A/N: Call me Arnold, because I'm back, baby. Big oversized one that I've been waiting for for a while, so just sit back, relax, and crank up that Persona 5 Soundtrack. We're going on a ride.
Chapter 19: Fox on the Run
Tuesday, 5/17/20XX, Evening
Mishima let out a sigh as he finished the last equation of his math homework. Ever since Kamoshida had went down, the volleyball team was all but disbanded. All their games and practices were cancelled for the foreseeable future, and their 'practices' mostly consisted of study sessions, as their substitute coach was woefully underprepared when it came to coaching athletics. Not that Mishima minded all that much. While Kamoshida had been in charge, inflicting his twisted abuse and brutal training regimens on them, Mishima's grades had begun to slip, and now that he was gone, not only did Mishima have more time to focus on his schoolwork, but it also freed him up to run the Phan-Site.
The Phantom Thieves...the ones who finally ended Kamoshida's reign of terror. Mishima had cobbled together the website the day the volleyball coach had confessed, and it had caught on faster than he'd ever thought it would. Mishima was prepared to do whatever it took to repay them, but unfortunately, since he had confronted Cujoh about his realization that she was the leader of the Phantom Thieves, she had yet to even look his way in class. If only he could prove to her how valuable he could be…
As soon as he had that thought, his phone chimed, signifying a new message. Mishima picked up his phone, his eyes widening as he read the message.
JC: Hey, Mishima, it's Cujoh.
JC: So is the Phansite completely anonymous?
YM: Well, all the postings themselves are anonymous, but not just anyone can post.
YM: You have to give a valid email address before you can post.
YM: That way the chat doesn't get flooded with trolls and bots posting spam.
JC: So since you're the admin, does that mean you have access to email addresses?
JC: So if I sent you a post, would you be able to find the person who made it?
There were no messages for about five minutes, and Mishima almost asked if everything was ok, when a link to the Phansite came through. As Mishima read her request, he couldn't help but smile. His chance to repay everything the Phantom Thieves had done for him.
Wednesday, 5/18/20XX, Afternoon, Shujin Academy
Jolyne sighed as she picked her water up from the vending machine, turning to Ann and Ryuji. "I'm telling you, everytime I think I've got a good reading on Yusuke, he goes and surprises me." Jolyne stated as she opened the water.
"So, are we going to the Palace today?" Ryuji asked a little too excitedly.
"Maybe. I've got Mishima running down what I think could be a lead, so I'm waiting to see if that pans out." The leader stated.
"'Leads', 'pan out'...man, our lives got real weird, real fast." Ann remarked.
"Tell me about it. Now it's all 'personas' and 'stands' and 'Palace rulers'." Ryuji agreed.
"So what'd you guys do yesterday?" Jolyne asked, and Ann broke out in a smile.
"Ok, so you guys have to promise you won't say anything to anyone else, but…" The model began to say, before leaning closer to her friends. "...Shiho's coming back to Shujin!"
"Whoa, for real?!" Ryuji asked a little too loudly.
"Keep it down, you idiot! Lady Ann obviously doesn't want this broadcast where everyone can hear it!" Morgana scolded from Jolyne's bag.
"Right, sorry…" The former track star apologized. "So, when's she coming back?"
"Shiho says her parents want her to start back at the end of the month." Ann answered, and Jolyne smiled.
"I'm really happy for her. We'll all need to get together once we wrap up all this Madarame stuff." No sooner did the transfer student say that than Mishima approached them.
"Uh, hey, Cujoh." Mishima greeted. "So, remember that thing you asked me about last night?" He asked, and she nodded. "Well, I found the post and emailed the address. I actually wasn't expecting anything, but the guy just emailed me!" He explained, causing Jolyne's eyes to widen.
"Whoa, seriously? What'd he say?"
"He said he can meet in Shibuya this afternoon, right around the time school gets out." The administrator answered.
"That fast? I'm impressed…" Jolyne muttered out. "Thanks a lot, Mishima."
"No problem! Anything I can do to help!" He cheerfully replied. "Do you...want me to go with you?"
"Nah, we got it." Ryuji piped in. "We really appreciate it, though."
"Oh! Uh...hope it pans out!" Mishima said, before he headed off and left the Phantom Thieves.
"Is it just me, or does he seem a little TOO eager to help us?" Ann asked.
"I think he's just excited. He'll calm down. I hope…" The leader commented. "So, are you guys doing anything today?"
"I don't have anything going on."
"Then, I guess we've got a meeting."."
After school, Shibuya
The Phantom Thieves stepped into the main area of Shibuya Station, not far from where they had first met Yusuke. "So how do we know who we're looking for?" Ann asked, and Jolyne shrugged.
"I dunno. I guess Mishima told him what to be on the lookout for." Jolyne responded, and a certain blonde just sighed.
"Aw man, I don't wanna be here forever. I got shit to do!"
"Like what? Play video games and slack off?" Morgana asked, and he looked away.
"I'm uh...practicing something." He said, and Jolyne's brow furrowed. For the past several days Ryuji had been acting...weird was the only way to really describe it. She could tell there was something he wanted to talk about, but the Stand user couldn't tell what…
"Uh, excuse me?" A voice asked from behind them, and Jolyne sighed. She'd have to ask him later, as they all turned around.
"No freakin' way!"
...to see none other than Natsuhiko Nakanohara, the man whose heart they had changed in Mementos, standing behind them, looking a bit confused. "I-I'm sorry, do we know each other?" He asked, and they all composed themselves.
"N-no, sir. You just...scared us, that's all! We're all on edge because of finals and typical high school stuff, right?!" Ryuji hurridley explained, and the other two frequently nodded.
"I'm sorry if I disturbed you." Nakanohara apologized. "I'm supposed to be meeting someone here, but I don't know what they look like. I was about to head home, when I saw you three. I..I don't know how to explain it, but when I saw I felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity." The Phantom Thieves' eyes all widened. Was this because of their encounter with his shadow…? "I'm terribly sorry. I'll be on my way and-"
"Is it about Madarame?" Jolyne asked, and the bank worker's eyes widened.
"So it is you!" He realized, and Jolyne nodded. "Before anything else, just let me say thank you! I-I don't know how you did it, but you prevented me from doing something truly terrible! If it weren't for you-"
"Don't mention it. Especially for something we don't have any idea about." Jolyne stated, and Nakanohara nodded as he caught her drift. "So, about your request…"
"You wish to know why I want to trigger a change of heart in Madarame, correct?" He asked, and they all nodded. "You see, I myself am one of Madarame's former pupils." The former stalker revealed, shocking them. "Years ago, I lived and studied under him, alongside a man several years older than me. Our every waking moment was consumed with artistic thoughts, with Madarame pushing us above and beyond our limits. As we finished our pieces, Madarame would claim them as his own, citing a need to keep his reputation alive until he could finish his 'masterpiece.'" Nakanohara explained. "One day, my fellow student grew tired of Madarame stealing his work, and threatened to go public with it. However, before he could, Madarame claimed that he himself was plagiarizing works."
"And it was the word of an established artist versus his." Jolyne finished, clenching her fist in anger as the memories of her trial resurfaced.
"That's right. He was blacklisted, unable to find any work elsewhere, and...and he took his own life." Their former enemy revealed.
"That served to be the final straw. Despite Madarame's pleas, I left that place, and renounced art. Not before Madarame used his reputation to denounce me, off course." Nakanohara said, his eyes becoming downcast. "It's a shame. I was quite skilled with a brush…"
"So now we've got real proof that the plagiarism is real." Morgana stated from Jolyne's bag.
"I tried turning over a new leaf, finishing my schooling and getting a job at a bank, but I'm afraid that, in my attempt to fill the void that art had left, my heart became corrupted to the point of obsession. I even put my girlfriend...ex-girlfriend...through hell." Nakanohara muttered.
"Hey, you only turned out that way because that shitty old man used you up. All you can do now is own up to it, and try to do better." Jolyne reassured him. "I promise, Madarame will pay soon because of you."
"Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me." Nakanohara said, and was about to walk away...when he stopped. "If...if I may be so bold as to make on more request?" He asked, and Jolyne nodded. "Even now, one young man remains in Madarame's grasp. Not only is he one of the most talented artist I have ever seen, but he owes Madarame greatly for taking him in after his mother died, so he has no choice but to stay with him."
"He must be talking about Yusuke!" Ann whispered, as the man continued.
"Shortly before I left, I offered to take him with me. However, the young man refused me, saying 'I have no other choice.'" He explained. "Please, I'm begging you...save him!"
"Consider your request accepted." Jolyne stated, and Nakanohara nodded, before walking off.
"Damn. That was...intense." Ryuji said after he had walked away.
"I'll say. To think that the nice old man we met is capable of forcing someone into suicide like that…" Ann agreed, and sighed. "I should know better than anyone that looks can be deceiving, but I still can't believe it."
"So we're all in agreement. Our next target...is Ichiryusai Madarame!" Jolyne declared, and turned towards a subway line. "Let's get started."
After School, Madarame's Palace
A Shadow shaped like a security guard ran through the hallways, blowing his whistle. "Get back here, you damn intruders!" It called out, only to round a corner and be greeted with the empty room of paintings. "Where'd they go? Probably ran off, if they know what's good for them…" The Guard mumbled to himself, and headed back down the hallway. Once he was gone, Joker poked her head out of her hiding spot behind a wall, as the others did the same.
"Damn, security's already pretty tight. Wasn't like this when we were here the other day." Panther stated.
"Think it had something to do with us?" Joker asked.
"If our questions the other day raised his suspicions, I think so." Mona stated.
"These Shadows don't seem so tough. We just gotta avoid them, right?" Skull said. "Hey Joker, you still got that map?" He asked, and she nodded.
"Yeah." She pulled it out, the others crowding around her. "Let's see, it doesn't look like the treasure's in this building. But apparently there's a walkway that connects to the second building a few floors up."
"So it sounds like that's where we need to go." Mona pointed out, and Joker nodded.
And with that, Joker began to lead the others through the elaborate museum. They went through the lobby, past the ornate gold statue, and ascended into the upper levels, either avoiding or dispatching any Shadows that they came across. Most of the Shadows that they went up against were a little tougher than the ones in Kamoshida's palace, but they still fell before the Phantom Thieves. Joker even managed to obtain a few more Personas, though she had to ditch the ones she had gathered from Kamoshida's castle. They cleared out the second floor, before moving on to the third, and then the fourth. It honestly started to get a little repetitive, before they made it halfway up the building...
Joker dodged a swipe from a small creature with a white mask and feathered wings, and Joker's mask disappeared. "Jack Frost!" A white, snowman like creature with a blue jester's hat appeared in front of her, and it let out a "Hee Hoo!"before it covered the Koppa Tengu in ice that then shattered into a thousand pieces.
Panther was surrounded by several of the small Koppa Tengus, using her whip to lash them into black and red ash, before summoning Carmen to blast several of them away. Skull was in similar situation, but he was using his pipe to smash them away as they got close. However, one got close to his face...only for Skull to backhand it away, his hand momentarily covered by what looked like another hand that electrocuted it. Mona was the least troubled of the four, using his slingshot to pick off the last one.
"Jeez, those things were annoying!" Skull sighed out, slinging his pipe across his shoulder.
"Tell me about it. Thank god they weren't any tougher. I dunno if I could handle that…" Panther agreed, turning to Joker. "How much longer until we reach that walkway?"
"According to the map, it's...this floor!" Joker exclaimed, reading the map. "Follow me." She instructed, and began to lead the four. However, as they did so, Panther hung back with Skull.
"So do you ever notice how...different she acts when we're in here?" She whispered, and he nodded.
"Oh man, I thought it was just me. Out there she's all sarcastic and stuff, but in here she's all business. It's kinda scary, right?" Skull asked, and she nodded as Joker lead them to the walkway. They could see the second tower of the museum, and the bridge was occupied by large wooden slats with intricate peacock designs on them.
"That's the same design that was on that door in Madarame's…" Joker mumbled.
"I can feel the treasure coming from that second building!" Mona piped up, and Skull's eyed widened.
"Whoa, seriously?! Already?!"
"Yep! All the way up at the top level!" The not-cat stated, and Joker nodded.
"Let's get moving." Jolyne said, and they began to move across the bridge, the wooden slats parting for them as the Thieves approached them. They were about to reach the end…
When they were greeted with the sight of an electrified security grid. "Oh come on!" Panther groaned out.
"Spread out. There's gotta be some kind of mechanism or switch or something." Joker instructed, and they all nodded. The group combed the area that they were in, Joker jumping onto a lamp to get a better view of the surrounding area. "Anyone see anything?"
"I've got nothing."
"Good grief. And just when I was thinking this was too easy…" Jolyne muttered to herself as she jumped down to join the others. "Mona, explanation."
"Let's see, if the Palace is divided into two parts…" Mona said, tapping his chin in thought. "Alright, I've got it. Back in Madarame's shack in the real world, he has a door with the same design as those panels, with a real heavy padlock on it. Think back to Kamoshida's palace, where the gymnasium was represented by that chapel. If we apply the same thinking to this place…
"Then these gates represent that locked door?" Panther asked, and the diminutive thief nodded.
"That's right. Because Madarame perceives whatever's behind that door to be protected, then so too is the part of the palace that represents this locked room."
"Alright, seems simple enough." Skull piped up. "So how do we get through it?"
"It's simple: we change his cognition!"
"Aaaaaaand you lost me again." Mona just sighed.
"Isn't it obvious? If Madarame perceives that room as being secure, then all we have to do is open the door in the real world, get him to see it, and the gate'll drop!" The group's resident model explained.
"Couldn't have said it better myself, Lady Ann! As brilliant as you are beautiful!" The suck-up complimented.
"Yeah, but how are we going to get in the shack and have him the door open?" Joker wondered, as the gears in her head began to turn… "No. Nonononononononono…"
"I'm afraid we have no other option." Morgana stated, and Joker groaned and put her head in her hands while Skull and Panther just exchanged a confused look.
"Uh...what do we gotta do?" Skull asked, and Joker looked up, a look of pure dread on her face.
"I gotta make a call."
Thursday, 5/19/20XX, After School
Yusuke nervously paced back and forth in his room at the Atelier. For most of yesterday, he had been worried that he had scared away Jolyne after he had revealed that he wanted her to be his nude model, so when she had contacted him last night and said she would do it today, the art student was over the moon! For a moment, he had thought she was coming simply to ask more questions about Sensei, but the transfer student had assured him that that was not the case. At last, the day Yusuke had waited for since he first saw her with that strange man with the pompadour last month. His masterpiece would finally be complete!
If Jolyne ever got here, of course. It was taking her a rather long while to get there, and Yusuke was starting to get worried. Had Jolyne been mugged…? No, that was absurd. From the brief interactions he had gotten with her, Yusuke got the sense that he should be more worried for any potential mugger. He glanced at the clock on his phone, and frowned. The exhibition would close soon, and Sensei would be home soon. Not that he would impede their painting session, of course. The expert painter knew what art required sometimes, but the apprentice was more worried about whether or not Jolyne would be uncomfortable in his presence. A bridge that would need to be crossed if Jolyne didn't show up…
*DING DONG* The ring of the doorbell rang and roused Yusuke from his thoughts, and he went to the door. He opened the door, expecting to see Jolyne…
And was greeted with that sight, thought a bit...differently than he was expecting. "Uh, Cujoh-san? Are you...alright?"
"Hm? Yeah, I'm fine! I just got a little held up." Said Jolyne from underneath the mountain of clothes she was wearing. If Yusuke didn't know any better, he would swear that she had on every piece of clothing she owned. "I heard something about a polar vortex on the news or something, so I thought it'd be a good idea to bundle up."
"Well, yeah, but have you heard of this climate change stuff? Weather's not acting like it's supposed to. Figured it be better to be safe than sorry." She explained, and Yusuke was about to question some more… "Can we go ahead and get started?"
"Very well. Please, follow me." He instructed, leading her to his work room. As they passed the door that Sensei kept locked at all time, Yusuke could've sworn he heard rustling, but he figured it was just his imagination, as he lead her to the workroom.
"Uh, do you mind...turning around while I get undressed?" Jolyne asked, and Yusuke nodded.
"Of course. Whatever will make you comfortable." He stated, turning around. He could hear her getting undressed, but he didn't say anything…until a tank top and skirt landed near him, causing him to blush
As Jolyne peeled off layer after layer, she sighed to herself. This had better work… Back in the hallway, Morgana was at the lock, holding on with his paws as he manipulated a lock pick.
"This damn body…! What I wouldn't give for some opposable thumbs…" Morgana muttered to himself. "Lady Ann and Ryuji better be in position…" He mumbled out.
Skull and Panther were standing in front of the security gate, having finally arrived after making their way through the Palace. "Finally made it! Doin' this without Joker and Mona ain't so tough!" Skull cheered, and PAnther sighed.
"I hope they get this done soon. I don't like the idea of leaving her alone with that Kitagawa guy like that…"
"Honestly, I'm more worried about him if he tried anything. Jolyne kinda scares me sometimes…" Skull replied, and broke out in a devilish grin. "Are you worried, or are you just jealous that you ain't the one in there with her?" He asked, and she turned a shade of red on par with the color of her outfit.
"W-what?! T-that's insane! Where'd you even get that idea?" She embarrassingly asked.
"Hey, I might be a total idiot, but don't think I don't notice how you two flash googly eyes at each other when you think the other ain't lookin'." Skull teased.
"I-I don't even like girls like that!" She defended. "Look, can we just…talk about something else?" Ann asked, and Ryujii sighed.
"Whatever you say…" and with that, the two waited in complete silence.
Back at the door, Morgana was angling his lockpick, trying to find a good angle to unlock the door with…when the lockpick broke. "Shit!" He cursed out, spitting the remnants out of his mouth. He truly overestimated his skills in this body, and so only brought one lockpick. How foolish he was…it was time for plan b.
"Oh man, it's so tight!" Jolyne called out as she peeled off another layer, noticing Yusuke stiffen up noticeably.
"Tight…?" He muttered out, and shook his head. "No, you mustn't think like that!" Jolyne couldn't help but chuckle. While she'd thought Ryuji's time buying suggestion had been one of his dumber ideas (which was saying something), it had done the trick. Now that she was in the last layer of a green 'lucky land' tank top and shorts, it was only a matter of time before Madarame arrived. If only Morgana did his part...
"Psst, Joker!" A familiar voice whispered, and she looked up to see Morgana in the doorway.
"What's wrong? Why aren't you at the lock?!" She whispered back.
"The lockpick broke! We're gonna have to use Stone Free!" He explained, and Jolyne scowled.
"Shit, really? Alright, I'll be right there." She responded, and cleared her throat. "Almost done~" she teased our, and Yusuke gulped nervously. Before he could question it, Jolyne ducked out of the room and followed Morgana out into the hall, straight to the door with the peacock design. She grabbed hold of it and pointed her finger at the keyhole, and her finger began to unravel into strings as her Stand ability activated. The strings went into the keyhole, and she closed her eyes as she began to focus. This lock was a bit more complicated than the one in Kamoshida's palace, but it shouldn't be too difficult. It was just a matter of finding the mechanism and getting it to move the right way. It was just figuring out how to do that the right way…
"What are you doing?!" Yusuke demanded, and Jolyne's eyes widened as she spun around to see Yusuke standing there, a confused look upon his face. "Is...is that a cat? I thought I heard meowing…" The artist said, and Jolyne rearranged herself so that Yusuke couldn't see the lock. "What is going on here?"
"I have to bring the cat with me when I leave, because my guardian doesn't like me to leave him alone." That's it, just keep him talking. Focus on the cat, while Jolyne tried to manipulate the lock.
"I...suppose you could have asked me but…" Yusuke started to say, before he got back on topic. "Why did you run away? What are you trying to accomplish here?" Shit, he was getting straight to the point. And Jolyne almost had the lock…
"I-I got nerves, so I went to go find the bathroom and-"
"No." Yusuke stated, his voice filled with more resolve than she had heard before. "No more lies. You have had an ulterior motive since day one, that much is obvious even to me. Your obsession with Sensei, your constant hounding for answers...I was willing to overlook it, to give you enough answers to satisfy you for the sake of my art." If he kicked her out before Madarame saw the open lock, this would all be for nothing, and she would have wasted their only shot. Almost there... "But now...now, I cannot overlook it. You must give me answers now, or i will-"
The lock fell to the ground, startling the three of them as the Peacock Door opened behind Jolyne. Seizing the opportunity before Yusuke could react, she bolted into the room.
Yusuke's eyes widened as Jolyne darted into the room, and bit back a curse as he followed after her. What did Jolyne hope to gain here…? "Stop right there!" He barked after ther, noticing that she had stopped and was staring at something. "Now that's enough! You are going to give me a straight answer, and tell me what is-" Yusuke started to say, when he noticed what she was staring at. As soon as his eyes focused on the object, Yusuke's eyes went wide, his jaw dropped, and his hands got all clammy and sweaty as he realized what he was looking at.
"Sayuri…" There was no mistaking it. Lining the room were several paintings that resembled the painting that Yusuke had soon the trio the other day, down to the very way the light reflected off of it. "But it was supposed to have destroyed. How...I don't understand…"
"Yusuke, what is this room?" Jolyne asked, looking around.
"This...this is sensei's room. But...but I don't see a bed in here. I know that he sleeps in his studio when he is busy, but...there's no bed? What's going on …" Yusuke looked like he had seen a ghost. Jolyne could practically hear the gears turning in his head as he desperately tried to process this.
"Yusuke, I'm home!" Madarame's voice called out, as they heard footsteps approaching. "Did Cujoh-san ever come by? I know how much this means to you. And-" Madarame's voice stopped as he rounded the corner and saw the open door.
Skull and Panther were leaning against the bushes, almost convinced that Jolyne and Morgana had failed, when the red defense gates shut off and the pylons lowered. "Alright, they did it!" Skull cheered.
"Was there ever any doubt?" Panther asked. "Come on, let's go shut down the security console before the gates come back on!"
Madarame had walked into the room, his eyes wide as saucers as he noticed Jolyne and Yusuke. "Yusuke, what is the meaning of this?! You know this room is off limits, even to you!" Madarame scolded, but Yusuke didn't seem to notice that.
"Sensei, what is going on?" The pupil demanded, spinning to face his teacher. "You told me that the Sayuri was destroyed, irreparably damaged by thieves. And yet here we are, surrounded by these...forgeries! I demand to know what is going on!" He yelled out, and Madarame sighed.
"I figured this day would come sooner or later…" The teacher mumbled. "Yes, it's true that the original Sayuri was destroyed years ago. However, I have never told you the real truth. You see, years ago, one of my pupils lashed out at me, and destroyed my masterpiece out of frustration towards me and my teaching methods. That incident...it rattled me. It cast me into deep into a rut that I have been unable to recover from since." Madarame admitted. "Because of this distress, my pupils would, on occasion, volunteer their own ideas for me to pass as my own." Jolyne didn't look so sure, but she held her tongue for now as Madarame continued to speak. "I knew I couldn't keep this up forever, and so...I resorted to attempting to recreate the Sayuri. However, lightning never strikes twice, and my attempts to create the masterpiece simply resulted in replicas."
"So what's the deal with all these paintings?" Jolyne asked.
"A-ah, well, one day, I was contacted by a potential buyer. He knew that it wasn't the original, but he didn't care. I sold him a painting, and form there it spiraled. Soon, demand reached the point where I had no choice but to continue creating replicas." The elder man explained, looking at the ground in shame. "I...I only did it so that I could further your education, Yusuke."
"Yeah, no. I'm not buying it." Jolyne spoke up, startling the student-teacher duo. "Some things aren't adding up here. You said the original was destroyed, so how did you manage to find something to copy?" She asked, clearly throwing Madarame off guard.
"W-well, you see, I happened to find a detailed image in an art book one day, and had the image magnified and printed out."
"Must have been some printing place, to get it blown up and printed out with such detailed quality…" Jolyne mused. "Also, selling replicas of a magnified photo? I'm not going to pretend I know how the art world works, but the people who buy art have sharp eyes, right? Wouldn't they notice something like that?" As Jolyne spoke, she couldn't help but notice Madarame's demeanor begin to change. Until now, even when they questioned him, his eyes had been warm and kind, with a welcoming smile that had reminded Jolyne of her Grandfather. But now, his eyes were sharp and cold, his smile replaced by a frown that, for some reason, reminded her an awful lot of Kamoshida.
"Young lady, I think you'll find that it's rude to make baseless assumptions like this." Madarame growled out, and that's when Morgana, who had been silent until now, noticed something: a painting on an easel that was covered by a purple tarp.
"Joker, the one on the easel!" He pointed out, and she nodded. Taking her cue, Morgana leapt off and took the tarp in his mouth, pulling it down with him. The noise caught the attention of Yusuke and Madarame, and when Yusuke saw what was behind the tarp, his life would never be the same.
It was the Sayuri. Not a replica, not an imitation, not a copy, but the real painting. There was no mistaking it. The woman's features, the look on her face, the way the colors seemed to work together… "The Sayuri…" Yusuke gasped out. "But...you just said a moment ago that it was destroyed. So… how is it here?!"
"I-I told you, I had an image printed out, so that I would have a reference to go off of!" MAdarame tried to explain, but Yusuke shook his head.
"No. This painting...I would know it anywhere. This is what kept me going, what drove me…" Yusuke said, causing Madarame's eyes to widen.
"How could he possibly know…?" He whispered to himself, as Yusuke spun around.
"It's counterfeit!" Madarame blurted out. "Yes, yes, that's what this is! I-I'd heard someone was trying to sell a counterfeit, so I bought it before they could tarnish my good name!"
"So you're saying to artist bought a counterfeit of his own work? Give me a freaking break. Do you really think we're that dumb?" Jolyne asked, and Yusuke narrowed his eyes.
"Sensei, please, tell us the truth." Yusuke demanded, but instead of answering them, Madarame pulled out his phone, pressing a button on the flip phone.
"I've just reported you to my private security, Cujoh-san. Honestly, to think I'd have to use it on some high school girl…" The plagiarist scolded, and Yusuke stepped forward.
"Sensei, please! Let us talk about this!"
"You can talk about this all you want to the police, Yusuke." He warned, causing his student's eyes to widen.
"Jolyne, let's get out of here!" Morgana advised, and Jolyne nodded.
"Move!" She ordered, as she and Morgana shot past Madarame.
"Run all you want! They'll be here in two minutes!" Madarame taunted as they ran out of the atelier, across the street to the entry point of the Palace.
"We don't have much time before the security gets here! The nav will take us right to Ann and Ryuji, right?" Jolyne asked as she took her phone out of her pocket.
"Ideally, yes! It'll help if they're on the bridge itself!" Morgana answered, and Jolyne began to open the Nav.
"Wait!" A familiar voice said, and they both turned to see Yusuke behind them, panting. "Wait...just a minute…" He panted out, as he caught his breath. "In...in all my years with Sensei, I have never seen him behave like that. Not even with a disobedient pupil. And yet, when you came along, you knew exactly which buttons you needed to press." Yusuke panted out, and Jolyne noticed that he was shaking, with tears in his eyes. "You, you come along and you shattered everything I thought I knew about my life. You clearly knew something that I didn't, even after all these years. What could it be? What could you possibly gain from all this?"
And at that moment, Jolyne was made aware of precisely what she had done. Ann and Ryuji, they had known what Kamoshida was long before she ever showed up. But Yusuke...while he had to have had some idea what Madarame was, he had been content to simply look the other way. At least, he was until Jolyne had come along and blown the lid right off of any semblance of a peaceful life. But now there was no ignoring what he had seen And could she really just walk away after that?
"You're right. I do know something. I've known what he really is for a while now." Jolyne stated. "Look, we don't have much time before the security arrives. I...I could take you with me. With us. Show you what Madramae really is." Morgana's eyes widned, but he didn't say anything as Yusuke thought it over. Jolyne didn't say anything, but just extended her hand. Yusuke didn't say anything, silence hanging in the air for a moment that seemed to stretch on forever...before he took her hand.
Panther watched as Skull swung his pipe down on the security console again, shielding her eyes as it exploded into sparks. "Maybe you need to hit it again? Y'know, just to be sure?" She teased.
"Hey, I'm not the one who torched that guard before he could give us the code!" He shot back, as they made their way back to the bridge. "Besides, if the console's all busted up, then they can't fix it up, right?"
"Gee, I'm starting to wonder who the brains of this group are…" Panther sighed out as they returned to the bridge. "So they should be here by now, right?"
"Maybe they got held up?" Skull suggested, and Panther frowned.
"I swear, if that Kitagawa tries anything…" No sooner did Ann open her mouth did a red and black portal open up in the sky, and down dropped Joker, landing flawlessly on her feet. Ryuji looked up in time to see Yusuke falling on top of him, Mona landing on them slightly after.
"Ow…" The blonde groaned out, as Panther's eyes widened.
"Whoa, is that Kitagawa? What's he doing here?"
"He wanted to see what Madarame really was for himself." Joker stated, extending her hand for Yusuke to grab, helping him up. It was then that he noticed that bizarre clothing she was now wearing.
"Cujoh-san? Is...is that really you?" He asked, and she nodded. He looked around, notiing the golden decorations of the Museum Palace. "Where...where are we?"
"We're in the Meta-Verse, a dimension that exists as a kind of second skin for reality. More specifically, we're the Palace generated by Madarame's twisted desires." Mona explained, and Yusuke's eyes widened.
"That mascot character...is that the cat?" he asked himself, looking around at the others. "Those hairstyles...Sakamoto? Takamaki? Is that you?"
"Yep." Joker responded as she helped Ryuji up.
"What is going on? What is this 'Palace'?" Yusuke asked.
"A Palace is basically a manifestation of someone's twisted heart. And this...well, this is Madarame's." Panther explained.
"She ain't lyin'. This is how that money grubbing bastard really feels." Skull backed up.
"Basically, this is reality as Madarame views it." Joker finished. "He thought of that shack as some sort of museum, something dedicated to showing off how great and talented he is, and so that's how it appears in here."
"This...this is all too much." The artist muttered.
"Oh, trust me, this ain't even the half of it. Wait'll we tell you about our Personas." The former track star commented, and Yusuke massaged his temples.
"I don't even know what is happening anymore. Reality, my life as I knew it...I'm trying to be rational about it, but a part of me wants to believe that this is all some twisted dream."
"Trust me, it's real." Joker said.
"Look, I don't want to sound insensitive, but we should probably move!" Mona piped up. "Everything we just did, both in here and the real world, have probably raised security through the roof. If we stay here too long, then-"
"Well well, what have we here?" A familiar, yet distorted, voice called out, one that made the hairs on Yusuke's neck stand up straight. They all looked to see a squad of guards approaching them, and they were all flanking the voice's owner: Madarame's shadow, dressed in an ornate golden kimono with his hair done up in a gaudy topknot that resembled a paintbrush, white paint across his face. "It seems we have some uninvited guests! Welcome, to the museum of the great Madarame!" Shadow Madarame bellowed out, and if Yusuke wasn't already confused, he was now.
"Sensei? Is...is that really you?"
"In a sense." Mona piped up. "That's Madarame's shadow, the manifestation of his true personality."
"Sheesh, first an ugly king, now some kind of effed up shogun. What is with these guys and their fashion choices…?" Skull muttered to himself as Yusuke continued to process what was happening.
"This...this is all some sick joke, right?"
"Oh, Yusuke. Naive to the point of stupidity. I suppose that's why you were always my favorite pupil." Shadow Madarame stated. "Did it never strike you odd that I was always 'so busy'? That I would work so late I had to sleep in my studio? Please! I'd never be caught dead living in that run-down shack! I have another home, one I keep under a mistress's name." Shadow Madarame revealed.
"Some setup you got there. If you weren't such a piece of shit, I'd be impressed." Joker piped up, and the Palace Ruler simply laughed.
"Oh little girl, you have no idea what I;m capable of."
"I don't understand. If the Sayuri was destroyed, why was it in the storage room? And why make copies if you had the original? None of it makes sense…" Yusuke rambled out, and the Shadow of his teacher just chuckled.
"Oh you poor fool. Isn't it obvious? The painting being destroyed was just a false rumor I spread, to perpetuate my own legend!" Yusuke's eyes widened at this.
"But...how? Why?!" He demanded, and Madarame just sighed.
"I'll put this in the simplest terms that I can: 'I found the real painting, but I can't go public with it! You can have it for a special price, though…'" Madarame couldn't help but scoff. "Art snobs eat that crap up, and they're all too self absorbed to brag about owning it!"
"No…!" Yusuke fell to his knees, unable to bear hearing this from the man he thought of as his mentor, his teacher…
"What's wrong? Can't handle the sheer brilliance of my business scheme?" Shadow Madarame teased, and Panther scowled.
"You bastard! How can you do this?!"
"How can I not? The worth of art is purely subjective, to be determined by the eye of the beholder! If some poor fool wishes to assign a monetary value to my art, who am I to stop them?"
"Good grief, with all this talk of money, no wonder you ended up with this disgusting museum." Joker said, stepping forward. "You call yourself an artist? How do you stomach stealing other people's work and selling it as your own?!"
"Haven't you been paying attention?! Art is nothing but a tool, a device to be used for nothing but money and fame!" The Shadow bellowed out, and Yusuke began to shake.
"And what about your pupils? Yusuke, Nakanohara, all the people down there in that gallery...what are they in all this?" The Phantom Thief leader asked, and Madarame scoffed.
"In this life, there are those that are destined for greatness, and those with the duty to get the former to their destiny! So what if I use them as my stepping stones? All that matters is that I rise to the level I was destined for!" Madarame ranted. "It's only when fools like-"
"That's enough!" Yusuke's voice called out, startling them all as he rose to his feet. "Tell me, why did you take me in? Take all your pupils in?"
"Plucking talented young artists and stealing all their ideas is but one way to stay ahead in this vicious art world. As I was trying to say when you interrupted me, it's only when fools like that Nakanohara try to rebel that I have to crush their futures!" Madarame explained, and Yusuke scowled.
"To think that I was under the tutelage of such a wretched man. One who views life and art as nothing but a money-making scheme, who has no care for anyone but himself…" The others watched as Yusuke began to shake, clenching his fists so hard it started to draw blood. "You are truly unforgivable!"
"You damn brat! Is this how you repay me for taking you in all those years ago?!" Madarame bellowed, and scoffed. "I tire of this! Men, dispose of them!" As the guards began to circle them, the Phantom thieves closed ranks.
"It looks like we'll have to fight our way out!" Mona noted, as Joker's dagger manifested in her hands.
"Skull, make sure you cover Yusuke." She ordered, and was about to give Panther instructions...when Yusuke began to laugh.
"It seems the truth is stranger than fiction…" He muttered out. "All this time, I deluded myself into ignoring the truth that was right in front of me. My eye were truly blind, and unable to see the true self of the man I thought of as my guide...my teacher...my father. But now...now I see things as they really are." Yusuke's laughter faded, as he pointed his finger at Madarame. "I see you as the vain, cruel, greedy parasite you truly are...and I reject you!"
"Ah, I see you've finally come to your senses!" As soon as Yusuke said that, his eyes turned yellow as a migraine threatened to split his head in two, as a voice eerily similar to his own echoed in his head. "How foolish you have been to avert your eyes to the truth until now. A deplorable imitation indeed…Best you part yourself from that aspect." As the voice continued to speak, the pain grew to the point that Yusuke had to drop to his hands and knees. Panther was going to check on him, but as he continued to writhe around, Joker held up her hand. "Let us now forge a contract. I am thou, thou art I." Yusuke's nails began to drag on the floor, leaving blood behind as he continued to writhe. "This world is filled with beauty and vice! It is time we taught people which is which!" And with that, Yusuke looked up, a flash of blue flames depositing a fox-shaped kabuki mask onto his face. Madarame watched in terror, the Phantom Thieves watched in awe, and Joker just smirked as Yusuke rose to his full height, blue flames licking his feet.
"Very well. Let us show them the truth." And with that,Yusuke took hold of the mask, and ripped it off his face, causing him to be engulfed in a pillar of blue flames.
"Another one?!" Mona exclaimed as they jumped back.
Once the flames died down, Yusuke stood clad in a sort of black, high collared jumpsuit with puffy sleeves, a striped sash across his hips, and a white and red fox tail. Towering behind him was a Persona that could only be described as a character out of kabuki theater, complete with the raised sandals, painted face, and massive pipe. Yusuke held his hand out, the Persona mimicking his movements. "A breathtaking sight…" Yusuke spoke up, his voice free of the doubt that had plagued it before. "Imitations they may be, but together they make a fine spectacle. Though the flowers of evil blossom, be it known...abominations are fated to perish. Strike...Goemon!" And with that, Goemon swung his massive pipe, creating a gust of wind so cold it froze the nearby guards before they shattered into pieces.
"Whoa! That's one strong Persona!" Mona commented, and Madarame scowled.
"Guards!" With that, four more guards erupted from the ground in an explosion of red and black, including a large red one that towered over all of them. "Kill them!" And with that, their masks all shattered, and the shadows exploded and reformed into several of the smaller winged demons, and the larger one formed into a malformed demon that resembled a blacksmith.
"It's going to get tough here." Joker said as she stepped up next to Yusuke. "Are you ready?"
"For the first time in my life...I believe I am." With that, Joker smirked.
"Good. This is where the fun begins." And then her face was all business. "Let's go!" The Koppa Tengus all rushed them, but Skull pulled out his shotgun, shooting them down as they got close. However one got by, but before they could react, a sheathed katana manifested in his hands, and he unsheathed, slicing the Koppa Tengu in half.
Carmen appeared behind Panther as her mask vanished, blasting the Ippon-Datara with fire, but the creature didn't seem phased by the fire. "It's got a fire immunity!" She called out, and Joker nodded as she stepped in front of the creature swinging it's hammer.
"Arsene!" Her winged persona manifested behind her, bringing it's arms together to block the hammer. Joker still winced at the impact of the blow, but she still grabbed her chains, as Arsense shifted to Jack Frost.
"Hee ho!" The diminutive persona unleashed a blast of ice that staggered the Ippon Datara, enough for all the Phantom Thieves to rush it, swords, whips, and dagger strikes causing it dissipate into black and red smoke.
Shadow Madarame watched in horror as Yusuke landed in front of him, his fox shaped mask appearing on his face as he levelled a glare at Madarame. "You fool...you just realized that you've just thrown your future away, right?" The Shadow asked.
"A future spent in service to furthering your own greed and vanity...is a future I want no part of." The new Persona wielder stated, and took another step towards his mentor...before his leg's wobbled, and he collapsed, Skull and Panther catching him before he could fall. "What...what is happening?"
"You're exhausted from your Persona waking up." Panther explained. "It happened to us too."
"C'mon man, let's get you out of here." Skull said.
"He'll get what's coming to him. Count on it." Joker stated, glaring at Madarame as she spoke.
"Hmph. You're more than welcome to try." Madarame shot out, and cast a glare at Yusuke. "I'll give you this opportunity to leave and try to see the error of your ways. But if I see you again...I'll crush you like the others."
"Same...to you…" Yusuke panted out, and without another word, the Phantom Thieves fled through the museum.
The group was gathered in the local beef bowl shop, watching as Yusuke scarfed down bowl after bowl. "Man, it's like watching a vacuum cleaner…" Ryuji remarked.
"I don't blame him. When I got Carmen, I cleaned out my entire pantry and slept for almost ten hours and was almost late for school." Ann chimed in.
"So, how are you feeling?" Jolyne asked, and Yusuke paused his eating as he contemplated his answer.
"Physically, I am more exhausted than I have ever been in my life. Mentally…'troubled' seems the only appropriate word to describe it." He answered. "To think that all this time, Sensei was only using me and the others to further his own ambitions."
"Living with him for all that time, you must've had some idea, right?" Ryuji asked, and Jolyne nudged him.
"No, it's quite alright." Yusuke defended, and he let out a sigh. "I…did know something was off. Strange people would often come by, and the plagiarism…well, you already know about that. I must ask, how did you find out that it was more than rumors?"
"We met one of Madarame's old pupils. A guy named Nakanohara." Man answered, and Yusuke smiled slightly.
"Ah, Nakanohara-San. He always treated me with kindness." He reminisced, before his smile fell. "He tried to show me the truth, to get me to leave with him. But…I couldn't bring myself to see the truth. I used the debt I owed sen…Madarame to cloud my judgement."
"You and Madarame mentioned that debt thing a whole lot back there. Is that why you couldn't leave?" Ryuji asked, and Yusuke nodded. "If you don't mind me askin…"
"What could I owe him that would lead me to delude myself?" Yusuke finished, and they all nodded, and he sighed as he collected himself.
"You don't have to-"
"No, it's fine. You all deserve to know." The new Persona wielder reassured. "You see, years ago before I was even born, my mother and Madarame were colleagues, studying under the same art teacher in college. My father passed away shortly after I was born, and when my mother pass when I was four, Madarame...he agreed to take me in." He explained, clenching his fist. "All this time, I thought that he had taken me in out of the kindness of his heart. But knowing what I know now...did the man I know ever truly exist?"
"So that's why…" Morgana muttered. "If any of us were in that situation, we would have behaved the exact same way." Yusuke looked at Morgana, a look of bewilderment on his face.
"...I'm sorry, the cat being able to talk is…something I'm still trying to get my head around." The artist apologized. "But yes, that is why I was so defensive when you brought up the accusations. A part of me still wanted to view him as the man, as the father that I thought he was."
"We completely understand." Jolyne spoke up. "No need to apologize. We're the ones who came in and blew it all up."
"But if you hadn't...I don't want to think about what would have happened to me. And for that, I must thank you, Cujoh-san. Had it not been for you, I would still be trapped in that awful place. I am...grateful I got the chance to see and face the truth for myself."
"Aw, it was nothing." The transfer student reassured, sheepishly scratching the back of her head.
"So...what now?" Ryuji asked. "You got a place to stay? From what you guys said, things got pretty heated between you and Madarame back at the shack. If you need a place to stay, I'm sure one of us can-"
"Actually, as much as I appreciate the offer, that will not be necessary." Yusuke cut off, pulling out his phone. "You see, since we got back from that...Palace...I have been receiving messages and voicemails from Madarame, apologizing for his behavior. He claims that Cujoh-san's questioning caused his emotions to get the better of him, and that I am welcome to return."
"Whoa, seriously? He's willing to just...forgive and forget?" Ann asked.
"For me, at least. But...I don't know if I should. Knowing what I know...can I truly return there? What can I do going forward?"
"You can join us." Jolyne said, her voice causing all the noise in the restaurant to fade away. "I'm sorry, Yusuke, but I don't we think we've properly explained who we are yet. We...are the Phantom Thieves." She stated, and Yusuke's eyes widened.
"That name...it was in the news, recently wasn't it?"
"That's right. We'll give you all the details later, but long story short, we had a teacher who thought of our school as his own personal playground. We discovered the Meta-Verse there, and that he had a Palace. We then used that to 'change his heart', so to speak." Jolyne explained, and Yusuke noticed something...different in her eyes. "We did this by infiltrating his Palace, then finding and stealing his treasure, the manifestation of the distorted desires that had created the Palace."
"And Madarame is your latest target." Yusuke concluded, and they all nodded. "Why?"
"We all had our lives messed up because of shitty adults who don't care about anyone but themselves. We got tired of just sitting back and watching it happen." Ryuji explained, and Ann nodded.
"We'd gotten Madarame's name from another of our targets, and when you came along and invited us to the exhibition, we saw our chance." She explained, and Yusuke folded his fingers in front of him in thought.
"I see. I must ask, why did you select Madarame as your target?"
"Well, this is a bit…shallow, I guess, but the fact is we wanted a target that would allow us to stand out." Jolyne admitted. "We actually want to change society, make sure people like Kamoshida and Madarame get what they deserve. But we can't do that if we fade into obscurity."
"And with the exhibit being as highly publicized as it is, there is no better target. A controversy like this at this time, at that this stage in his career, would surely ruin him." He concluded, and chuckled to himself. "I would very much like to see that. Very well. I shall join you. If you'll have me, of course."
"Well, we don't really do anything unless it's unanimous. Guys?"
"You've got my vote!" Ann cheered. "I know I called you a creep, but knowing what we know now, about how Madarame had you trapped under him like that…I'd be a hypocrite if I turned you away now."
"Hell yeah he's in! You gotta make Madarame pay for everything he did to you and the others." Ryuji agreed, and Morgana scoffed.
"The more crew members you add, the more the chance of failure increases." Jolyne was about to scold him, only for the not-cat to simply grin. "But your Persona is a powerful one, and I can't deny you have potential. I say yes."
"Then it's official. Welcome to the team, Yusuke." Jolyne congratulates, and the newest Phantom Thief smiled.
"I am truly honored, and will do my best to make you all proud."
11/20/20XX, Unknown Location
"So, you gained another accomplice." Sae's voice cut through, cutting Jolyne off. "Your target's own pupil, revolting against his own master to make him pay for his injustices…I have to say, for such a critical part of tour operation, you sure took your time getting there."
"What can I say? My grandfather always says it's the journey, not the destination that counts." Jolyne answered, and Sae checked her notes.
"The involvement of Madarame's pupil actually raises a new question. When you were arrested, the arresting officers retrieved numerous pieces of paper off of them, with various designs on them that seemed to make no sense. Was it him who created these? What purpose did they serve?" The prosecutor asked, and the Phantom Thieves' leader simply clicked her tongue.
"Wouldn't be a good storyteller if I jumped ahead, would I? We'll get there in time. Now, as I was saying…"
Thursday, 5/19/20XX, Evening
I am Thou, Thou Art I
Thou Hast Acquired a New Vow.
It shall become the Wings of Rebellion
That Break thy Chains of Captivity
With the birth of the Emperor Persona,
Thou Hath obtained the winds of blessing
That shall lead to freedom and new power!
As soon as Yusuke said that, his smile faded. "Now, for the time being, I believe it is for the best that I return to Madarame."
"Whoa, you sure?" Ryuji asked, and his new friend nodded.
"It would serve us well to avoid raising his suspicions. Besides, I can be our 'man on the inside', keep an eye on him and ensure he doesn't grow wise to what we're doing."
"If you think it's for the best, I won't stop you." Jolyne agreed, and scratched the back of her neck. "So, that was kinda every piece of clothing I own back there. If you could send that all back to me…" The others all laughed. They had their target, they had a strategy, and they had a new member. What could go wrong?
Shinjuku, Late Night
A man staggered out of one of the more adult oriented stores in the red light district, taking a swing from the drink in his hand. "Ah, damn bitches! I'll just take my money elsewhere!" He called out, going to take another drink from his bottle...only to get a chill down his spine as he walked down an alleyway. He turned around, being greeted with a shadowy figure. "Oh, it's you. Whaddya want this time?"
"I have a job for you. Something that requires your particular set of skills." The figure said, and the man sighed.
"Look, I already told you, I ain't bein' your damn bodyguard while you run around the world! Everything I could possibly want is right here in Tokyo." The man stated.
"No, not like that. There's an individual here, one who is of great importance to my plans." The figure stated. "My endgame is still miles away, but this person is someone I would like to get a handle on as soon as possible. Bring her to me. Alive. If she dies, you will suffer a fate worse than death."
"Look, is this is your kid or your wife or something, I try not to get involved in domestic stuff. Crosses a personal line for me. Now, if you actually wanted to come here and talk to me face to face, then-" The man started to say, when his phone chimed. He pulled it out, his eyes widening as he saw the amount on the screen. "Whoa…"
"Is that enough?"
"Man, for that amount, I'll bring you whoever you want."
"Excellent. Remember, I want her-"
"Alive, or a fate worse than death. I heard you the first time." The man said. "Where do you want me to bring her?"
"Contact me as soon as you have her. Your instructions will follow soon after." The figure instructed, and the man nodded.
"Understood. What's the target's name?"
"Jolyne Cujoh. I will send you the relevant information I have soon."
"Huh, sounds American. Eh, makes no difference to me. You got a name you want me to call you, or you want to keep it anonymous?" The man asked, and the figure thought for a moment.
"You may call me Whitesnake." And with that, the figure seemed to vanish, and the man sighed.
"Jeez, that guys creepy. Oh well, as long as his money's good." The man stated, and walked down the alley. He was about to take another swig of his drink, when a stray cat ran across his path, startling him and causing him to drop his bottle, shattering it. "Damn pest!" He cursed, and the cat hissed at him. The cat turned to run away when it felt something almost menacing behind it. It didn't even have time to react before it's head fell to the ground, sliced clean from it's body. As the spilled liquid settled back onto the ground, the man sighed, and walked off. "Dammit, where the hell am I gonna get something to drink this late…?"
To Be Continued...
A/N: Been waiting to write Yusuke's awakening for the longest time. As always, leave me a review with your thoughts, and I'll see you all again next time.