Persona Non Grata

By: Brave Soul RMS

Disclaimer: Don't own the Persona series or anything from the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. I'm just a fanfic writer. I don't wanna get sued, 'kay?


Chapter 009: Aftermath

**Sunday, September 20th, 2020**

I have to admit, though I'm battered and bruised and more tired than I've ever been in my sixteen years of living, it feels sort of…nice to watch this. To know I made it happen. Sappy shit, I know, but, yeah. I still gotta talk to Igor about that fusing thingie I did when we fought Aria's Shadow but I think that can wait while I recuperate. Maybe forge a Social Link or two.

Or just go into a coma for a few months. Damn, I'm tired…

And I still hate hospitals. Why am I spending part of my Sunday here? …What're you looking at, you geriatric wreck? Rheumatoid arthritis ain't shit compared to a night fighting Shadows!

Behave yourself.

Shut up, Gawain. You're just as tired as I am.

Regardless.

You're so tense, Master Logan. You look like you could use a massage…

Pixie, I swear, if you look at that hot nurse's ass one more goddamn time…!

I'm not the one looking, Master Logan. You're the one in control.

Then stop influencing me, vile woman! Dammit, I miss Angel…

"Rietta, who're your friends?" Aria looked out the door smiling at me and Jett, who was soundly asleep slumped up against the nurse's station, and waved. Henrietta detached herself from her sister long enough to spare us peasants a passing glance and shook her head.

"I don't really know them all that well. They…" She hesitated and fished for an explanation under her mom's scrutinizing gaze. Henrietta sighed as if ashamed. "I was sort of…not myself at school. They saw it and decided to escort me here."

"How gentlemanly of them," giggled Aria. Aria looks like a wreck with those bags under her eyes like she hasn't slept – ironic considering she was sleeping all this time – but she still manages to look cute. A lot cuter than her sister. Maybe cuz she actually smiles.

Dr. Mackenzie put an arm around her daughter's shoulders and pulled them into a tight hug. She obviously bought Henrietta's lie. "It's okay now, girls," she said barely above a whisper. "The nightmare's over. We can have Aria discharged at the end of the week," she said pulling away from the hug.

The nightmare's over. You have no idea how right you are, Dr. M. She left the room and her daughters to themselves and approached Jett and me. I shook him awake and he groggily lifted his head from the puddle of drool he made, wiping it off the side of his face. Dr. Mackenzie laughed and I noticed how much she looks like someone took Henrietta and added about twenty or thirty years.

Her hair's the same color and is down a little past her shoulders like Henrietta; her eyes are the same shade of brown; hell, their fair skin color and heights are damn near identical! Cherry on the cake, she's wearing a purple bandana the same way Henrietta wears her purple headband. Yep, just add a few years, add a few lines around her eyes and scale back the aging signs a bit and you've got Dr. Mackenzie.

"Listen," she said in a low voice. Then she paused and checked over her shoulder. Henrietta and Aria were completely absorbed in their conversation. "Good, I wouldn't want her hearing this and giving me an earful. So proud, that one."

"Henrietta you mean?" I asked. Jett mumbled her name incoherently and wiped the drool from his face. Then he looked at the desk and the front of his shirt and groaned.

"Damn it! This was my last clean shirt!"

"Moron."

Dr. Mackenzie gave a light laugh. "Anyway… I'd like to thank the two of you for keeping Rietta company while her sister was in the hospital. She's never really had too many friends because of, well, how she acts. To put it bluntly." She sighed as memories of the past doubtless resurfaced. Then she suddenly smiled at us and took our hands in hers.

"It's nice to see her socializing again."

In that moment, I couldn't help but feel something in regards to Henrietta. Sympathy, maybe? Or something else? Understanding? Whatever it was, seeing how much her mom cared about her and how well she got on with her big sister made me feel like I understood her a bit better. Then I realized something else; we're not so different.

We're both pretty much unknowns at school with no friends and only our families to fall back on. Families that love us like we love them and that we'd do anything to protect. Henrietta made that determination clear enough. Maybe she isn't so bad after all, insufferable smartass ice queen that she is. …I think I figured out that feeling I have towards her.

Kinship. We're a lot alike.

"Mom! Aria wants to talk to you!" Henrietta called. Dr. Mackenzie gave us one last nod of appreciation and went into the room. Jett looked at me with a goofy ear-to-ear grin and clapped my shoulder.

"We did something really good, man. You know that?"

I smiled a little. "Yeah… We did."

Henrietta said something to her family and exited the room closing the door behind her. She motioned Jett and me to follow her and led us to a back stairwell where nobody would be able to eavesdrop. After checking to see everything was all clear, she cleared her throat and did her best to look all professional.

"I never properly thanked you. Without you and your help, I'd never have saved my sister and probably would have ended up dead in there." She waited for a response but Jett and I just looked at each other and kept silent. She continued,

"And I want to apologize for how I acted. I'm usually much more…composed than I was and I realize I must have acted rudely towards you." Shifting uncomfortably and blushing a bit, she averted her gaze and mumbled under her breath but Jett and I still caught it.

"So… Sorry and…thanks." She's obviously never done this before.

"No problem, beautiful," Jett schmoozed in full flirt mode. "But if you really want to thank me, how's about you and I go out sometime?" Jett advanced and put a hand on her hip and under her chin. Face as red as tomato, Henrietta struck out, her hand meeting Jett's right cheek with a loud SMACK! That sent him reeling and Jett, ever the graceful one, fell flat on his ass and bounced down a few steps.

"Ugh!" she groaned in disgust. "You're such a creep!"

"Ow…" Jett whined, rubbing his ass. "That hurt, you know! And it's just one date!" Henrietta's pocketbook just missed his head.

"Like I care! We're in a hospital so while you're getting those injuries tended to, why don't you see if they'll give you a free brain scan on top of it?" she retorted.

"Why would I need a brain scan?" Jett shouted in response.

"There's obviously something wrong with your head if you haven't gotten it through your thick skull by now!" Cupping her hands around her mouth, she drew in a huge breath and screamed. "I will never go out with you, Jett Mitchell!" Rather than deflate and give up, Jett only grinned and mimed shooting a gun at her.

"Challenge accepted!" he said.

"Wh-what?" Henrietta faltered, her face doing what I thought impossible and growing redder.

"Mark my words, Henrietta Mackenzie, we will go out on at least one date before the school year's over!"

"UGH!" Rounding on her heel to face me, Henrietta shouted while pointing behind her at my idiot partner. "Why is he so persistent?!"

I shrugged. "You got me. Honestly, you've only made this worse for yourself, Henrietta."

"Whatever, I give up," she sighed. "And it's Rietta," she added.

"Huh?"

"I prefer to go by Rietta," she explained. "I figured if I'm going to have a nickname, I'd rather that than 'Henri'." She made a face and another disgusted sound. "I hate that."

I looked at her oddly, my head tilted to one side as I thought. Was this maybe an offer of friendship? Well, fuck if I know but I guess… Couldn't hurt. They say birds of a feather flock together so I'll just go with the flow. I extended my hand and she took it silently, the slightest smile on her face.

"Okay," I murmured. "Nice to meet you, Rietta."

SMASH!

I am thou… Thou art I….

Thou hast established a new bond… It brings thee closer to thine answer.

Thou shalt have our blessing when creating a Persona of the Death Arcana.

How delightfully morbid. But a Social Link is a Social Link.

SMASH!

Thou shalt have our blessing when creating a Persona of the Fool Arcana.

Double up! Nice! Huh, I should really be taking count of how many times that happens for each arcana. For now, it's rest time. Club Week starts tomorrow.

On the way home, I stopped by the Wild Duck Burger in the Bazaar because I was starving. Sometimes, I really have to wonder how this place passed a health inspection because I swear the burgers here aren't made from actual beef. But whatever. If I can kill extradimensional manifestations of human grief and anger, I can stomach a little mystery meat. And I did. My stomach didn't yell at me like it usually does after I eat this crap either so I actually feel a little braver now.


**Monday, September 21st, 2020

MORNING: St. Yung Academy**

I decided I was gonna skip out on Dr. Murray's stupid sessions today. Besides, I didn't really have much to talk about that wasn't Dark Hour-related. Aside from that, I should take stock of my Personae so far and our progress in Rem. Keep track of my Social Links, too, and how many times I've heard those voices congratulating me for not being antisocial. There are a few minutes before first period and the courtyard's not that crowded today so I revisited my favorite stone bench and took out a notebook.

Alright, in terms of Personas in my ol' head noggin, I have Gawain, my first and strongest at level 10 like me. All that fighting in Aria's dungeon skyrocketed our levels. So far, he can use Cleave, Tarukaja, Agi and a new skill he learned after we beat Aria's Shadow: Evil Touch. Creepy sounding name gets creepy looking attack; he goes up to a Shadow and passes his hand through it like a phantom and it utterly scares the shit out of them. Useful, since they're usually too frightened to attack after that.

After Gawain, we have Pixie at level five, who's been with me the longest next to Gawain. She currently only knows Zio, an electrical spell, Rakunda, a spell that drops the enemy's defense, and Dia so I don't use her much unless I need to heal. And lastly, Jack Frost at level eight, a Persona I fused with Angel and Ara Mitama. This guy's all kinds of useful: He came with Bufu and Sonic Punch and ended up inheriting Patra and Sukukaja from Angel. I was confused at first because Jack told me he didn't come with those skills but apparently, a Persona born from a fusion inherits skills from the Personas used to fuse it. Nifty. I should probably try and get a few new Personas while I'm at it.

Hm… While I'm at it, I should catalog Jett's skill, too. He's around level ten like me and Eros knows Bash, Garu, Dia and a new skill from our Shadow Aria battle called Holy Arrow. Does a good amount of damage and can charm the enemy, basically making them fall in love with him while actually following a few of his orders or just being too lovestruck to attack. Also nifty.

The sun peaked over the trees and the school buildings and shone in my eye. It's kind of a chilly misty day (we've been getting a lot of those lately) so it feels nice. Calming. Anyway, Social Links. If I remember right, I've formed links for the Fool, Emperor, Lovers and Magician Arcana with Death as a recent arrival. That's five. Those weird voices spoke up for me three times with Fool, once for Emperor and Death and twice for Lovers and Magician. I wonder if that means anything. Either way, I'll talk to Igor tonight. Won't be going into Rem for at least another night or two, though.

BRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIING!

There's the pre-bell ring. Better get going to class…


"So, to summarize the chapter we read last week: the body metabolizes food by breaking the chemical bonds that hold their molecules together. Most of your energy comes from sugar, which is broken down via glycolysis. From there, it enters what is known as the Citric Acid or Krebs cycle. From those bonds, via a chain of chemical reactions involving the shuttling of electrons, the generation of a hydrogen ion gradient and the utilization of said gradient to generate ATP, we get energy. Said energy is used to drive cellular work."

For the spineless dude dating one of my older sisters, Caper knows his stuff. That and I actually managed to bother to study after being in Rem.

"Now, let's see who did the reading last night…?" Mr. Caper scanned the room until his eyes fell on me. Oh joy. Well, at least I did my homework. "Logan! Photosynthesis was also in the chapter last night because plants use both it and the Krebs cycle to make and consume their own food, the waste products of which are used to start both cycles again. But for photosynthesis to start, you need three crucial components: Water, light, and…?"

"Uhm… I know this one… Carbon dioxide, right? And I think it's rubisco or PEP-C that grabs it out of the air depending on what kind of plant you are."

"Very good!" he praised me, grinning. "I see someone did their homework! But, yes, C-3 plants use rubisco to catch CO2 from the air, while CAM plants use PEP-C. PEP-C is much more efficient."

I heard some of the hardcore bio students around me whispering to themselves:

"Hey, that Logan kid. I thought he was kind of a slacker but that was a pretty tough question he answered."

"Not that tough but at least he takes this class seriously enough to do the work. I can respect that in a person."

Looks like I've gotten a bit more popular with them. That can only be good. …That is good, right? Well, anyway. When lunchtime came around, I hung with Ethan while Jett went out pimpin'. We talked about a bunch of different stuff like what kind of TV shows we watched and our favorite foods (it's Ethan so I kind of expected that) and he even asked my opinion on a topic I'd never expect out of him.

"Hey, Logan."

"Mmm?" I answered through a mouthful of turkey club.

"What do you look for in a girl?" I nearly choked and had to wash it down with my Cielo Mist. Only when I finished coughing did I answer with my own stunned question.

"Excuse me?"

He laughed and polished off his desert cupcake. "It's a pretty straightforward question, dude. What do you look for in a girl? I'm talking looks, personality, the whole shebang." I shook my head a few times to chase the fog and confusion away. Nobody have ever asked me that kind of question before and, to be honest, I didn't really know the answer myself. It's not like I didn't think of girls in that way. It was more like I never really thought a girl would be interested in me in the first place. So I told Ethan that and he said,

"Don't sell yourself short. Even if you date one girl and figure out she's not for you, you shouldn't give up. And you should at least, y'know, try. It's better than standing there like a lump."

"Oh, thanks," I said dryly. "Now I'm a lump. That'll send the girls running…away from me, that is."

Ethan have me a good natured pat on the shoulder and handed me his second cupcake as a peace offering. I wanted to say I didn't need his sympathy and turn it away but, fuck, man, it's a chocolate cupcake. I ate that bad boy like it was my last meal and damn if it wasn't delicious. I gotta ask him where he gets this stuff.

"Think about it and get back to me," he said. I answered with a shrug and he went on, "As for me, looks don't really matter much but I wouldn't object if she were cute." He grinned again and put his hands behind his head, expression thoughtful. "If anything, I want a girl I can talk to, you know? Someone who'll hear me out and that I can hear out in turn and have a conversation with. Relationships are boring if you can't talk, y'know?"

I can understand that. I'm definitely no expert but I feel like if you're gonna be with a girl, it'd be good to have something in common with them. Ethan makes a lot of sense. We talked until lunch ended and I had to move on to English and he went on to chemistry class. My Social Link with him didn't advance but I feel like the two of us grew a bit closer to a new level of understanding. At least, that's what I think that ticklish feeling in the back of my mind was. Time will tell.


**AFTERSCHOOL**

Like Mr. Vechy's irritating voice announced last Friday, Club Week starts today and the athletic teams get first dibs. I'm not really much of an athlete but St. Yung's has an unusual selection of sports teams. There's your typical high school sports teams like football and baseball but I know we have a skateboarding club and an ultimate Frisbee club among them. That last one is kind of weird but the Skate Club would be cool. I used to skate a while back and got pretty good at it. That and I used to kickbox. Wonder why I stopped… Anyway, since I'm not much of a pro athlete, I think I'll keep clear of the typical sports team and check out the off-the-beaten-track ones. There are only three, though: Skate Club, Ultimate Frisbee (haha, okay) and Swordsmanship. We have a swords club, apparently.

Right after school ended, I went to the main office and I picked up one flier each about the three clubs that were accepting new members today, then went down the hallway directly across the lobby from it since that's where most of the club rooms were. At the end of that hallway was a double door that led to the outdoor cafeteria where the Skate Club was holding their sign-ups so I decided to head there first. It was a pretty overcast day and it looked like it was gonna rain but still, these guys were out here pulling all kinds of tricks off. It's really cool to watch and – whoa, hell! Did that guy just use his buddy's board as a launch point? Sick! I wanna learn to do that!

Rushing over to the sign-up sheet on one of the tables, I was stopped halfway there by a really big guy whose name I never bothered to learn skating over to me. Two of his friends approached a second later with one of them having grabbed the list and shoved it in my face.

"Sign-ups are closed," he drawled. "Take a hike."

"What?! But they just started five minutes ago!"

"Looks like you're five minutes too late, then, freak," the big guy said threateningly. I glared at them then took another glance at the list. There were only about seven or eight names on it and only five skaters present, three of them barring my path.

"There are only seven names here. Clubs have at least fourteen people," I countered. "How is that fair, you asshats?"

Big guy grabbed my collar and lifted me a few inches off the ground. My glare grew hotter but he just smirked, amused. This isn't funny, asshole! If you're gonna exclude someone, at least play by the damn rules!

The third and shortest skater there fiddled with his beanie and sneered, "Tony, ignore him; he ain't worth the trouble. We already got all our members. Plus, even if we were accepting more people, we wouldn't let our reps take damage from being seen with the school headcase."

Oh, fuck no. You did not just say that, midget. Tony put me down and shoved me a bit to get me to leave. Okay. I'll leave. But not before this. I kicked Tony's skateboard into my hand and grabbed it by the trucks.

"Hey, pipsqueak, give that back!" roared Tony as he pulled a fist back.

"You know what?" I growled as he swung. "You should really learn," I lifted the board up in front of my face and Tony's fist hit it square in the center snapping it right in half, "to watch what you say, midget!"

I took one half of the board in my left hand and used it to smack the short one in the ribs and threw the other half hard at Tony's stomach, winding him. He doubled over howling in rage and surprise and his other friend cursed, lamenting the loss of what was apparently a very expensive deck. The midget was on the ground holding his side and biting his lip, face scrunched up like he had appendicitis. Thoroughly pissed, I spat at the ground in front of them and waltzed towards the door leaving them in stunned, angry silence.

"You'll pay for this!" the midget screamed at me. "When you least expect it, ya fuckin' psycho, I'll get you back for this!"

"Whatever, asshole!" I shouted back. As soon as I was back inside, I slumped and slid down against the door with my hand against my forehead.

"Jackasses didn't even bother to follow the rules. There should be at least seven other names on that list before they can say they're full!" I slammed my fist against the floor. "FUCK! This is why I..!" I sighed. Not worth it to get worked up over crap like this. Especially not this worked up. Compose yourself, Logan.

Picking myself up, I took the folded up fliers out of my pocket and tore up the Skate Club one and the Ultimate Frisbee one. Stupid game shouldn't even be considered a sport. But now that I'm 0 for 2, that leaves me one option.

The Swordsmanship Club apparently meets in the auxiliary gym every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. According to the flier, "It's not about learning to fight, it's about learning the different philosophies behind swords styles and the discipline required to properly wield a blade". There were a few snippets and quotes from current and former members about how joining the club helped them get their acts together and even improved their study or work habits by applying the sword style philosophies to daily life. Seems legit.

"Well why the fuck not?" Not like I've got much choice now. The spare gym should be in the hall above this one to the right. A short walk later, I found myself in front of the double doors looking through the portholes at the people in there. There looked to be an equal number of chicks and dudes from every grade, most of them sparring with wooden swords. There were even a few real swords in the display case at the back; shit, are we allowed to keep those? That's actually kind of cool…

I put my hand on the door to push it open but found myself hesitating. "There's more people here than there were outside," I muttered to myself. My fist clenched on its own. I felt apprehensive and a little angry. What if these guys didn't want me to join either? Then I'm really shit out of luck and I go home with my tail between my legs and a bruised ego.

"I really don't want that…" But again, it's not like I've got much choice. Well, if I go down, I go down swingin'. I opened the door and walked through, getting a better view of the room. The floor and walls were padded with blue and red alternating rectangles and it was actually pretty big. There was a school desk in the corner across from me and the far right wall was a line of lockers. Posted above and inside the display case were pictures of the club members from every year since '04. It's not much bit it's cozy.

"Yo!" I guess that was meant for me since nobody else is answering. A girl (I think it's a girl from the voice) in full kendo gear walked over to me and took off her helmet. She's really pretty: heart-shaped face, dark brown hair and almond-shaped eyes and light brown skin make me think she's some kind of Hispanic but I don't judge. Really friendly smile, too.

"I'm Rosita Cortez," she said as she shook my hand. "You are?"

"Logan Martin."

"Nice to meet you, Logan. You here to sign up?" Then before I could affirm that, she continued, "Our club leader's not here right now; he went to go grab a snack. Once he's here, though, he'll explain things and you can decide to join up or not." Rosita flashed me a bright smile and I felt some of my tension leave me.

Taking a quick look around, I was pretty much able to discern for myself what this whole thing was about. Plus, I have a flier. I asked her what there was to explain and she giggled and rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, most of us are like that since it's more or less self-explanatory but Leader always has to explain the details to us. It's good to have a reminder so we're not all just swinging swords," she mimed stabbing and parrying a blow, "but yeah."

"I see."

"What kind of sword and style do you use?" she asked curiously, tilting her head. "I use a katana and the Itto-ryu style myself. Or are you a newbie?"

"A newbie," I answered and as I scratched the back of my head, I added, "And I'm not sure what you're talking about with sword styles. At least not the Japanese ones." She giggled.

"It's okay, not many people do. There are a ton of styles from all over the world so it'd be, like, impossible to know or master them all. Oh, look, Leader's back!"

I turned and, to my surprise, Grey stood at the entrance to the gym, halfway through the door with a soft pretzel hanging from his mouth and sword wrapped in cloth slung over his right shoulder. Gulping down his most recent bite of pretzel, he approached Rosita and I and looked between the two of us.

"Logan, right? You're in my history class," he said.

"Biology, too. What's up? You run this place?"

He shrugged and smiled a bit. "More or less."

"What style are you?"

"Leader uses his own style," Rosita said teasingly. Grey nodded.

"A mix of Historical European style, fencing and some tricks taken from the various Japanese styles," he elaborated. "Each of 'em was a bit too rigid for me, y'know?"

"Hey, Leader!" one of the upperclassmen called from the lockers. "We gonna get this show on the road now or what?"

"Right, in a sec!" Then he said to me, "Stick around and see if you're interested." So I did while he got up in front of the display case and gave a speech introducing himself, welcoming new members and welcoming back some of the old and talking about what a big honor it was being chosen as leader by the previous one. Guess the last leader was a senior seeing as they're not here now. Then he launched into an explanation about the club and exactly what it stood for. I have to admit, I zoned out for most of it but this part had my attention.

"You newbies might think this place is just a club where we swing swords all day but it's more than that!" A few of the freshman jumped. "Along with me, there are four other upperclassmen who're pretty damn good at their own style. Whoever you study under will teach you all about the philosophy of their style and train you in its discipline. You can switch styles whenever ya want, doesn't really matter to us, but the point of all this is so that you learn something that'll benefit you. Trust me, if you apply some of the stuff you learn here to your normal lives, I can guarantee you'll see some kind of improvement in confidence, study habits, whatever." Then he grinned and unsheathed the sword on his back. It wasn't sharpened (thank God, I was afraid he'd hurt someone.) but he nonetheless pointed it at the crowd and said,

"Lastly, this is a place to chill and make friends, so do just that. Just make sure you don't slack off in here else you'll be facing me one on one!"

"Trust me, you don't want that," laughed Rosita.

"So yeah! If you're interested, the sign up sheet's over by that table," he pointed at it with his sword and put it back in its sheath, "and there's pizza on the way so at least stick around for that." And with that, the members and prospective members dispersed to go talk amongst themselves. Grey and Rosita approached me soon after and again I was reminded of exactly how tall he is. I'm 5'8" myself but Jesus Christ! He tops me by at most five inches! Oh, well, at least I'm taller than Rosita.

"What'd ya think?" he asked.

"It was a pretty good speech," I answered slowly, "and I guess I can give this a try and see if what you said about it improving my diligence is true. So yeah, I guess I'm in." He and Rosita positively beamed at that.

"Sweet!" cheered Grey.

"It'll be nice having another junior in here," Rosita added. Grey offered his hand and I shook it without hesitation.

"Nice to have you on board!" he said. I nodded, smiling slightly. I think, after hearing that speech, I know a little bit more about what Grey's all about. The fact that he doesn't follow one particular style told me more than the speech but, hey, I'm learning.

SMASH!

And apparently, I'm making friends, too.

Thou shalt have our blessing when creating a Persona of the Emperor Arcana.

That makes twice I've heard the mysterious voices blessing me. That can only be good!

I decided to hang around the club a little more often while Grey helped me pick out a sword and style. Historical European was the easiest, at least according to him, and I was a beginner at this so it wouldn't hurt to start there. After swinging a wooden blade around a few times and sparring with him (AKA getting my ass kicked), club ended and we all went home. I did a little homework, studied some and generally played video games and watched TV before going to sleep. Before I did that, though, I sent a message to Jett and Rietta telling them to meet up at Rem's entrance tomorrow. I figure two or three times a week is sufficient enough for us to start making some more progress in there.


**Teusday, September 22nd, 2020**

DARK HOUR

~You're making good progress. The elevator to floor ten should be coming up~ Theo announced while we ran through the city streets. Nobody had leveled up yet but we were becoming a lot more familiar with our Personas and how to battle.

"How much longer to the next floor?" asked Jett.

~From what I can tell, there should be a station on the tenth floor that should lead you down to the next half of this block. Be wary, however, for the Shadows get stronger as you move further down~

"Typical. It's like an RPG," Rietta mused. "The stronger you get, the stronger the enemies get."

A Shadow Blob materialized in the shadow of a building and threw itself at us. We all dodged and Rietta managed to stab it, initiating the battle and giving us the advantage. The blob split into two pairs of Shadows: one type was basically a fish made of so many twisted wires and pipe cleaners while the other was a pair of twins skewered on two rods shuffling around like zombies. The fish wore a Priestess mask while the twins were of an Arcana I haven't seen.

~The fish and twins are Priestess and Hierophant Arcana respectively~ Thank you, Theodore. ~Give me a moment to analyze them~

Immediately, the Shadows struck out and threw themselves into the fight. As both twins started to build up sparks of electricity around their rods, one of the fish rushed, spun and lashed Rietta with its tail. Then the twins targeted me and Jett and loosed easily dodged Zio spells at us but the other fish chose to run down Jett and freakin' headbutted him in the chest.

"Ugh! Ow!" Growling, the leapt at it as it tried to backpedal and buried the blades of his chakram in its fins "Bitch, that hurt!" he scowled but the fish seemed to feel no sort of pain. The fish thrashed and threw Jett off of it and into the air. He landed gracefully next to Rietta and me muttering in annoyance.

"No dice. Physical strikes don't do much."

"That's fine, we can always just hit the twins," I said. "Surround 'em!" Jett and Rietta circled around while I drew my Evoker and switched to Jack Frost. "Let's give this guy a little piece of the action!"

Cackling like a demon, the spirit of winter appeared in a flurry of ice and snow that it formed into a Bufu spell and launched at the fish, which Theodore told us were called Calm Pesce. The one that attacked Jett was struck and reeled from the impact allowing me to charge in and give it a good one-two punch. Jett was right; it felt like I was punching a wall but Jack's Bufu did damage enough to let me destroy it with my hits.

"Eros!" BANG! I heard a rush of wind as Jett cast his Garu on the remaining Pesce and sent it tumbling to the ground. "Found your weakness!" he sang triumphantly and cast another wind spell to finish it off. That leaves the twins. A sound like a small thunderclap rang out when one of the twins nailed Jett with a Zio spell and brought him to its knees then took the chance to charge in and swing the left twin around to kick him in the face. As he went tumbling, Rietta slashed at it with her spear while dodging a second lightning attack and running it through. Unfortunately, it wasn't dead yet.

"Gawain!" I cried and summoned him to slice the other pair in two while Rietta engaged the first. His Cleave went straight through the rods holding them together and like that, they exploded into nothing. Sweet, I just learned an instant kill tactic! The remaining twin raked at Rietta with its claws and she squealed in pain!

"Ooh, I've had just about enough of you!" She pressed her Evoker to her temple and fired. "Mandragora!" The flower pixie rose (heheh, rose. I crack myself up) and sent a debilitating glare the twins' way that somehow encased them in ice. I summoned Jack Frost to shatter it with a Sonic Punch and send the Shadow to its death.

SHUFFLE TIME!

Hells yeah. Let's see; a coin, a sword and a new Persona card. An elegant blue-skinned woman in white in a dancing pose. Obviously I'm gonna go for the Persona card and… Yes, got it! The card shattered and formed into the woman on the card who introduced herself in the most polite way I could think of.

"Pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Apsaras of Temperance and I look forward to working with you."

"Likewise," I told her before she joined the freak convention in my head.

"Hey, what's with that, anyway?" Rietta asked more than a bit suspiciously. "You have more than one Persona while Jett and I only get one. How's that fair?"

I shrugged. "You got me. It's just something unique to me that I never really bothered to question. Useful as all hell though," I added with a smirk.

"Hey," Jett spoke up as he cast Dia on himself, "if he's got a power than can keep us alive in this place, I won't question it. Never look a gift horse in the mouth."

Rietta snorted and shouldered her spear. "I'm surprised you know what that expression means."

"Now, now, ladies, you're both pretty."

"Damn right I am!" Jett shouted. That idiot always knows how to amuse me. "But, yeah, let's keep on going."

There were a few more Shadows to kill on our way to the elevator but it wasn't anything we couldn't handle. Rietta jumped up a level and learned Pixie's Rakunda spell which is always useful since I'm planning on ditching Pixie first chance I get.

"Hey! So cruel!"

I've already got raging hormones; don't need you stirring the pot, woman. Anyway, the elevator was reached in good time and dropped us off in front of a huge door standing in the center of a purple room that stretched on forever and was lit entirely by a rainbow of starlight. Other than that, it was entirely empty.

"Theodore, where are we?"

~In a Waypoint, Miss Henrietta. That door in the center leads to the station that will take you to this block's lower level~

"Is there some kind of symbolism behind it?" I asked as the stars' light moved all around sometimes overlapping and creating new colors. "I feel like there is."

~None that I can see but I've never really been one to try and analyze symbolism… Wait, I feel something's coming! A floor guardian!~

Right on cue, the door opened slowly without so much as a creaking hinge and flooded the room with blinding light. We all shielded our eyes and heard it slam shut an instant later and then something started walking towards us. Standing a good twenty feet away was by far the weirdest Shadow I've ever seen and that is saying a lot. It was dancing couple but they were headless and conjoined at the hands and in the hand pointed at us was one wicked sharp rapier. On closer inspection, I saw that they actually shared a head, a big white heart-shaped one with a Lovers Arcana mask. The male half of this Shadow wore blue pants and a white coattailed tux while the girl wore a red evening gown. They were both around seven or eight feet tall and swayed to the beat of an unheard song while their head hummed eerily in the silence.

"Dude, freaky." Jett shares my view on this.

"I don't know; it's kind of sweet." He and I gave Rietta the best "What the fuck" looks we could and she blushed in embarrassment. "I mean… Oh, shut up! It's my own opinion."

"Well, sweet or not," I said dropping into a ready stance, "we need to kill it if we're moving on."

The Shadow accepted our challenged and literally waltzed its way over to us rapier at the ready. Rietta grabbed her Evoker and Jett grasped his chakram tightly. Now begins a real fight.


**Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020**

DARK HOUR

The boy's eyes snapped open as if he awoke suddenly from a nightmare. At once, the sensation of falling overtook him and his feet roughly touched the ground a second later. Stumbling forward, the young man caught himself by using the sword in his left hand as a cane.

"Wh-what the…?" His eyes darted around confusedly trying to take in the surroundings while his brain fought to clear the haze that suffocated it. Where was he? What time was it? The last thing he remembered was... He actually couldn't remember but, either way, he know he should have been halfway home by now.

He was halfway home. The boy knew this street; he walked it every time he went out to the Bazaar and used it as a shortcut all the time. It was the street one came to after crossing the hospital back parking lot, the same as it always was every day so then… Why was everything so dark? So sickly green?

"What happened to the world…? Am I…dead?" the boy breathed, both awestruck and terrified at the disturbing, morbid veil that lay over the world now.

The sun, now blood red, hovered directly overhead like the face of an angry god; the sky was lime ground beneath his feet was nearly black. Puddles of what the young man was sure were water were now bright red pools of blood but none of this compared to the dozens – the hundreds upon hundreds of obsidian coffins standing upright and floating just above the ground, scattered as if thrown by the hand of a child.

"Wait. I remember this. Ten years ago…" Yes, that was right. He had seen this side of the world before. Ten years ago it had disappeared but now it was back. But why? Then, as if someone took a sledgehammer to his skull, a splitting headache bloomed from the center of the boy's mind and tore his skull apart. The throbbing pain climaxed and plateaued moments later as something stirred.

"Release me…"

Rattling and the sound of breaking chains echoed within the young man's mind and a curtain of darkness shadowed his vision. The only light he saw was but a faint blue glow under his feet. Then as if the ground was pulled out from under him, he fell and was thrown against the surface of a water source. Descending, the boy flailed and kicked wildly swimming for the surface before realizing he could still see and breathe. He looked around until something caught his eye directly under him. Submerged at the bottom of the torrential whirlpool of sadness and memory within the sea of his soul, a bestial silhouette lay fettered until, with a great effort, the creature shattered his bindings and the chains snapped and broke one after the other. With his left side free at last, Lycaon rose to its full, terrible height and celebrated with a roar that agitated the water and flung the boy up and out.

Releasing the vicegrip he had on his head, the young man staggered to his feet, hand over his right eye as he found himself back in the real world.

"What just happened to me…?" He shuffled over to a nearby blood puddle and collapsed on his hands and knees in front of it. There he stared at his reflection. He was a little pale from what he could tell. He pushed back his wild dark hair to search his face for injuries but found none. A ripple pulsed through the pool and suddenly it wasn't his bemused face looking up at him anymore, only inky blackness. A sinister green eye snapped open in the center of the puddle and stared right into his own. The boy recoiled and scuttled away, trembling.

"What the hell?!"

Suddenly there came a screech lancing through the stagnant air and something began to take form at end of the street. A creature like he'd never seen before stood there; tall, gangly and skulking with three-spoke wheels made of human legs and large spikes in place of actual limbs. Its face was a yellow mask devoid of emotion and when it took notice of him it screamed a bloodcurdling cry and charged.

They boy's eyes shrank to pinpricks and he drew his sword to defend himself. "GET AWAY!" he cried desperately. He froze, screwing his eyes shut and preparing for the worst.

There was a roar.

The ring of metal cutting through flesh.

Rattling chains.

The young man dared to open his eyes and lower his arms from his face and what he saw threw his mind into disarray with the sheer impossibility of it. No matter how he tried to deny its existence, there, floating before him fully extended with a silver chain wound around it, was colossal armored arm ending swordlike claws, all five of which impaled the monster's torso. With a last weak shriek, the monster started melting, fading into oblivion.

Globs of ichor flew with a sickening squelch when the arm violently flexed its fingers to free them from the corpse. It hung there for a moment before eventually fading away and the more transparent it became, the more the boy's headache returned with a vengeance.

"Not enough!" snarled his inner voice.

His headache flared again eliciting a scream of anguish from his throat. His attempts to stay conscious were thwarted by his growing migraine until his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell on the sidewalk at the feet of a black coffin, the last thing he heard before blacking out his inner voice snarling venomously, expectantly,

"Soon, Grey…"

"Ly…" The world grew black and Grey Thomas knew no more.


a look at what's to come.

The Fool's party does battle against the Enamoured Dancer but little headway is made. Deciding to reture, they return to the surface and cease operations for the night, only to find the Emperor alone and vulnerable in the hour of shadows. Suddenly, he awakens and unleashes a terrifying wave of emotion that drowns the other three, inundating them with a powerful hidden anguish. What will come of this, and has the Emperor become their enemy?

Next Time: To Wake a Sleeping Dog