn't here to do it as quickly, so we all must contribute to this." Yusuke added. "Between the four of us, we should at least be able to check a good number of them on our own."

"And make sure you get out of the way for any team combos!" Ann spoke next to him, Ryuji able to tell she was somewhat close to as fed up as he was.

"Team combos?" Bakugou looked back, an eyebrow cocked.

"Yes. With Hero's help, we developed combination attacks that compliment one another quite well. Typically he would give the call-sign and we would use our moves in tangent, but we will have to give the call-signs ourselves." Yusuke explained.

The explosive blond had a minor bit of intrigue in his gaze before he looked back forward. "Tell me the call signs and I'll call them out."

Ryuji blinked, for the first time surprised to hear something that sounded like actual cooperation from him. "I mean… are you actually gonna use 'em?"

"I'm askin', aren't I?!" Bakugou barked back, sounding frustrated by the mere idea.

Well, I guess that's better than nothin'. Ryuji had to take what he could get from their new teammate, and this was somewhere to start. "Well… for Panther and mine's combo, it's Rolling Thunder. She basically makes flame wheels that I charge up with my Zio stuff."

"I have a Physical power combo with Skull called Blunt Blade. He positions himself behind an enemy and hits them with his Persona's physical attack to launch them in my direction, and I use Goemon to do the same and hopefully finish it off." Yusuke took his turn explaining their move.

"Fox and I have a combo called Burning Brush. I trap the enemies in a group fire spell, and he cuts through them all while they're dealing with the flames." Ann took her turn to give her combo explanation.

Bakugou stared back at them, eyes narrowed as if scrutinizing them. "Those names suck."

"Like you coulda come up with somethin' better!" Ryuji scoffed. "We already know what kinda names you think up."

"Whenever I get a combo name, it'll blow all of yours out the water!" Bakugou argued, turning his back to them again. "Whatever. We'll save combo attacks for when we need 'em. Weakness check comes first."

"Something we should keep in mind is that it is only the four of us, as well. We should avoid unnecessary engagement if possible." Yusuke reminded them all. "That means we need to approach with stealth."

"You hear that, Nitro? Stealth. Meaning we have to be quiet." Ann said like she was talking to a child.

"Don't patronize me! I know what it means!" Bakugou snapped back, grinding his teeth. "I'll show you the definition of stealth, damn it!"

"I doubt that…" Ryuji mumbled under his breath. The four soon entered into a new area, a glass door blocking their way before lights blared at each corner of the door. Glass doors suddenly shut them in from behind, causing Ryuji to twist in surprise.

"Now sanitizing. Please stand by."

"Hold your breath. Who knows what it actually is." Bakugou advised before quickly clasping his nose and mouth shut. Ryuji, nor the others, could argue that point and mimicked his actions.

The four were surrounded by a cleansing mist, nothing potentially damaging as far as any of them could tell. A small white light scanned over them before the red siren lights blinked green and the glass doors in front slid open.

"Sanitation complete."

The four didn't wait for further confirmation, entering the next area before taking a moment to take in their surroundings. While the overview of the laboratory from the office had given them a general idea of the landscape, it was only now that Ryuji fully understood the scope of the floor.

The vats of chemicals they had seen from above now looked massive as they hung overhead. The conveyor belt that passed under it stopped in a repetitive cycle, large glass vials being fed the chemicals little by little before moving to the next vat. The more alarming sight though was the number of Shadows that moved along the conveyor belt, dressed in lab coats and jotting something down on clipboards in their hands.

"This way." Ryuji snapped his head to Bakugou, the explosive teen already on the move.

"Hey, wait-damn it!" He cursed under his breath, quickly jogging after Ann and Yusuke close at his sides. For a moment Ryuji thought Bakugou was heading toward one of the Shadows along the conveyor belt, but he was quick to hop behind one of the connectors on the ground, taking cover and peering around the corner.

"Tch. We'll have to move fast when their backs are turned or else the entire room will be all over us." Bakugou cursed, his irritation evident.

"Whoa, you're actually trying to get along. I'm impressed." Ryuji thought Ann sounded genuine when she said that, almost cracking a laugh if it weren't for the Shadows still close by.

"Shut up! I told you I'd make this look easy!" Bakugou, to his credit, answered with a hushed shout instead of his usual bluster. He focused back forward, watching the Shadows and their movements. "We go when I say. Don't fall behind."

They watched as the Shadows began to move distractedly to the next vat of the conveyor belt, and Bakugou quickly gave the order. "Let's go!"

Ryuji still felt certain ways about Bakugou taking the lead, but could at least appreciate that he wasn't just running off without them. Perhaps he had set the bar a little low, but considering first impressions of him, it was fair to do.

They moved together, quick and light on their feet. Ryuji and the others had become experts at lightening their footfalls after spending so much time in different Palaces. But Bakugou seemed to pick up the skill in no time at all. Izuku had told them that the explosive blond could master anything he put effort into, but it was somewhat irritating to see how natural he made it look.

Seriously, how's an obnoxious guy like this picking things up so fast?!

They continued to follow Bakugou from machine to machine, able to stay hidden from sight. At the end of the factory line opposite of their entrance, there was a big silver door that led into the next section, a sign hanging above it saying 'TESTING AREA'. The conveyor belt connected to the wall as well, carrying the chemicals further in. "The map said it's a straight line throughout, so we have one or two more production areas to go through before we get to the end."

"There's a lot of empty space between here and the doors, though." Ann pointed out, looking around at the distracted Shadows not so far behind them. "Will we be able to make that distance without them noticing?"

"Hey, fake blondie." Ryuji grimaced in irritation.

"It's Skull, man!"

"Skull, whatever!" Bakugou huffed. "Cause a distraction and draw 'em away."

"What?! Then what am I supposed to do to get away?!" Ryuji asked in irritation.

"You've got super speed, don't you?! Go to the other end of the room, make some noise, then B-line it toward cover before they see you!" Bakugou pointed to one of the corners of the room where a tall vat stood off to the side. "Knock over one of those machines or whatever is big enough to drag their attention away."

Ryuji opened his mouth to argue but found himself struggling to find a good reason as to why. "I guess… that's not a bad idea…"

"Wait, but what if they see him?!" Ann asked in concern, looking at Ryuji as her brow furrowed. "Are you planning to leave him?"

"If they see him, we fight." Bakugou bluntly put it, eyes narrowing at Ryuji. "Don't mess up if you wanna save it for the officers."

"Yeah, yeah…" Ryuji huffed, turning to see just how distracted the Shadows at present were.

"Hey." He stopped when he felt a hand grasp his wrist, looking back to see Ann frowning. "Just… be careful, kay? Don't um… goof around."

Ryuji cocked an eyebrow, feeling a minor heat rise up in his face as he suddenly felt aware of the gentle gloved hand holding his wrist with such care. "Y-Yeah! No sweat! Come on, Panther! Who's the better at makin' noise than I am?"

"I'd argue with Nitro at this point, but… I guess you're right." Ann smiled, nodding as she slowly released his arm. "Do your best!"

"Of course! Gotta show the new guy how it's done, after all."

Guess there's no backin' out after that… what was that just now though? Ryuji tried to focus on the task at hand, getting down into a sprinter's stance and aiming for the very edge of the area. He waited several moments, watching to make sure the Shadows were focused on their tasks. Their heads turned to their clipboards, and Ryuji took it as his opportune moment.

His leg charged up and in a flash, he was across the room, his shoes squeaking against the floor as he came to a quick stop. He jumped behind the machine before peeking his head out, making sure none of the Shadows had seen him. To his relief, they were still working away.

Coast is clear for now. Okay... Ryuji scanned the area for his next hiding spot. A collection of machines sat toward the middle of the room that would serve best as his cover, giving him some comfort. Time to make some noise. And a one… two...Not bothering to be picky, Ryuji grunted as he pushed over the machine that was once his cover, metal creaking as it tilted over before crashing with a surprisingly loud thud and the crash of shattering glass. Ryuji didn't wait to check if the Shadows noticed, speeding his way over to his hiding spot before he could be noticed, hopefully.

"Hey, what was that noise?!"

"What happened to the mixer?!"

The Shadows frenzied as they scurried over to check on Ryuji's handiwork. He grinned in triumph as the entire room seemed to take the bait, turning back to the others and dashing over in a flash.

"Good job, Skull!" Ann smiled, raising a hand and high-fiving him.

"You prove to be the most astute at causing clamour once again." Yusuke chuckled his compliment as well.

"Hell yeah! Now let's get goin'!" Ryuji turned to Bakugou, the scowling teen huffing as he took the lead again.

"Not bad, I guess."

"Huh? Did you just compliment me?" Ryuji felt like he'd just gotten whiplash when he heard that.

"I said not bad! I didn't say it was good!" Bakugou barked, almost sounding embarrassed. "Now shut your traps and let's go before they notice us!"

It took Ryuji a moment to process, sharing a small look with the others. Ann only shrugged while Yusuke tapped his chin in wonder. Guess that was… somethin'.

The three didn't linger on the moment too long, quickly catching up to Bakugou and going through to the next area. The previous area had been more open, but this one seemed to be compacted a bit, steel walls and roof sealing off the area from top to bottom. To their left were tall, steel boxes from the look of them, caged off at the front with white lights shining from within. To their right was again the conveyor belt. The vials of liquid were being stamped down by a press, combining them into a single compact syringe, somehow. An obvious trick of the Palace cognition, of course.

"What's goin' on with-"

"AAAAGH~!"

Ryuji nearly jumped out of his skin, he and the others turning their heads to the caged boxes to their left. A Shadow dressed as a doctor stood in front of it like the ones by the conveyor belt, but what they saw inside was a disturbing sight.

A pale man gripped the steel bars separating him from the Shadow. Spikes protruded from his face and he violently thrashed back and forth in the cage.

"What the hell are they doin' to him?!" Ryuji mumbled in shock.

"It's a cognition, right? What's it matter?" Bakugou asked, brow cocked in wonder.

"It might be good for us to learn. Portions of the Palace can reflect something that has taken place in the real world as well." Yusuke informed him, causing Bakugou's eyes to flare in surprise.

"... Let's get closer, then." Bakugou surprisingly agreed, motioning for them to follow as he silently moved toward one of the nearby support beams. They got as close as they could, still out of sight from the Shadow as it watched the convulsing man in front of them.

"That was a strong response to the Trigger. It seems that the dosage was either too much or not pure enough." The Shadow surmised aloud, jotting notes down on his clipboard. "Still, results are satisfactory. This strand is cheaper and quicker to create. As long as it does as advertised, customers will still purchase Trigger. Strand approved."

"Approved?! But… look at him…" Ann mumbled next to Ryuji, the faux blonde grimmly nodding his agreement. The test subject didn't just look like some hopped up druggie, he looked like he could barely stand. Barely even process a thought just from the look of him.

"So they're sellin' Trigger on top of those Quirk-erasing bullets, huh? Looks like they're usin' live subjects to test its strength, too." Bakugou surmised, eyes narrowed in a clear show of disgust. "These guys are trashier than we thought."

"I'm not quite so familiar with Trigger. How does it work?" Yusuke asked, a look of concern on his face.

"It's basically a super drug that amps up Quirks. It's super addictive and people who take it have some nasty after effects." Being part of a sports club, Ryuji and his team had been drilled on the dangers of drugs. Trigger was on top of the list to be mentioned as well.

"The bullets are definitely more important as a resource than the drug. They're probably using it to keep cash coming." Bakugou hissed, looking away from the cage. "Let's go. This is just pissing me off."

That's somethin' we agree on. Ryuji didn't voice it but conceded to Bakugou's suggestion.

"Huh?!" Ryuji looked back at the cognition as it made noise, eyes bulging when he realized it was looking directly at them. "There?! Who's there?! Save me!"

"What?" And to his chagrin, the Shadow looked back at them, causing the team to tense up as they were suddenly spotted by the enemy. "Hey! Intruders!"

"You didn't tell me the cognitions could alert them!" Bakugou snapped, drawing the axes from his waist.

"I-It usually doesn't happen like that!" Ryuji admitted.

"It doesn't matter now! We'll have to fight!" Yusuke placed his hand on the hilt of his katana as three of the doctor Shadows surrounded them. Their bodies fell apart and they transformed, this time taking shape as five enemies, three fairies of the same appearance and two maroon humanoids dual wielding swords as they hovered above.

"Let's bust through 'em, then!" Bakugou grinned, propelling himself forward with an explosion and making the first move.

"Wait, Nitro! We're supposed to…" Ann clicked her tongue in frustration as Bakugou lashed out with his dual wielded tomahawks at one of the fairies. But his attack was swiftly blocked by one of the much larger maroon Shadow's blades, its black eyes staring into his.

"You brats came to the wrong place! You're gonna become our next test subjects!"

"Trash like you couldn't lick our boots if you wanted to!" Bakugou's heckling was ever so subtle, blasting the front of the blades to propel himself higher in the air, free hand drawing away his mask. "Tombstone!"

The smoking gun of his Persona was the first thing to materialize, an azure light filling the barrels. "Fire!"

With a pull of its trigger, the triple barrels erupted, enveloping the Shadows in its blast.

"AGH!" The pixies flew backward, crashing into the ground from the blast. The dual wielding Shadows, however, remained afloat.

"Hey! Finish those ones off!" Bakugou called back to the others, having Tombstone block a slash from the other Shadow. "I'll handle these two!"

"Handle this, brat!" Ryuji felt his face drain of color when the other Shadow began to spin around, its blades filling with energy.

That idiot! He's gonna get hit! Ryuji found his legs carrying him forward, hand reaching up and drawing away his mask. "I'll help Nitro! Finish the other ones off!"

"Right!" Ann and Yusuke didn't waste time arguing, running forward alongside him. Ryuji had to act quickly, as Bakugou visibly showed frustration as he could tell that he would be incapable of stopping the oncoming attack. He activated his super speed, but knew his knees weren't fully charged.

Just a bit closer and I'll be good! Ryuji expended the little bit of stored electricity he had, and was thankful to see he was just within the needed distance to act Yes! .

"Captain Kidd!" His Persona held up its arms to guard, eating the brunt of the physical wave attack for Bakugou. Ryuji winced in pain but the general damage reflected on him wasn't anything special.

"Hey! You didn't have to do that!" Bakugou launched a concussive blast in the face of the Shadow that attacked Ryuji, dropping to the ground just a few feet in front of him.

"You were gonna eat that attack! Chill!" Ryuji barked back, raising his bat. "They're still comin' either way!"

"I know!" Ryuji decided to just save their argument for after, the two Shadows now looming just above them with their swords raised. But before they could lunge forward with their blades, the Shadows cried out in agony as fire suddenly scorched their backs.

"Allow me to demonstrate…" Ryuji grinned as Yusuke sailed between the Shadows, blade flashing as he drew it in a quick motion before quickly sheathing it again. He landed between Bakugou and Ryuji, a satisfying 'clink' echoing as he sheathed his blade completely, and the Shadows spewed black ooze like fountains. "Flaming Brush."

Ryuji relaxed as the Shadows began to dissipate into the air, slinging his bat onto his back. "Good one!" He said, bumpiing arms with Yusuke.

"But of course. We would not expect you both to deal with them alone."

"I had it handled…" Bakugou huffed through gritted teeth, putting his tomahawks back on his belt.

"Maybe, but you could have gotten hurt in the process." Ann called out as she approached, arms crossing as she regarded Bakugou. "Don't get me wrong, you started strong and made them more vulnerable, but…"

"Then what's the issue?!"

"The issue's that you coulda done it without takin' such a huge risk!" Ryuji took over this time. "We ain't got the full team here, so we gotta be more careful when goin' up against groups of Shadows like that."

"We did just fine." Bakugou huffed, hands resting on his hips.

"What we're saying is that it could have been better." Ryuji nodded in agreement when Ann spoke up. "You would have taken a direct hit if it wasn't for Skull."

Bakugou clicked his tongue, eyes trailing to the side. "I would have been fine."

"Panther can heal you, sure, but we're tryin' to conserve as much energy as we can here." Ryuji said, at least thankful that Bakugou wasn't outright denying their words so far. He was, albeit reluctantly, listening.

"Indeed. Our efficiency in dealing with Shadows rises if we clearly communicate with one another. While we act somewhat freely during battle, we still have to try and keep each other in mind in case we fall into dire straits. This is even more true now that we're lacking our entire team." Yusuke tried to sell the point completely now.

Bakugou ground his teeth together in frustration, but instead of blowing his top, he just let out an annoyed huff. "Alright, alright! I get it…" He stomped ahead of them, still stiff but somewhat less than before. "Quit wasting time already!"

Ryuji cocked a brow, looking at the others. "That… didn't go as bad as I expected."

"Yeah… maybe he is trying?" Ann suggested hopefully.

"We'll see in the coming battles if our words truly sink in." Yusuke said, not sounding too hopeful. Not that Ryuji or Ann could blame him.

"Hey, let's climb the cages." Bakugou told them, pointing at the steel box where the test subjects were being held. "That way another one of these things don't expose us again."

"Not the worst idea. You're really pickin' up on the stealth thing, new guy!" Ryuji teased, causing Bakugou to scoff and turn to move the cages.

"Here… here!" The patient that had exposed them was still crying and pointing at them as if there were Shadows still around to pursue the group. "Take them… not me… them!"

Man. What sick things are these bastards doing to people? That guy looks like shi-

*BOOM*

"AGH!"

Ryuji and the others felt their jaws drop as Bakugou blasted the drained man with a quick explosion from his palm without even a second glance, still walking toward the side of the box. "Shut your mouth already."

"Dude…" Ryuji said, he and the others looked at him in disappointment.

"Don't give me that look! They're just cognitions, right? Even if it reflects somethin' in the real world, they're not anyone's Shadow!" Bakugou barked in irritation before the others could scold him. "If we let this guy be, we'd have every Shadow with a brain cell on top of us right now."

"Well… he's not wrong I suppose. It was making quite a bit of noise that could alert more Shadows." Yusuke seemed to agree, despite the minor bit of judgment in his eyes. "Still, it does feel rather distasteful handling it in such a way."

"Bite me." Bakugou clearly didn't care, climbing the box and getting on top. "You coming or what?"

The three collectively sighed, trailing after Bakugou and joining him atop the cages. From there on, they hopped from the top of one to the next. There seemed to be a long row of them for testing. Shadows started to reform and continue their rounds like nothing had happened to the earlier soldiers. Thankfully, any noise they made while moving along the top of the cages was smothered by the cognition's agonizing screams.

It was sickening to listen to, but it wouldn't be the first time Ryuji heard that kind of suffering in a Palace.

As they reached the end of the containment cells, the four hopped down and hid behind several machines, staying out of sight from the newly resurfaced Shadows in the area. Luckily for them, the next room had plenty of obstructions along the way for them to use as cover. They were able to move onto the so-called 'shipping area' with ease.

"The officer's room should be just up ahead, right?" Ryuji asked as he tried to recall the map.

"There wasn't much room left on the map to indicate that there'd be much more," said Yusuke, holding his chin as he looked around. To their right, where the conveyor belt passed through the wall like before, was a large machine that packaged the Trigger up in boxes in an instant. The boxes were then being loaded up into a shaft where it would carry the drugs up to the top.

As for the rest of the area, it was surprisingly empty. Empty crates sat off to the side with a stairs at the back that led up to an office that overlooked the entire area. It was clear that there was nowhere else to go from here on.

"You think they can see us from up there?" Ann asked, feeling a little too exposed with them out in the open like this.

"Considering that thing from earlier said they'd be told, it probably doesn't matter." Bakugou scoffed, eyes narrowing at the office. "Let's go and get that key card."

"Well, well! Looks like you brats made it here real quick!"

The same voice from earlier echoed over an intercom, the four immediately taking tense stances.

"I guess you really can't delegate tasks to grunts too often. You know what they say, you want somethin' done right…"

"You make me do it instead!" A new voice echoed from the office. And much to their chagrin, a large shadow loomed overhead. The steel steps clanked as something huge charged up them. The large shadow shifted as the figure above jumped over the railings, landing with a thunderous crash on the ground.

"What the hell?!" Ryuji blurted out, gripping his bat as their latest opponent slowly rose in height. Unlike the previous Bullets who had started out at a normal height, this one seemed naturally gigantic. He was at least eight feet tall with muscles to rival All Might's. His arms were unnaturally long, his iron-gloved hands, each thicker than his own head, reaching the floor in front of him even as he stood at full height. His face was hidden behind another plague doctor's that covered his comparatively tiny head, making it resemble an anteater's.

"It's too early for kids like you to be playin' around in a yakuza base." The monster of a man rumbled. At his feet were, strangely enough, regular looking cognitive yakuza grunts, gathering in front of him in protection. "Pity. If you've made it this far, then that means there's no leavin' for you. We'll have to feed you to the fishes. If anything's left of you when we're done."

"That's right! We could always use more test subjects, but I think it's better safe than sorry with you lot!" the same irritating voice echoed over the intercom again. Just above the massive yakuza, the small form of the beaked monstrosity that separated them stretched out from the metal. "Maybe that's a good thing, though! As annoying as kids are, I'd much rather kill ya then put you through that hell! Consider it a kindness on our part!"

"Kindness my ass! We know how you assholes treat little girls!" Ryuji snapped, stomping his foot on the ground. "We're gonna take your key cards and save Eri!"

"You bastards wanna show us kindness? How 'bout you kindly drop dead!" Bakugou snarled with a dark grin as he drew out his minigun, preparing to fire.

"Huh? They know about Eri?" The hulking one's lensed eyes flared.

"Hm. Guess we'll have to keep 'em alive. Well, at least one of 'em," said the disembodied mask said, its head scanning across the group. "We need to find out what they know and who sent 'em."

"Hm… guess we'll leave the one in red alive, then." The hulking one rumbled with a low, suggestive laughter. "I'd hate to hurt a lady with such a body like yours, anyway."

"You're not taking anyone, asshole! All you'll be taking is this ass-kicking!" Ryuji stepped in front of Ann defensively, feeling his temper flare up at the way they addressed Ann.

"Whoa-ho-ho~, casanova! No need to get so protective of your lady! You'll be worrying more about yourself in just a sec."

"That's right. Because now you're messin' with the big boys. Hope you said your prayers and goodbyes…" The hulking yakuza roughly grabbed the grunts in front of them, causing them to panic as he started to take a long inhale. The team widened their eyes as visible streams of energy were drawn out from the grunts and were absorbed into the face of his mask. His body suddenly tripled in size, causing the Thieves to take a step back in horror.

"You ain't dealin' with wimpy grunts anymore, brats. I'm Rikiya Katsukame…"

"And you can call me Mimic~!" The mask fell onto Rikiya's shoulder guards, merging with them so that its mask was facing them from his shoulder.

"And we're the Eight Bullets!"

To be continued…

Happy to finally get another chapter of this out! Man, it's been a while!

Sorry for the long layoff, it's been an interesting few months for me. I'm getting back into the swing of writing but I'm electing to not stay on any sort of release schedule. Now that this chapter is done, I'm going to be writing a few more personal projects over the next month, but once those are done, I'm going straight back to this story to get another chapter out!

This is a big arc for me, as it's an original one and one of the challenges of doing it is having to come up with original content to keep the story going forward. But I'm not letting that discourage me too much and am pushing as hard as I can to do it right! I hope you all continue to be patient and will be happy with what I write up in the chapters to come!

Btw, just another reminder, I have a twtr account by the name of MN0Luffy. If you want to see a couple of the Ptreon pages there or want to support the story to get more comics made, be sure to check it out and contribute a little bit if you'd be so kind! We could always use more support to get pages drawn up and it would be much appreciated! :)

Anyways, that's it for this chapter, please leave a follow, a favorite and a review if you'd be so kind! Have a good day, and happy to be back!