Silence hung over the alleyway, or maybe Akihiko just couldn't hear anything over the thumping of his own heart. No one moved. No one spoke. There was a simple reason for this: standing in front of Mitsuru and Akihiko were two unknown Persona users, and one of them was carrying a gun. The man in the green jacket opened his briefcase and pulled out a bundle of papers. He leafed through the papers with his fingers until he found one, which he pulled out and held to his face.
"Mitsuru Kirijo, heiress to the Kirijo Corporation, huh? You've been a real pain in the ass, you know that? This is the only night this week you've gone out without all your little buddies hanging around. The agreement wasn't for your friend here, but looks like we're gonna have to work him in, huh, Takaya?" Green Jacket turned toward the pale man-Takaya-but received no answer.
Mitsuru and Takaya's eyes were locked, neither saying a single word. It was a power play Akihiko had seen often between Mitsuru and school officials, and it usually ended with the official backing down. But no matter how much Mitsuru glared, Takaya's smirk fought back, not quite overpowering her glare, but certainly matching it.
Mitsuru finally broke the stare and took a single step forward, reaching for the Evoker at her waist in the same movement. Immediately, Takaya raised his revolver toward Mitsuru's forehead. She froze and took a step back. Takaya shook his head, a look of admonishment on his face, and lowered his gun.
They had to get that gun away from Takaya. The most obvious route was for Akihiko to use his Persona. It could move faster than he could, and if it managed to hit Takaya, he might either drop his gun or be stunned long enough for Akihiko to run in and-
"You, Beefcake. Put your Evoker on the ground and kick it over to me."
Green Jacket cut in before Akihiko could even finish his thought. With a glare, Akihiko turned toward him and said, "There's no way I'm going to—"
"Do what he says, Akihiko!" Mitsuru snapped. Helplessly, Akihiko turned toward her and bit his lip. After a moment, he nodded and placed his Evoker on the ground. He swung his foot back and kicked the Evoker across the alley, and it bounced a couple times before skidding to a stop in front of Takaya.
"Right, you too, Kirijo," Green Jacket said. Mitsuru followed Akihiko, and her Evoker landed next to Akihiko's. She remained quiet, her face the picture of disdain, but Akihiko could see the sweat dripping down her face.
"You're quite calm, aren't you? Most of our targets usually begin to panic by now, but you are giving quite the wonderful show of defiance," Takaya said.
"So you are the group behind the recent contract killings?" Mitsuru said.
"When one is given a talent, it is their duty to use it for what they must, even if their talent is one that is not deemed acceptable by the common masses. One may say it is even their duty, a concept I believe is rather familiar to you," Takaya said. Mitsuru stiffened, but did not say anything.
"Hey, let's hurry up and get this over with," Green Jacket said.
"Quiet, Jin," Takaya snapped, not taking his eyes off of Mitsuru. "I wonder, how much of your wish to bring an end to the Dark Hour comes from your own wishes, and how much of it is out of your own misplaced duty."
"You imply some familiarity with the Kirijo Corporation. Do you have something to do with Ergo Research?" Mitsuru asked, deftly dodging the topic.
"You may say that we are intimately involved with your family's sins. Unfortunately, it seems that the Dark Hour will soon and, and thus our time, and your life, has run short." Takaya lifted his revolver so that it was level with Mitsuru's forehead. She did not move, did not run forward, only stood there with her body lightly shaking. Akihiko's mind raced with improbable ideas, anything to get them out of this, but nothing felt like it could possibly work. Takaya thumbed the hammer of the revolver back, and smirked.
Mitsuru clenched her fists, and just before Takaya's finger closed on the trigger, she let out a yell.
There was a bang. The scent of gunpowder hung in the air. Takaya and Jin both stepped forward, their expressions twisted into snarls.
Surrounding Mitsuru's body was a glass ball filled with water, which Mitsuru floated within. The ball was topped with the body of a woman, her eyes blindfolded while her hair flowed freely behind her. The place where the bullet struck the ball smoked, but there was not a single crack in the glass.
"Shit! It's a set-up!" Jin yelled.
"You've got it," said a voice from behind the two of them. Out from the alleyway walked Hamuko, her naginata grasped in one hand and Yukari following close behind.
Takaya turned to look at her, and in that moment, Akihiko seized his chance. He dashed forward and quickly jabbed Takaya in the stomach, causing him to stumble backwards. Akihiko dropped into a crouch and kicked the Evokers back toward swung his Evoker toward Akihiko, but before he could pull the trigger, Akihiko quickly stood and grabbed his wrist, twisting it around until Takaya dropped the gun. With the threat of the revolver out of the way, Akihiko grabbed Takaya's other arm and held both arms behind him, raising them and lowering Takaya's body until he was in a crouching position.
"Takaya!" Jin yelled, and took a step in Takaya's direction, only to find a naginata blade at his throat.
"Don't even think about it!" Yukari said, her arrow pointed at Jin's own throat. He lifted his hands up into the air.
"How did they get around Moros' detection?! Dammit, where the hell is Chidori?!" Jin said.
"We've got a few questions for you guys. We don't want to hurt you, so if you'll just lay your weapons down and come with us, there won't have to be any problems," Hamuko said.
"Just put your Evokers on the ground," Yukari said. Takaya turned her way, looked Yukari in the eye with a close-lipped smile on his face, and then, he began to laugh. She lowered her bow. "What's so funny?"
Takaya continued chuckling, until his voice suddenly became choked. His eyes bugged out and his mouth flew open as he suddenly threw his head back. Energy burst from Takaya's body and Akihiko was sent flying to the ground. He winced and pushed himself up on one arm to see blue fire and glass surrounding Takaya's body, quickly taking the form of a gaunt, bloodless corpse held in the air by a pair of massive wings. A white light shone from the Persona's body, and it was so bright that Akihiko had to shield his eyes.
The light vanished, and Takaya and Jin disappeared with it, leaving only a briefcase and a revolver where they'd once stood. Slowly, Akihiko got to his feet. He took in the scene, and then he stomped his foot on the ground and clenched his 'd gotten away without him being able to do anything after all, and now he was more confused than he was before. Hamuko and Yukari walked past him and over to Mitsuru.
"Good work. We might not have been able to capture them, but you three helped out quite well," Mitsuru said.
"Are you alright? You don't look so good, senpai," Yukari said.
"I'm just a bit shaken, that's all," Mitsuru said. Akihiko turned to look at her.
"Wait, where's Yamagishi? That was her Persona before," he said.
"H-Here I am!" Fuuka came running out from behind a building and stood next to Hamuko. She put a hand over her heart. "It looks like I was able to do what you needed me to do, Kirijo-san… I hadn't tried to do something like that before, so that's good…"
"Yes, you did well," Mitsuru said.
"What on earth is going on here?!" Akihiko interjected. He ran a hand through his hair and stepped back.
Mitsuru turned toward him. "I'm sorry, we weren't sure if we were being monitored, so I couldn't inform you of the situation before now," Mitsuru said. "I recently discovered that someone was attempting to assassinate me, and that those responsible were likely Persona users. When they didn't try to attack me at the dorm, I realized it was because they were reluctant to attack me with other Persona users around, so I enlisted Arisato, Takeba, and Yamagishi's assistance to lure them out."
"We figured out that I could probably use my Persona to hide our presence from other Persona users with the same abilities," Fuuka added. "It's very difficult, though… I don't think I could do it for more than a few people at a time…"
"And Hamuko-chan and I were here as added backup, since we figured they'd probably try to disarm Mitsuru-senpai," Yukari added. Hamuko nodded.
"That was dangerous," Akihiko said to Mitsuru.
"I understand what you were trying to do. But you know, I would have been completely willing to help you out with that, and you definitely didn't need to put your life on the line for something like that. Next time you need something like that done, just call me, and I'll be ready to help out," Akihiko said.
Mitsuru closed her eyes. "I'm not sure if your enthusiasm is because of your lack of survival instincts or because of a genuine wish to help out… "
"Hey, it all worked out in the end, right? Don't worry too much about it," Akihiko said.
Yukari wandered away from the group and walked over to where Takaya and Jin had been standing moments before. Hamuko frowned as she saw Yukari separate from the group, and she followed her over to the fallen items and crouched in front of the revolver.
"Where do you think he got something like this?" she asked. Yukari blinked a couple of times, then looked down at Hamuko, and shrugged.
"Who knows? It was probably somewhere really illegal," Yukari said. She bent down and picked up the suitcase. The clip was clearly not securely attached, because the suitcase immediately fell open and dumped its contents onto the ground. Several grenades bounced among a rain of papers, and they fell in a jumbled pile together. Hamuko picked up a paper and looked over it.
"…This looks like a listing of Mitsuru's daily habits," Hamuko said. "'Wakes up every morning at five so that she can properly get ready for school'… 'Always stays after school for student council meetings'… 'Travels into Tartarus on three out of five trips'…"
"That's seriously creepy," Yukari said, shuddering. Mitsuru and Akihiko both looked over as Yukari picked up a grenade. "He was carrying grenades too? What, was his back-up plan to blow her up if shooting her didn't work?"
"Maybe we should take these back to the dorm so we can study them later," Mitsuru said.
All eyes were on Fuuka as she suddenly cried out in pain. She had a hand on her head and was stumbling around the alley.
"A Shadow…? It's strong… Emperor arcana…? It's at the shrine, along with… Aigis and Minato-kun?" Fuuka mumbled. She suddenly looked up. "They're in serious danger! We need to hurry!"
"Let's go," Mitsuru said, and that was all the prompting Hamuko and Yukari needed to gather up the fallen materials and go running after Mitsuru, Akihiko, and Fuuka as they ran to the shrine.
Junpei didn't need a second guess to find Minato. The Dark Hour had already fallen by the time Aigis had her dress on and was ready to leave. The two of them walked through the streets of Iwatodai together, Aigis following closely behind. The plan had been to check the shrine first, since it was the closest place to the dorm and Minato had been spending a lot of time there lately.
As they walked past the scattered few coffins on the streets and the puddles of blood, it occurred to Junpei just how numb he'd become to the atmosphere of the Dark Hour. He didn't remember his first time very well; just that it had shocked him into tears. Now he could stroll past these coffins like they were nothing, and he'd even learned to ignore when he ran through a puddle of blood so he could reach the Shadow he was fighting.
He idly glanced toward Aigis, who'd been walking forward without saying a word the whole time, and wondered how she felt about this whole thing. After all, she'd been created to fight Shadows, right? It didn't seem like a good idea to bring it up right now, though, so he decided to save it for another time.
The sound of gunshots suddenly rang through the air when they were a couple blocks away from the shrine. Junpei and Aigis broke into a run, following the sounds of battle until they reached the top of the shrine's steps. Standing in the middle of the courtyard next to a black stain on the ground was Minato, a white dog at his feet and an Evoker in hand. Minato turned toward the two of them and blinked.
"What are you guys doing here?" he asked.
"Dude, I should be askin' you the same thing. Aigis here was gettin' all worried since you never came back to the dorm," Junpei said.
"Actually, it was Junpei-san who suggested that we go out and look for you after—"
"Hey, hey, that part's not that important," Junpei interjected.
"Practice got out late," Minato said. "And I had a bad feeling, so I came by here and hung out for a while to make sure everything was alright. Looks like I was right." He leaned over and scratched Koromaru behind the ears. "That Shadow was pretty strong, though. I think Koromaru might have been able to take him on his own, but he'd be worse for the wear afterwards."
"Wait… are you sayin' this dog's a Persona user?!" Junpei asked, dumbfounded. Okay, a robot? He could believe that. She was a cute robot. But, a dog?
"Yeah. Though, he doesn't have an Evoker, so he can't summon at will yet," Minato said. "But you did a good job anyways, right Koro?"
Koromaru barked, and Aigis said, "He said, 'This is a place of peace. I could not let them defile it, so I protected it.'"
"Uh, Aigis… don't tell me you can translate dog language too…"
"Canines do not have their own language. However, speech is not the only means of communication," Aigis said as she bent down to scratch Koromaru's ears.
"This is really messed up, you know that?" Junpei said as he turned toward Minato. "First a robot can use a Persona, and now a dog can? What's next, a monkey?"
"Well, Yukari was calling you a trained ape the other day…" Minato said.
"Dude, low blow."
"Anyways, where's everyone else? From how you were talking it sounds like there wasn't anyone else at the dorm," Minato said.
Junpei shrugged. "Hell if I know. The girls went out to go do something earlier, and then Mitsuru-san had to go talk to Akihiko-san, but for some reason she didn't want to say it in front of me, so she dragged him out of the dorm."
"Maybe she's taking their relationship to the next level, and they didn't want you around?"
"Have you been watchin' Ken's cartoons again or somethin'?"
"What kind of kid's show has a subplot like that?!"
Koromaru suddenly began to growl, and when Minato and Junpei turned their attention toward him, he was barking at the entrance of the shrine. They stared at the space above the entrance of the shrine. The air above the entrance was flickering like an old television tuned to a dead channel. And then, suddenly, the space was filled by a black humanoid being, its body shrouded in a tattered black cloak. It wore a purple mask, and held in one of its long arms was a short sword.
Junpei was the first to speak. "Is that the one you guys ran into the other day?"
"That's the one," Minato said, his voice feeling raw as he spoke. The Shadow shouldn't have been able to appear without it being a full moon, yet here it was before him. Maybe that was why it continued to hover over the shrine's gate, its body flickering like a television with a bad signal. The overwhelming dread he was feeling and Koromaru's continued growls told him this was all too real though. Behind him, Aigis pulled her sundress from her body and threw it to the side.
"Minato-san, as we were not prepared for a serious fight, I am currently carrying a minimal quantity of bullets. While I will be able to fight, I will be operating at reduced efficiency," she said.
The Shadow's body flickered one more time, and then it disappeared once more. There was a pressure in the air, like a storm was bearing down upon them, and that was enough to tell Minato that the Shadow wasn't truly gone. It was hiding somewhere out of sight, gathering its strength for the next time it appeared. He looked up and saw the air flickering again, and ducked to the side in time to dodge a strike from the Shadow's blade.
Aigis was the first to run forward, unloading a volley of bullets from her fingertips into the Shadow's body. They struck the cloak uselessly and clattered to the ground.
"Piercing attacks are ineffective!" she called out.
"Dammit, this one's just like that fat one we fought before, ain't it?" Junpei yelled. He put his evoker to his head. "Fine! Try this one on for size instead!" He pulled the trigger and Hermes appeared before him, spreading his wings and holding his arms out as a ball of fire engulfed the Shadow. It screeched and its body began to flicker again before disappearing again. When the Shadow reappeared, it was high up in the air, far out of their range. It held its sword in front of it and a ring of multicolored light appeared in front of its body before suddenly disappearing. Once the ring of light disappeared, it floated back down to the ground and turned toward Junpei.
"Ready for round two, huh? Alright, take this! Hermes!" Junpei yelled.
"No, wait—" Minato didn't get to finish his yell before another blast of fire engulfed the Shadow. The smoke was suddenly cleared by a gust of razor-sharp wind that blew through the whole shrine, striking Minato and leaving long gouges in his arms and chest. He managed to catch glimpse of Junpei flying through the air, and when he looked next, Minato saw him llying against the fence post, his head slumped against his chest and his body unmoving.
"Junpei!" Minato yelled. The din of gunshots distracted him, as Aigis strafe around the Shadow, unloading every bullet she had into the Shadow's body as Koromaru rushed around the other side and dug his teeth into the cloak. The Shadow screeched again as the bullets struck, and it began to shake itself vigorously in an attempt to shake Koromaru free. Bullet cartridges fell from a slot in Aigis' wrists and clattered to the ground, and she hopped backwards so that she was outside of the Shadow's immediate attack range.
"Minato-san, I am out of bullets!" she yelled. "Switching to Persona-based combat!"
Minato nodded and took a step back, raising the Evoker to his head. This was going badly. With Aigis out of bullets and Junpei out of the fight, there was no way they'd be able to take this Shadow down. Worse yet, it kept changing resistances. If Fuuka was here, he might have been able to get the upper hand, but for all he knew, she could be on the other side of the city. The only way they were going to get out of this was if he was able to seal the Shadow, and he wasn't even sure he could do it.
The Shadow raised its sword to its chest, and the circular emblem began to appear in front of its body, when there was suddenly a loud thunk. Black fluid splattered down from behind the Shadow, and it screeched and flickered until it disappeared once more. The axe that had sunk into the Shadow's back clattered to the ground and was pulled into the air again by a dainty hand. The chunk of the cloak that Koromaru had been holding onto tore off in his mouth and he fell to the ground yelping.
Standing where the Shadow had been was a girl with long red hair. She wore white dress and held a long chain between both of her hands. Hanging from the chain was a fireman's axe that still dripped with black liquid. She stepped forward, her expression flat, almost annoyed, and looked around the shrine.
"Chidori," Minato breathed. She placed her Evoker against her temple, and with a bang, the ram-headed form of her Persona appeared. A white light that Minato recognized as a Tetrakarn spell appeared over Chidori's body just as the Shadow flickered into existence and swung its sword at her. The blade bounced off of the light, which became blindingly bright before lifting off of Chidori's body and rushing into the Shadow, which screeched and flew into the air again. It raised its sword and the multicolored light appeared for the third time this fight before it held its blade up and a black fog descended toward Chidori's body. She hopped out of the way of the fog and placed her Evoker to her temple again.
In an instant, Minato realized what she was trying to do. For whatever reason, Chidori wasn't trying to kill this Shadow, just distract it. She was giving him the exact opening he needed to seal it.
His memory of the last time he'd done something like this was faint. He'd just done what his instincts told him to do, and the person he'd been then was much different from the person he was now. He breathed in and out until his heartbeat had slowed, and once it was at a sufficient speed, he held his finger out and concentrated all of his will on it.
The Shadow began to screech and it froze, its body flickering more than before. The cloak that made up its body divided into several pieces and flew toward Minato, dissolving into blackness as their power entered his body. Minato's knees began to shake, and he stepped forward to adjust his stance. His shadow writhed and shook on the ground, barely visible in the unnatural moonlight of the Dark Hour. There was a feeling of dread welling up inside Minato's chest, and he felt like he could hardly breathe.
It feels like something's pushing against me… Minato thought to himself. He tried to focus his will on his finger more, but his chest was only feeling more and more constricted, his heartbeat growing louder in his ears, and he could hardly breathe. The connection between the Shadow and him grew more and more strained by the moment.
The Shadow gave one last screech and the connection shattered. With the pull on him gone, Minato fell backwards and landed on the ground. The Shadow flew high into the air and disappeared in a haze of static, leaving them alone.
"Minato-san!" Aigis yelled. She ran to him and knelt by his side, placing a hand on his shoulder as she helped him into a sitting position. Koromaru ran over to him and put his head on Minato's thigh, whining a bit as he did so. Minato looked over toward Chidori, and saw that she was dragging Junpei's body over toward him. She unceremoniously dropped him next to Minato.
"He's not dead," she said. "He'll just be unconscious for a while. You'll want to make sure his brain's not hemorrhaging."
And then, before Minato could respond, she grabbed her axe and swung it right in front of Minato's face.
Aigis threw her arm up in front of Minato's body, while Koromaru charged at Chidori's legs and snapped at them. The axe stopped before it reached Aigis' arm, and Chidori lifted her leg so that it was out of the way of Koromaru's snaps.
"Aigis, Koromaru, stand down," Minato ordered. Aigis very slowly lowered her arm and placed it on Minato's shoulder. Koromaru took a few steps back toward Minato, but continued to growl. "Don't even think about it, Chidori. There's no way the others haven't noticed what was going on here yet."
"The other members of your group are currently halfway across the Moonlight Bridge, and won't be here for some time," Chidori said. She moved her gaze over the scene, focusing on Aigis and Koromaru the most. "You're quite loved, aren't you? I wouldn't recommend attacking me. I don't care if I die, but I doubt your friends will appreciate it."
She lowered the axe and took a step back. She stared down at Minato with disdain. "I want you to tell me what you are. You don't belong here, so obviously you know, right?"
"What are you talking about?" Minato said.
"You're strange. It's like someone cut out a picture and pasted it into the wrong photograph… I'm honestly surprised that no one else noticed before now. Maybe they just didn't look long enough to see the seams where you were sewn in," Chidori said.
So she didn't know the details, even if she knew he wasn't supposed to be in this world. That was fortunate, so long as she didn't run off yelling about it to the other SEES members. He shrugged and said, "I have something I have to do, that's all. You wouldn't have helped me if you didn't understand that, right?"
Chidori was silent for a moment, and she lazily turned her head to the right, like she was staring at something off in the distance. Finally she said, "They're already in Iwatodai…" She turned her head toward Minato. "Even if your goals align with ours, you're still an enemy so long as you're with them."
"I can convince them. I know I can," Minato said.
Chidori didn't respond, and instead turned around and walked toward the shrine gates and down the stairs.
Minato let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and leaned his head back so that he was looking up into the green-colored sky. He sighed and lay down on the ground. Now that the tension was gone, his body felt heavy, and he felt no inclination to sit up again. Koromaru laid his head on Minato's chest, and he lazily scratched the dog's ears. Aigis sat down by Minato's head and placed her hands in her lap.
"Are you alright, Minato-san?" she asked.
"Yeah, I just feel really tired, that's all…"
"If you need to rest, please do so. I will remain here by your side."
Minato smiled and turned his head to look at the sky. His eyelids felt heavy in a very familiar way. Aigis' lap had felt so nice back then…
Minutes passed without Minato being aware of it. When he was next awake, he heard voices all around him. He opened his eyes and saw Fuuka and Mitsuru standing next to him. He blinked a couple of times before suddenly sitting up and looking around. Fuuka and Mitsuru both turned toward him and Fuuka gasped.
"Oh, Minato-kun! You're finally awake!" she said.
"We thought we might need to take you to the hospital along with Iori, but Aigis said you were just resting. She didn't seem to be malfunctioning, so I trusted her judgment in this case," Mitsuru said.
"When did you get here?" Minato asked. He hadn't been out that long, had he?
"Just a few minutes ago. Takeba and Akihiko managed to get Iori stable, so we were just waiting for you to wake up."
He looked around the shrine courtyard. Akihiko and Yukari were crouched over Junpei and talking to each other in low voices. Hamuko was examining a gouge that had been left in the path's tiles, and she lazily kicked a broken piece of tile over.
"What happened here? This place is a mess," she said.
"I think we should probably wait until after the Dark Hour to talk about that," Minato said sheepishly. It sounded like Aigis hadn't said anything about his fight with the large Shadow or the conversation he'd had with Chidori.
"I agree. Let's return to the dorm. Akihiko, will you be alright carrying Iori on your own?" Mitsuru asked. Akihiko pulled Junpei's unconscious form up onto his back and turned to look at her.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Let's get going," he said. The group began to move toward the stairwell leading out of the shrine, Koromaru and Aigis walking close behind. Before walking through the gate, Minato stopped and looked back over the inside of the shrine. The gravel and dirt surrounding the tile path was torn up, and bits and pieces of the tile pathway lay around the shrine. The fencing surrounding the courtyard was splintered and, in the spot where Junpei had been flung against it, completely broken. He sighed, put his hands in his pockets, and walked down after the rest of the group.
"Man… what a night."