Disclaimer: I don't own Persona 4.
Mere moments ago, the voices of his friends and family had given Souji the strength to finish the fight with Izanami. But it disappeared just as quickly, the powerlessness he had felt when the group lost to Izanami returning. "What's going on…?" Souji asked himself as he stood up.
He looked around, searching in vain for anything that wasn't fog. Suddenly a brilliant light flared, blinding Souji. When he could see again, he barely managed to conceal his surprise. Before him was his original Persona, Izanagi.
Souji watched his Persona curiously. Izanagi seemed to just be standing there, watching him impassively. Not seeing any better options, Souji walked towards the Persona.
Suddenly the silver-haired boy's battle-honed senses screamed a warning. His sword materializing in his hands, Souji instinctively raised it just in time to block the polearm aimed at his head. Izanagi had attacked so quickly that if Souji hadn't reacted instinctively, he would have been cut in two.
"Tss… Missed my chance to end it quickly." Izanagi muttered, annoyed.
"What the hell!? What are you doing?" Souji asked, surprised by this turn of events.
"Come on… Don't get all stupid on me. Obviously, I'm trying to kill you."
Another blow, this time a sideways slash that Souji deflected. But even blocked, the attack was strong enough to knock Souji down. However, the Persona did not go for the killing blow right away.
"You're not that special… you do remember who gave you the power to use me, right? If it wasn't for her, you would have faced the same problem as the others. Assuming you found a way to enter this world of course."
"I have nothing to hide…" Souji weakly replied as he rose.
He almost didn't recognize his voice. It was low and shaky and Souji could not think of a moment when he spoke like this before. A sense of dread rose inside him. And what scared him the most was that he had no idea why he felt that way.
Iznagi laughed. "Of course you have nothing to hide! I know that too, since I'm you. Or at least, I was you." Izanagi said, mocking him. "I suppose I could tell you right away what's your problem, but I would like to invite some people over. Since you were here for all of them, it's only fair that they get to see the real you, right?"
Before Souji could say another word, Izanagi raised his polearm with a flourish, power flowing up the deadly weapon and gathering at the tip. Pulsating for a brief second, it exploded into light, Souji's hands flying up to cover his eyes involuntarily from the intensity. When they opened again, his friends were there, lying unconscious on the floor, Rise and Yosuke already beginning to stir. The others didn't take long to do the same.
"What's happening…" Yosuke asked as he started to lift himself off the ground. "Weren't we…"
"I don't know… But that means we're not dead, right?" Chie replied, already on her knees.
"Ah! Souji-kun!" Yukiko exclaimed, spotting their leader and Izanagi watching them. It seemed to motivate the rest of the group as they rushed to stand up. But as Yukiko moved to join him, Rise stopped her.
"Wait! There's… there's something wrong…."
"Huh? What do you mean?" Yukiko asked, confused. "Isn't that one of Souji-kun's Personas?"
"I know!" Rise answered. "It's just that I have this gut feeling that something is really wrong…."
"Bravo Rise-chan," Izanagi said, answering her comment. "But really, I shouldn't be surprised. You always had good senses. It's no wonder you're such good support in battle."
"Wha- What the hell is going here?!" Kanji asked. First they lost, then they find out they aren't really dead, and now this.
"Don't worry… I simply thought you would be interested to know the truth about the person you know as Souji Seta. Then you can go back to sleep after I kill this fake."
"What?!" Naoto exclaimed, surprised. "Who- No... What are you? A Persona or… a Shadow?"
"And once again, we get to see why you received the title of 'Detective Prince'." Izanagi said, clapping his hands. "Really, you're going to go far, I can see it. Or at least you would, if you weren't here at Death's Door."
"Whaaaa?! Sensei, what's going on? I'm completely lost!" Teddie said, holding his head with both hands as the situation took an unexpected turn.
"I don't know what's going on Souji, but you know how to deal with this right?" Yosuke asked. His partner had turned his back to them once Izanagi announced his intent. Souji also readied his sword just in case. "We're all friends, so there's no reason to fear your hidden self or anything, right?"
"Unfortunately Yosuke, it won't work this time," Izanagi announced. "You can't exactly accept your hidden side if don't even have a self in the first place. Isn't that right, fake me?"
"Wha-what are you saying?" Rise asked in disbelief. "Senpai has a self! If he didn't, then how come I… I fell in love with him?" If the situation wasn't so bad, she would have blushed at her own words.
The Persona acted hurt, as if he received a wound to his heart. "Oooouch... Rise, that hurt you know? I'm only telling the truth."
After saying that, his free hand moved to his head, grabbing his helmet. Souji watched as he pulled, slowly removing it. When he finally pulled it off, Souji heard the others gasp behind him.
Him? He kind of expected it.
Under the helmet was Souji's own face, with his eyes closed. But now that the helmet was off, he opened them, revealing the same yellow eyes that all the Shadows selves he met had.
"You see?"Izanagi proudly said. "Who knows Souji Seta better than I? Certainly not that fake standing before me."
"Why do you keep saying that? Souji-kun is Souji-kun. He can't be a fake!" Yukiko shouted.
Izanagi smiled the same kind smile Souji had at times. On him however, it appeared twisted. "I suppose you wouldn't understand. He managed to delude himself this far, so I suppose you won't understand until I explain it."
Izanagi dropped his helmet, letting it fall close to him. Now that his left hand was free again, he moved it forward, opening his palm to the sky. Appearing above it were Persona cards, spinning as they hovered in front of Izanagi. Yoshitsune, Ishtar, Lucifer, Alice… Souji could identify all of them as the ones he had inside of him when he went to fight Izanami with his friends.
Izanagi started to talk as all eyes were on the card, "The power to use many Personas, to use this many selves… the ability of the 'wild card', as the old man called it. Don't you ever wonder where it comes from? Why only he amongst you could use it?"
"Old man? Wild card? Souji, what's this about?" Yosuke asked, confused. Did Souji hide something from them?
"Wasn't that also given to him?" Naoto asked, focusing on the most important point. Judging by the tone of her voice however, it was evident that she didn't believe her answer for a second.
"Nope," Izanagi answered. His eyes focused on Souji as he continued, "You do remember, don't you? You met Igor far before you met her… Did you ever wonder what trait his guests must possess to be able to meet him?"
"…I don't know," Souji answered, unable to provide an answer. The rest of the group was confused, having no idea who this 'Igor' was.
Izanagi sighed in exasperation , "See? We're so far apart now that you lost the answer to this. But -I- certainly didn't forget. Since I remember, let me tell you."
His left hand returned to his side before he continued to speak, "Surely you noticed the differences between you and your teammates, right? Each of them had a unique Persona while you could use many. But what Personas they had! They remained the same, only changing once, yet they kept growing stronger and stronger. Different from you as in you would be in trouble keeping up and stay strong like them if you didn't create or change Personas as you moved on in your adventure."
"And what is wrong with that?" Naoto asked, interrupting him. "I see your point, but he could also change his strengths and weaknesses according to the situation. That is something we will never accomplish ourselves."
"A very good point." Izanagi conceded, before smirking, "But did you forget what exactly a Persona is?"
"It's another sel… Ahh!" Naoto started, but stopped as realization hit her. If one person had one self, how could Souji use so many? "But… Wait, what does that mean?"
Izanagi smiled as he saw Naoto's reaction. The others were also confused, not knowing what Naoto's statement meant for Souji. He continued his explanation as if he was telling them something obvious, "Simple. To use the power of the wild card, one simply had to be a good little empty doll."
"A… doll?" Yosuke asked, perplexed. How can someone be a doll?
The pole-arm-wielding Persona gripped his weapon with both hands before answering Yosuke, "That's right, a doll. A simple thing that moves the way you want," he said, before addressing Souji, "Why don't you tell them what Igor told you about your power?"
Souji answered automatically as he tried to understand what Iznanagi just said, "He said it was like the number zero… Empty, yet with infinite potential."
"Exactly! Empty! We're on the right track here!" the Persona answered, overjoyed, "And now, let me take care of these 'infinite possibilities'… Those infinite 'others selves', those FAKES!"
Izanagi raised the blade up and swiftly brought it down, striking all the cards floating before him. They shattered and Souji gasped as if he had just been punched. Unable to stay up, he managed to put himself on his knees instead of just falling completely.
Yosuke saw his partner in trouble and certainly didn't stay put, "Souji! Hang in th- Argh! What the…" He felt like he just ran into a wall, but there wasn't anything between him and Souji. So why…
"Don't think for a second that I'll let you interfere. I've brought you here, but you won't stop me." Izanagi explained. He grabbed his helmet and put it back on. His eyes focused again on Souji, who was still on the ground. He pointed his polearm at Souji, "Come on fake. Get up. It's time to settle this."
"Like hell we'll let you do as you want! Suzuka Gongen!" Chie called. However, her call went unanswered. "Why…"
Izanagi smirked inside his helmet, answering smugly, "You don't even know where you are right now, but let me assure you that none of you have the power to change what will happen."
"What… will happen?" Yukiko asked, unsure about what Izanagi meant by those words.
"To be blunt, you are all on the verge of death. I will kill the empty guy in front of me and this will be the end for everyone," Izanagi answered, unconcerned.
Rise, her worries growing into utter panic, was on the verge of crying at the unfairness of the whole situation, "Why!? Why are you doing this?! Why do you say you're not the same? Why do you want to kill him now?!" They had to be close to death and she was now forced to watch Souji fight alone, without Personas and without help?
"The only thing Izanami ever did was lock me inside of him. She never expected him to be able to use more than one Persona." Izanagi said, smiling as he explained how his dream came true. "I had no problem with him at first, really. But as the year advanced, I saw him lie to himself more and more. There was simply nothing I could do."
His smile became a wicked grin at that point. "But you choose to fight a Goddess… I hoped with everything I had that she was strong. As expected, she literally sent you on the verge of death after she stopped playing around. And now that you're so weak, the seal broke and I can finally be myself again." Izanagi eyed Souji as he stood up, sword in hand, "And now, it's time to see just how empty your leader really is."
"Don't worry fake, I'll be going easy on you," he added, raising his weapon and readying himself in a stance for battle, "I wouldn't want them to miss out on your life story, or lack of. But don't think I'll miss an opportunity either."
Souji assumed a defensive position. He was certain that his rebellious self would attack first, "Don't think I won't either."
"Sensei!" "Senpai!" That was Rise and Teddie. Souji had to admit the odds weren't good, but he'd been in tight spots before.
"Don't worry. I don't intend to die here." They silver-haired teen said, giving them a look before returning his focus on the Persona-turned-Shadow.
"What a joke. Don't you even know how much pain you'll save yourself from if you just stopped here?" Izanagi asked. Going on the offensive, he went for an overhead slash. After Souji blocked it, he immediately made another attack at a different angle, as if he had been expecting the block. Souji managed to deflect it, but he was pushed back a little. "It's your own fault for involving yourself too far. If you hadn't lied to yourself so much, we wouldn't be here."
"'Lying to himself'? You keep saying it… What do you mean by that?" Naoto asked, her mind racing. If they could understand what he meant, they would be able to help their leader.
Izanagi looked at the detective with a deadpan expression, "By caring about Inaba of course. What else could I mean?"
This took everyone by complete surprise. Souji never cared about Inaba? That had to be a joke.
Souji didn't find it funny apparently, as he went for an attack, "What the hell are you saying? Of course I care!" His slash was blocked by the polearm's handle. He immediately jumped back to avoid any possible counterattack.
"Oh please, like you cared before about all the places you've been. Why would it be different now?"
"Senpai… What does he mean?" Kanji asked, curious. He remembered all too well that no matter how twisted a Shadow was, it came from a truth.
"Oh, this will be good…" Izanagi muttered to himself. He kept an eye on his opponent, but stopped attacking, "Tell me, just how well do you know him? Of his life –before- Inaba?" he asked, already knowing the answer. He stayed on the defensive, but it didn't matter.
There was more than one way to hurt someone after all.
"You talk as if I was hiding it from them." Souji replied. He searched for an opening, but found none. Attacking an opponent just waiting for him would be foolish.
"True, true," Izanagi admitted. "But it wouldn't take long to talk about your past. Move to a new place. Stay there for some time. Move away because of your parent's work. Repeat it a good number of time and that's it. Did I miss something?"
"It's not like I could help it," Souji said. He decided to break the stalemate and moved in to slash at the Persona. It was promptly deflected and he had to dodge quickly to avoid the counter.
"Also true. But now I have a question for the audience," Izanagi announced, looking at the whole group. "For anyone who went to his room, did any of you ever see a reminder of the previous places he has been? A picture, a souvenir, anything?"
Yosuke opened his mouth to say something, but held back. The others tried to think of something, but nothing came to mind. Even Souji had nothing to say.
There was only one answer to the question in the first place. There was no reminder. No souvenirs. No farewell gift. Not even a family picture.
Izanagi attacked and Souji focused on his defense. The rest could only watch in silence as questions began to fill theirs minds. Questions born from a sudden spark of doubt and fear.
To many, Souji was 'the popular guy'. He was reliable, smart and always had a solution to a problem. For some, he was someone unique, a close friend who helped you get past a difficult point in life and a person you could trust absolutely. For the investigation team, he was their unshakeable leader, the one who always directed them in fights. He was the one who fought the hardest, who had the best strategic mind and that with him victory was always possible, no matter how grim the situation.
But just what did that mean for him?
What does everyone else mean to Souji?
The team shook off their uncertainties. Izanagi was trying to confuse them and their leader would need their support for this fight. It wasn't the time to have doubts.
The two combatants were now attacking furiously. Blows were traded, blocked, or parried constantly, but it wasn't hard to see who was winning the fight. Souji was at a disadvantage in terms of reach and height, and many minor injuries began to show. Souji forced himself to ignore them. He had no time and no means to heal them anyway.
"And it's going to be the same here. Only now, you had the stupidity to think things changed. That somehow you got true friends that you'll never forget, even if there is a chance that you'll never see them again. But in the end, you'll still leave them and the only thing you'll get is more pain!"
"That doesn't matter! I knew I would have to leave someday and I still made that choice. I was here and I'm glad to have helped them."
"Go Sensei! Show him who's boss!" Teddie shouted, encouraging his friend.
"Hmph. So they consider you a friend. No real surprise there after all. But I have to say, you've been a bad friend to them."
"The hell did you say?" Kanji asked, furious.
"Oh, it's simply another thing he hasn't bothered to tell you," Izanagi explained, slowing down the pace of the fight a little to speak, "As his 'links' with others grow deeper, so does the power granted to the Personas he creates."
"You talk as if I did it only to gain more power," Souji said. Somehow, Izanagi was starting to get on his nerves. Just a little. That was quite a rare feat.
"'Links with others'? Souji, what does that mean?" Yosuke asked, confused again.
"Each Persona has an arcana." Izanagi explained, not letting Souji do it. "People also possess an arcana. By developing 'bonds' with them, the Personas of the same arcana will grow stronger when they are created."
"Power given from bonds with people…" Naoto muttered. "Exactly what is wrong with that? As far as I know, Souji never forced himself to be with any of us. If somehow his friends could make him stronger, I have no problem with that. What about you?" she asked, turning to the rest of the team.
"Yeah! If my relationship with Senpai can help him, then I say go for it!" Rise shouted, not disturbed by the revelation at all.
The rest pretty much agreed with Naoto's thinking. Izanagi didn't seem fazed to see his argument falling flat.
"You are all so deluded… This will only hurt more once you'll have accepted the truth." Izanagi said, before turning again to Souji. "And in the end, the thing I really hate is your face."
His next hit was stronger than the last and Souji winced after blocking it. Right after, he forced Souji to lock swords and looked closely in Souji's eyes. The teen stared right back, putting strength in his arms to not be pushed back.
"Your whole attitude is wrong!" The Shadow shouted, overpowering Souji. The grey-haired teen went down, but rolled away from Izanagi's follow-up attack before scrambling back up as Izanagi continued to speak, "How can you just spout all that crap about caring with an attitude like that? Even now you're doing it!"
"What's wrong with Souji's attitude?" Yosuke asked. "We know he's always calm, but what's wrong with it?"
"You call it calm," Izanagi started to say, addressing the question without leaving Souji out of his sight, "but I call it something else: distant, unconcerned, uncaring."
That drew a round of protests from the group. Uncaring and unconcerned? After everything they went through and how much he helped them? No way.
"You hear them." Souji said, preparing himself to attack. "What do you have to say to that?"
"That you're a fool if you thought I didn't expect it. Seriously, did you forget it? You always are the same. That didn't change when you came to Inaba. You're here, you help out if you can, but you're always keeping the same face. And you'll leave it all like always. You still don't get it? Then maybe this will open your eyes!"
All of a sudden, Izanagi attacked not with the blade, but the handle of the polearm. Souji couldn't block and was sent flying. He got up slowly, exhaustion starting to catch up to him.
"Even now!" Izanagi shouted, "Aren't you supposed to be angry by now? I insulted your life and your friendships! But you're not smiling, you're not angry, you don't laugh, you're not going into a sudden fit of rage… you can't win this fight! And yet you're still 'calm'! You don't fear defeat, but you don't hope for victory either! And you still can't see what's wrong? If you're so sure of yourself, why haven't you defeated me yet?"
That was true; if Izanagi was the same as Souji, then there could be no doubt about the outcome of the match. The former intimately knew everything about how Souji fought...and even worse, how Souji thought. With all the advantages Izanagi had on his side, there was no way for him to lose. But Izanagi claimed they were too different now. So why couldn't Souji win?
If Souji wasn't like Izanagi, then his way of thinking and fighting wouldn't be anticipated and countered. But the Shadow could still do it. Why? There was only one plausible answer.
Souji never changed. He simply believed he had changed, just as Izanagi said. And once the realization was made, Souji frowned.
"You're starting to understand, aren't you? You've never been anything but a doll, dancing as others wishes. Do you honestly think a doll can break me, especially when all your strings have been cut off?"
"Wha… Why do you call Souji-kun a doll?" Yukiko angrily asked.
"But isn't he just like one? He moves when you call him, he doesn't really complain, he's always making the same face and it seems he always has the answer you want to hear. Isn't he the perfect companion? And whenever he actually needs to give his input, there's always a Persona to give him the correct answer."
"Wha… what?!" Chie said, surprised.
Souji grunted as he started to have trouble getting back up. "Shut… up. I didn't need Personas to…."
"That's a lie," Izanagi said, immediately interrupting Souji as he spoke. "You never really connected with others before and now you can suddenly always understand them? Surely you can see there's something wrong with that."
And Izanagi was… right. Souji really didn't want to think it, but what the Persona just said was right. He never had much luck during his previous moves. And come to think of it, wasn't he meeting people depending on the Personas with him at the time? Didn't he made special trips to the Velvet Room simply to get a Persona that would help him converse better with someone he planned to meet?
"'Persona'… you know what it means don't you? A self created to deal with a given situation. You have SO many of them, don't you, Souji? A regular miracle of nature, isn't it? Did you ever think what that means? To be...the empty card that can become anything? Tell me, if you CAN become anything...who are you, Souji? Who ARE you?"
Little by little, things started to make sense to Souji. Why his shadow Persona revolted against him. Why he accused him of lying to himself.
"You never wondered why it was so easy to switch between them? Why you could adapt to them so easily? If there was something before, then you should have felt something being suppressed inside you as you changed selves, you know?"
He didn't know what to do… But he knew he couldn't stop fighting now. Victory looked impossible, but losing still meant death.
He couldn't lose. He couldn't. Even if the match was already decided, what could he do but fight?
"In light of the evidence, there is only one thing to conclude: You are empty. You were empty before Inaba and you are still empty now. Simply a soulless doll that will move as the others want."
Souji charged again, swinging his sword at Izanagi's side. Izanagi blocked and punched him, holding his polearm with one hand.
Even now, as Souji understood, he acted like Izanagi said. He fought because his Persona fought. If Izanagi stopped, he would stop.
"But… Souji can't be as empty as you said!" Chie shouted, sounding desperate. "He still made choices that could only be decided by himself!"
"Yeah!" Kanji added, joining Chie, "He could have decided to not help or not be nice to anyone! How's that for your logic?"
"Sure. I suppose you can call him nice. That's the least you can do after you took him for granted."
"Hey! What kinda bullshit are you saying now?" Kanji angrily asked, offended.
"You mean you don't? You sure hide it well then," Izanagi said, looking at the group. He didn't need to look at Souji, still on the ground from the punch. "Don't know about you, but don't you think it was hard for him to come back to an empty house every night for almost two months?"
Some of them flinched as they heard that. It wasn't hard to remember those two hellish months and it was difficult to swallow how right he was. Nanako's rescue, followed by Adachi's capture had been at the top of theirs minds.
"And your battles… Can't you live without him or what? You could ask for breaks or switch with someone else, but he always had to lead and fight. Medicine cannot heal every injury he gets, you know?"
As he got back up, Souji couldn't help but remember a memory from his first month as he heard Izanagi. A nasty hit from a knight in Yukiko's castle left a painful bruise on his right arm. His uncle saw him favoring it that night, but he passed it off as him being clumsy during the sport club. After that, he took greater efforts to conceal whatever wounds he got.
The group didn't reply to that. They had no idea what to say.
"Well, everything has been said now. It's time for the conclusion of this farce and let the curtain fall with your death. Tarukaja," Izanagi announced.
Souji's eyes widened. He already had trouble blocking the attacks but with the power boost….
He didn't have time to think as Izanagi rushed and slashed at him. He blocked the blow, but it felt like his arms would break under the strength of the attack. The Persona followed up immediately, swinging the handle at him. Souji couldn't block and was sent flying. He hit the invisible wall separating him and his friends and fell to the ground.
He coughed up blood as he got back up. He definitely heard something crack inside him. Probably a rib or two. At least he could still move.
"Senpai!" Rise shouted, crying at the seriousness of the situation. "Don't listen to him! I know you're not like he said! Don't lose! I don't want to lose you! Please!"
Izanagi looked at her, his eyes looking like they were pitying her. "Ahh, Rise… I am honestly surprised he tooksuch a liking to you. But even for you, he could only move as your actions made him move."
"Wha… what?" Rise asked, confused.
Izanagi want on, "Christmas Eve… You remember that day don't you? When you spilled your fears of never seeing him again? Honestly, what kind of boyfriend wouldn't try to reassure you?"
"N-No!" Rise shouted, refusing to believe. "Shu… shut up!"
"Even afterwards… didn't he act as you wished him too?" Izanagi concluded, returning his full focus to Souji once again.
"Th-That can't… NO! No No no no no! I don't believe you! Souji! Don't die! Please don't!"
It was too much for Rise as she broke down crying, falling to her knees. Naoto and Yukiko immediately went over her, trying to calm her down.
"Dammit! Isn't there anything we can do?" Yosuke asked, desperate. At this rate, Souji would….
"Souji-kun, do you really believe what he says? Do you really think that way?" Yukiko asked. She sounded just as desperate as Yosuke.
Souji wanted to reassure them. He really wanted to. But he had no idea what to say. Another slash was aimed at him and he tried to dodge it. Unfortunately, he didn't manage and his right arm now had a not-so-small gash in it.
"Sensei! I know you can do it!" Teddie said. His voice had none of the usual playful tone in it, but he still believed in Souji. "I know you'll find a way. I always believed in you and I won't stop now."
Teddie… Souji really didn't want to disappoint him but… what could he do? He was outclassed in everything and he had yet to injure Izanagi while he was heavily wounded. Just what could he do?
Another blow and he was on the ground again. His legs threatened to give out on him as he rose again, but he ignored it.
"Pathetic. Even in the end, you lived according to someone else's strings," Izanagi said. He took a step back as he gripped his weapon and raised it high. "Any last words?"
"Senpai! Are you going to let it end like this?!" Kanji shouted. "You're going to let that bastard prove you never meant anything you did this whole year?"
Souji didn't answer. He was still facing Izanagi, readying himself to block.
Even if he knew that he couldn't and that the blow would be fatal.
"Everything we did, everything we fought for, all the times you helped us..." Yosuke said, following Kanji's lead. "Even when you stopped me from killing Namatame?"
"Yeah! You're going to tell us that you felt nothing at the time?" Chie asked.
None of them could see it, but Souji did react to that. His eyes opened a little in surprise as his mind remembered that night.
"What do you want to do… Leader?" Yosuke asked.
"Wait a second here…."
Something felt wrong. Souji felt like he should be angry at Namatame, who was essentially the one responsible for Nanako's death but….
"We don't have time to wait! If we don't do this now, the cops'll come back! What're you trying to say!?"
He didn't need to be reminded of it. But simply because time was short didn't mean that they had to rush what they were about to do. And that feeling he had….
"We're missing something."
Yes… that was it. Something didn't fit or was missing. That was the only reason a voice in his head told him to not kill Nanako's murderer.
"Something we don't know…? What don't we know!?"
And it seemed he had to think fast before Yosuke snapped. What was wrong with him anyway? It wasn't like they had to decide what to investigate. They were talking about murdering someone for God's sake!
Calm down, there's no time. What is missing, what information was out of place, what could be wrong…. Come to think of it, Namatame didn't say much even as his life was in peril. Ever since his Shadow appeared on the Midnight Channel….
"Namatame's true feelings."
Shadows always acted as exaggerations of a person's true feelings. And in the end, they weren't all that there was to a person. So if what they just saw was an exaggeration….
"But we just heard the guy's true feelings on TV! What didn't you understand!?"
Yosuke, why are you acting so blind? Are you that thirsty for revenge?
"Something's bothering me."
The exaggeration wasn't the only problem. Namatame's Shadow felt off… no, it was off. It was different from what they saw so far.
"Well, what is it!?"
If he knew, he would have already said it. He doubted Yosuke would accept anything less than a complete answer.
"I already told you, there's no time to waste!"
He knew that. No need to say it again.
"Are you even getting at something there, or are you just stalling!?"
He was stalling, huh? Sorry for maybe stopping you from making a big mistake then. Yosuke needed to calm down and think for a minute. Surely he wasn't the only one sensing that something was wrong, right?!
Calm down…. He was starting to get stressed about the whole situation. Nothing good would happen if he lost it himself.
"We're missing something…."
That he was sure about. Now he just needed to find out what exactly.
"Missing…? Like what exactly?"
If he knew it, wouldn't he have told it by now? He was good at thinking, not omnipotent!
If only he had more time to think about it. Hopefully Yosuke wouldn't…
"Dammit… I've heard enough of this bullshit! Give me a straight answer!"
Out of time it seemed. But he wouldn't let him do as he pleases either. There was no way he would let someone be killed in front of him if he had doubts, dammit!
And why the hell was Yosuke so angry anyway? HE should be the one pissed off right now. Couldn't he stop and think about it? Couldn't he see that they were some things that didn't fit the whole picture?
Breathe in… Breath ou-
"Are we doing this or not!? That's all I give a damn about right now!"
So in the end he still listened to him? Funny, it didn't look like it just a few seconds ago.
Maybe NOW Yosuke would realize that….
"Calm down!? That's all you got to say when I ask you a straight answer!?"
He lost it.
"I said calm the hell down!"
His yell effectively surprised everyone around to the point of everyone doing what he just said, including Namatame in his terrorized state.
Was he that scary when he was angry?
Angry… Come to think of it, he couldn't remember a time before that when he was pissed off enough to shout.
Movement caught his eyes. No longer trying to block, he dived to his right and avoided the fatal slash from Izanagi's polearm.
"Oh? You still got-"
"Shut up." Souji said.
Izanagi narrowed his eyes, not happy to see Souji interrupt his taunt. The others looked at their leader in surprise. What the hell happened? Their leader looked tired and worn-out a few seconds ago and now had the same aura of strength that made them move foward up to the fight with Izanami.
Souji let part of his mind be flooded by his memories, the proofs of his existence. The sillier memories, when he accidentally ate all of Yukiko's instant meal, the campout, the 'Miss' Inaba contest….
Wait, wasn't he supposed to forget those?
He felt silly, stupid and would have preferred to spend the whole day sleeping if he knew what was in store at those times. But would a doll feel shame and a desire to crawl under a rock and disappear?
Izanagi attacked again and Souji jumped back. His legs protested against the evasive move, but he couldn't afford himself to fall.
Not now. Not after understanding himself.
He almost felt like laughing as he jumped back again to avoid another attack. He already had the answer, but he hid it, probably in the fog like everything around the Midnight Channel.
"Come on, fight!" Izanagi shouted, angry. "Are you going to be a coward now!?"
"No, I simply don't want to. Besides, isn't fighting back what you want me to do?" Souji replied, smirking as Izanagi became enraged.
"Go sensei!" "Show him who's boss partner!" "Kick his ass senpai!"
He looked at his friends, still supporting him even after they learned everything about him. They were cheering since his sudden change, thinking that their leader had a plan.
And they were right.
Memories came to him again, this time of his friends and family. His fight with Yosuke, the surprise of witnessing Yukiko's outburst, the Christmas party the group had….
And he didn't remember only the happier times. He certainly couldn't forget the panic he felt when Ai was on the edge of the roof, the grief that took him at the time Nanako 'died', the time his mind went blank when the 'thief' held a knife near Naoto….
Would a doll really react like he did at those times?
Izanagi attacked again. He put one hand on the flat side of his blade and blocked the blow. He was pushed back and his arms were numb, but he hadn't been hurt by the blow.
"Senpai, don't you DARE fall now… Please…" he heard Rise say.
He spared a second to look at her. She had stopped crying and she focused her eyes on him. Her eyes were still shimmered with tears and Souji felt his heart hurting since he knew her state was his fault.
Memories of the times he spent with her flashed through his head. When she told her manager that she would marry him, when he held her while she cried her heart out, her gift for him at Christmas….
A doll would act like that? Seriously?
"What are you looking at? Taking a last look at her before you die? You stand now, but nothing has changed"
Izanagi. Even his own shadow was a proof against his own theory.
"Yeah. Nothing changed." Souji replied. "You're right… but you're also wrong."
Izanagi raised his blade high above his head, intending to strike down his target. That was the chance Souji needed and he wouldn't waste it.
He gripped the blade in his hands before rushing forward. Souji noticed Izanagi's eyes widening as he recognized his mistake, but it was too late. He swung his sword, striking the unprotected torso of the Shadow. There was no mark done by the attack, but Izanagi certainly felt it, if the way he lost his stance was any indication.
But Souji wasn't done. He removed his right hand from the handle and used the momentum of the swing to move his sword above him before grabbing it with his two hands again. As one as he did, he swung the blade Shadow cried out in pain, caused by the successful attack. Kneeling a little, Souji moved his weapon to his right before slashing upward, jumping with it to make the third attack as effective as possible.
As soon as his feet touched the ground again, a sudden wave of dizziness shook him. He put a lot of strength into his attack and his weakened body was already pushing its limits. Souji took a glance at his opponent. Izanagi was on one knee, his right hand holding the polearm was on the ground to steady himself and the other was on his raised knee, trying to push himself back up while shaking off the pain from the attack. Instead of using his blade again, Souji kicked him with as much strength as he could muster in his legs, partially imitating Naoto. His opponent was sent sprawling on the floor, losing his weapon.
The air between Souji and his teammates seemed to shimmer. Yosuke slowly put his hand where the invisible wall was and found nothing. The barrier was down. The battle was over.
They all rushed to him as he walked over to Izanagi. His alter ego didn't bother getting back up.
"What are you waiting for? Finish me off," Izanagi said.
As if to emphasize the point, Souji threw his sword away. He knew he had no need for it now.
"I told you, didn't I? You were right. I have no idea why others like me so much, but I can't deny the fact that I've been living as if on auto-pilot."
"What are you saying Souji?" Yosuke asked. The group was around Souji and Izanagi. "You've beat him, so we just need to wake up and-"
"No Yosuke." Souji said, interrupting his friend. "Did you forget? A Shadow is a morphed truth, but it's still a truth. No matter how ugly it is."
Despite the memories he had, he couldn't deny what Izanagi had said. There was too many times to count where his friends would do or say something and he would watch passively, only talking when the situation asked for it.
"But that isn't the full truth either," he continued. "Even if I distanced myself from others, it's impossible to live so long with others and not gaining any feeling for them. I just told myself it was impossible because I've never stayed in the same place long enough. Nanako, uncle Dojima, my friends, Rise… I just needed a strong reminder to see that I wasn't emotionless and how much I'm attached to them. And you know it too, right? That night at the hospital… that feeling of urgency I had as I used everything I had shadow after shadow when we went to rescue Nanako… you've even said how much I disliked living alone during November and December. And you can't say you were completely emotionless either."
Izanagi didn't say anything. He just stared at Souji, waiting for him to finish what he had to say.
"So you see, that's how you were both right and wrong. And even now, you're a part of me. If I was as empty as you said, then how do you explain your existence?"
Souji extended a hand, inviting the Persona to take it to get back up.
"You're me and I'm you. So shall we go? This isn't over yet."
Izanagi took the offered hand but didn't do anything else as he started to glow. Souji couldn't see anything with the mask on, but was Izanagi smiling?
"I always knew how empty you were, but...I also always knew how full you could become," he said, just before disappearing.
A second later, he reappeared above Souji completely transformed. White clothes, a thinner but sharper-looking sword and much brighter than before… Souji instinctively knew his name.
Izanagi-no-Okami. Persona of the World Arcana.
He let the power envelop him. It was warm. It was bright. It was his newly-found confidence in himself as a person. It was the representation of all of his bonds made over time, all made with trust, confidence and truth.
There was no way that Izanami would defeat him now.
"Let's go guys," Souji announced to the group as he felt himself 'wake up'. "We have a fight to finish."
They did it. It felt surreal, but they really succeeded.
As his friends admired the scenery of the world the revealed, Souji let himself fall to the rocky ground, gently to avoid hurting himself. They immediately turned to him, but he just laughed.
"It's nothing, I'm just a little tired. Hehe… we really did it."
"Senpai, about your Shadow…" Naoto asked, on behalf of the group.
Souji nodded, getting back up. "I owe you an explanation, right? Let's get to a more comfortable place first. I really don't feel like sitting on rock with so much grass around."
The group moved to the border of a nearby forest. Souji sat down near a tree before he began speaking.
"I don't really remember when I started moving… Because of work, we always had to move a lot. I think the longest period I stayed in the same place before Inaba was a half a year."
"Wow, that can't have been good," Chie commented.
"You got that right. It always hurt to leave the few friends I had each time so at some point, I just stopped really caring. I would act and talk as any normal person would, but I remained distant. I moved with the flow, but always put a wall between others and myself."
"What about your parents? They had to see something had changed, right?" Yukiko asked.
"I didn't see them that much either. They started to work early and came back late, so I was mostly alone. I guess they never had enough time to realize it."
"'If I get attached, it'll just hurt me.' That was what I was always thinking. It was the same here too at first, you know? Until…."
"The murders, right?" Naoto said. Souji nodded to confirm her answer.
"Yeah. But because Izanami unlocked my Persona, I always figured I had no real issues. But it seems I didn't even realize I acted the same as always."
"Man… I'm almost scared to think we could have been the same as you in the same situation," Kanji said.
"What about the man we heard about?" Naoto asked. "His name is Igor, wasn't it?"
Souji nodded. "I met him on my way to Inaba... not on the train mind you. Anyway, my mind was called to a place called the Velvet Room. He introduced himself and his assistant, told me about the place and did a tarot reading, predicting an imminent catastrophe followed by a mystery that would be imposed on me."
"An imminent catastrophe and…" Yosuke started to say, before he understood what those parts were. "Wait, did he predict that the murders would happen!?"
Souji shrugged. "I don't really know. It could have been something else. Anyway, it wasn't long before I met him again and he told me his job: to create new Personas."
"Wait, that wasn't you?" Kanji asked.
"No," Souji answered. "I simply brought the Personas to create new ones. After a fight, I sometimes gain Personas and I go onto the Velvet Room to fuse them into new ones."
"I see," Naoto said. "And the power boost your Shadow mentioned came in effect whenever you created a new one?" she asked. Souji nodded.
"Wait, there's something wrong." Yosuke commented. "Where is that room exactly? We never saw you leave into a place nobody knew of."
"That's a little hard to explain. Remember the corner in the TV world entrance hall I always go to?" Souji asked.
"Yeah, what about…" Yosuke started to say before he realized what Souji meant. "Wait, are you telling me that…?"
"Exactly. You probably saw me just stand there, but I really was in the Velvet Room at those times."
"So only you could go in Senpai?" Rise commented. "That's too bad. I wonder what it looked like…."
"You can always ask Teddie. He was there once," Souji said.
"Wait, I have?" Teddie asked. "But when did that happen?"
"Remember that room we talked in at the start of December? That was it. Incidentally, Igor mentioned that no normal shadow could enter it," Souji said, refreshing Teddie's memory.
"Really? Then that means… Teddie is a bear-y special Shadow! Go me!" He exclaimed happily.
"Oh great…" Yosuke groaned, knowing he would hear Teddie repeat this for the rest of the day.
"Well, that's pretty much it. Should we go back now? It's probably late," Souji said, getting up.
He only took two steps before Rise's voice stopped him. "Senpai, can I talk to you? Alone, I mean."
He looked at the rest of the group. Understanding, they said nothing and left the two alone. Souji and Rise walked a bit inside the forest, just to make sure the others wouldn't overhear anything.
Once he judged the distance was great enough, he turned to his girlfriend. "So, what-Ouch!"
She didn't even let him finish before slapping him.
"That was for making me cry… jerk," Rise said, forcing herself to not let her tears flow as she remembered what had happened. She grabbed him and didn't let go, letting out a few tears despite her resolve. "I thought… I was afraid that I was going to lose you and never see you again. Why did you have to make us… make me worry so much?"
Souji didn't answer and hugged her instead.
"And… about what your Persona said about us…."
Souji grimaced. He definitely remembered what that did to her.
"No. You said it yourself. If you didn't want to be attached, you would never have chosen to be with me in the first place," Rise said. "But you remember my fears?"
"Yes." He simply answered. He didn't like the idea of never seeing her again either. He felt Rise release him and he did the same. She turned her back to him for a moment.
"Good. Because there's no way I'm letting that happen now!" She announced as she turned to him.
Souji was surprised. Rise continued without letting him put in a word.
"I don't care what it takes. I'll find time to see you. I'll phone you when I can. I don't care if it hurts my career or if I lose popularity! I won't even care if someone find out and it's on the news," she said. She hugged him tightly again. "I don't want to lose you…."
"Rise…" Souji simply said. She couldn't see his face, but he was smiling. What did he do to get someone like her?
But Rise wasn't done.
"So you better do the same, you hear me? Or else…" she said, trailing off at the end.
"Else…?" Souji asked. Not that he objected, but he wanted to know.
"Or else I'm storming over to find you! And I'll get revenge with the help of my fans! If you think them finding out about us would be bad for you, think about how it would be if they heard that you made me cry."
Despite the big and very dangerous threat hanged in front of him, Souji laughed.
"I understand. Then if I ever read any rumors of a guy other than me interested in Risette, I'll come crashing into one of your shows and make the whole world know that you're MY girlfriend. I don't want to let you go either," he answered.
He could already see it: Rise finishing a song and him appearing on the scene, making the audience wonder what was going on. He wouldn't care and would go embrace a surprised Rise, who would hug him back after getting past her shock. This would send the audience in an unexpected silence before erupting into chaos as hundreds of fans howled for his head.
In reality the security guards would show up and get him, but he didn't need to include problems in his fantasy, right?
"Senpai…" Rise said, blushing at his answer.
They kissed, fully enjoying the privacy they had. It didn't last long, but they held onto each other afterwards.
"Should we go back? The others are probably waiting," Souji suggested.
"No. It's the last time I get to spend with you alone for a while. They can wait a little longer," Rise said, pouting a little.
"I think I agree…" Souji said with a smile before moving to kiss her again.
It was odd, but he was thankful for his life. If he hadn't moved around so much, he would never have the friends he had now. They would only be able to talk on the phone or e-mail for a while, but Souji knew he could come back to Inaba anytime he wanted.
He wondered how surprised his parents would be once he told them about his year. They would probably be worried since they would have heard of the murders, but he would assure them that it was over.
That, and making sure that they would keep him and Rise a secret. They had no illusions of hiding it forever but thelonger it was until world knew, the better. Souji knew first-hand how fast rumors travelled, even if told only to a trusted friend.
The train was pretty silent. It seemed not many people were leaving the town today. He didn't see anyone around him when he entered the car at the very least. It was probably for the best anyway.
He didn't want anyone to get weird ideas once he started talking with the person who sat in front of him.
"I'm surprised to see you here." Souji said, putting the group picture back in his vest.
"Really? You certainly don't look like it," the person commented with a smile. She knew the moment she sat down that the teen in front of her had sensed her.
"Maybe… I'm just being myself." Souji answered. He tried being more expressive, practicing that morning until Nanako asked him why he was making weird faces in the mirror. He had dropped the idea and decided to just stay as he was.
That was part of what made him after all.
The woman laughed, knowing how right he was. "Indeed, you're simply acting as yourself… How does it feel to have confronted your own truth?"
It was Souji's turn to smile as he answered, "It feels good. I could have lived the rest of my life without that event and I would probably be the same, but to know and acknowledge my own faults is like having added peace of mind." After a pause, he asked a question that was on his mind, "Can I ask why you're here? I REALLY didn't expect you to still be around."
"It's rather simple…" she explained, "You and your friends proved my judgment wrong. From this, I can only conclude that my way of testing and observing humans was flawed in some way. Inaba deserves to have some peace now, with everything you did for it."
"I would hope so," Souji commented, agreeing with her. "But don't you think you're exaggerating a little? I didn't do that much."
The woman shook her head. "Not at all. It's like a chain reaction: By changing people, they in turn will change others in their life, by choice or accident. It's the reason I want to continue to observe you, really."
Souji was puzzled, "The reason?"
"Yes," she said. "I would like to see the changes you're going to make in a much bigger place. I have no doubt that you will help others burdened by a problem." She stopped smiling for a moment, asking something unpleasant. "Unless you object to it? It would be understandable, with what I did…."
"No, I don't mind at all," Souji answered. "You did cause trouble, but it did provoke changes for the better. But if it still worries you…" he stood up and extended a hand to the woman in front of him. "How about starting over then? I'm Souji Seta."
She looked at him in surprise, clearly not expecting it. Certainly not THAT gesture. "You're really something else, you know?" she said, laughing. Nevertheless, she also stood up and accepted the handshake. "I'll take your offer then. I am Izanami, but I suppose you should just call me Nami in public. Nice to meet you."
Thou art I… and I am thou…
Thou hast established a new bond…
It shall help thee understands the truth…
Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the World Arcana…
Author's notes: And that's the Persona 4 one-shot I've been working on, born on the idea that it sucked to not fight Shadow!Souji in the game. Special thanks to Lee - Luthorne - Dis for helping me with this and Ant'Dog for correcting my mistakes. This was first posted on TFF.
Reviews are appreciated. I answer to all signed reviews.