The bond was back when he woke up. Normal. He spent the next morning with a close eye on Ren. He seemed fine—a little tense, a little thoughtful, a little quiet… but that was understandable. He left the attic in his school uniform, hands in pockets, glasses reflecting the light.

Sojiro glanced up. "Looks like you're awake. The school you're attending is in the Aoyama district. The route transfers are a pain, so I'll drive you there, but just for today." A plate of curry sat on the counter.

Ren stared at it uncertainly, then transferred that gaze to Sojiro.

"What's that reaction for? Just eat it. Cafe might be closed right now, but in the future, I want you to finish it before the customers start coming in."

Ren hesitantly sat down and started eating. At the first bite, his eyes widened. He began eating faster.

Makoto wished he could taste it for himself, but… "Taste good?"

Ren startled. "You're still here?"

"Yes…?"

"Something wrong?" Sojiro asked.

"Nothing… Just thought I heard something."

Sojiro eyed him. "Right… Well, just don't take too long."

Ren finished his plate silently and stood. Sojiro swiped the plate from him and put it in the sink. With Sojiro's back turned, Ren swallowed. "You're… really real."

Oh. Oh. "I am."

Ren let out a slow, silent breath. "I… Good. That's good."

"What happened?" he asked in his most open, non-judgemental tone. "You readily believed that my voice was real yesterday." So what had changed?

Ren sighed. "I thought it was impossible for me to hallucinate or dream up a voice with its own name and personality, but then I had this crazy dream about—"

At the door, Sojiro barked at Ren to hurry up. Ren startled and rushed after him.

Makoto followed more leisurely. A dream… He needed to ask Ren about it later. It might've been related to why the bond disappeared.


00 00

The teen was back at the subway again. It wasn't unusual, until he ducked behind a pillar and tapped his phone.

The world warped. Red ripples spread across his vision. Yu blinked and found himself in a red-tinted, distorted version of the subway, red vines—which looked alarmingly more like veins—growing on the walls and corners. The faintest hint of dust coated the floor. When he breathed in, he could taste the oppressive atmosphere, sourness and bitterness caked in artificial sweetness, then rolled in dust or mildew for good measure. There was a slight pressure on his shoulders, as if the air itself had eyes watching his every move.

This place was strangely familiar, but off. It felt like the color blue, or the buzz of lightning, or the hum of tarot cards. It felt like the faint hissing of static, with a muffled haziness.

Like TV static… and fog.

The teen, now in a full-body dark suit and a black mask, headed deeper, pink ripples spreading beneath his feet. His eyes were half hidden behind red glass, but he was used to looking through his teammates' glasses to discern their lines of sight, so he could see the way the teen's eyes raked over the surroundings.

He was hunting for something. A Shadow?

The teen came to a swirling portal that sucked in the subway tracks, reminiscent of the ones in the TV World at the start of a Dungeon. The teen leaped into the portal.

He followed and landed in a dark, enclosed room. The only light came from the red web-like designs on the floor. A Shadow waited at the end—a humanoid Shadow wearing a business suit. It looked… human. Not just humanoid—it looked human. It looked almost completely normal, except for the yellow eyes.

The teen tore off his mask. Blue flames burst around him. "Loki! Call of Chaos!"

Blood-red energy infected the Shadow, turning it darker and making its eyes blaze an even brighter yellow. The teen swiftly left the scene.

Yu was left to stare at the Shadow writhing and clawing at the floor. It still looked human, but its face was contorted in a scream. The shrill sound bounced off the walls.

He turned on his heel and left the room. He couldn't take any more of this. He couldn't stand to stay any longer. He couldn't…

Think. A distraction.

This had to be significant. This had to have some purpose. What did it do? For all he knew, this new Shadow world was localized to Tokyo like the TV World was to Inaba, so…

His eyes widened. Of course. The recent incidents: the psychotic breakdowns and mental shutdowns. Naoto had looked into them, but couldn't investigate due to her inability to enter Tokyo. He remembered thinking that they were suspicious, that there was a possibility of it being connected to Shadows somehow, but Teddie had reported no change in the TV world, so he let it be. To think it really was caused by Shadow-related activity…

He had to stop this. He had to do something. The Investigation Team wouldn't let this stand. He couldn't let this stand.

But… he was dead. What could he do? He couldn't turn him into the police, couldn't prompt an investigation, couldn't do anything. He was…

Alone.

He wished they were here. Yosuke and Chie and Yukiko and Kanji and Rise and Naoto. Their strength, their wit, and their energy… They would know what to do. At the very least, they would help him stop feeling so useless, so helpless, so…

He sighed. He had to be here for a reason, right? And he had resolved to get to the bottom of this mystery. That meant seeing it through to the end. Even… Even like this. He could at least keep an eye on the teen. Even if that was all he could do, he had to do something.

He scanned the twisting hallways for the teen, cursing himself for not paying more attention. This place looked like a labyrinth, like the Dungeons from the TV World; if he lost him, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to find him again.

He turned the corner, and there was the teen. He gave a mental sigh of relief, until he caught sight of movement.

A Shadow lurked in the dim light, masks covering its upper body—not human, but still vaguely humanoid in shape and much more humanoid than most of the generic Shadows of the TV world. It was still far enough away that the teen hadn't noticed it, but it was drifting closer.

He hesitated. The Shadows in this area didn't appear particularly strong, but he had no way to know for certain, and all Shadows—even weak ones—had the potential to be dangerous. He also didn't know the teen's power level, especially how it matched up to the Shadows in this area. The teen seemed strong enough, if he was travelling alone with the ease of someone well accustomed to the area. Chances were the teen would notice the Shadow eventually, but… the Shadow was approaching from what he knew to be a blind spot.

He didn't need to step in. He wasn't even sure if he should. With what he'd seen, the teen was the most likely cause of the psychotic breakdowns and mental shutdowns.

But still—still—

He charged at the Shadow. A sword formed in his hands. He instinctively brought it down.

The Shadow was split in two.

The teen spun with a curse. He swung out with his own sword.

He ducked on instinct. The sword swiped through the air where his neck used to be. He felt a chill run down his spine. That aim was uncanny. Could he see him?

The teen scowled and stabbed the Shadow. The Shadow disintegrated. He cast a lingering, wary eye on the surroundings. "Show yourself," he hissed.

Despite himself, a part of him wilted. So he couldn't see him. And he'd already established that he couldn't be heard or felt either, so there was no way for them to communicate.

Did he even want to try? Did he even want to risk it? Communication would mean revealing his existence as a ghost. Right now, the teen didn't even know he was there. He could simply lurk and eavesdrop until he figured out a way to stop him.

Then again, there wasn't much to risk; he was already dead. And communication would help him gather information. Not just on methods—those, he could figure out through observation—but on more subjective matters as well. Motive, for one. He knew there were people out there who killed and hurt others simply because they wanted to, but he couldn't assume this was the case. He had to reach out to the truth—the truth of who the teen was. What was his motive? Were others involved? Was some supernatural entity meddling with the world again?

...The last one happened a lot more than people might expect.

Still, communication could only help. Besides… it felt dishonest to lurk around him and spy on his daily life.

There was still the problem of how to communicate. But he could fight those Shadows. Maybe… Maybe…

He reached out and grasped the teen's hand.

The teen lurched away. "Who's there?!"

"Yu Narukami." His voice bubbled out of his throat before he could stop it. "Can you hear me?"

"I said, who are you?"

That was a no. He tried to shove the disappointment away. Focus. How else could he communicate? Since the teen had felt him, and he fought those Shadows, that meant he could touch things in this place, right?

He kneeled down and started to write his name in the thin layer of dust on the floor. He got through his first name, then paused. Did he really want an unknown individual—a possible enemy—to know his name?

The teen stalked over. "So your name is Yu." He shot a glare in his direction—which was surprisingly accurate; he could feel the vitriol. "How did you get here?"

I followed you, he wrote.

"Followed—?" His grip on his sword tightened. "Why?"

It was better to be honest, right? He wasn't sure if he could be hurt in this place, but since he could touch others and fight Shadows… Just in case, he didn't want to test it. And the teen was looking more and more ready for a fight.

I'm dead, he scrawled. You're interesting. He hesitated, then added, I want to keep an eye on you.

The teen bristled. "For what reason?"

Curiosity. It was the truth, or at least part of it.

"I highly doubt curiosity is enough to follow me, a relative stranger, into an alternate reality. Moreover, you dispatched those Shadows far too easily, even as weak as they were."

How much did he want to tell him?

I have a Persona. After some thought, he crossed out 'have' and wrote 'had' under it. I haven't summoned one in years.

"Why?"

Didn't need to. He hadn't thought he needed to. After all, they'd defeated Izanami, Mikuratana-no-Kami, and Hi-no-Kagutsuchi. And after that, there weren't any more supernatural, world-ending incidents… or so he'd thought. But with the existence of this place, teeming with Shadows… had he been wrong?

First, he had to at least find out who this teen was. Can I have your name?

The teen scoffed. "Why would I give you my name?"

One of his friends—Yosuke, Kanji, Rise, maybe even Chie—would have rolled their eyes. He only drew his brows together, face set in slightly more of a frown than it was before. I need something to call you.

The helmet covered most of his face, but he could see his mouth was set in a decidedly unimpressed line. "Your intentions couldn't be more transparent if you tried. I'm almost offended."

Sorry…? It's the polite thing to do.

The teen's mouth flattened even more, which—wow, he didn't even think that was possible. "Don't be so condescending. You and I both know that's not what I'm talking about."

He mentally sighed. He was trying to be courteous, and he truly did want to be on more amicable terms, but if he was going to insist… What can I do with a name? He underlined the I'm dead statement twice and added, I can't do anything.

A scowl etched on the teen's face. "Well, I suppose you did save me…" He was silent for a moment. "Fine then. You may call me Akechi."

Yu paused. Akechi? Why did that sound so familiar…?

Akechi advanced, the sole of his shoe scuffing some of the words. "What do you intend to do here? Or are you going to keep following me around like a lost child?"

He considered, and then, with deliberate carelessness, scrawled, I'm twenty one. And older than you.

Akechi's gaze sharpened. The weight of it, the intensity, honed in on him. "Congratulations," he drawled in a dismissive tone, but his focus didn't change. "You still followed me here. I would have thought that you would haunt people you actually knew, but I suppose you truly must not have anything better to do."

I have friends and family. But they wouldn't be able to see or hear me anyway. At least, he highly doubted that they would. If not even Akechi, with a Persona and in another world, could perceive him…

"So you're going to follow me. For the rest of your afterlife."

He drew a checkmark.

Akechi's hand twitched on his sword. "Who do you think you are?"

He underlined Yu, and then Persona.

Akechi growled. "Are your supposed friends as aggravating as you are?"

Sometimes. One of my friends got on the girls' nerves easily when we were in high school.

Akechi settled slightly, but that intensity still ran through his body. His gaze—though still hidden—was as sharp as before, with an eager, almost hungry slant.

He wasn't dumb. He knew that Akechi had been provoking him to gain more information on him. Ever since that moment with his name, he had been carefully thinking through what he wanted to reveal. And he did want to reveal things; he wanted to be as honest as possible to encourage Akechi to return the gesture. Communication would only help him learn the truth if they weren't constantly, blatantly lying to each other. And though lies of omission weren't much better… he needed to take precautions.

Simple, generic information was fine: birthdays, personal anecdotes, tidbits and trivia. But he would reveal nothing that could be used as identification, that could be used to track down himself or those he loved. Nothing that could endanger his friends and family.

He refused to endanger them due to his own curiosity and machinations.

"I have better things to do than to interrogate a dead man," Akechi said. "Let's make this quick. Answer me now or you will suffer the consequences. What is your goal here?"

He couldn't dodge the question anymore, nor did he want to. He had no intention of staying here forever, dancing around the traps and pitfalls hidden in Akechi's words. He wanted them to be on more even ground. We both want the same thing. Why not give each other what we want?

"I said—"

He drew a hasty scribble to stop him and continued. I'm willing to answer your questions as long as you give me the same courtesy.

Akechi's eyes narrowed. "What, exactly, do you mean?"

It looked like he needed to spell it out explicitly. A question for a question. An answer for an answer. I'll tell you the truth if you do the same.

"And how do I know that you aren't lying?"

Trust. At Akechi's scoff, he elaborated. We have to trust each other to tell the truth as we know it.

It was a gamble. The fact of the matter was, he didn't know if he could trust Akechi to keep his word. He'd like to believe that was the case, from what he'd observed, but he couldn't be certain.

Still, he had already trusted him with his existence. Why not take it a step further?

Akechi stood still, staring at the words on the ground, not answering. Not agreeing… but not disagreeing either.

He took a breath. Well. It seemed as though he needed to take that leap first. He could still stalk him in the real world, if it came down to it. I want to find the truth. The truth behind why you did what you did to that Shadow and if there is more going on that we aren't aware of.

"Fancy yourself a detective?"

Something about that word seemed significant, especially with the slight emphasis that Akechi had placed on it, but he ignored it for now. Persona users are rarely alone. There's usually a force behind it, a reason why we were granted this power. I want to make sure this force isn't going to cause us harm.

"Is that something to be particularly worried about?"

The supernatural entities I've encountered—excluding Teddie, Marie, and the residents of the Velvet Room—have either been extremely misguided or actively malevolent. The entity that gave me the power to use my Persona was the former, but she tried to end the world by turning everyone into Shadows. I know of another entity who actively sought the world's destruction, and manipulated another Persona user into helping it.

"Oh?" His voice had changed briefly, lighter and smoother, with a familiar inflection. "And here I thought you wouldn't give away so much information."

He underlined Trust, and then his terms. He was still expecting answers, of course; this was supposed to be a mutually beneficial exchange. But he was willing to give this much. Evil or not, he wanted this new Persona user to understand that there was more going on behind the scenes, that there could be someone or something pulling the strings, that there was a force out there that could be influencing his life right now. If he wasn't evil, if he was being manipulated like Sho, then he needed to know. If he was… If he was, then he still needed to know. No one should be taken advantage of, should have their life treated like a plaything of the powers above. Especially if they weren't even aware it was a possibility.

That's my truth, he wrote. Will you give me yours?

Akechi went silent, his lips creased in a contemplative frown. Yu let himself drift into his head, chasing the nagging feeling that he knew Akechi from somewhere. His name was familiar… but why? Where would he have heard about a teen, enough for his name to be familiar, enough for even his voice—when spoken in a certain way—to be familiar? If his voice was familiar, he must have at least heard him before—was he famous? And that strange emphasis on detective

Wait… Oh. Now he felt dumb. This was Goro Akechi, the second coming of the Detective Prince. The one he'd very briefly conversed about with Naoto and Rise, after he had started showing up on TV and gaining a little exposure. What was a renowned, respected public figure like him doing, skulking around in this Shadow world and possibly—almost certainly—causing the breakdowns and shutdowns? Not that he didn't have some experience with this kind of situation; after all, Adachi…

Akechi finally spoke. "How do I know that you aren't one of these entities as well? You claim to be dead as if you once were alive, but you haven't given me any identification other than your name."

If he wanted to be frank… You are obviously a dangerous person. I do not trust you to leave my friends and family alone if I give you a lead.

"And here you talked about trusting me."

I trust you to keep your word. I do not trust you to not involve my friends.

His lip curled up. "So you aren't just a brainless fool."

Of course he wasn't. He was part of the team who solved the Inaba murder mystery. But more than that, he was a Wild Card. He couldn't afford to not think through his actions when his actions could potentially impact so many people he knew. Especially now, when he was dancing with danger in this manner.

Akechi nodded to himself. His voice hardened. "Very well. I'll accept your deal."

Glass shattered.

Thou art I… and I am thou…

Thou hast established a new bond…

It brings new mysteries that lead thee closer to the truth…

Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Fool Arcana…

Yu raised an eyebrow. A new Social Link? Not only that, but a new Social Link that he'd already had before?

But wait—The incantation was different. It had been over four years ago, but—he knew the incantation was different somehow. The first two lines were the same, but the third…?

New mysteries. That was the different part. Before, it only said that the bond was bringing him closer to the truth. But now…

A thin smile spread on his face. New mysteries, huh? The kid certainly was one. It seemed like he was only the start. And hopefully, now he would be getting some answers.

"What do you wish to know? Make it quick; we don't have much time."

He braced himself. Alright then, time to be blunt. Was what you just did a psychotic breakdown or a mental shutdown?

A thin smirk grew on Akechi's face. "Yes."

Yu had mastered the art of the straight face a long time ago, so he very firmly did not groan. I meant which one.

"A psychotic breakdown. It's a power unique to me." He cast a wary glance to the side. "We should go. It's not wise to linger."

He frowned, but then he heard it—the sound of rattling chains. He tensed and followed after Akechi. He could get his answers later. The Reaper was not something to be messed with.

Some heart-pounding moments later, they were back at the entrance. Akechi tapped his phone, and the world warped back into regular Tokyo subway scenery.

Akechi cast his eyes around. "I don't suppose you can give any sign that you're here," he muttered lowly.

Yu tried to grab his shoulder. His hand phased through. He shook his head and belatedly remembered that he couldn't be seen either.

Akechi brought his phone to his ear and walked briskly through the open. "Perhaps we should meet up again later." His voice was pitched higher and lighter—what he now knew to be his Detective Prince voice. "Would tomorrow at 6:30 suffice?" A fake pause. "Splendid."

Yu followed him to the end of the station, faintly exasperated and grudgingly impressed. He knew he couldn't exactly give his input, but did Akechi really need to set the meeting time himself with that air of complete self-assurance? Still, he had to admit that he knew how to put on a convincing act.

At the station's edge, Akechi… hesitated. His eyes took on a strange, unreadable quality, and he lowered his voice to a murmur. "If you wish to know more, perhaps you should stay behind a little longer." He turned on his heel and left.

Yu's eyes trailed after him, but he didn't move, taking a moment to puzzle over those words and that strange look in his eyes. What could Akechi have meant by that?

A faint screeching from deep inside the tunnel. He stiffened. That sound was all too familiar.

Metal against metal, harsh and grating…

A train barrelled through, tearing a line through the platform. Screams erupted as people dove away. Sparks flew from the rails. The train ground to a halt, each car piling on each other. Dust clouds bloomed, thick and choking, covering the wreckage—the wreckage he knew had to be there, with the grinding of brakes, the screech of metal, the flickering lights, the sharp edges coming down on him like a guillotine, the last thing he'd ever see—

He took a sharp breath. Tucked the images away. Exhaled.

The clouds had cleared some. The train cars were half-tilted and in an only vaguely straight line, but thankfully, it seemed like none of the walls had caved in or bent. Broken stone shards littered the area, the remains of the platform. Most of the people had made it clear, though some had some scrapes and bruises from escaping. He… didn't know about the people inside. The doors were sealed shut, locking them away.

He watched emergency services arrive on the scene. He watched rubble be shifted to the side. He watched the doors be pried open and people be pulled from the wreckage. Some were able to crawl out, pick themselves up, and walk away. Some weren't; they had to be carried out on stretchers.

The newly formed Social Link was a weight around his chest. He swallowed.

You caused this, didn't you?


00 00

"To reiterate, just so we're clear, you will immediately be expelled if you cause any problems."

Makoto raised an eyebrow. Wow, the people at this school were hostile. They even complained about Ren to his face. If this was how it would be, he was glad he stuck with him.

Sojiro got them out once the principal's dismissive attitude started bothering even him. They returned to the cafe after slogging through traffic—something about a subway accident. Sojiro gave Ren a diary, got a call, warned him not to mess with the store, and left.

Ren sagged, the tension finally leaving his shoulders. He got changed and laid in bed, fiddling with his phone. "Hey… did you do something to my phone?"

"No." He floated over. "Why do you ask?"

Ren showed him his phone, pointing to an app with a red eye. "This keeps showing up, even though I thought I deleted it… I thought it might be some weird ghost thing since it showed up around the same time you did."

"I don't recognize it…" But it felt… familiar. Somehow. Orpheus Telos shifted in his soul.

"Must be malware then." Ren dragged the app to the trash and closed his eyes.

He frowned. Orpheus Telos… It was almost like he took interest in the app. Which meant the app couldn't be normal. "Be prepared for tomorrow."

"Sounds vaguely ominous. Why's that?"

"Just a feeling." A pause. He weighed his words. "Don't let them get to you. You'll get through this."

"...I hope so."


The next morning, he was roused by shuffling and the creaking of steps. Ren scarfed down breakfast—more curry—and went out the door. Makoto trailed after him.

The train car was almost completely packed. Ren got on with a grimace, hugging his bag to his chest. Makoto drifted nearby, two people phasing through him.

The train spat them out at a wide, bustling platform, multiple pathways branching out like a labyrinth. Ren stared blankly, clearly lost. "Uh… Do you think you could help?"

"Sorry. Iwatodai had a monorail." It was nowhere near as complicated as Tokyo subway lines. And he didn't remember much about the other places he'd lived.

Ren clicked his tongue. "Worth a shot," he muttered.

Up the stairs, past the ticket gate, eavesdrop on an attendant for directions…

Ren glared at the sign blocking the hallway. "Cleaning? Really? Why does this have to be even more complicated?" A pause. He sighed, shuddering a little. "Sorry. I'm… a little on edge."

"It's fine." Makoto glanced around, searching. "Take the stairs to the right. If you go around…"

"You mean, around the building? Find another entrance? Yeah, that might work…"

It was raining when Ren finally found the right train and left the station. Ren groaned and hid under an overhang. He pulled out his phone and sighed. "It's that app again."

Makoto glanced at it. The app had expanded to cover the screen. Orpheus Telos stirred.

That… was interesting. And a little concerning.

A girl walked up to them. She pulled her hood back. Long blonde hair spilled out. She caught sight of Ren and gave a small smile.

Ren stared. Openly. "Wow. She's so pretty."

He smiled internally. "Stop staring."

Ren mumbled something unintelligible in his thoughts and turned to face forward again.

A car pulled up. The window rolled down. A broad-chinned man peered out, eyes on the girl. "Good morning. You want me to give you a ride to school? You're going to be late."

An uneasy smile. "Um, sure, thank you."

"Do you need a lift too?"

Ren gave a wave of his hand. "Nah." His voice was stiff.

The girl got in the car, her eyes down. The car pulled away.

He glanced at Ren. "Something wrong?"

"That man gave me a bad feeling, I guess…"

He raised an eyebrow and gave a hum. Perceptive. Or maybe just paranoid. Either way, it would serve him well, if his hunch was correct…

Feet slapped against the wet road. A blond slowed to a halt. "Dammit! Screw that pervy teacher."

"Pervy teacher…?"

The blond turned back with a scowl. "You planning on ratting me out to Kamoshida?"

"Kamoshida?"

The air buzzed. Makoto snapped to attention. His eyes fell on the phone. The phone with the app open, recording words.

"He does whatever the hell he wants," the blond was saying. "Who does he think he is—the king of a castle?"

The buzzing increased, building in his ears. Orpheus Telos drew closer to the surface.

"Wait. You don't know Kamoshida? Are you for real? You're from Shujin Academy, right?"

The pressure snapped. A strange energy filled the air, like static electricity.

Makoto winced and brought a hand to his head. It felt off. He felt off. Different. Changed. And the world, it was—warped…?

Orpheus nudged him back to awareness. He blinked and shook the spots out of his eyes.

The other two were shaking their heads. "Ugh," the blond groaned. "My head hurts…" He walked off.

Ren followed, frowning. "Do you know anything about that weird headache? I would've thought it was just stress, but that boy got it at the same time, and it disappeared a few seconds later… It just seems strange."

"I've been out of it since he said Shujin," he admitted.

"Wait, really? Are you okay?"

"Fine." His head still ached, but that wasn't important. "Be on guard. Something's not right."

Ren tensed. Cast a glance at the blond.

The blond reached the end of the alley and startled. "Wha—?"

A large golden castle loomed ahead. Ominous purple clouds gathered above, casting a red haze.

"We didn't… come the wrong way though…" the blond muttered. "What's going on here? I guess we'll just have to go and ask." The blond walked off.

"Should we really be going into the creepy castle?"

"No," he said flatly. "But he's already heading in."

Ren grimaced and followed the blond in.

The floor was lined in red velvet with royal red drapes. A chandelier hung from the ceiling. On the far wall was a portrait of… the man in the car…?

A blink. The world glitched. A glimpse of artificial lights. Another blink, and it was back to the red drapes and castle finery.

He tensed and dropped into a stance, hand instinctively going to his—Oh. Oh.

"Ask if this is the school," he hissed. He knew he'd never been here before, but this felt far too familiar.

"Is this our school?" Ren asked.

"I mean, it… should be… The sign was for the school, right?"

Ren gave a small nod. His eyes flitted to the side, hidden by his glasses. "What's going on here?"

"I—I don't know, I want to know!"

A school had turned into a castle… How familiar. It wasn't a tower of doom, but it could be just as dangerous. And at his waist…

His sword. His Evoker.

His hackles rose. He sensed—"Get out. Now."

A knight lumbered towards them.

The blond startled. "Geez, you freaked me out!" He took a step forward. "Who're you, you a student?"

Ren grimaced and shook his head. Tugged on the blond's sleeve. "We should go."

"Huh? But—" The blond turned. Frowned. "Yeah, okay."

They ran, but two more knights blocked them off. They backed away.

"...This shit's real," the blond breathed.

A knight thrust its shield.

The blond slammed into the ground.

Makoto drew his Evoker. Orpheus—

A harsh throb. He doubled over, gripping his head.

The blond crawled to his feet. "Dammit, you're gonna break my bones!" he snapped. "The hell do you think—"

The knight struck him. He crumbled and didn't move.

Ren crouched over the blond, teeth bared.

The knight batted him away. Another loomed over him. Raised its shield. Smashed it over his head.

Ren dropped.

His grip tightened. Orpheus—!

Thou cannot.

A sharp hiss escaped him. He squeezed his eyes shut, grappled with the pain. A hammer beat beneath his eyes. His head was throbbing. Like a saw driven through flesh. Nerves seared and fried. Hands twisting and tearing. Like that time with Thanatos bursting out of him. Only there was no Thanatos to burst out this time. Because he was gone. Because there was nothing. Nothing but emptiness where his Personas used to be.

Focus!

He gasped. He was curled up, hair fisted in his hands. His Evoker was on the ground. He picked it up and straightened.

Ren and the blond were still on the ground. The knights still surrounded them.

He swallowed. Orpheus…?

Thou was not out long. Only a moment.

He exhaled. Pressed his palms to his eyes. His head still felt raw. Frayed. What happened?

Thou cannot interfere. Thou dost not have a strong enough presence to affect this world. Not without consequences.

He frowned. It made sense. Just entering this world gave him a headache. Of course trying to summon would feel like a blow from Akihiko. Worse, even. But those two…

Orpheus' voice gentled. Thou need not fear their deaths. They still have a journey yet to be taken, much like thee.

"Take them away!" a knight ordered. Two other knights slung their bodies over their shoulders and marched off.

He trailed after them. Orpheus… Thanks. He would've done something reckless if it weren't for him.

I am thou, and thou art I. It is lucky that thou art equally stupid and sensible.

His lip curved up. It's good to hear from you again.

They came to a dungeon cell. Dark, dirty, dilapidated. The knights tossed Ren and the blond in, locked the door, and left.

He floated through the bars and checked on them. The blond was stirring, but Ren…

He tentatively pressed a hand to his shoulder. It phased through. He sighed. He should've expected that. He settled in to wait.

Some time later—hours, maybe—the blond sat up, groaning. His eyes landed on Ren. He rushed over. "Hey. Hey, wake up!"

A pause. Long. Tight. Then, Ren stirred. Dragged himself upright. Cupped his head in his hands. He was silent, his mouth set in a stiff line.

Makoto kept quiet. He didn't think it'd be a good idea to speak.

"You alright?" the blond asked, much quieter.

Ren nodded. Raised his head. "You?"

The blond rolled his shoulder. "Yeah, more or less." He turned to the bars. "Looks like this really ain't no dream… What's going on?"

A tortured scream split the air.

Though it was garbled, unease rippled through his body. He should've thought about whether others were here. If this was like how Apathy Syndrome was…

More screams. A muffled plea. Retching.

"Whoa," the blond hissed. "Whoa, whoa, whoa—" His voice pitched higher. "Isn't there some way out of here? Come on, we gotta do something!"

A man strutted up to them, escorted by knights. King's robes. Naked legs. A broad chin. The man in the car—Kamoshida. But his eyes were yellow.

He'd only ever seen yellow eyes on Elizabeth, his Velvet Room Attendant. But these were… darker, somehow. Tainted. Dirtied. Wrong. Liz's eyes were still unnatural, but not like this. Liz's eyes were bright, pure, and these… weren't.

These were only a shadow. A Shadow's.

The man cast a glance over them. "I thought it was some petty thief, but to think it was you, Sakamoto. It looks like you haven't learned your lesson at all. Not only did you sneak into my castle, you committed the crime of insulting me—the king." A slimy smirk. "The punishment for that is death."

His grip tightened on his Evoker. Orpheus…

Thou cannot interfere.

"It's time for an execution!"

The knights stormed into the cell, forcing Ren to the side and the blond against the wall.

The blond sucked in a breath. "Goddammit…" A running charge, and he smashed into the knight. The knight toppled. He turned to Ren. "C'mon, we're out of here!"

Another knight marched to him. He tried to back away, but the knight slugged him in the gut. A pained cry, and he dropped to his knees.

Ren seized the knight and tried to drag it away. The knight didn't even budge.

"Just go!" the blond yelled. "Get out of here!"

The man chuckled. Cocked his head at Ren. "Running away, are we? What a heartless friend you are."

"He ain't a friend," the blond gritted out.

Ren flinched.

"C'mon, hurry up and go!"

The man scoffed. "Pathetic scum isn't worth my time. I'll focus on this one's execution instead."

The knights dragged the blond upright.

A wicked grin distorted the man's face. He slammed a fist into the blond. Jabbed another in his gut. And again. And again.

"Stop it!" Ren snapped.

The man rounded on him. "Don't you dare tell me what to do," he snarled. "That look in your eyes irritates me!"

He shoved a leg at him. Ren staggered back. Two guards pinned him to the wall.

"Hold him there," the man ordered. "After the peasant"—he turned to the blond—"it's his turn to die."

His grip went white. Orpheus.

Thou cannot.

I know, he nearly snapped. His heart was a live wire, hissing and sparking. But I can't sit back and watch them—watch this happen!

Wait.

A glittering blue butterfly.

Wait? How was he supposed to wait? These two were about to face death, they were about to die

"It wasn't. A mistake."

He stopped.

The butterfly drifted past Ren. Ren's eyes hardened. "That's enough!"

Oh. Of course.

Kamoshida turned on him. "You desire to be killed that much? Fine!"

A guard smashed his shield into Ren's head, knocking the glasses off his face.

A gust of power, howling and whistling. One that made even him step back. Then, for a moment, a silent stillness.

A mask sat on Ren's face. His fingers fumbled around the edge. He grasped it. Peeled it off. Blood poured down his cheeks, dripping like thick tears. He looked up, and his eyes blazed yellow.

Blue flames burst around him. A deep voice laughed. The flames rose, forming into a red, gentlemanly figure with wings and chains. A Persona.

"I am the pillager of twilight—Arsene!"

With a flourish, the guards were blasted back. A wicked grin spread on Ren's face. He wore a long black coat, red gloves, and pointed boots—not his uniform.

"Guards!" the man roared.

They stood, creaking and with puppet-like motion.

"Start by killing that one!"

The knights burst open. Two Shadows rose. But their form…

Orpheus. These are Shadows. He didn't doubt that. The energy they gave off was… too familiar. So why do they look like Personas?

Pyro Jack, specifically. Weak against Ice, if he remembered right. But Ren's Persona… wasn't Ice.

Ren took a battle stance, a blade in hand.

These Shadows were weak. But even weak Shadows could hurt. And Ren had only just awakened.

His lips thinned. Since he didn't know what Ren could do… "Listen to your Persona."

Surprise flickered in Ren's eyes. "My what?"

"Arsene," he clarified.

A blink. A pause. Ren's expression hardened. No, he was glaring. "There!"

His Persona flared its wings, stretched out a claw. A burst of scarlet, and the Pyro Jack reeled back.

It felt like… Dark. Maybe. Almost, but not quite.

Things were different. Of course they were. It had been years…

The Pyro Jack crashed into Ren. He stumbled back. Retaliated with a wide swing. The Pyro Jack disintegrated.

He let out a breath. Focus.

The other advanced, gearing up for a swing.

"Jump back," he ordered.

Ren startled and did so. The Pyro Jack swung its lantern through empty air, spinning with the force. Ren took the chance to tear a gash in its face. It howled.

Ren glared. Another burst of power, and this one disintegrated too. He flexed a hand, staring down at himself. "That was…"

The man snarled.

Ren tensed and stared him down.

The man stalked up to him. "You little—"

The blond rammed into the man, knocking him aside. "You like that?" he shouted, eyes wide.

"The key!" Ren yelled.

The blond swiped the keys off the ground. The two rushed out of the cell. A clang, and the cell was locked.

The man shook the bars, spitting curses.

The blond took a few steps back. Turned to Ren. "Hey, what was that just now? And your clothes…!"

Ren shifted on one foot and shoved his hands in his pockets. A flash of blue fire, and the outfit disappeared.

His brow furrowed. He'd never had an outfit. But Ren got his when he awakened. So it probably wasn't normal for it to disappear…

"Anyways, let's scram!" the blond said.

The two darted off, the blond chucking the keys into a nearby stream. Only torches lit their path. Cells lined the walls. They jumped the stream, crawled through a hole, crossed a drawbridge. Clanking echoed nearby. They ducked behind some crates.

"Hey, are you still there?"

He mumbled an agreement.

Ren frowned. "Why didn't you say anything earlier? You know, when Kamoshida was… Well, with that whole situation."

"I… didn't think about it." He hadn't. Not until Ren found himself in battle. A situation he was very familiar with—and familiar with speaking in. "It wouldn't have helped. I can't interfere."

"Can't or won't?" Ren challenged.

"Can't." He huffed. "I tried, when you first got captured. It… didn't go well." He'd nearly died. Again. He couldn't recklessly throw away his… ghost-life like that. Or else everyone would…

"If you can't physically interfere, then can you scout ahead? Make sure we don't run into anything else."

"Sure." The clanking had faded. The Shadows were gone. "I think you can move now."

Ren gestured for the blond to stand, and they were off again. Up a staircase, through a door. He floated ahead. More cells. Some held a student inside, collapsed. The cell at the end held a… small, black cat… thing. Cute, but…

It had large, vivid, supernatural blue eyes. The same as Ryoji's. As Pharos'.

He drew a sharp breath. Was this… a Shadow?

The… creature waved Ren and the blond over. "Hey, you guys aren't soldiers, right? Get me out of here!"

"Why should we?" the blond shot back. "We're trying to get the hell out of here, and you obviously look like an enemy too!"

"You want to know where the exit is? Let me out, and I'll take you there."

"What do you think?" Ren asked. "Do you think it's dangerous?"

"Seems friendly," he said, careful to keep his voice steady. "Choose fast though." The knights were still around.

Ren narrowed his eyes at the creature. "You better not be lying." He grabbed the keys and unlocked the door. The creature hopped out with a cheer.

The blond glared. "Now where's the exit, you monster cat?"

"Don't call me a cat! I am Morgana!" It… He? Morgana led them to a raised drawbridge and gestured at a stone head of the man. "Try checking around the mouth of this statue."

The jaw was shaped oddly. Ren pulled down on it. A clank, and the bridge lowered.

"Like a video game…" Ren muttered.

"How were we supposed to know to do that?" the blond demanded.

"Amateurs," Morgana scoffed. "Come on, this way!"

Makoto was forced to follow behind. They rounded the corner. A knight walked in on them.

The blond shouted and scrambled back. Ren tensed. A flare of blue, and he was in his other outfit.

The knight burst into two Shadows again—Pyro Jack and Incubus.

Morgana hopped over the blond. "Come, Zorro!"

A dark, bulky figure with a rapier burst from Morgana.

His eyes widened. He could summon a Persona. Shadows couldn't summon Personas, could they? But those eyes

Morgana drew a curved sword. "Damn Shadows… they're serious about killing us, so fight like your life depends on it!"

Ren flung a blast of energy. The Incubus faltered but swiped at Ren.

Morgana watched with those blue eyes. Scoffed. "I knew you were an amateur. This is how you fight!"

A blast of green—Garu—knocked down the Pyro Jack. Morgana plunged the sword through it, and it disintegrated.

He raised an eyebrow. That was a weakness? He didn't remember Pyro Jack being weak to Wind… And didn't Incubus block Dark…?

"Strike an enemy's weakness to knock them down, and use that opening to strike again. That is the most basic of basics!"

The two finished off the last Shadow.

Morgana turned to Ren, those blue eyes on him again. "Not bad. Your Persona's pretty powerful."

"You mean that thing that comes out of you all dramatic like?" the blond asked.

"Yes. You saw how Frizzy Hair ripped off his mask, right? Well, everyone wears a mask deep within their hearts. By removing that—"

A burst of blue, and Ren's outfit disappeared again.

Morgana tilted his head. "It looks like you don't have full control over your power yet. The transformation shouldn't normally disappear like that."

So he was right. But… something seemed off. Personas were… what had Igor said… a mask that protected him from hardship. Ren's mask literally turned into his Persona, but… Morgana implied that summoning needed that mask taken off…?

It had been years. Things changed. Still…

Morgana led them onward. The blond paused by a prisoner in a red and white uniform he seemed to recognize. They got caught by and defeated two Pixies, and they finally reached a vent, which they used to exit.

Morgana stayed behind. Those blue eyes lingered. "Those two seem useful," he muttered. "Especially the frizzy-haired one, if my judgement's right…"

Those eyes were the same. That blue was the exact same shade. He knew. Ryoji—before that, Pharos—he had known better than himself, than anyone else. He knew those eyes. And yet…

He couldn't read them at all. Not like Ryoji's.

He could easily see what Ryoji meant, how he felt, through his eyes. Those eyes shone with every emotion, every thought, every passing whim. When happy, his eyes would light up. When sad, they gleamed with suppressed tears. When afraid, they turned bright and pale. He could see it all.

Despite having the same eyes, Morgana was completely blank to him.

It was… unnerving. At least Morgana didn't seem like an intentional threat. But whether he was an unwitting one… like Ryoji had ended up…

He went after Ren, floating through the wall. The world warped again. He held back a wince.

Two officers were questioning Ren and the blond. The blond was trying to insist that the castle was real. With no success.

"...I'm back," he announced, a little awkwardly.

Ren's eyes flickered beneath his glasses. "They're not going to believe us, are they."

"No."

Ren turned on his heel and left.

They were met by the man at the school gate. The blond caught up, glared at the man, and stormed past.

The man shook his head and surveyed Ren. "Have we met somewhere?"

"Don't say anything about the castle," Makoto warned. "That man likely isn't aware."

"I saw a girl in your car," Ren offered.

"I remember now…" The man scowled at him. "At any rate, hurry up and go to the faculty office. I'm sure Ms. Kawakami's tired of waiting by now. Cause any trouble and you'll be expelled, understood?" He turned and threw a parting grin. "Good luck trying to enjoy your new school life."

He didn't like that voice. Nor the look in his eye.

Once the man walked away, Ren exhaled. "How do you know about all that crazy stuff? Morgana, I get, because he's some sort of weird, supernatural… thing, but…"

"Not now. You still have school."

Ren narrowed his eyes. "You will explain, though?"

"I will." They had a lot to talk about. The Shadows. Morgana. Ren's Awakening.

Ren had been about to die.

He exhaled. Forced his hands to unclench. But still, his breath trembled, and his pulse beat, beat, beat.

He was…


A/N: This took ages but it's finally done!

Wow that Yu and Goro scene was hard to write. It also dragged on surprisingly long when all I had intended to do was have Goro learn of Yu's existence and then have them establish a Social Link/Confidant…

Also, Goro is hard to write ;w; There are… so many takes on his personality and it's been a struggle deciding what kind of balance to strike and just how I want to write him. Right now I think the angle is terrifyingly competent, analytical, and calculating (but…?). We'll see how that changes later :3

I'm also still trying to get a handle on Makoto's voice. (Well, both his and Yu's voices but—) I feel he's the type to use as little words as possible (or just, you know, not talk), but it's hard because I have so much to say with his perspective haha. I can't wait until he can actually be seen and break out some very pointed body language :D

The next chapter'll probably take even longer because I only have a few pieces written as of writing this note hahahaha aaaaa (Also college apps, but we don't talk about college apps)

Thank you all for being patient ;w; I'll try to, you know, actually finish but we'll see how it goes XD

Edit 12/18/2020: Finally bit the bullet and changed the tense of a certain line so it's more clear ^^;