Episode 03: Persona
"Awaken." a voice echoed in Shinji's mind. His eyes opened instinctively. All around him was a swirling vortex of nothing. He couldn't even tell if he had actually opened his eyes. He noticed that he wasn't breathing and panicked.
"Calm down." the voice said again. The voice strangely sounded like his own. Shinji complied and noticed that his lungs were not aching for oxygen. Shinji looked around for where the voice was coming from.
"Dost thou wish to die?" Shinji opened his mouth to answer, but no sound came from it. "Thou dost not need verbal communication for this. Think, and I shalt hear." Shinji focused all of his strength and reasoning into one single word.
"NO!" he shouted in his mind. "Very well."
Suddenly, the nothingness disappeared and Shinji found himself slowly floating down to a solid surface. When he made footfall, a landscape spread itself out. It was a large open area, with ground similar to a desert. Sky stretched into the horizon in all directions.
"Come then, and face your power."
Shinji began walking in a random direction. Strangely, even though the terrain was barren, the walk was long, and the sun was bright, he felt no exhaustion, no heat, like he was a constant state of relaxation. Eventually, he came across a large oasis, and in the middle was a lone statue, standing by itself with no discernible way for it to get there, or reason for it to be there.
It was a statue of a person. The person was sitting on a pedestal with their hands over their face. They were wearing long white robes tied at the waist with rope. Shinji waded through the water to get closer to the statue. On closer inspection, the lake seemed to be coming from the statue, from behind the statues' eyes, as if it were weeping. The statue looked so life-like, so realistic, that Shinji actually felt a twinge of pity for it. He leaned forward and stopped the stream with his finger. When he moved it back, it had stopped. The pedestal looked large enough for him to sit next to the statue so he took a seat.
He sat for a long time there, how long he did not know, and stared at the endless horizon and the lake. Eventually, he felt an odd thirst, and walked down to the lake. When he had drank his fill he walked back. Something about the statue had changed. Its' eyes were no longer covered. Instead, it was looking at the exact spot Shinji had been drinking from. He sat back at his place a bit unsettled and continued staring off into the distance.
He closed his eyes and must have nodded off because the set had set quite a bit. Another thing, the statue had moved again. It was now looking right at him. 'What the hell?' Shinji stood up a bit startled. He felt thirsty again so he walked back to the lake, keeping the statue in his field of vision in case it moved again. He stuck his hand in the water again, but for some reason it seemed to burn his skin.
"Ow! What the hell?" He said as he pulled his hand back. He looked out at the lake, and saw that all of the water had turned a thick black liquid and was producing some type of smoke. He stood up and backed away a bit. He turned back around and saw that the statue had been standing right behind him. It was looking at him and had its' arm outstretched. Something was in its' hand. Shinji approached it cautiously and inspected the object.
It seemed to be a small cube. It looked almost metallic in appearance and seemed to entirely made up of slightly smaller squares making a checkerboard pattern. It was a pale brown and seemed to be emitting a small amount of light. He looked the statue in the eyes.
"What is this?" He asked. It simply stared at him. "Are you offering this to me?" It continued to stare. Shinji slowly picked it up and held it in the palm of his left hand. Suddenly, it began to grow very warm, to the point it began to burn his skin.
"Ahh!" He yelled as he sank to his knees. He tried pull it off, but it scalded his fingers. He tried shaking it off, but it seemed seared to his skin. The cube began to slowly fold up into the smaller squares, folding in on itself. He looked up at the statue and it staring at him, with its' finger pointing to him.
"The deed is done. I shalt be at thou service, my king."
The cube finally finished folding into the final square, which sank into his palm. A small black circle appeared there. The statue moved its' mouth, a grainy voice escaping it.
Shinji blacked out.
Shinji woke up with a start. He looked around and saw that he was in a hospital bed. He was attached to all sorts of machinery. 'What...just happened?' he thought slowly as he looked at he left hand. It seemed just fine. No black circle was seared into his skin. 'Was it all a hallucination? The house? The Shadows? The dream? Everything?'
"Oh no, I assure, everything that just happened to you was quite real." a voice said. A man walked from the other side of the curtain. He had groomed silver hair and heavy gray eyes. He was wearing a crisp, polished white suit. He was walking with a long cane with a gold handle. He had a warm smile, that matched his air, which seemed to sooth Shinji slightly. 'Wait, did he just read my mind?'
"No, I did not just read your mind. I've had the reaction a lot, so I'm used to it. But no, everything happened. There is no mistaking that."
A door opened and Shuji walked through holding a cup of coffee. He saw Shinji and bolted to his side.
"You're awake!" He said and wrapped him in a hug. "Don't ever do that again!" He let go, straightened up, and delivered a punch to Shinji's arm.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"For doing something as stupid as breaking into a house, stupid! You're lucky Kuzonoha-san here didn't press charges! You and your stupid friend!"
Then Shinji remembered. "Oh yeah, where is Sai?"
"Over here, dude."
The curtain was pulled aside and there was Sai, in a bed with his head wrapped in bandages, waving sheepishly.
"You're lucky you two didn't get killed."
'Too close for comfort though.'
"Yes, yes, not many people can survive falling through 9 floors and landing on a concrete basement bottom." The man Shuji had called Kuzonoha-san said. 'Hmm, why does that name sound familiar?'
"Well, thank you, Kuzonoha-san, for getting them to the hospital so quickly. Is there anything we can do for you to make it up?" Shuji said.
"No need, no need. Although, there is something that I'd like to talk about with the boys here for a second. Alone, if you don't mind."
"Not at all. I'll be in the hall." He said, and closed the door on his way out.
Kuzonoha-san pulled up a chair and turned to the boys.
"So. Tell me, what all did you see last night during your adventure through my home." He said, face suddenly a very stern, serious face. Shinji and Sai looked at each other with very contemplative looks and said at the same time, "You wouldn't believe us."
"Oh, you'd be surprised what I would believe. Why, I would probably even believe a crazy story about two boys who were chased through my house by living shadows and were ultimately engulfed by them. But that would be crazy talk, and this is all hypothetical." He said with a chuckle.
"How did you...?" Sai said, with a look of disbelief on his face.
"Oh, but remember boys, it is my house. I know just about everything that goes on in there. Now then, tell me all that happened."
The two recounted all that had happened in the house, from Sai's disappearance, to Shinji entering the house, to being saved from the Shadows by a ninja girl, to the strange dreams they had.
"Hmm. Very interesting. Very interesting, indeed." He stood up and looked out of the window. "Tell me boys, does the word 'Persona' mean anything to you?"
They both looked up at him in shock.
He chuckled. "I thought so. If it didn't you two wouldn't be here at the moment." He retook his seat. "You see boys, a Persona is a type of power that a person who has suffered through a crisis is able to use. Whether that be the endangerment of their friends, loss of loved ones, a near-death experience, or even facing themselves in the mirror. Nobody really knows how they come about being able to use it, but it's different for every person. It takes on a physical shape that varies with each person, and they are usually used in tackling obstacles that that person may find in life. But it's main use is for destroying the creatures you two saw last night. Shadows.
Now, I'm sure you both realize that my home is very far from normal. The reason is that for a number of centuries, I'm not sure how many, my home has been a haven for these 'Shadows.' No one's really sure why that is, but it is, and it is quite the bother sometimes. And every now and then, some poor soul winds coming into my property for one reason or another, I believe your cases were because of a rumor, yes? At any rate, at the setting of the sun, my home undergoes a drastic transformation that is only visible from inside the building. It becomes much larger, how long it is impossible to imagine, and a great deal stranger, which I'm sure you both know. At this time, and this time only, these creatures appear and promptly hunt the poor soul down and are more often than not, devoured. Sad, but unpreventable at times.
However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, the persons who are devoured wind up destroying the Shadow instead of the other way around. When this happens, it usually leaves a mark on their person. If you will, could you please show me your hands?"
Shinji and Sai outstretched their arms. Kuzonoha-san pulled out a pair of glasses and put them. He closely inspected their hands. After he finished he nodded and put back his glasses.
"Do either of you remember a very painful sensation and afterward, you could see some sort of indicator of the event in your dreams?"
They both shook their heads.
"If you could, could you please concentrate on the area. Try and remember what it looked like."
Shinji closed his eyes. If it was any other situation, he would have dismissed this as lunacy, but in this case, he seemed to believe at least a small part of what the old man before them was saying. He concentrated on the palm of his left hand, remembering the small black circle the cube had left behind. He felt a warm glow around that area, and when he opened his eyes, a small black circle with on his palm, glowing a soft orange light. Sai had a symbol on his hand as well, only his was more triangle-shaped and on the back of his right hand and glowing a deep red. The old man simply smiled.
"You see, when a human overcomes a Shadow, they don't necessarily destroy it, they more...tame it. This causes it to adjust to the psyche of its' new human master and allots them special powers, including the ability to summon it in physical form. That is Persona, and that." He said pointing at the symbols on their hands. "Would be your Personae." The glow faded and their symbols vanished.
"Ahhhggg!" Sai sighed frustratedly holding his head in his hands. "This is too much, way too much! So what your sayin' is that we got eaten by Shadows, we beat them, and now we can use them for...fighting other Shadows? And how do we know this is real? How do we know you're not playin' us? How do we know that this isn't a dream?"
"Ah, but that is the question." a voice said as they opened the door. "How can we tell if anything is a dream or not? Are we awake? Are we alive? Is this heaven? Or is it hell? So is the question of Life." The person walked forward some more. "All that we can really do is take it on blind faith that we are doing the right thing. In time, all shall become clear, I suppose. Oh, hello Shinji."
"Shinji, you know this guy?" Sai asked.
"Yeah, he lives in my building. What are you doing here, Felix?"
Felix smirks as he brushes some hair behind his ear. "I simply came to give good wishes to a friend. Hmm, but seeing how the case is, I believe that the more old-fashioned curses are more suitable. So," he stopped, spreading his arms a bit, "Welcome to Hell. Hope you packed a snack."
"Ah, good evening to you, Artruse-san." Kuzonoha-san said to Felix. "We weren't expecting you."
"Yes well, I had heard that Shinji had been involved in an accident and took my time to visit. I did know that you would be here either Kuzonoha-san. I had heard from Ichijyo-san that you visiting a 'prospect' today here, but I had no clue that our visits would be overlapped."
"Wait," Shinji said, "You two know each other?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes, I'm sorry. Artruse-san, you actually couldn't have come at a better time. I was just about to ask them."
"Oh, don't mind me. Go right ahead."
"What are you talking about?" Shinji asked.
"Ah, yes. You see, I have said that my 'Shadow problem' is a bit of a bother, yes?"
"Well, while I am able to fend them off for a time, I am not as young as I once was, so I rely on the younger generation to assist me. Artruse-san here is but one of the children I have under my employ. My question to you is, would you like a job?"
Shinji and Sai were something quite similar to awe-struck. Shinji came to his senses first.
"What would this job entail exactly?"
"Nothing too strenuous of course. Simply using the gift you have been given to help old man get rid of his infestation. All that you would need to do really is come to my home at night at least once a week and get rid of as many Shadows as you can, along with maybe rescuing the occasional person wandering around after-hours. Who knows, you may even find more people to assist you. And of course, you will be paid handsomely."
"Paid?" Sai asked.
"But of course. I am an old man who is nearing his end, and has far to much money to know what to do with. And since I am one of the very last of my clan, the others either too old or too busy. I only have one person in mind for inheritance, but she has out-right refused it, so I have an excess of money lying around gathering dust. Better to give it to the young than for it to never be used at all. And you would be doing a noble thing for the community. So, what do you say?" He said, extending his hand.
Shinji didn't really know how to react, and from the look on Sai's face, he didn't either. Shinji wasn't really sure what to do. Sure, given what had happened, this seemed like a pretty sweet deal, but at the same time, Shinji didn't really know whether or not to trust the old man before him. He was at a real loss.
"Excuse me?" Felix said after being forgotten he had been there. "Do you mind if I throw in my own two cents, as it were?"
"Oh, of course, Artruse-san. I'm sorry, I'd forgotten you were here."
"It's fine, it happens all the time." He walked over to their beds'. "Now, I don't know about you two, but me doing this job is probably the best deal I've ever made. I don't want to sound selfish or manipulative here, but it is a really good job. The pay is very good, and it's a good stress release. And if you two have any questions, they will be more than likely answered." He looks at Shinji. "Besides, it would be nice to have a friend around."
Sai looks a bit more convinced, but Shinji isn't quite so, even if Felix seems to be asking him directly. Shinji looks at Sai. "What do you think?" he asks.
"I'll go with whatever you want to, man. It sounds pretty sweet, but it's your decision."
'Why do they want me to choose? What's so special about me? I'm just one guy, yet why does it feel like the fate of the world rests on my answer?'
Shinji holds up his left hand to his face and brings back his symbol. It seems to be calling to him. He closes his eyes and clenches his hand. He puts it down and looks at Kuzonoha-san.
"When do we start?"
Both Felix and Kuzonoha-san smile at this. The latter stands up and shakes Shinji's hand.
Thou Art I, I Am Thou...
Thou Has Created A Bond... Thou Hast Strengthened A Bond...
This Bond Shalt Deliver Thou From Evil... It Shalt Only Help In Thous Journey...
When In Need They Shalt Protect Thou...
Or Shalt They Condemn Thou...?
The Fool Arcana Begins... The Sun Arcana Hast Increased...
'Two?' Time restarts.
"It shall only be an asset to have you here." Kuzonoha-san says cheerily.
"I wholeheartedly agree." Felix says nodding his head.
"Now, Artruse-san, let us leave them. They will need as much as rest as possible to recover to full health."
"Goodbye." Felix said waving.
Shuji came back into the room. "So, Kuzonoha-san explained to me that were going to be working around his home for the next few months. That's good. Seems like a very nice man, don't ya think?"
Shinji just nodded his head. 'I'm wondering if I made the right choice here. Well, I guess there's nothing left to do but get better. We'll see if I did.'
After a week passed, both Shinji and Sai were discharged from the hospital. That afternoon, they went Kuzonoha-san's house.
And so begin the series of events that will lead to the near fall of mankind itself.
End of Episode 03
Fool: Lvl.1 ?
Magician: Lvl.1 Shuji Nakamura
Strength: Lvl.1 Sai Nakagawa
Sun: Lvl.2 Felix Artruse