Author's Note: Seta Souji (Souji Seta for us folks in the Western world) is the "official" name of Persona 4's protagonist, per the manga.

Persona 4: Thread of Fate.

"Chie-chan?"

No response. Yukiko tried again, leaning toward the crack in the bedroom door. "Chie-chan? It's Yukiko."

"Go away."

Yukiko looked back to Chie's father. Satonaka-san and Satonaka-sama had been doing their best to give Chie her time to grieve, even asking Yukiko to stay away for a couple days in hopes that Chie's self-induced solitude would give her a chance to sort through all her feelings. However, when he had heard the funeral was today, Satonaka-san had called Yukiko over to help get her to it. He nodded gravely to Yukiko's glance and gestured toward the bedroom door. "Go ahead, Yukiko-chan. That's more than she's said to anyone else since..." He looked away.

Yukiko bowed her head slowly, looking at the floor. "Thank you, sir." She slid the door open and stepped gingerly into the bedroom, which was as messy as ever. No, Yukiko knew, not really messy but cluttered. She never had to worry about soiling her white socks when visiting her best friend's bedroom. She tiptoed past stacks of magazines, school papers, and Jackie Chan DVD cases, doing her best not to spill the tall glass of iced tea in her hand. She looked at the futon in the corner and saw the lump in the blanket that moved ever so slightly. "Chie, it's time to go."

"No," Chie said. "Go away." She had wrapped herself up tightly and was facing away from the door. Her light brown hair, usually as bright and and vibrant as the girl herself, was an oily mess that clung to her pillow like clumps of cobwebs. From the look of it Yukiko could tell she had been thrashing about quite a bit. It was no wonder her parents finally called for help.

She sighed and looked down over her black kimono. Her family had passed it down from her great grandmother, and while it was in surprisingly good condition and fit Yukiko very well, she had prayed she would never have to wear it. Certainly, not this soon. Not for this. "I don't want to go either. It just...hurts so much. But you missed the wake. You have to go to the funeral."

"Why?" Chie said, her voice tiny and choked. "He's not there."

"It's not his fault," Yukiko said. She pushed aside a stack of magazines with her stocking foot and sat on the floor beside the futon. She set the glass down on top of some papers on the bedstand.

"No, it's mine," Chie said. "I couldn't protect her. I couldn't protect him."

"Chie," Yukiko said. She placed a hand on the blanket on Chie's shoulder, but her friend shook it away.

"You don't understand. I promised him. I promised...I'd protect him. Her. Everyone. I failed. How can I expect to be anything if I can't keep a promise like that?"

Yukiko felt a sob push its way up her throat, but she swallowed it back down. She had never seen Chie being in such a state of despair, and it worried her greatly. "Chie...seeing you like this... it scares me to death."

"What does it all matter anymore?"

"You're not all-powerful, you know. None of us are. We thought we could fight powers that were greater than we could ever hope to be. There just...just," she hung her head. "There wasn't enough time." Yukiko thought she had cried all her tears over the past few days, but fresh ones started filling her eyes as she spoke. She fought hard to keep that sob from succeeding its upward climb. "Chie, please."

The bed rustled, and when she looked back up she saw that Chie had rolled over to face her. Her cheeks were red and raw, her eyes puffy. She really had been lying in bed for days, and it showed. "H-how can I...how can I show my face there? It was my fault that she died."

"It was all of our faults," Yukiko said. "But he needs us."

"He's got family. He doesn't need a bunch of losers who couldn't..."

"Stop it!" Chie recoiled from her best friend's outburst. "We're they're friends," Yukiko continued, her voice regaining its even tone. "Both Souji's and Nanako's. They need us there."

Chie stared at her for a full thirty seconds. "Why, Yukiko? Why did he have to leave me?"

"I don't know," Yukiko said. She placed a hand on the side of Chie's face. "We all miss him."

Chie placed her hand on Yukiko's. "I...really have to go, don't I?"

"I think he'd appreciate it if you were there," Yukiko said. "You were the closest to him of any of us."

Chie bit her lower lip to stop it from quivering. She'd barely left this bed in two days. She hadn't eaten and only had the occasional sip of water from the bathroom sink. Her limbs felt rubbery and cold, despite her having wrapped herself up tightly in her thickest blanket. Her toes were so icy they were like tiny spikes of pain. "I...I..." Her throat closed tight, shutting off the words she was trying to say.

Yukiko drew her close and held her in a tight hug. "I know," Yukiko said. They stayed like that for a few minutes, and she finally said, "I'll help you get ready."

"Thank you Yukiko," Chie said. "I never told you...how much I've always needed you." She slowly released her grip and after mustering up her strength she loosened the blankets around herself. With Yukiko's help she managed to stand. Her stance wavered, but Yukiko held tightly.

"I brought you some iced tea," Yukiko said. "I put a little extra sugar in it, since you haven't been eating."

Chie chuckled just a little. "Mom told you that?"

Yukiko nodded and Chie sighed. She started to reach for the glass but felt lightheaded and collapsed back down on her bed. Yukiko knelt down, picked up the glass, and handed it to Chie. "You're not going to feed me now, are you?" Chie asked.

"If I have to," Yukiko said with a small smile. She held up the glass and Chie took it. To Yukiko's surprise she downed the entire contents, minus the ice, in a matter of three seconds.

Chie gasped afterward. She heaved a few more heavy breaths, then said, "More, please."

VVVVVVVVVV

Within a couple hours Chie had recovered enough strength to walk, and had showered and dressed in her own funeral kimono. Her hands hadn't been steady enough to manage makeup, so Yukiko did that for her. Chie's parents drove them to the Shopping District, but the road was blocked on the south end and the girls had to make it on foot, in their kimonos and geta, to the northern end and the shrine. The entire walk had been silent but steady, both girls concentrating more on the sidewalk than on conversation. As they finally neared the shrine, though, Chie's pace slowed greatly.

Chie suddenly halted as if she'd just stepped in glue. "I...I can't do it."

"You can do it," Yukiko said, squeezing her hand and placing the other on Chie's shoulder. She saw how the color had drained from her best friend's face and it gave her a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. "You need to be there."

"For you?" Chie said.

"For you," Yukiko corrected.

Chie gave another choked chuckle. "I'd have done it for you," she said.

"Then add me in there somewhere," Yukiko said. She tugged on Chie's hand and they started walking again, their geta clacking loudly against the sidewalk. Chie's scraped just a bit with each step.

There was a small crowd outside the shrine, mostly onlookers who were curious about the funeral for the murderer's latest victim. Others she could hear were gossiping about the former idol Risette and pondering why she would be at this funeral. One of them posited that it was a publicity stunt to get herself back into the public eye. Yukiko ignored it as best she could, though the thought of anyone believing a funeral to be a publicity stunt made her sick to her stomach.

For a moment Yukiko feared they wouldn't be able to get past the gaggle of rubberneckers, but as they got close they heard a familiar voice: "Hey, Dojima-san's friends!"

It was Tohru Adachi, the junior partner of Souji's uncle, Ryotaro Dojima. Apparently he was on security duty for the funeral. Yukiko presumed it was as a favor to his senpai. "Yes," she said.

"You better hurry in, they're going to be starting in a few," Adachi said. "Your friends saved you seats, I think." He and a uniformed officer split the crowd so Yukiko and Chie could pass. Yukiko felt humiliated, not for herself but for Chie. This was not what she needed right now, gawkers wondering who she was, why she was so special, and why she deserved to attend this funeral when she wasn't even related to the detective or his murdered daughter. Chie kept her face down, the veil only slightly shielding view of her in the bright noon sunlight.

"Thank you, Adachi-san," Yukiko said.

"N-no problem," Adachi said. "Just...I'm sorry about, well, all of this. You know, about Nanako-chan and..."

"Thank you, Adachi-san," Yukiko said, a sharper edge to her tone. Adachi took the hint this time and shut his mouth. Once the girls were past the blockade Adachi and the officer returned to guarding the gate from all entrants.

Yukiko and Chie made their way up the stone path to the shrine. Most of the guests were already seated, and several of them looked over at the two young women as they entered. Chie did not seem to notice; her eyes were trained on the ground before her. Yukiko did her best to ignore the eyes and kept a look out for...

"Chie-chan. Yukiko-chan." It was Yosuke, standing from his seat. "I saved you a couple spots by the aisle." He was wearing dark glasses and a plain black suit, but missing the headphones he'd worn every time she'd remembered seeing him. The flat tone in his voice told all anyone needed to know about the grief he was suffering. "We, uh...didn't know if you were coming. We've already...um...paid our respects." Yukiko saw that, sitting in the chairs behind the ones Yosuke had saved were Rise and her grandmother, the old woman who ran the tofu shop. Rise's arms were wrapped tightly around herself, her body rocking slightly as her grandmother cradled her.

As they reached Yosuke, Yukiko noticed Naoto was sitting in front of them. Naoto was silent and still as a stone, her eyes closed and head bowed as if in prayer. She wore a dark suit with her uniform cap, and was sitting straight in her seat as if attending the funeral for a fellow police officer, rather than someone with whom she had become emotionally attached. Yukiko thought she looked more like a machine at that moment than any other; her ability to hold her emotions in check seemed superhuman.

Sometimes Yukiko really hated her for that.

Chie said nothing as Yukiko led her to her seat. She gently helped her friend sit down and then moved past her to sit in the next one. Her arms and legs had gone numb, the reality of everything finally sinking in. As she was trying to sit her right knee suddenly gave out and she started to fall, but immediately several hands grabbed her, the strongest of which were at her waist and kept her from tumbling to the ground. As she twisted to sit down she saw those hands belonged to Naoto. She gave a weak smile, which Naoto returned.

Sometimes Yukiko really liked her.

"Are...you okay?" Chie asked her, her hands still holding onto Yukiko's arm.

Yukiko took her hand. "I'm fine."

"Yukiko-chan," Yosuke said. He stood in front of her.

"I'm fine, Yosuke-kun. Really."

Yosuke nodded, and then took the empty seat to Yukiko's left. Yukiko and Chie looked toward the front row of seats. They saw Dojima-san, in his police uniform, his face buried in his hands. Sitting next to him were a man and a woman. They appeared unremarkable, except that the man's hair was stark gray. Just like their "leader's". Those had to be Souji's parents. She looked around a little more, seeing some faces she recognized. Most appeared to be Dojima's fellow police officers. It was a full house, and Yukiko was glad neither her family nor Chie's had insisted on coming. None of their families knew about their involvement in the murders, aside from being friends with the latest victim. It was best to keep things that way.

Chie had been scanning the crowd as well, mostly trying to keep from losing herself too deeply in her thoughts. "Where's Kanji?," Chie asked. "And Teddie? I don't see them anywhere."

"Kanji left," Naoto said. "Inaba. Wouldn't say where he was going. And Teddie..." She trailed off.

"He left too," Rise said. "He went back to...his home. He felt so...so guilty about Senpai that he...he just couldn't..." Her sentence cut off with a sob.

Chie understood, at least a little. Kanji had been the last one to speak with Souji, gave him the news about Nanako. And Teddie had been so devoted to Souji, calling him Sensei, she understood why he would want to disappear back to the TV World. Chie herself wished she could find some dark corner to crawl into and just disappear. She felt Yukiko's hand on her leg, took it in her own, and squeezed it. "Yuki...why did he leave me?"

Yukiko knew she was referring to Souji again, and was afraid to speak. If she tried, she was sure she'd start crying and not be able to stop. She pressed her lips together and muttered a noncommittal reply.

"Souji's heart was broken," Naoto said. "He and Nanako were very close. When...it happened, Souji couldn't accept it."

Yukiko shot Naoto a look. She was back to hating the young detective again. Chie, for her part, only wished she hadn't heard the analysis. Of course she knew it to be true, had known it since Yosuke first told her he was gone. As taciturn as he was, he was also a very deep, very loving man. When his cousin, who was like the little sister he'd never had, was taken away from him so violently he just couldn't handle it. He couldn't handle his powerlessness. They had all counted on him and he'd failed them.

God, what an idiot, Chie thought. You didn't fail us, we failed you. I wish you'd come back here so I can tell you to your face!

"Chie, stop..." Chie realized that in her frustration she had started crushing Yukiko's hand. She immediately let it go and Yukiko started rubbing it.

"Oh God, Yukiko, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean...I didn't..." That was the end of it. She could hold it in no more and started sobbing. Yukiko drew her in for an embrace, and her own tears finally released themselves. Yosuke, likewise, wrapped his arms around both her and Chie, his whole body shaking. Rise jumped out of her seat and piled on, surrounding them all as best she could in her short arms, joining in the open weeping. Naoto only stared at them, a single tear finally loosing itself from her eye. She swiped it away with a finger and placed that hand on Chie's shoulder.

After a minute or two the group hug loosened and each returned to their seats. Chie blinked, trying to clear her eyes. She looked over at Dojima and her boyfriend's parents. Why are theyhere, of all places? She wondered if there was something she could say, at least to Dojima, that might help somehow. She knew right away that was a foolish belief, but before she could stop herself she was already rising from her seat. A gentle hand on her leg held her down and she looked over at Yukiko.

"The abbot just arrived," Yukiko said. "The service will be starting in a few minutes."

"I need...to say something. I need to tell them..."

"Tell them what?" Yukiko said. "What can we say that they'll believe? What won't add to their pain?"

"Maybe we should tell them," Rise said, he voice squeaky and not at all sounding like herself. "Everything."

"Tell them 'everything'?" Naoto said. She leaned closer and whispered, "Tell them we tried to save Nanako from the TV world?" Naoto said. "That she was killed by Shadows, not by a psychotic murderer?"

"Maybe...maybe we should just tell the truth for once," Yosuke said. "Not like it matters anymore."

"I didn't believe you the first time you told me, and I was ready to accept almost any explanation for the murders. What makes you think they will?" Naoto asked.

"I'm talking to them," Chie said with more energy than she actually felt. She stood, despite everyone's protests, and hobbled over to Dojima and the Setas. When she arrived there, Souji's parents looked up at her. Dojima seemed not to notice her. "Hi," she said, already kicking herself internally. Is this how you introduce yourself to your boyfriend's parents? At a funeral, no less? "Um...I'm a...friend of Souji's."

Souji's mother closed her eyes and hung her head. His father gave a small smile which was not reflected in his eyes and nodded. Neither said a word. Now I know why he's so quiet, Chie thought. "Um," she started again. "I wa...uh, I'm...his g-girlfriend..."

She had to stop. She was shaking all over. She didn't deserve to be standing before these people. She was ashamed, more ashamed than she could ever remember being. She wanted to just run away. She felt a presence behind her and turned to find Yukiko, who placed her supportive hand on Chie's arm. Yukiko looked over to Seta-san and gave a solemn bow of her head. The gray-haired man returned it, and then turned his full attention to his wife.

Yukiko tried to lead Chie back to her seat, but Chie instead pulled toward the shrine. "I...have to say goodbye." Chie made her way slowly toward the small coffin, letting Yukiko steady her, her strength fading further with each step. She stood aside the casket and looked down at the little girl, the lovely, wonderful girl that had been a little sister not just to Souji but to all of them, really. She reached down and touched a finger to Nanako's cheek. So cold, she thought. Such a warm little girl, turned into this because of me...

"Nanako, I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I failed you." She kissed a finger and touched it to Nanako's forehead. "Please, please be happy wherever you are." She closed her eyes and stood there for a long while.

"Chie," Yukiko said, her hand on Chie's shoulder.

"I'm fine," Chie said. She turned around slowly, and after several seconds, opened her eyes to behold the other, larger coffin.

In two short, tender steps she was at its side. She was looking down at him.

Souji was always so intense. Kind, but quiet. Like he always had something important on his mind. And yet he was always there for her with a kind word, a helping hand, or anything else to help her feel better.

Always, until now. She placed a hand on his cheek. He even looked intense in death. The guilt that had killed him was permanently written into his silent face. "Why?" she asked. "Why did you leave us? Why did you leave me?"

Chie knew the truth, as they all did. The moment Kanji had called him to say that Nanako's body was found in the fog with Namatame's other victims, he collapsed. He had no injuries, no discernible health problems. He simply stopped. His heart, his breathing, everything halted. Before anyone even knew something was wrong with him, he was gone.

As soon as Yosuke told her of his death she immediately started to blame herself. She should have been with him that night. They'd suspected the fog was coming. She'd made the promise to protect Nanako, to protect him, and she'd broken that promise.

"Please," she said, leaning into to coffin to kiss his lips. "Please take me with you."

"Chie, no," Yukiko said, her grip on Chie's shoulder firming.

"I can't...can't...live anymore. I failed and it cost you your lives." She pressed her forehead to Souji's. "I don't deserve to be here when you and Nanako can't be."

Yukiko was at a complete loss for words. What Chie was saying frightened her like nothing else had. She'd never imagined Chie as someone who would harm herself, but Chie had never experienced loss like this either. Yukiko had never known anyone who committed suicide, but was sure she was seeing the seeds of the act in Chie. She made note to ensure either she or someone else will be at Chie's side at all times, if just to protect her from herself.

She let Chie speak to Souji's body a moment longer and then tugged on her shoulder. "C'mon, Chie. They're getting ready to start."

Chie knew there was nothing more she could do, either for Souji or for herself. With a choked sob she said, "Souji-kun, please watch over Nanako's soul. Make sure you both make it to Paradise. Take her to her mother, and please, both of you, find love with your ancestors forever." Slowly, reluctantly, she let her friend pull her away and take her back to their seats.

She couldn't look at anyone, didn't want to see their sorrowful faces aimed at her. It was all just too much. She felt numb all over. She barely felt attached to her body, though she could still detect the supportive hands of her friends on her arms and shoulders. Yukiko squeezed her hand, much more gently than Chie had squeezed hers a couple minutes before. She looked over and gave the most reassuring smile she could manage. From the despondent look on Yukiko's face, it wasn't very much.

She sighed and turned back to the shrine. The abbot of the local monastery was now standing there, looking out of breath, as if he had jogged all the way here from the monastery. She realized that he very well could have, that he may have just officiated over another funeral at the monastery itself. Nanako wasn't the only victim of the killer's latest spree.

The abbot opened his book of scriptures. He looked down for a few heartbeats and then up to the crowd. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead of beginning the invocation, he said, "Oh...my!"

The crowd in the street had started scrambling away from the gate, heading uphill and shouting frantically. The funeral crowd all followed his stare in time to see a thick gray fog rolling past the shrine gate and into it, toward them. Dark figures, none of them quite humanoid, scrambled about in the oppressive mist.

"No," Chie said. It was what they feared would happen, though nobody had expected it this soon. The fog was taking over the real world, in the middle of the day, and the Shadows were coming along with it.

Panicked screams immediately filled the funeral crowd as most leaped from their seats, overturning chairs and trampling people in a mad dash toward the rear of the shrine, what they hoped was escape. None of them knew what it was, but the fog itself and the inhuman cries now coming from within instilled in them the fear that Chie knew it should. The only one who could have done anything about it was lying in a coffin in front of the shrine. Souji was gone, and with Teddie in the TV World, their chances at stopping this fog at its source were nonexistent.

"Come on, we have to get out of here!" It was Naoto's voice, but Chie didn't really process the words nor did she look back at the "Detective Prince".

"Everyone, c'mon!" Rise's voice. "Grandma, you too!" She pulled the old woman as best she could into the crowd in the main aisle, where the situation had gone from panic to "trample or be trampled". It was only a miracle that they managed to avoid either of those as they made their way toward the front.

"Dammit!" Yosuke shouted. He kicked the chairs in front of him out of the way to avoid getting caught up in the mass throng.

"Everyone, to the rear of the shrine!" It was Dojima-san, standing by the coffins and waving his arms in that direction. He winced in pain as he did so, and Yukiko remembered that he had been injured recently. Souji's parents were gone, and the shrine yard was already almost empty. Dojima looked down at Nanako's face, touched it with a rough hand, and muttered something that was incomprehensible in the noise. He then ran toward safety himself, picking up a young child who couldn't run quickly enough and carrying him to safety.

Yosuke turned back to Yukiko and Chie. "Hey, c'mon you two! We gotta get out of here!"

"We're coming!" Yukiko said. "Help Rise's grandmother!"

Yosuke looked over at Rise, struggling to help her grandmother move amidst the fleeing crowd. The old woman could do little more than shuffle along in her kimono and geta. With another choice curse word Yosuke pushed through the remaining crowd and practically scooped the petite elderly woman up into his arms, jogging as best he could, with Rise at his side.

"Chie, we have to go now," Yukiko said, standing and grabbing her arm.

Chie watched the fog proceed toward her, but surprisingly, she felt a great calm. If she just let it come, it would all be over soon. The Shadows would do whatever they did to her, and in a short time she could be with him. Just let it come. She couldn't stop it, nobody could. It was going to happen one way or the other.

"Chie, come on!" Yukiko grabbed her shoulders and, with a strength Chie had never known the frail-looking girl to have, she pulled Chie to a standing position.

Chie just stood there, staring at her. "No," she said. "Leave me here. You get away..."

Yukiko slapped her hard in the face, tearing the veil from her head. "No you don't," Yukiko barked, poking a finger in Chie's face. "You're not giving up now. As long as we're alive, we can do something. We have to fight. Isn't that what you always say?"

Chie held a cold hand to her cheek, hot with the sting of Yukiko's slap. "H-how?" she asked. The reality of the world was starting to fill her again. "How can we fight...that?"

"I...I don't know," Yukiko said. She yanked Chie's arm so hard it almost came out of the socket. "But you're not dying here, even if I have to carry you! Now move your ass!"

Chie's fighting instinct started returning to her in that moment. Yes, fight. Fight for those that can't protect themselves. She still had the power to do something, even if she didn't know what that was. Maybe...maybe she could make it up to Nanako and Souji, somehow. If she survived. "R-right," Chie said. She kicked off her geta. "We...we have to go. We've got to do something."

Yukiko gave a rueful smile, and then kicked off her own geta. They sprinted toward the shrine, just barely escaping the leading edge of the fog. As they ran toward the rear of the shrine building, Chie glanced back and saw the fog envelop the two coffins. She said a quick prayer that Nanako and Souji had already found their way into Paradise, that the Shadows could not intercept their souls. Please be safe, Souji. Please be in Heaven, Nanako.

Yukiko stopped so suddenly that Chie almost bowled her over. "What the hell?" Chie asked, and then she saw. Naoto was standing before them. Behind her was the fog. The fog was to the left, with the shrine itself blocking their escape to the right. The fog was behind them. All three sides were closing in quickly.

"You two are such idiots," Naoto said. "Our escape is blocked now. There's no way out but through the fog."

"No," Chie said. How could this be happening? She had decided to fight. Was this how it ended?

"Why are you still here?" Yukiko said.

"Watching out for you," Naoto said. "Looks like I didn't do very well."

Nobody else was around, just the three of them, alone, surrounded by the deadly fog and the Shadows swirling about within. Chie realized then that this was her fault. If she hadn't hesitated, if Yukiko hadn't had to stay behind to force her to flee, and if Naoto hadn't stayed behind for the both of them, then they may have escaped with the others. Wherever it was they might have gone, it had to be better than here.

"Chie," Yukiko said. Yukiko could feel the evil in the fog. It was powerful, and as strong as her and Chie's Personas were, even with Naoto's help, she found herself short on hope.

Chie grabbed Yukiko in a fierce hug, her strength now restored. Yukiko returned the embrace, with only an instant's hesitation. "Yukiko, I'm so sorry."

"Don't be," Yukiko said.

"We have to fight," Chie said. "He wouldn't want us to give up."

"I know," Yukiko said.

"You may need these, then," Naoto said. When Chie and Yukiko separated she tossed a pair of shoes to Chie. They were steel-plated and heavy, but Chie knew them well. They were the same pair of shoes she'd worn in the TV World a few months ago, before upgrading to boots that better protected her shins when kicking.

"Wait, where were you keeping these?" Chie asked as she scooped them up form the ground. She couldn't see anyplace on Naoto's slender body where she could have hidden an extra pair of shoes.

"Don't ask," Naoto said. Chie shrugged, and as she slipped on the shoes Naoto turned to Yukiko. "I had a feeling we'd be needing our weapons sometime. I have this for you as well, Yukiko-chan."

She started to pull a fan out of her coat, but Yukiko said, "Thanks, but I have this." She pulled a fan out of her own kimono. Chie almost laughed out loud when she saw that it was her razor-sharp Uhi fan, the one Souji had given her just the week before. It was the weapon that, in Yukiko's skilled hands, could kill a Shadow in one strike. She'd been carrying it on her this whole time.

"Well then..." Naoto said, putting the fan away and then pulling out a revolver instead. The three girls drew together in the center of the clearing, the fog seconds from enveloping them now. "Shall we?"

"If this is the end..." Chie started, but couldn't find the right words to end the thought.

"...then let's give them hell!" Yukiko shouted.

Yukiko, Chie, and Naoto looked at each other and shared a nod. Then the three women sprinted together into the fog and shouted in unison: "Persona!"

VVVVVVVVVV

The image faded into the darkness that had, only moments before, enveloped the Velvet Room. Souji blinked and waved his hand in front of his face, but there was simply no light there. It had all gone out.

"That may well be where this thread leads," came Igor's stringy voice, echoing through the shadow that enveloped him. "I can show you no more, because there is no more to show."

His heart, already shattered moments before with the news of Nanako's death, had crumbled to dust upon seeing the pain his failure caused his friends. Especially Chie. Most of his life he'd had the sneaking wonder as to what it would be like to have a girl cry over him. Now that he'd seen it he wished he could erase any thought he'd ever given to such a terrible thing. His cheeks, the tears he'd given for Nanako still fresh, had gained renewed wetness from his seeing Chie's pain. He wished he could strike the entire vision from his memory, so that he would have never seen what his failure as a leader had brought about for his love, for his friends, and for his family.

Not only the pain of loss, but an endless swarm of Shadows in the real world and a hopeless situation for all. "Chie," he said under his breath. "I'm so sorry."

"Choose now, whether to follow this thread of fate, or to retrace your steps..."

Souji didn't have to think about it for even a second. He wanted another chance. He would not let Nanako die, no matter what. He was already sure he knew the mistakes he'd made these last few days, the time he'd wasted on false starts, on dead ends. His friends had looked to him for direction, and he had given them the wrong ones. He knew the way now, he was sure of it. He would not fail again.

He made a promise to Nanako. He made a promise to Dojima. He made a promise to Chie. He promised everyone. And he would die before he broke that promise again.

"I choose to retrace my steps."