Yuri fled the scene after his confession, leaving Hisako sweating bullets with Shunya. The older boy rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. "Nightmares are understandable, but I wish he wasn't so quick to run at times."
"Ahaha, y-yeah," Hisako said as she began edging back out of the room.
"Do you know what those terms he used were? They didn't sound familiar."
"Um, no! No I definitely didn't, but I'll go chase after him right now and ask and see how he is!" She ran, too, before he could respond. How dare he just blurt that out and then leave me with him?! she fumed as she darted out into the hallway. As always, he was easy to spot in a crowd, already at the stairs. He caught her eye at the top, relief clear that Shunya hadn't followed him, but didn't stop to wait for her.
As annoyed as she was, she didn't feel like pursuing him if he was bent on avoiding her. She hadn't wanted to be left with Shunya, especially to be asked questions she couldn't answer, and she wasn't going to cover for him. She was still mad enough with him to leave that to be his problem later.
She picked up an application at the convenience store on the corner before heading home. The boy behind the counter—hardly older than she was—gave her an odd look when she asked, but she didn't mind. The mother and daughter from down the hall, Izumi and Himawari, waved as they stepped out of the elevator, just as she was heading inside.
The little bits of normalcy in her life did little to distract her from what awaited them in Irkalla.
Yuri-kun's having nightmares about it? I wish he'd tell me these sorts of things, she thought. ...Am I being as nosy as Shunya-senpai?
She couldn't help her own surprise at herself, too; how hadn't she been having nightmares about what Mika's talking shadow would be? Had Suzuka? Tomorrow would tell.
Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
"You two look terrible," Suzuka bluntly told them.
Hisako and Yuri shared a look. "Can I see the new throwing knives you bought?" the blonde asked, changing the subject.
"Yes! I've already practiced throwing them, and I can't really master the whole hitting-with-the-pointy-end but they're a lot easier to throw than those things we made!" Suzuka dug around in her backpack while they walked. She pulled out a case, about a dozen black knives as long as her forearm bundled together lying inside.
"I can't wait to see this. Remind me to stand far away," Yuri said.
"Dude, come on! I've been throwing things since middle school. Look at these arms! They may bounce off their handles half the time, but I'm pretty decent with my aim, if I say so myself. It was all about adjusting to the balance and grip…" Suzuka chattered on about the technicalities of throwing different objects as they entered the cemetery.
The day was bright, almost hot, and muggy, yet she felt a chill go down her spine. Hisako couldn't pinpoint the cause of the sensation. Is it just dread? She thought she caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye, but nothing was there. Dumuzi wouldn't be here, right? At least, she hoped he wasn't following them. She was fine not seeing him again for a long, long time.
Irkalla seemed colder than usual by comparison to the day above. She hoped that, too, was her imagination. There was no urgency as they changed clothes; now that they were approaching the reality of seeing what happened to Irkalla in the wake of Mika's death, she only felt apprehension. Yuri seemed to be feeling it even worse than she was, and Suzuka's explanations stuttered to a stop.
Outside the gap in the wall for the first floor, Hisako paused to ask Nergal a question. "Who was Ninhursag?"
He stared at her with his bright green eyes for a long moment before responding. "Is she the one Ngeshtin-ana killed?"
"Yes," she replied and Yuri fidgeted.
"An older mother goddess. Even you should recognize her, Inanna."
"Like you did?" she shot back. He wisely did not answer her. He confirmed what Dumuzi had told her, which was all she really wanted from him, anyway.
They entered the maze, and were set upon at once by flaming hounds. Someone screamed and Hisako was thrown into Yuri. The canine shadow leapt on her, teeth gnashing just over her face, and she kept her hands around its throat just to keep it off. She couldn't summon Inanna—she wasn't bleeding, and her only option for that was to stick her hand in the beast's jaws, but that would likely take fingers off. Her knife and staff had both been knocked out of her grasp.
Lightning forked down and she felt it zing through her skin where she was holding the hound back. It dissipated into smoke and Hisako sat up, shaking out her burned hands. "Thank you—" When she turned to Suzuka, she found the petite girl laying near the opposite wall, curled into the fetal position, and there was so much blood.
Both Hisako and Yuri scrambled over to her, and she was alarmed to find that Suzuka's hands were clamped tight over her neck. Scarlet seeped out between her fingers. Yuri sliced open his arm and hovered over her. "You're going to have to pull your hands away," he told her as Enlil burst into being above him.
There was terror in her eyes and a heartbeat of hesitation passed. But she pulled away. There was a gash almost as long as Hisako's palm in the side of her neck that bled freely for just a second before Enlil jammed his brush into the wound. Suzuka stiffened and spluttered out paint. "That stung."
"Stung?!" Hisako repeated shrilly. Yuri gestured for another coat of paint and the paintbrush nearly got Hisako as she threw herself onto Suzuka. "Sorry, sorry, oh my gosh, you're okay, right?"
"I'm better now. Feels all tingly."
"I think I just lost ten years off my life," Yuri croaked. "You're… fine. Right."
"I am now," Suzuka said and gave him a thumbs up. She sat up, with Hisako still half on her, and carefully prodded her neck. It was covered with wet paint, but beneath it, they could see the flesh had mostly knitted, leaving a raised scab or scar. "That left a mark."
Yuri ran a hand through his hair, and as an afterthought, tied it back. "I'm not sure how well I can fix scars. Not even sure how well I can heal stuff."
"...Think you can say you got it at practice?" Hisako weakly asked.
"It's already mostly healed, isn't it?" They had never dealt with large, obvious injuries before. What Enlil's magic paint didn't fix, they could hide with clothing or the injury was minor enough it didn't matter. Suzuka rubbed at it again and made a face at the bluish-mint smear it left. "We'll just… figure that out later. Too bad it's too hot out for scarves."
"It's been too warm out for that for awhile," Hisako replied and sat back. Suzuka prodded at her neck yet again. "Stop that."
"It doesn't hurt anymore."
"Well, don't pick at it!"
"I'm not picking!"
Yuri stopped the argument by having Enlil cover her in more paint, and not gently. "Let's get going. We have a lot of ground to cover."
Spooked, Hisako became hypervigilant after that. She and Suzuka alternated having their Personas out, and Enlil disappeared after Yuri fell into a grumpy silence. It wasn't far into the maze, still following their arrows, when she noticed that most of the shadows happened to be hellhounds or the crying ones. She made ice skates to chase after a couple of them, but soon they had literally more vials of magic water than they knew what to do with.
She knew Suzuka caught on to the monster population, too, but they didn't say anything in front of Yuri. He was probably all too aware of it himself.
As they entered the gallery section of the first level—they had managed to paint arrows the entire way there with that trip—they encountered their first shadow change. The first set of rooms with paintings were empty, save the multicolored footprints leading out of the frames.
"That doesn't look good," Suzuka said.
"Brace yourselves," Hisako replied.
Yuri fell back, closer to her, unease clear, though he didn't speak. By the time they passed the second set of rooms, with the same footprints leaving out, he had grabbed her. She shifted her staff to her other hand so she could offer that to him. He quickly took it, but didn't meet her eyes.
"Uh, guys? Am I seein' this right? What the hell is that?" Suzuka called from ahead of them.
"...A chameleon?" Hisako replied, equal parts confused and horrified. It looked like one, except about as tall as they were, and pure white, save for its navy blue belly. The monster turned around to face them, sea blue eyes swivelling, and she nearly gagged when she saw the painted lady legs sticking out of its mouth. The chameleon slurped down the painting and colors ran down its jaw like drool. It smiled when both of its eyes found them.
It was impossible to tell who started backing up first, but when the shadow lashed out with its tongue, all three of them bolted. A clap of thunder followed, and Hisako twisted and slung ice down the hall behind them, making it slip and slide as it tried to pursue them. Tiamat zapped it again as they ducked around a corner. Hisako found herself pressed up against the wall with Yuri, Suzuka on the other side, beckoning her large Persona back out of view with her.
It hadn't spoken, but that was a new, unique, stronger-than-average shadow and that raised more than a few warning flags. She looked up at Yuri out of the corner of her eye. He was nearly as white as the monster, but he didn't seem especially taxed, and his nose wasn't bleeding. He still had Enlil out, too. "Yuri-kun, that thing—"
Suzuka screamed. A tongue slapped against the far wall, whipped around the corner where she was, and stuck to her. She swore colorfully before it pulled back and took her with it.
They rushed back out into the hallway—just to slide on the ice Hisako had created. Yuri slammed onto his back and she ran into the wall, but she used it to haul herself back up to her feet. Inanna mentally scolded her. Hisako pointed at the chameleon and sent back her aggravation. "Use a bufula! Aim it at its mouth!"
The shadow's wide mouth froze solid, open, Suzuka's legs half in it. She laughed feebly. "Never so happy to have my feet go numb!" the redhead called.
"Inanna, more ice," Hisako mumbled and held up her staff as she slid over to the half-frozen monster. She practically felt her Persona roll her eyes behind the blindfold.
Just as she began to wonder how they were going to chip Suzuka free but not the chameleon, the white monster was neatly bisected. The rush of wind lagged a moment behind. Hisako jumped back to avoid getting pinned under the chunk of ice and Suzuka's arms windmilled as she thumped to the ground. Yuri made his way toward them, using the wall as a guide, and Enlil floated behind him with a grumpier expression than usual.
"That was new," Suzuka said as she twisted around to see him. "Right? Or could you do that the entire time? Because I'm gonna be a little pissed if you could do that the entire time."
"It's new." He gave the corpse a dirty look before he knelt by her. It melted into thick, rainbow-colored goop before it sublimated into smoke.
He didn't speak much as they broke Suzuka out and Enlil smeared his paintbrush over her legs. She still limped and her skin was painfully cold to the touch, but she swore she would be fine and they couldn't do much, anyway.
If we had a teammate with fire magic, Hisako thought. Suzuka's arm was over her shoulders and they made their way slowly but steadily through the rest of the art gallery. It seemed as if the chameleon had either eaten or run off the rest of the paintings. They were alone with the paint-splattered rooms. But Dumuzi is the only one we've met. It's possible whoever gets kidnapped next could, but…
But she didn't want to think about another possession so soon after Mika. And her list of possible targets was short. She couldn't think about her only remaining school social link. Mathias. It was the only connection they had, but she just couldn't stand to think about the possibility.
She squinted up at Yuri out of the corner of her eye. He was still being quiet. It was understandable, but worrying. This place still seems to reflect the person whose level we're on. Is it because they still have some control from when the lady promised it to them? Or is it because we killed its last boss? The talking shadows claimed they ruled, but they had also admitted that it was in lieu of Yuri or Suzuka. Were they just taking some control back? She figured it was passive, anyway, otherwise there wouldn't be any monsters.
"Is it just me, or is it creepy when he's silent this long?" Suzuka whispered.
"Um, a little," she replied, glancing back up at him. If he'd heard, he didn't react. Very rarely had he gone so long without talking. "Can you blame him?"
"Hell no! If I ran into a thing that looked like my Persona that was eating the pictures I made while under the spell of a goddess—"
"I didn't make them," Yuri ground out.
"And it did not look like Enlil," he added.
"Sorry," Suzuka muttered, cowed. But it had Hisako thinking all over again.
Enlil was certainly not a chameleon, or even reptilian. But he was white, and the underside of his cloak was dark blue, and he did use paint… She would have chalked it up to a coincidence if she didn't remember Yuri's outburst in front of Shunya the day before. "I've been having nightmares about Enlil." And Dumuzi, and Irkalla, but he had started with his own Persona.
"I can hear you thinking," he told her.
"It's what I do," she replied, half a joke.
"Someone's gotta," Suzuka chimed in.
"Well, stop it. Thinking never did us any good down here."
"I've got to disagree," Hisako said in disbelief. "How, exactly, is thinking a bad thing? Okay, I'm not exactly a strategist, but there are a lot of mysteries to sort out and it's not like we have anything else to do down here except beat up bad guys, have heart to hearts, and think."
He winced at her words but he didn't back down. "You're not… We're not exactly…" He groaned in exasperation and Hisako stopped to turn to him fully. Suzuka looked down the hallway—the large room and the door to signal the end of the floor were in sight—but stayed near her. Yuri looked ready to cry or bolt, but he continued, "It's not the same for you, Fujihara. You aren't tied to this place, not in the same way, so your thinking doesn't matter."
"Irkalla doesn't just will things into existence because we think about them," Hisako said, but faltered once she heard herself. Hounds, weeping shadows, and the Enlil-colored chameleon.
"Hey, how about we just get moving again? I can mostly feel my legs!" Suzuka exclaimed. She pulled her arm off of the blonde's shoulders and twirled to show she was good. She only wobbled a little. "C'mon, the door's right over there, and then we can go see if I have a Tiamat-colored thing waiting for you to psychoanalyze!"
She didn't like the implication that she was less attached to the situation than they were, but she wasn't going to argue. Yuri shrugged and followed Suzuka down the hallway. Hisako had little choice but to follow them.
They opened the door to the second floor and found a rainstorm within. It wasn't thundering as badly as it had been when they'd ventured down to take care of Suzuka's talking shadow, but Yuri tensed at a distant rumble. Suzuka rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. "So, what does this mean about my state of mind?"
"I'm going to see if I can get new umbrellas," Hisako replied. They still had the ones the twins had given her the previous time, but they hadn't brought them with. She had figured Suzuka's first thunderstorm had been caused by the shadow. She dug her key out of her pocket, summoned Inanna to make a shiny slab of ice, and was just inside the door to the Velvet Room when she remembered that she hadn't seen the assistants since before Mika's death. Octavia and Atticus hit her like two freight trains.
Hisako nearly fell back out of the room, but they kept her pressed against them with grips of steel. "Dear Hisa-chan! We've been so worried!" Atticus said, voice muffled by her shoulder.
"I've been more worried!" Octavia declared into her hair. She might've been petting her. It was difficult to tell with all of the sudden contact.
"You have not."
"I have so."
"C-Can I—need to breathe—" Hisako gasped out. The assistants released her at once, save her hands, one in each. She was used to that part.
"It's been so long!" Atticus said with an earnest grin.
"We've been concerned, but it's very gratifying to see you in good health once more," his sister added sincerely.
Hisako wanted to hide from their attentiveness. "I'm sorry for not, um, visiting earlier, but with things as they've been, it's been a little busy. And I really just need to get some more umbrellas right now and get back out there. Could I have another quest?"
They glanced sideways at one another. She wondered if they possessed twin telepathy. Or regular telepathy, for that matter. "...Of course, dear guest," Octavia said in a cool, professional tone and Hisako abruptly realized she'd messed up when they dropped her hands.
"We have drawn up a preliminary list of items we may exchange with you in exchange for other items—"
"No, I didn't mean it like—" Hisako tried.
"—and services performed," Octavia finished. With a gesture, she pulled a curled piece of paper out of the air. "You may choose whichever ones you like or feel confident completing, but you may also only select three at a time."
"I didn't mean to say I wasn't happy to see you," she said, but their expressions remained closed-off. It was unnerving to see them act like they had before, when they had been so eerily emotionless, and it only increased her mounting panic. "I-I messed up, with Mika-chan, and you guys are tied to all of the Persona stuff. I didn't mean to avoid you for so long and I didn't mean to make it sound like I'm just using you two. I just needed some space, please."
Octavia only handed her the list. Frustrated and worried, Hisako realized she didn't know what to do. The Velvet Room assistants were confusing to interact with on a good day, but this sort of sudden change forcibly reminded her that while they were probably older than they looked, and while they certainly weren't human, they definitely had feelings and they were definitely more emotionally immature than she felt she could handle right then.
But before she could work herself into a tizzy trying to figure out what to do, she saw Atticus give his sister a fast, nervous glance.
Hisako pounced. She grabbed his gloved hands in hers and told him, "Atticus, I am sorry if it seemed like I was ignoring or using you. Please, don't just be my helpers in the Velvet Room—be my friends."
His poker face held out for a beat, but then, it crumpled as he broke into a pleased grin and blush. She let out the breath she'd been holding when he grasped her hands back. "Nothing would please me more, my dear Hisa-chan," Atticus said and brought her hand to his lips.
She did not pull away, but she berated herself for not expecting it. They both turned expectantly to Octavia, but she remained staring straight ahead, impassive mask set firmly in place. "Octavia, I am sorry. I shouldn't have acted like you were a convenience for me," she told her.
"I am here only to expedite and ease your journey in any way I can, dear guest," she replied.
"Sister, dear Hisa-chan didn't mean to use you for an umbrella," Atticus said, and Hisako tried not to take offense to his wording.
"She must complete a minor quest in exchange for the item she requests."
Atticus squeezed her hands and pulled her gently towards the door. "My sister may be difficult at times," he said, and Hisako may have seen Octavia's eye twitch behind him, "but please, pay her no heed. She will be fine."
"I didn't mean to make her mad."
"Expressing feelings in this manner with our cherished guest is still a novelty to us," he said and smiled so tenderly it made her stomach flip over, "so we may take unexpected slights or stresses more seriously than you may be accustomed to. Please, be patient with us, and I will speak to her later."
Hisako recalled Igor's warning about them becoming too attached with a twinge of guilt. "Should I…?"
"All you should do right now is complete a request to obtain the umbrellas you desired." He plucked the paper from her hands and scanned it. "How do you feel about sunflower petals?"
"Does it have to be sunflowers?"
"What other measurements do humans take?"
"Sunflowers it is. How many do I need?"
"Six. Traditionally, we will give you the reward after the completion of the quest," Atticus said and Octavia snorted, "but I will give you this one as a personal show of faith. Please, come back when you collect six rambling helianthus petals."
"I believe you have encountered them before," he said, sounding puzzled.
"First, how do you know that, and second, these shadow things have names?"
He pulled a blue book from nowhere with his free hand, staring blankly at her all the while. "It's our job to record things."
"What have you been recording?!"
"We normally prioritize recording Personas of our guest, but as you mysteriously lack the Wild Card, Octavia and I have been busying ourselves by other means. We've had a lot of unexpected free time."
Hisako made a note to investigate the book later. So the remnants of humanity's collective unconscious had names? "Thank you so much. I'll be back when I get those petals for you." She began to leave, umbrellas tucked under her arm, but paused in the doorway. She told them, "And, um, maybe we could hang out in the city again sometime soon? There's a pet store I'd like you to see."
Atticus' eyes sparkled. Octavia's expression did not change. It had been worth a shot, and at least she'd made the effort; she had to tell herself that as she left the Velvet Room with guilt nestled in the back of her mind, next to Inanna as she returned.
"That took a little while," Suzuka remarked, craning her neck up to look at Hisako. The blonde squinted down at her. She was laying on the ground, chin in her hands, kicking her feet idly. "Problems?" she asked cheerily.
"Just a couple of issues with the assistants. It seems I'm a little more insensitive today than I'd realized," she muttered, and turned her narrowed eyes on Yuri when he had the gall to grunt.
"Good, now we can avoid getting soaked. Let's get going."
Yuri's usual Irkalla touchiness, mixed with the twins' erratic reactions, did not make for a good mood. Being rained on, grabbed whenever Yuri jumped at thunder, and having to ignore their shortcut in favor of tracking down sunflower shadows worsened it. The umbrellas were nigh on useless after a point and she was certain their detour's duration had been hours rather than minutes. Whatever remorse she'd felt earlier had all but evaporated by the time she reopened the Velvet Room door and shoved a fistful of wet flower petals at Atticus. Her own annoyance only fed back into her bad mood.
Inanna sat heavily in the back of her brain, relaxed and pleased by her anger.
Yuri shockingly kept his silence throughout Suzuka's floor, other than shouts during the fights they got into. There were no changes Hisako could pinpoint in the shadow population and nothing strong or strange ambushed them at the end. Suzuka's patience was clearly thinning between her misses with her knives and receiving a disproportionate amount of injuries.
They couldn't reach Mika's floor fast enough. They left the thunderstorm and weathered statues of the second floor behind, and while that took the edge off their collective bad mood, Hisako knew they were a ticking time bomb.
The mirrors and glass seemed eerier than she recalled. That monster population was sparser, but still relatively normal. They dodged a lemur, destroyed numerous canines, and were surprised by a pair of ample-chested doctors with scalpels. Suzuka nearly got gutted before they destroyed them, too, and for a moment, watching the redhead huddle over her injured stomach with shaking shoulders, Hisako was afraid the bubble would pop.
But she just exhaled, long and low, and wiped off the excess paint on her legs.
"Are you… okay?" Hisako asked hesitantly, breaking the fragile silence.
"'m fine. How much magic water do we have left?"
"Haven't quite depleted our stores yet," Yuri deadpanned. Hisako was relieved it didn't break into an argument of some sort. As if on purpose, he had to add, "So please, feel free to continue needing healing every ten minutes. It's a joy."
"Sweet shitting sunshine, you did not just—"
"Suzuka-chan!" Hisako lunged at her and got bodily between them.
"Maybe if I didn't have to do all the heavy lifting I wouldn't get creamed in every other fight!"
"Maybe if you didn't throw yourself headfirst—"
"Yeah, because it's my fault I'm in front!"
"If you weren't so reckless!"
"You think I'm being—"
"She's not being reckless!" Hisako broke in, worried it'd come to blows at the rate they were going.
"I know she's not," Yuri said, voice cracking, and sunk down into a crouch. Suzuka shifted her weight back, away from them, and crossed her arms. "I didn't ask to be the healer."
"We're okay taking the lead on this. It's nice to have backup, but I'm sorry we have to put that pressure on you. All of our Personas are slowly growing, maybe one of us will get healing magic soon?" Hisako said, but it sounded dumb even to her ears.
He looked up at her through his shaggy bangs, eyes narrowed, mouth a tight line. "It's you, too, you know."
"You're our only way out of here."
She turned to look at Suzuka, but the other girl averted her gaze. She shrugged and mumbled, "I'm just unlucky today, I'm sure, and I haven't figured out how to throw these stupid knives yet."
"You don't have to act as our shield. We're a team. And Inanna already has second-tier ice magic, so she's plenty strong. I wasn't aware you were trying to protect me."
"Like I said, I've just been unlucky today."
"I'll buy you a lucky rabbit foot when we're done."
"Or just make your own luck," Yuri all but growled. Suzuka rolled her eyes and scowled at him, but she also extended a hand down to help him back to his feet. "Here's the punchline to our joke of a team: I have a heart attack from stress and you're both left without a healer."
"Not funny, dude."
"Never said it was a funny joke."
"So we're agreed?" Hisako fretted, hovering at their side.
"We never really decided these things in the first place. Not like we took a vote or appointed a leader…"
Yuri put his hands up and quickly said, "Not me."
Suzuka mimicked him. "Not me!"
"That's not how this works!" Hisako cried.
"You got your Persona first," he pointed out.
"By a couple hours!"
"You have the magical blue door."
She folded her arms and pursed her lips, displeased. "You two don't like it when I try to come up with the strategies."
"No, we don't like it when you act all clinical about us," Suzuka happily corrected. "I'm totally fine coming up with things other than 'keep away from the fat purple things' and 'beat on things until something bleeds'."
"I was already following your lead, so don't look at me," Yuri said.
"This is just making it official," Suzuka agreed.
"...Fine. But this really isn't going to change anything, other than the fact that I'll stop using the phrase 'Persona seniority' and just start reminding you that you elected me." While she was glad to avoid an argument (mostly), her mood didn't get better with the revelation that she had missed out on a couple important points. "So, officially, until I—we—think of something better, we'll just keep going on largely like we have been. Suzuka-chan and I will be in front, equally, and we'll handle the bulk of the fighting. Yuri-kun, you're in charge of healing and vanguard."
"Vanguard is the frontline," Suzuka said with a stifled giggle.
"Then what are the back ones?" Hisako asked, confused.
"Uhh. Back-guard? Rearguard? Just watch our asses!" she declared and Yuri facepalmed. "Not that it should be a difficult notion for you," she added with a wink.
"Oh, joy. Just what I always wanted."
"Please don't do that. You're our reserve. Just, uh, conserve energy when you can. You need to rely on magic a lot more than we do."
"Because the super tall guy needs to be protected by the girls," Suzuka said.
"Well, he really leaves a lot of the fighting up to Enlil," Hisako said sheepishly, rubbing her head. She and Suzuka certainly weren't afraid to get up close and personal. Mostly on accident, but they'd proven that they could handle small doses of combat themselves.
"I'm an artist, not an athlete." He colored and mumbled out something else under his breath.
"Excuse me?" Suzuka pressed, cupping a hand around her ear.
"I… My hands. I can't risk getting them hurt," he grumbled, cheeks reddening further.
"Not that we exactly want to, but that's understandable. You have your, uh, roles," Hisako cut back in before Suzuka could tease him. She was happy to have most of the tension defused, but tempers were probably still simmering in the background. "Let's go, I'd rather get this over with while we're not totally exhausted."
"Getting there," he muttered.
"But we're in the last leg now."
They didn't have the energy to waste breaking mirrors and no minor gods to do it for them. They had to wind their way through the headache-inducing maze, avoiding fights when they could. When they couldn't, Hisako kept an eye on Suzuka's behavior. It wasn't too bad, even if her prior injuries showed. She just worked Inanna double time to make up for it.
Despite their emotional reprieve, being in Mika's territory again was taxing. Seeing themselves—eyes wild, hair sweaty and dirty, clothes ripped and stained—around every other corner in the mirrors made it worse. Hisako tried to fix her hair every time she caught sight of it, but she quailed under Yuri and Suzuka's combined judgment. She could braid and walk, but with reminders of their half-feral appearance everywhere, it was a little distracting.
Yuri retreated back into uncharacteristic silence. Suzuka made a halfhearted attempt at conversation, but it was like always. What was there to talk about that was new? They'd had so much time in Irkalla already, and none of them wanted to speak of what they were approaching. Hisako surprised herself at how easy it was to ignore their impending… whatever. Emotional heartbreak? Difficult fight? Catharsis or nightmare fuel?
Suzuka caught sight of it first. They had to stand at a specific angle to get enough uninterrupted glass to see into the end area, and all those layers made the image blurry, but there was a lone figure standing in the open space. Humanoid and dressed in light colors, and it might have been holding something. But what concerned her were the large, white shapes behind it. She hoped it was her imagination.
While they knew they were close, it was still a feat to actually get to it. Irkalla's third floor seemed especially twisty, with the added layer of taunting with the glass walls. "When we get out of here, I'm buying a huge hourglass," Hisako declared as she had Inanna conjure some ice to suck on. "I'm going to give it to Nergal and I'm going to make him time how long we spend down here."
"I know it's been long enough that my stomach wants more than energy bars," Suzuka said. "And, to be honest, I'm sort of tired. Sleepy-tired, not just exhausted-tired. But at least we don't have to worry about this throwing off our sleep schedules too much since I know I totally go home and fall into bed after these jaunts."
"What do you think the largest hourglass you can buy is?"
"I dunno, maybe waist-high?"
"I meant the time amount."
"Hell if I know. Normal ones are one hour, right? Maybe three, or four? I bet there are massive ones that are, like, ten hours!"
"I'm not getting one of those." She pictured the three of them trying to carry a futon-sized hourglass down the twisting stairs. They'd probably trip and fall and die underneath it. "A rabbit's foot, an hourglass, new snacks…"
"Maybe more than snacks sometime."
"We have to carry whatever we bring. And we can't cook anything." And she was hesitant to admit that they were spending enough time in the land of the dead to warrant needing meals. ...There were more floors. If their kidnap-possession-rescue routine went on for much longer, they might have to face the very real possibility of having to take naps down there. Meals and sleep. How much more time does each floor add? she thought in a sudden panic. If she could get Nergal to time them, and she could figure out each floor by subtracting them—
"Do you think we can eat shadows?" Suzuka interrupted her train of thought with a worse one. She had been avoiding that subject even harder than the others.
"We're not eating anything we find down here!" Hisako squealed. "Leader's rule!"
"...Says the girl who's drank things the shadows drop," Yuri pointed out, joining the conversation at last.
"That's different! That's loot!"
"If these things start dropping sandwiches, I'm going for it," Suzuka warned, and she sounded serious.
Their semi-light mood was erased (again) when the trio finally made it to the end of the third floor. And Hisako's earlier fear was confirmed.
"It's…" Yuri began, but trailed off with a choked sound.
"An angel," Hisako finished.
The humanoid shadow turned to face them, expression benign. It was taller than any of them, but not as tall as their Personas, and had four great, feathery wings keeping it aloft. She couldn't tell if it was meant to be male or female; its figure was slim, but devoid of any curves, and its face was pretty but not particularly soft in the jaw or cheekbones. In one hand, it held a leather-bound tome, and in the other, a dagger with a blade like a curving snake.
They stood there and stared at it. She may have heard Yuri sniff. It didn't have a halo and it didn't look anything like Mika or what she remembered of her Persona, but the grief at having to face an angel in the place where they had lost Mika welled up within her, fast and deep.
Suzuka shattered the silence with a shout. "Well?! Going to taunt us about losing our friend, huh?! Let's hear you laugh at that! Let's have it!" She spread her arms wide and walked toward it. The angel cocked its head to one side.
On one hand, Hisako wanted to get the talking over and done with, too. But on the other, she feared what it would say. But seeing Suzuka approach it so fearlessly, she made her decision. "Say what you will! We've come to take this floor from you, too, just like we've done with all the o-others!" She swallowed quickly to fight back any tears.
The shadow flipped open its book and it rustled to a random page. A beam of light narrowly missed Suzuka. It looked like the same sort of magic Mika had used. "Tiamat, zap that thing!" Suzuka backed up and called out her Persona. Tiamat advanced on the shadow with a toothy smile.
While it could remain airborne, it didn't seem to move very fast, and couldn't get out of the way of the serpent's electricity. It opened its book again, to a different page, and icicles rained from its wings. The girls skittered out of the way. Tiamat hissed and retreated to pull large ice slivers out of her hide, whereas Inanna batted away the attack with only mild annoyance.
Behind them, Yuri vocalized the realization just as Hisako arrived at it. "It's silent. It's not going to talk."
"Why not? I thought end-floor bosses always talked?" Suzuka called back.
"They do! But this… Maybe it's because she's g-gone. This is different." She couldn't see any other reason why the first two would talk and the third wouldn't. It saved them some further heartbreak, though, and she wasn't sure she wanted to speak with that one, anyway.
Another page in the book created a wall of flames. Inanna dove out of the way, teeth bared in a mute snarl, and even Tiamat had to get back to avoid her thundercloud evaporating. The fire crackled and the book remained open to feed it. The angel smiled, safe on the other side.
Safe until a gale a wind cut through its flames. The shadow staggered to the side, black blood seeping through its white robes, and Tiamat took the opportunity to circle around the fire. Hisako turned back as Yuri and Enlil approached. "Just because it's not talking our ear off doesn't mean we should get cozy with this thing. There's three of us and one of it—let's just get it already."
"It knows different types of magic. We should be careful."
"And our Personas are weak to different kinds. It can't keep all of us away at once."
The angel panicked when Enlil cut down another swath of its fire, and it danced back out of his slash, straight into Tiamat's waiting claws. She grabbed it and tried to rip its book away, but the shadow stabbed her with its dagger. The Persona twisted away and thrashed as she tried to reach the blade.
But by then, Enlil had blown out most of the fire. Hisako waved to Suzuka to get her to call Tiamat back and called, "Inanna, now's your chance!"
With another gust of wind, Enlil skated around behind it, and then threw it in Inanna's direction. Hisako felt a surge of sick glee as Inanna only raised her staff and braced herself.
The angel got impaled with a wet sound. Hisako gagged. It kicked a couple times before it melted off, splattering onto the ground and vanishing into wisps of dark smoke. "Was that really necessary?" Her Persona grinned back, causing her to sigh. "It got the job done. I just wish you hadn't had to make it so flashy."
"I'd rather a fast, flashy end than dragging that out," Yuri muttered. Enlil went back to him with the air of a soothing parent and raised his cloak, as if to invite him in, but the boy swatted him away with a huff. "Go away, Enlil."
"Hey guys!" Suzuka shouted as she and Tiamat slithered toward them. "I got a dagger!"
Hisako dismissed Inanna and sat down while she waited for them to make their way back over. The fight hadn't been as exhausting as she'd feared, possibly because Inanna hardly used any magic. Yuri plopped down beside her and rubbed at his eyes. "How are you holding up?" she asked him.
"Better than I could be. Worse than I want to be. What are we going to do with a dagger? Sakuraba can't throw it and I'm not sure we should start selling weapons."
She accepted his change of subject without argument. "I'm sure it looks ancient and special, maybe we could pass it off as an antique."
"We should probably dull it before trying to sell it."
"Just in case."
Suzuka dropped off of Tiamat as her massive Persona dipped her head. She disappeared a moment later. "Wiggly dagger! Wanna bet to see how bad I can throw this one?"
"I don't want to be anywhere near that thing," Yuri replied.
"Maybe the twisty bit makes it throw better! A case of it being so stupid it actually works."
"Would your cousin or someone he knows buy it if we said it was an antique?"
"Hmm, maybe? There's some jewels or something in the hilt, maybe that old lady would buy it."
"Why would an old lady want a dagger?"
"What other choice do we have?"
Suzuka flopped down between them, one leg thrown over Yuri's and an arm across Hisako's waist, and sighed deeply. "Okay, so while that involved less emotional ravaging than I anticipated, I still have a surprise for you two." They exchanged a nervous look. Suzuka rolled over so she could pull her backpack off, then dug around in it. With a triumphant sound, she pulled out a can, and then another. It took a moment before Hisako realized it was beer.
"Why do you have alcohol?" she asked. Suzuka shoved the two cans into her lap and, alarmingly, continue to dig in her bag. She checked the cans and yes, it was actually alcoholic.
"Hiroya buys me drinks sometimes, but I also know where his booze stash is at home. He replenishes it every time he visits. There's only two cans because I make it a policy to never take the last of something, and there were only three left. And I guess it's all warm by now. And here we go!" She pulled out an unopened bottle of cheap sake. "Okay, so I don't have cups—"
"But you have booze," Yuri cut in.
"We don't have to drink it all," she replied defensively, cradling the bottle to her chest. "But I thought we'd be upset. And this can be a good way to deal with things and vent a little. And we don't have to drink all of it!"
"Do you drink often?" Hisako asked in concern.
"No! Just when Hiroya visits. And I'm not stupid, I know how to drink."
"Well… I don't," she said awkwardly, since she didn't want to get into an argument right then.
"You can try new things then!"
"Hold up, I'm still lost. When did we pass the point when we decided that drinking in Irkalla is a good idea?" Yuri demanded.
"It'll burn out of our systems on the way back! And where else are we supposed to drink, huh?" she challenged. "Let's just drink to Mika-chan's memory. Here. I-I thought it might be a good idea, that's all."
"I'm never one to turn down a supposed good idea from a cute girl," he said with a shrug. Hisako glared at him, betrayed, and momentarily warred with herself. They knew for a fact the floor would be clear of shadows on the way back. It was a long walk back to the last door, too, so they'd probably be feeling better by then. And it wasn't as if they'd get drunk.
And she really wanted to be dumb and not responsible for a little while.
They didn't have cups, and they didn't want to try to use water bottles, but if she were being honest with herself, sharing drinks was about last on her list of things to care about. They'd already gone through so much together, why bother caring?
Suzuka teased Yuri about not liking beer, telling him he should be manlier, but Hisako didn't really like it, either. Sake was sweeter, but it burned her throat and made her dizzier. And, despite saying they weren't there to drink a lot, a can and a half of beer and half the bottle of sake were gone before she'd processed it.
"We should—back! Get going back!" Suzuka declared and jumped to her feet. Hisako needed help not swaying. "We know there's no monsters, and we don't want to be late!"
"Time is dead here," she mumbled back. Her stomach protested the move from stationary to upright.
"I don't want to be here anymore," Yuri said and stood. He took the bottle from Suzuka, walked (stumbled, a little) a ways out, and dumped out a fair bit. Suzuka squawked in indignation. "For Mika," he responded before she could ask.
"...Fine, okay, she gets some too. Oi, Mika-chan!" Hisako jumped when the other girl cupped her hands around her mouth to shout. "We'll see you later! I hope you like sake!"
"Don't look at me, I never… never drank with her. You think Personas can fix hangovers?"
"Hangovers only happen if you get really drunk!"
"I'm not really sober."
"What do you think drunk Personas are like?" Hisako asked.
"I don't wanna know," Yuri quickly replied.
"You guys are so, so whiny! It wasn't even that much!" Suzuka lamented as they got to walking, slowly, as they tried to keep their balance.
"We've never drank before."
It wasn't long before Hisako realized three things: her stomach hurt from the sake, her head hurt from the glass and mirrors, and she wanted to cry. It seemed rude that she hadn't cried for Mika when fighting the angel. But she couldn't cry on command, and despite what the media told her, she didn't seem particularly more emotional while drinking. There was a little bit of fuzziness in her brain, and she was pretty sure Inanna was laughing at her, but she could still think clearly. Clearly enough.
"I want more sake," she announced.
"Why?" Yuri asked but Suzuka handed over the bottle without question.
"I want to cry."
"Why? You're not an attractive crier."
"You don't say stuff like that to girls!" Suzuka snapped and smacked him with the flat side of the wiggly dagger. "I'm not drinking with you again! You get mean."
"You're the one hitting people."
"You're hitting on people."
"I thought you were mad at me because I wasn't!"
"You're mean to Hisako-chan and. And. You called me cute earlier. Don't think I didn't notice."
"My mistake. Won't happen again."
"You guys are giving me a headache!" Hisako burst out. She took another drink and told them, "Leader says quiet time. All the mirrors and stuff are bad enough."
It seemed a cruel trick of perspective that it took less time to get back than it did going in. Thunder rumbled ominously as they went up the stairs to the second floor, but mercifully, the storm had lessened to a drizzle. Suzuka ran out into it, laughing, before they could stop her. Yuri shrugged and opened the umbrella for them.
"She is not. She might be drunk, though. I'm keeping the bottle from her."
"Do I get any more?" he whined. She rolled her eyes and handed it over. "I'm pretty sure this stuff is making me more tired than we usually are."
"Then stop drinking it!"
"Maybe I want to cry, too."
"Don't be a jerk."
The rain stopped completely by the time they were ducking through the shortcut hole, though Suzuka was nicely soaked and beaming. "You guys are un-fun! It wasn't even that bad."
"I don't like storms," he said.
"I don't want to run right now. I think I'd throw up," Hisako added.
"Un-fun!" Suzuka said and blew a raspberry.
They'd been lucky on the second floor, even with the shortcut, that they hadn't run into any shadows. But she doubted they'd continue the streak with the entire first floor to go through. "We should really draw arrows pointing back, too," she groaned as they stopped in an intersection, trying to remember if it was a right or a left immediately out of the art gallery.
Yuri summoned Enlil by picking at a scab on his arm. The Persona didn't seem affected by the alcohol, even if Yuri was looking more and more sober, too. But when painting arrows, they did turn out a little more crooked than usual.
It was two corners past that that they ran into their first batch of shadows, a scantily clad nurse flanked by a pair of orange gryphons. Inanna came forth as easily as ever, although her emotional input seemed sharper than usual in her mind. But she could fight, and Tiamat snapped up a gryphon shadow like she normally did, so at least they weren't in any danger.
"The sunflowers. You could summon a Persona then, too," Yuri pointed out. It seemed as if he'd been wondering the same things.
"But that was some sort of confusion magic."
"That mimicked a bad trip."
"But I don't think it was anything in our systems." She hoped not.
The sake and beer were all gone by the time they made it out to Nergal. Hisako's head was feeling clearer, though her stomach still churned, and none of them were having any issues walking or talking. But the lion-headed god gave them a weird look regardless.
"I'm buying you an hourglass!" Hisako declared before he was out of earshot.
"See, that didn't turn out so bad!" Suzuka said happily when they made it to their pile of things.
"I still feel sick."
"And I feel tired."
"Not so bad!" she repeated.
They got the barest amount of dressed back into their uniforms, movements sluggish now that the day's adventure was catching up to them. Suzuka stashed the empty bottle and cans back in her bag, packed up her knives, and the girls looked at the twisted dagger with matching thoughtful frowns.
"Just leave it. We can deal with it later."
They hissed when they broke back out into the bright afternoon sunlight. Worse, she had forgotten how hot it had been, and her body didn't like the sudden change in temperature. She suddenly doubted her ability to keep her stomach's contents inside of herself.
They all squinted in the light, shuffling around while they adjusted and tried to reorient herself, and after running into his back, Hisako found herself hiding in Yuri's shadow. "Is this what a hangover feels like?"
"No, we didn't have that—oh. Crud muffin."
Hisako peeked blearily around Yuri. He and Suzuka were both staring at the person now standing in their path. Shunya Morimoto, arms crossed, eyes narrowed behind his glasses.
She did not have the mental or emotional capacity to deal with that right then. She slowly hid back behind Yuri.
"That's some magic trick," Shunya said lightly. "Disappear from sight for all of two seconds, come back up half-dressed and—do you smell like alcohol?"
"Leader, executive decision time. What do we do?" Suzuka hissed at her.
"I'm only leader down there."
"Down where?" the upperclassman asked.
Yuri bolted without warning. Hisako flailed without his support and Shunya caught him by the back of the shirt when he tried to make it past him.
"You three seem outfitted for something weird, but your behavior—what were you doing?" He really had the disapproving senpai tone down pat. It bordered on outright parental.
"You're too nosy!" Yuri exclaimed, as if that would save them.
"You've been acting strangely! Especially after yesterday. And now, this!"
"Do we have to have this conversation right here?" Hisako pleaded. Shunya turned his critical eye on the girls. She quickly looked as pathetic as possible.
"...There's a little cafe down the street. We can sit in there and you can tell me what my cute kouhai are up to."
"Why don't you complain when he does it?" Yuri asked as Shunya began marching them out of the cemetery.
"'Cause I'm into older guys," Suzuka told him.
"Can we concentrate on the issue at hand?" Hisako whispered with a nervous glance back at the older boy. What are we going to tell him? There were really no easy excuses to give him. Yuri had dropped enough strange terms in front of him, and then he had seen their disappearing act.
"Senpai, we're clearly fine," Yuri tried again, more calmly.
"You have alcohol on your breath," Shunya countered.
"Artists are known for bucking the rules and doing things like that in the name of creativity."
"Athletes too!" Suzuka chimed in.
"Is that paint in your hair?" he asked in disbelief. Suzuka backed out of the conversation again, fingers tangled in her red curls. "I'm not going to get you three in trouble. I just want to know what's going on, if that's alright with you."
"What if we said no," Yuri said in a low tone.
"Then I would get you three in trouble. Maybe. But I'd really like some answers." Shunya herded them into a coffee shop and all but pushed them into the corner booth. "What does everyone want to drink?" he asked brightly.
"Water," Hisako and Suzuka replied as Yuri grunted, "Coffee. Black."
He left them and they hardly waited before ducking their heads together and whispering frantically. "What can we tell him?! What can we possibly tell him?!"
"I'm not even sure he'd believe the truth!"
"I can't summon the Velvet Room in the middle of a coffee shop!" And Octavia was still mad at her.
"We're going to have to tell him something!"
"It can't be the truth! That could make him a target!"
"Would he buy the 'it's too dangerous' excuse?"
"No. If anything, we have to downplay the danger."
"He's going to put two and two together…"
"Such panicked hissing! You'd think you were trying to come up with a way to cheat on an exam," Shunya chirped when he returned, drinks in hand. He slid into the booth next to Yuri, cozily so, despite the taller boy's obvious distress, and pushed the waters across the table to the girls.
"Senpai, do you have to get so close?"
"You and I both know you're a flight risk, Yuri-kun. Besides, it would be rude to separate the girls. Now it looks like we're just on a double date. Or part of a very small mixer."
"Shunya-senpai, please, we're not really in a joking mood," Hisako pleaded. If Yuri hadn't been all but pinned to the wall, she may have become a flight risk, too.
"Then would you care to explain why you three were in such a hurry to go to a cemetery after school?" he asked and sipped at his tea.
She glanced uneasily between Yuri and Suzuka. He was more prone to outbursts but she had the worse track record. It would be better to talk to him before that happened, but Yuri had brought up a good point—would he even believe the truth? "We had some business to take care of. Business that we had to do sooner rather than later," she said, for the sake of saying something.
He nodded in understanding. And didn't say anything.
Right, he's used to dealing with Yuri-kun. He's going to wait us out, she realized with dread growing in her upset stomach.
"That business really only concerns us, and few other parties. We've been keeping it quiet because of some sensitive information." She racked her brain coming up with as much therapist speak as she could recall. If she kept it professional-sounding, they could probably get away with more.
"I see. But as an interested party, I'd like to inquire about the parts that aren't sensitive," Shunya said with another sunny smile.
"W-Well… That is… It involves us three, and Haruka Watanabe…"
"...And her," Hisako said, wincing. "And that's it."
"What about your magic trick earlier?"
"What magic trick?"
He sipped at his tea again, making it clear he was going to wait that one out.
"We're going down into a big maze to get rid of monsters and rescue kidnapped people," Yuri blurted out.
Hisako hit her head against the table, then a second time for good measure. Maybe if she gave herself a bad enough headache she'd forget the entire conversation.
"Right," Shunya said and set his drink down.
"It's true, that's the terrible part," Yuri groaned. "You won't believe us anyway, and there's no way we're ever going to show you, and the only ways we can prove any of it to you we can't do right now."
Hisako continued hitting her head. Suzuka rubbed her back in a vain stab at comfort.
"So… Like Labyrinth?" At their lost looks, he elaborated, "American movie from the 1980s? David Bowie?"
"More like magical girls," Suzuka replied and that earned another thump.
"Hisako-san, please stop that? I'm not freaking out, see?"
"Wasn't worried about you freaking out," she grumbled.
"Well, if it's any consolation, I believe that you believe something happened," Shunya declared. She raised her head just far enough to squint at him. He was better at the therapy speak than she was. "None of you are very good actors. And your behavior has definitely been worrying. But don't worry, I won't tell anyone your secret."
"Thanks for the condescension, senpai," Yuri growled. Hisako kicked him under the table; if Shunya was going to believe they were all just a little off and then drop the matter, they should let him.
"Is this related to all of the things you've been drawing lately?"
"I want to see one," Shunya said excitedly, eyes sparkling. "I bet they're lovely! I want to see one of these magical creatures."
"That's the wrong reaction to have to this sort of stuff," Suzuka said. "Even if you don't really believe us, for all you know, these are big hulking monsters."
"It's not as if I want to pet one."
"We're not showing you anything."
"You mentioned not showing me anything here…" He trailed off expectantly.
"What if we just said no? Just refused to talk to you about this?" Suzuka asked.
"Assuming you could?"
"Then there's really nothing I would do. While I'm concerned about you and you should not be drinking—or doing vaguely dangerous or confusing magic tricks—I'm not your parent and I wouldn't be mean-spirited enough to tell any teachers, provided you don't make it a habit. And I'd hope it wouldn't hurt any of you, and that Yuri-kun wouldn't skip any more practices."
"I've never skipped for this, we go on Tuesdays to avoid that," Yuri replied, affronted.
Hisako banged her head against the table again. Shunya's smile was pleasant and convincingly far from smug. "I'm sure I could figure out the trick if I were to see it a couple more times."
"No, you wouldn't," she groaned, giving up. "You would just see us walk down those steps and then come back up a moment later. Every time. That's how it works."
"What if I—"
She scooted out of the booth and grabbed her bag. "No. I'm showing you this on two conditions, senpai. The first—you will never follow us down there. It's dangerous and could kill you, at the very least. The second, you're in charge of keeping Yuri-kun under control. No more leaks!"
"This is exciting," Shunya said happily as they followed her. She had to find a mirror, or a building with enough glass on it to get a good reflection. Inanna's presence, muffled by the real world, buzzed in annoyance. "It's all very secretive and feels like a spy movie."
"Well, let's keep it a secret. You can't tell anyone, yeah?" Suzuka reminded. He nodded. "And you have to cover for us, if we ever need it and you're able to. And if a creepy lady with black hair and red eyes comes to you promising things, kick her in the shin and run. To one of us. Preferably me."
"No, tell me if that happens," Hisako said wearily. Suzuka's revenge took a backseat to making sure Shunya stayed safe. "Under no circumstances are you go to down into that crypt alone. Even if it seems like you're just following us. It's magic and it wouldn't let you back out. You'd die."
"Even with the dire warnings, this is still a little exciting," Shunya admitted. "Where are we going?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Yuri said pointedly.
"We need a mirror." Glass could work, but they'd have to find an alley with a glass wall, and that was unlikely in that part of the city. She tried to think of other places with mirrors. A bathroom was out of the question.
"Boutique?" Suzuka suggested, pausing mid-step as they passed a clothing store. Hisako stopped a beat afterward.
Piling four of them into a changing room was snug and the attendant gave them a puzzled look, but neither of her classmates would leave. Shunya still looked simply happy to be there, content to let them try whatever they were going to do. "I'm going in first, so just wait here," Hisako commanded and raised her key at the mirror. The door appeared right behind them, which meant she had to squeeze between the boys to get to it. Shunya made a surprised sound when it appeared to them at her touch.
She all but fell into the Velvet Room. "Have you returned already? That door wasn't made in Irkalla," Atticus said and jumped to his feet. Octavia only inclined her head politely in her direction.
"Okay, please don't be offended, but I'd like to use an empty train car for a moment." She didn't want any of her friends dealing with the twins normally, but when one of them was still mad at her, it was doubly out of the question.
"I need to do a magic trick."
Hisako actually screamed in fright when a body fell on top of her. "Ow, oww!" Yuri growled in her ear and Atticus quickly pulled her out of the way as the other three tumbled into the room. The assistants shared a concerned look. "Before you get mad at me, it was those two! And you left an open door behind you!"
"Woah, there are people in here," Suzuka said, frozen on top of him, eyes wide.
"What is this place?" Shunya asked. He didn't sound so happy anymore. "How did you do this?"
Atticus' hand on hers tightened and Hisako pulled the key on the chain back out of her pocket. "I have a key. This place is the Velvet Room, and it exists between dimensions. Or something."
"About that," Atticus murmured.
"Its residents have been helping me figure out what's been going on. This place isn't dangerous, and it's the only place I can go to from anywhere. I just need a reflection. Irkalla—that other place—is the dangerous one that you must never, ever go to."
Shunya nodded as he gaped.
"Are these your… friends?" Atticus asked quietly. He had shifted so he was half behind Hisako. She snorted back a laugh when she realized he was being shy.
"Yes, these are my friends."
He lowered his voice and told her, "Dear Hisa-chan, I don't mean to alarm you, but one of your friends doesn't have a Persona."
"Oh, I'm very aware of that."
"This is…" Shunya carefully extracted himself from the pile and peered around the room with awe. "This is magnificent! There's actually something going on! Do you have transformation sequences?"
"Excuse me?" Hisako asked blankly and Suzuka burst out laughing.
"We're not actually magical girls—magical anything!" Yuri said, blushing brilliantly.
"But two of you are girls, and your Personas possess magic," Atticus replied, shying further behind her in his confusion.
"It's a type of story we have. Magic that the girls themselves have, cute outfits, power of friendship," Hisako explained.
"You already possess the power of friendship through your social links," Octavia said loudly, reminding them of her presence again.
"Did you… want cute outfits?" Atticus asked.
"Oh god no," Hisako said, cutting across Suzuka's enthusiastic, "Yes!"
"Yuri-kun, I think you'd look good dressed up for your—whatever you do," Shunya teased. The other boy groaned and buried his face in the carpet to hide its redness. "Alright, so! This is a thing. A thing that happened. Is it alright if I leave now? I'd like to go home and scream into a pillow about transdimensional blue doors. I don't have to sign my name in blood or anything, right?"
"No," Hisako said, once again shutting down Suzuka's, "Yes!"
"Technically speaking, we are not in another dimension, but between them," Atticus murmured with a tug on her hand.
"I don't think that was his point. Shunya-senpai, are you going to be okay?"
"Oh, sure," he replied with a bright smile. "I've just learned that my underclassmen are involved in supernatural things that involved a death and magic and different planes of space and time."
"That is a little more correct, but still—"
"We could answer any other questions you have, if that'd make you feel better."
"I think I've asked quite enough of you already. I can just leave out this door, right?" He barely got permission before ducking out. Yuri gave Atticus one last wary look before following him.
"That didn't go too bad," Suzuka remarked.
"I'm pretty sure we just gave our senpai a panic attack. Not something I'd hoped to ever do. Do you think Yuri-kun knows how to calm someone down in that?"
"He's known him a lot longer than we have. What could we say or do that wouldn't spook him further?"
"Still… I'm worried. Maybe I shouldn't have lost my patience—do you think we could have come up with a better lie? Or distracted him somehow? He seemed pretty calm for the most part, but I got the impression that he tends to wear that expression a lot as a default."
Hisako's concern only grew when a blaze of light signaled a tarot card twirling gracefully down from the ceiling. "What the hell?!" Suzuka demanded and rubbed at her eyes.
"May I?" Atticus said and at her nod, he plucked the card from the air. "The Wheel of Fortune. If I may be so bold, I believe this is a good sign for you, my dear Hisa-chan. And I believe your friend will be fine."
"I sure hope so." They had another person back in on their secret, and not her first pick at that. They had to be more careful. But for now, she could only have faith in Atticus' words. It'd have to be fine.
Knowledge: ★★★☆☆ (+0)
Confidence: ★★☆☆☆ (+2)
Charm: ★☆☆☆☆ (+0)
Empathy: ★★★☆☆ (+0)
"Thou art I... And I am thou... Thou hast established a genuine bond..."
Hisako Fujihara has established the President social link of the Fortune arcana!