Setton: I'm back! Though I do not know for how long, lots of family issues to take care of and it seems to be getting worse. In any case, I am glad I actually took a break off typing. You would not believe what I wrote down for this before I edited it, and I mean really edited it. Earlier on I had literally got Igor to spill the beans – so to speak – but ended up backpedaling. Not only is it too soon, but it ends up contradicting Theodore's actions and Hamuko's contract.
I also recently acquired P3P and played the game up to this point in story, doing what I would do without a walkthrough. Sad to say Akihiko was left out for quite a while seeing as I could not find him in the halls whenever I wanted to speak to him. Oops.
It is best to run a story through two or three different programs. My desktop Microsoft seems less attentive to my mistakes than my laptop.
The cold hit her first, causing her skin to prickle and her shoulders to draw in. There were no sounds except for the passing drafts.
Hamuko opened her eyes to find herself in the Velvet Room, sitting in the familiar lyre shaped chair. The lights were sustained and she could no longer feel the force that acted upon her with every visit. The elevator was not moving, literally stuck in a standstill between two floors, and the clock hands were no longer moving.
Her eyes turned to the only occupant within the room. Igor did not smile upon her arrival. It was the first time she had ever seen him look so cross.
"Forgive me if I may seem rude," Igor said curtly. "You have done nothing to warrant my anger. In fact, I called you here because the fault lies on another."
"Theo," she replied on a hunch.
"What did he do exactly?"
"Theodore has jeopardized your safety by attempting to null the contract you have agreed upon the beginning of your journey. While not intentional, he will be punished for his actions."
"I don't get it," Hamuko spoke up, looking rather frazzled. "How, and what do you mean it was not intentional?"
Igor was silent for a moment as he regarded her. Then he turned to the table before him and gave a wave of his hand. The red book that Pharos had shown her appeared on the table, flipping open to the page she had written her name on.
"Perhaps it's best if we start from the beginning," Igor said as he took in the name. "We've had very little guests over the years. Since your arrival, things had become livelier. Your powers have grown even greater since you had last come here."
Hamuko watched as he made another motion with his hand. The page turned and she found herself staring at her name once more.
That was not right…
"What…?" She breathed, and stood up – tipping her chair and letting it hit floor with a clang. Just how was this possible? She had only written her name down once! So how was it that there were two similar signatures on two different pages?
Igor motioned for her to calm down. "Do not be alarmed. I can assure you that there is no foul play involved."
"Then how come there are two signatures?" she asked irritably. "I've only signed it once."
He nodded in agreement. "Indeed, you had," he said before he raised a bony finger, "in this timeline."
Hamuko was struck speechless. "You… You're saying I did this before?"
Igor nodded. "Yes."
"That," she said as she sank onto the floor in shock, "can't be possible."
"Anything is possible," Igor remarked and smiled. "I merely gave you my aid. It was you who did the rest. Now, you walk through that very door with a different purpose in mind. What troubles you the most is that you cannot remember what that purpose is. And that – is your consequence. You gave up your friends, your bonds, your memories, everything you had acquired within a single year."
Hamuko spoke up, "And what about Theo? Did he have anything to do with this?"
Igor gave a sigh and his eyelids drooped as he regarded the red book in contemplation. "It seems your impact on him was greater than I imagined. Theodore sought a second chance as well, but his efforts threaten to break the contract that you have agreed to sign. I ask you not to think ill of him; he only wishes to help in the only way he knew possible."
"Theo wanted to help…?" she questioned before it clicked, and her eyes widened. "He wanted to help me remember."
The long nosed man gave a nod.
"Then…Tartarus," she said, "What about Tartarus? What am I seeing there?"
"As you well know, Personas, Shadows, and Tartarus do not fall within the means of reality. They are not affected by time and will forever hold the past you left behind. Those memories you experienced are rightfully yours, and they will help guide you even in your darkest hour," Igor explained heartily. "For your safety, I cannot give you any more information than I already have. It is up to you now to choose which path you'll take. Remember, you are not alone. Do not simply reminisce my dear guest – relive."
She woke up the next day in a daze. Half of the time she believed what happened last night was a dream, but she could not ignore the clarity of her visit. What was she supposed to do now? What would cause her to redo her whole life? What was it that Theodore wanted her to remember that was so important?
Nothing made sense…
Today was Wednesday, and Hamuko arrived to class just in time for lectures. Yukari did not seem worried, indicating that the light-haired brunette heard nothing about Hamuko's prior unconsciousness. Minato may be a different matter. She was sure that he had engaged Theodore about her state before the Velvet Room denizen made his escape.
Despite the lasting fatigue, Hamuko stayed awake through Mr. Ono's lessons. She then decided to go burn off some steam by hanging out with Rio after school. Rio was…or has been intense for the past month since Hamuko met her. Despite being a freshman like Hamuko, Rio acted very much like Mitsuru – in a no nonsense sort of way. The girl seemed to have trouble in the love department, if Rio's breakdown a few days ago was any indication. At times Hamuko wondered why she got herself involved in the first place.
Hamuko smoothly returned the ball with a weakened backhand, watching as it skimmed the top of the net before dropping in Rio's court. The voted captain gave a grunt of dissatisfaction upon reaching the net, her racquet scraping the ground as she tried to return the ball.
Rio gave a slight curse before she brought her racket up to her eyes and checked it for scratches. "I don't know what's wrong with me lately," she muttered irritably before she turned and caught sight of someone entering the grounds.
Hamuko turned to look as well, spotting a group of females trailing awkwardly after a beautiful woman.
"Kanou-sensei…?" Rio muttered, sounding bitter.
Hamuko winced. "You have it bad for Kenji, Rio," she thought. It was no secret that the ramen-loving Kenji adored the older woman. Naturally that would mean competition between Rio and the Ms. Kanou.
After forcing Rio to apologize to the team for yelling at them, Ms. Kanou turned and left without so much of a goodbye, and Hamuko tended to wonder if the rest of Gekkoukan were idiots. For the past month it had only been her and Rio practicing. Ms. Kanou, who should have been their supervisor, had not even checked on the state of the club since day one. It was only through the complaints of the club members that the woman actually done something.
Hamuko thought about reporting this to Mitsuru. That would probably make Rio's day.
"It's tough being in love," Rio said after apologizing to everyone.
Everyone but Hamuko let out shocked gasps.
"In love!?" shrieked one of the members. "With who? Is it Minato-kun?"
"Huh…?" Rio stared before she squawked, "No! W-Why are you even asking me this?"
"Hamuko-chan, do you know?"
They were pestering her now, and Hamuko silenced her lips with a smile. It made her happy to know that some of the girls were not dedicated to make her life a living hell.
"Fine! I'll tell you!" Rio shouted in exasperation, quieting them all down. "I-It's…Kenji."
"WHAT!?" came Yuko's yell. The manager of the male Kendo team came sprinting down the court with furious speed.
"Yuko…?" Hamuko said in surprise. How in the world did she hear them from the building? "Aren't you supposed to be watching the guys practicing?"
"Forget the guys!" Yuko panted as she waved her arms wildly. "Did Rio just say what I think she said? Kenji…!? As in ramen-lover-and-hanging-out-with-Junpei Kenji?"
Hamuko frowned. "What's wrong with hanging out with Junpei?"
"He's a dork," said one of her teammates.
"At least he's a fun dork," Hamuko replied to the girl and they both shared a smile.
"How in the world did you end up liking him!?" Yuko shouted from her lungs as the rest of the girls let out girlish screams of disbelief. Hamuko could only wonder what the guys on the other courts were thinking – since they seemed to be so intent on prying.
"We should play matchmaker!" One of the girls, with bun-shaped hair, suggested. The rest quickly agree alongside her, even Yuko wanted to join in.
"What…? No! No one is playing matchmaker!" Rio shook her head indignantly. "He's my childhood friend! I don't want to hurt our relationship just by confessing to him and having him reject me."
"Aww," the girls crooned.
"Well it's your decision, so we'll respect that," Yuko replied with a small pout. Then an idea came to her. "OH! We should set up Hamuko!"
All the girls turned to the red-eyed girl in unison, and she laughed nervously.
…But it got her thinking.
It was the first time she had seen him since last night.
"He's not in there," Minato said as her hands reached for the door handle.
Hamuko paused and let her arms drop slowly. She had been curious as to whether Igor had followed through with his words. Sadly, Minato just confirmed it.
The two moved off to the side to avoid blocking the door, and Minato gave the store window a glance before he looked back at Hamuko.
"Elizabeth doesn't know how long her brother will be out of commission," he said to her, "but she told me to tell you that Margaret is holding your compendium. She'll be serving you for the time being."
"I see," Hamuko muttered, greatly disappointed. There was something about Margaret that made her feel unapproachable. While kind and mannered, the woman could become cold in a heartbeat. Elizabeth and Theodore…they were more playful all around.
Minato asked her, "What happened last night? He told me you fell asleep but I know that's not true."
"I don't remember."
"Hamuko," he began.
She glared at him. "Look!" She rudely jabbed a finger into his chest. "I'm telling you the truth. I have no idea what happened back there. Igor's cryptic answers don't help either. It's like a blank in my memory. All I know is that Theo was trying to make me remember something, and bam I fell unconscious. The only thing I seem to recall is what he was trying to teach me, nothing afterwards. Are you going to ask me the same question every time we see each other?"
"Sorry," he apologized as he looked away. "I'm just edgy about all this Shadow business. It's been getting worse lately. I was worried. Even now we still don't know anything about the Velvet Room or those who originated there. They have no reason to help us and yet they do."
She wanted to hug him, she really did, but there were frankly too many students walking around.
"I know," she said and gave a tired sigh, "I want to tell you, but I don't even know myself."
"Did Igor say anything?"
"Something along the lines of time travel or an alternate reality. Apparently I already went through all this before, but I have no idea what went down or how different it is compared to now."
"So hypothetically you went back in time to change things, and Theodore tried to help you but failed because it goes against the contract," Minato said as he summed it up. "I still don't like him."
She punched him lightly. "That's fine; I can work with passive aggressive." They both shared a smile.
"She recovered rather quickly," Hamuko muttered to Minato while the others made themselves comfortable.
"That's Kirijo for you," Minato answered back as Ikutsuki congratulated everyone for his or her endeavors. "She's kind of short isn't she…?" He received a nudge for his impolite comment. Fuuka did not seem to have heard them, looking rather interested in what Ikutsuki had to say about the three girls who were preyed upon by the Shadows.
"There have been no signs," Mitsuru informed them. "Other than the typical amnesia and fatigue, all of them are coherent and capable of attending classes. I'll be sure to monitor for any suspicious activity. One can never be too sure."
"What a relief," Fuuka said and gave a sigh.
Yukari let out a grunt of dissatisfaction once Mitsuru commented on Fuuka's abilities. "There she goes again," Yukari said in annoyance, which only seemed to churn when Akihiko sided with Mitsuru's logic. "Figures…"
"Now about those Shadows," Ikutsuki said, "Their appearances seem to coincide with the full moon. If that's true, then the next one should appear on the next full moon."
"So they're kinda like werewolves then, huh?" Junpei said slowly.
"Except you can't kill them with silver bullets," Minato remarked, earning a grin from Junpei. "Guess we'll have to watch the moon phase from now on."
Yukari looked uneasy. "I just wonder how many of them there are," she said.
"It's strange. The end doesn't seem so certain, considering the vast potential within you."
He was sitting there on her desk with his feet kicking up into the air. She on the other hand was beneath her half strewn covers, holding onto her icy Jack Frost Persona. Summer was close at hand, and she found herself struggling with the occasional heat that burned within her body. Jack Frost brought her some relief, chilling her feverish body with its own cool one.
"Hi-ho!" The Persona greeted merrily, waving its hand in the direction of Pharos.
The phantom gave a smile before he hopped off the desk and walked over to grasp the Persona's hand. "It seems you've been practicing," Pharos said as he gently shook the magician's hand.
Hamuko smiled tiredly. "I have to, can't depend on the Evoker all the time. It came to me earlier today, how dependent we all are on it. I wonder if I should create some sort of training regime for the others to use." Junpei had dropped his Evoker more than once during our trips to Tartarus, and it gets rather hectic to be switching between our weapons and Evokers.
Pharos hummed to himself as he took a seat at the foot of her bed, looking none too interested in her talk about the others. "Do you remember the day we've first met?" Pharos asked her.
She blinked at him, puzzled by the change in topic. "Faintly," she replied.
Her thoughts went back to the days in the orphanage. Back then she did not understand the difference between the Dark Hour and reality. Pharos only appeared to her during a selective number of days, pestering her with his questions despite the tragedy that plagued her. Her parents had died just days before and she was far from interested in playing with the other orphans. Hamuko did not remember how it all went down. Amnesia was a common occurrence at the end of each Dark Hour. She had not even remembered speaking with Pharos till the day she awakened Eurydice.
They had been friends for so long and she had not even realized it. It was rather unfair.
"I remember," Hamuko murmured as she thought about the night on the bridge. She remembered lots of fire and a dark billowing figure on the road. There had been gunfire, though she could not recall where it had come from. There was a pain in her head, darkness, and then she woke up later – crying. Pharos had appeared to her that night, smiling at her despite her loud blubbering.
She blinked and her eyes grew wet. "Thank you," she whispered.
Pharos looked dumbfounded. "What for?" he asked.
Hamuko hugged her Jack Frost a bit tighter, smiling slightly at the squeak it emitted. "Back on the bridge, you led me away from the car." He did not do it on purpose but she followed him anyway because she was scared of being left alone. By the next day the police had found her passed out on the bridge, and her parents' death was labeled as a car accident.
Despite his lack of experience with human emotions, she could not imagine a life without him.
He was her little phantom, her imaginary friend.
Fuuka moved in earlier than expected. In fact, her assigned room was still bare of anything except for basic furniture.
"She's really serious about this…" Yukari commented as she shot the teal-haired girl a glance. "You'd think she hated staying home."
Junpei complained, "Does it matter…? We got another Persona-user on the team, a girl at that! If she wants to stay here then let her."
"It still feels like we're pressuring her somehow."
"It's kind of too late for that though," Minato said as he reached over the table to break off a square of sweet rolls. It was one of those rare days where everyone was available for study group. And sure they still had a month left till the next exam but there was no telling what obstacles would come at them in the upcoming days. Their trips to Tartarus had to be considered, and the upcoming full moon was right around the corner. Not to mention that Junpei needed a lot of work in the math department.
Hamuko took a moment to register the amount of snacks left on the table. There were wrappers littered everywhere, along with a few empty cans of soda and soymilk. They had gone through half of their rations during their study time. Akihiko and Shinjiro had their own rations, considerably healthier than what the freshmen had. Whereas Shinjiro would whip up something with vegetables included, Akihiko would munch on a protein bar and drink vitamin water – which Hamuko made a face at.
"You keep going in circles," Shinjiro said as he set the papers down on the counter, looking very much frustrated with himself and the report in front of him.
Akihiko sent him a glare. "Like you're any better," the boxer shot back, "All you're talking about is the school community and not the connection between it and the general community."
Shinjiro brought his cup of coffee to his lips and mumbled, "The prompt is too broad."
The silver-haired boxer gave a sigh and ran his fingers through his hair. "You'd think that three pages would be simple but how are we supposed to write anything that includes class statistics? It's completely biased," he said, vexed. "Mitsuru made this look easy."
There were laughs all around.
"She makes everything look easy," Hamuko commented with a grin, and Shinjiro gave a snort. "Seeing you guys – it makes me glad I'm still a freshman," she said and turned back to Junpei when he let out a whoop.
"Alright, done!" he shouted as he threw his pencil down onto the desk. "Man that felt awesome!"
"You actually finished your math homework?" Yukari looked impressed. "Not bad Junpei."
"Hehehehe…" Junpei cackled. "It's all thanks to Hamuko."
Hamuko grinned as she closed her math book and reached over for her history notes. "Applying math to real life situations. My old teachers recommended me to try it since math books were too stuffy."
"I hear that," Junpei said with a grin. "So what are you up to now?"
"Well let's see…" Hamuko said as she flipped through her book. "Yukari is studying literature and Minato has his face in his integrative textbook. I'll probably follow Minato's example and brush up on the history of traditions." It was no secret that Mr. Edogawa had the longest lectures out of all teachers within the school community. His appearance may be sloppy, but he was damn intelligent and passionate about what he taught. Heck, there were times he would substitute for teachers and still sneak in another lecture or two about the occult and magic.
Junpei made a face, having gone through Mr. Edogawa's lectures himself. "Okay I'm out. Odin Cube is calling my name," he said as he reached out for another can of soda. Once he had made himself comfortable, he pulled out his new COMPstation and proceeded to play his game.
Yukari had to roll her eyes.
"What are you going over Minato? I'll quiz you," Hamuko said as she settled the book onto her lap.
"I'm going over Gilgamesh."
"Okay." She looked through the index before finding the page number. "What can you tell me about the text, not the story itself, but the history of it?"
"Gilgamesh began as an oral story and is older than the Old Testament. It first was sung as a song and the lyrics included a lot of repetition, which is why you can see many sentences repeated over again in the book," Minato explained as he diligently wrote annotations in his copy of the book. "Gilgamesh was constantly edited over the years; hence the popular idiom 'old wine in new bottles' is used."
"What is the main theme of Gilgamesh?"
Minato thought for a moment before he answered, "Fighting to overcome obstacles".
Akihiko commented, "Heh, sounds just like what we've been doing."
Minato looked over at him and said, "That's because it's a common and reoccurring theme. Ever heard of Carl Jung?"
The boxer looked up, confused. "No I haven't."
"He's a psychologist and psychiatrist who developed the concepts of archetypes or inborn behavior patterns. Through observation of various myths and traditions, he took notice of similar themes that appear all over the world," Minato explained before he paused in thought. "For example, what comes into mind when you think of the character Medea?"
"Scorned women," Hamuko answered for Akihiko. At the blank looks she was getting, she quickly explained, "The story of Medea is about how she was cheated on by her husband." She gave smile when a look of understanding crossed all of their faces.
"Man, I can't see how you guys can remember all this," Junpei groaned.
Hamuko laughed and retorted, "We don't memorize it just for the grades, Junpei. The stories are just interesting to read. It gets stuck in our heads like a really awesome videogame or a catchy song. Though, I never expected Minato to be such a myth-freak like I am."
Minato could not help but grin behind his can of Cielo Mist.
"You two should get a degree in teaching mythology or something. I'd bet the classes would be interesting," commented Yukari as she shot them both humored looks.
"I don't know," Hamuko murmured and looked down at her book, fingering the page's edge with her nails. "I'm still on the fence on what I want to study in. While getting a degree in teaching and mythology is nice, it doesn't offer much of a salary."
"Yet you're the daughter of a multibillionaire," Shinjiro replied before he added, "Who owns a shopping network."
She shuffled uneasily at their stares. "You say it like it matters," she retorted. "Just take away the 'adopted' and I would be just any kid off the street."
Shinjiro growled. "I didn't mean it like that," he said. "You could pick any job out there. Just don't pick the ones you hate because you feel like you have something to give back to." Hamuko gave a wince, and he continued, "That was your plan wasn't it? You were going to do something along the lines of providing for the company should you inherit it. Something Mitsuru would do."
"I wasn't just thinking about that," Hamuko said stiffly. "I thought of a lot of things, like becoming a model, owning a small business, or becoming a traveling saleswoman. I just can't wrap my head around what at the moment."
"Well we still got three years to think about it," Yukari advised. "How about you guys? What are your plans after college?"
"I'm on the fence," said Minato.
Junpei lazily raised his hand. "Same here."
Akihiko spoke, "I'll continue what I've been doing."
"I'll work to become a chef and open a business," Shinjiro answered.
"Does that mean we'll get to see you in a frilly apron?"
"What was that Iori?"
"Huh…" Yukari hummed. "I don't know what Fuuka will be doing and we all know that Mitsuru-sempai will inherit the Kirijo Company. I think I'll probably go into nursing, but it looks like a lot of us are still undecided."
"We'll just have to wait and see what happens," said Hamuko.
"Interesting, I never thought of implementing this as a part of training. Très bien," Mitsuru commented before she gave a wince. "Though I could do without the headache."
"Oui," Akihiko remarked dryly as his gloved fingers reached up to massage his temples. "At least it isn't as bad as those girls who bother me at school."
They were at Tartarus again but with a different goal in mind. Hamuko had made good of her word and spoke to Minato earlier about training everyone to depend less on his or her Evokers. Now here they were at the entrance of Tartarus, trying their best to keep their Persona out for as long as they can. Shinjiro was the only one who flat out refused to do the training. He did not go into details why, and Hamuko had to let the matter drop.
"Remember to take breaks," Hamuko reminded them. "Don't try to hold your Persona out for as long as you can, you'll only end up with a massive headache that'll last tomorrow."
"Noted," Akihiko said before he turned to observe Polydeuces. "It feels…weird, you know? Usually we summon them a few seconds at a time in battle. But here…"
Hamuko laughed and said, "I know. They act human and that's because they're a part of us."
"Yeah but it's so unreal," Junpei replied in awe, and he reached up to make contact with his Persona. Hermes bent down to accommodate the height different between him and Junpei, the beak portion of Hermes' head bumped into his handler's palm. "He's huge!"
"No kidding," Yukari agreed before she took a look at her own Persona. Io's seat was large enough to hold two people, but Yukari could not find the courage in her to try riding the thing.
"This is incredible," Fuuka gasped as she circled Lucia's form, a little weary as her Persona's head turned to follow her form. "This would be the first time I've been able to see Lucia face to face. I hadn't realized she was this beautiful."
"Huh…?" Yukari turned to Fuuka in surprise. "What do you mean by that? I thought you would be able to see how your Persona looked like through her ability."
The teal-haired girl flushed and murmured lowly, "I – I can't actually."
Mitsuru walked up after dismissing Penthesilea. "Yamagishi's Persona is unable to support video feed, similar to Penthesilea's inability to support audio."
"Lucia sounds familiar," Minato said from on top of his Persona. Unicorn gave a snort, nickering in Junpei's direction as the cap-wearing freshman taunted it. "Careful Junpei, this Unicorn has a horn."
Junpei gave Minato a challenging grin. "Try it, Hermes and I will kick your – ow!" He fell to the floor face first as Hamuko's Bicorn rammed its curved horns into his rear end. Hermes had maneuvered himself aside, giving Junpei a single glance before falling stationary.
"Sorry!" Hamuko apologized despite the smile that was tugging on her lips. She looked towards Minato. "But yea, Lucia does sound familiar. I don't think she's a mythological figure though."
"Sounds historical," Minato suggested. "So Fuuka has a blind Persona, who is able to communicate with the party telepathically and at a farther range. It is as if Lucia is based off of a prophet of some sort."
"Which would explain her abilities," Mitsuru said with a nod.
Hamuko frowned as she felt herself teetering to the side. She never rode bareback before, and Bicorn's unruly nature made it rather difficult for her to stay on without a saddle. Disgruntled by Bicorn's interruptions, she squeezed its side with her thighs. In response, Bicorn neighed loudly and proceeded to move around in circles in an attempt to reach out and gnaw at Hamuko's shoes. Hamuko held onto the white mane tightly, startled by the movement. The last thing she wanted was to be bucked off the large horse – especially at this height.
Shinjiro gave a sigh before he stood up from his seat on the steps.
"Stop messing around," he said as he walked up to the Bicorn and placed a hand on the horse's nose, lightly scratching it before he removed his hand just as Bicorn attempted to nibble on his fingers. He went to the plump horse's side and reached up. "C'mon, jump down."
Hamuko looked down at him warily. It was a long drop down, seeing as Bicorn's back was at the same height as Shinjiro's head. After much cajoling, Hamuko carefully maneuvered her legs to one side of the horse before reaching down for Shinjiro's shoulders and sliding off the ebony Persona's back. She had never been aware how strong he was until now. He caught her before she hit the ground and left her suspended in the air for a moment before he set her down. She did not get a moment to settle herself before the Bicorn whipped around and nudged her out of the way.
Hamuko laughed as Shinjiro grudgingly scratched the horse's muzzle. "You must be good with horses," she commented with a smile before she took a look at her Persona, "or maybe it's just this one."
The red-eyed mare snickered.
She must have looked strange with her face pressed up against the glass of the antique store.
The ruby-eyed girl gave a yelp and whipped to find an amused Elizabeth behind her. "E-E-Elizabeth you scared me!"
"Forgive me, I did not mean to frighten you," apologized the pale skinned attendant, but she looked anything but sorry. "Regarding your actions, I would assume you're not here to speak to my dear sister." She gave the store a glance before she turned her attention back to Hamuko before her. "You were hoping to find Theo today."
Hamuko's cheeks burned pink and she fiddled with her hairpins. "I… I just wanted to make sure he was okay you know? I haven't heard from him in a while, and I was too scared to ask Igor when Theo will be back," she said.
Elizabeth chuckled mirthfully. "Do not worry; he is brought to no harm. His punishment is more childish than painful."
"Oh…?" Hamuko probed for answers. "What is it actually? Igor never mentioned anything."
The attendant mused for a moment before she answered, "He is in solitary confinement." At the confused look on Hamuko's face, Elizabeth explained, "Sometimes the worst punishment is being alone with one's own thoughts. Theo will undergo contemplation – such is my master's wish."
Even though she was reassured that Theodore would be safe, Hamuko could not help but feel ashamed.
"It's not your fault," Elizabeth professed. "Even without your initial desire to find the truth, my brother would no doubt attempt something similar. He is desperate," she said gloomily.
"Why?" Hamuko blurted out her confusion. "What makes me so important that he would warrant punishment?"
Elizabeth gave a dreary sigh and said, "Forgive me Hamuko-sama, but I cannot say anything more. You will have to figure this out on your own."
"Let me guess, the contract," Hamuko muttered irritably, to which Elizabeth nodded.
"There are lines that we cannot cross," the attendant responded, "and there are those that lay beneath our feet. If we aren't too careful, everything you had done will all be for naught."
Hamuko uttered, "If only I can remember what it is I did."
"I'm sure you'll figure it out," Elizabeth said with a bright smile, doing her best to make light of the situation. "Is there anything else I can help you with while you're here?"
Hamuko opened her mouth to say no but abruptly closed it when something came into mind. "Actually, I was wondering if you could get me my Demonic Compendium."
Elizabeth frowned and remarked, "You will have to see my sister Margaret for that."
The red-eyed girl shook her head. "No," she voiced, "not the one that Margaret has. I want to see my compendium, the previous one. And don't you tell me it no longer exists. If I know Theo, he would be the one keeping it safe."
The cat-eyed woman looked pensive before she requested, "Wait here, I'll only be a moment."
Hamuko nodded before Elizabeth quickly strode in the direction of the Velvet Room. Five minutes passed by and Hamuko wondered if the woman had gotten into any trouble. Just as Hamuko was about to give up and drop her request, the Velvet Room denizen came back quickly with a large tome in hand.
"Did something happen?" Hamuko asked as Elizabeth handed her the tome. "You took a while."
"I apologize," said Elizabeth, "I had to be sure my master was not within the room. As far as anyone knows, Theo is the only one who maintains your compendium. He would be quick to understand should anyone ask him. It is what he would have wanted."
Hamuko held the tome to her chest hesitantly. "Will this get you two in even more trouble?" she asked, ready to hand the book back should the woman say yes.
Elizabeth's eyes glinted mischievously. "No, but we're no strangers to reprimands. Do not fret Hamuko-sama. Everything will be fine."
To others it may have looked like they were studying.
"Here's what we have generally," said Minato as he held up a notepad. "Shadows and Personas are connected to human minds. Shadows feed on them while Personas are made from them. This means they're related to one another. It's possible that they may have come from the same point of origin, Tartarus and the Dark Hour."
"Tartarus came first, then the Dark Hour," Hamuko piped up. "The Dark Hour is just a stage in time. We cannot manipulate it. Tartarus on the other hand is a physical place, an entity that we can touch."
"Right." Minato nodded in agreement before he flipped a page. "From our experience, we can conclude that Tartarus houses remnants of human influences and memories – molded by Shadows who have consumed human minds. They're like ants."
"But where do Personas come in?" Hamuko questioned. "They don't feed on our minds but are in fact a part of us. They wouldn't have come from Tartarus."
Minato remained silent for a moment before he looked up and asked, "You don't think they're actually Shadows right? I don't mean just any Shadow, but tamed ones. It would explain what you saw at Tartarus. What if Personas are able to remember everything we do?"
Hamuko sighed and leaned back into the comfort of the couch. "That sounds plausible," she said. "It would explain how my memories got there in the first place."
Minato scribbled down their conversation and uttered, "So we're going with Personas are tamed Shadows. …Wait, that would mean Shadows are a part of us." He blinked in confusion before grimacing. "I think I just gave myself a headache."
"Let's just put those off to the side," Hamuko said. "Personas equal Shadows, Persona and Shadows equal the human psyche."
"From the looks of it, Tartarus is starting to resemble a consensus of human minds," Minato muttered dryly before he proceeded to twirl his pencil across his fingers. "Let's move on to what you saw at Tartarus."
"It's not much," Hamuko stated. "Most of the landmarks are just places I've been to as a kid, before my parents died. The only thing that strikes me as odd was the one where the Reaper chased me. I entered the second tower and was dolled up for a festival of sort. It was rather chilly, like autumn, and I saw Shinjiro-sempai first. He was really sick and was even wearing the coat I never gave back to him. I then went up to the shrine to see if I could find anyone else, and everyone was in kimono except for the guys. Fuuka was there too, along with this blond-haired girl who I don't know. I asked Junpei and Kenji about you too and they act as if you didn't exist."
"Maybe I didn't exist," he said as he looked up at her, "before I mean."
Hamuko was not sure what to make of that, and she solemnly stared down at the notes laid out across her lap. "I did something important back then, with S.E.E.S, something bad must have happened if I ended up doing this all over again."
"Did your compendium tell you anything?" he asked and they both shot the large tome a look.
Hamuko went silent for a moment before she slowly placed her things onto the table. She reached over to pick up the tome and settled herself back onto the couch, opening it up to a random page.
Thanatos stared back up at her.
"Back then, I could use him," she thought, "but now I can't. It's as if he has a mind of his own."
Minato must be in the same predicament because she had never seen him call out Thanatos once.
She flipped through the pages and muttered, "It's strange. So many Personas yet all of them are more powerful than the ones I control. Does this mean things will get difficult from now on?"
"Can you use any of them?" he asked.
Hamuko shook her head. "I don't know," she replied. "Their cost is high and the lower end ones just have mismatch skills. It's as if they were used for inherits and nothing more. I would like to use this compendium but..."
"It may go against the contract," Minato said with a nod. "This compendium is connected to the Velvet Room, so the information the Personas hold may be off limits to you. The only thing we can count on now is Tartarus. There is no jurisdiction there."
She shut the book with a frown. This was going to be harder than she thought.
Hamuko realized she could never go a day without something bad happening.
The information was disconcerting.
Margaret had called to deliver the bad news. The Shadows were getting bolder, stronger, and the number of potential victims began to rise. Humans were finding it difficult to ignore the Shadows' calls now. Already there was a victim, trapped within the confines of Tartarus, unresponsive and unable to get out. Hamuko's first reaction was to inform Mitsuru, only to realize that the student council president would become suspicious about the information.
Minato received the same call from Elizabeth, and they both agreed a trip to Tartarus was in order. There was no planning, no real reason for them to be on the lower floors, but they lied to the others that it would be good practice.
Mitsuru had been more than alarmed when they had stumbled upon a man's unconscious body in one of the rooms. Fortunately he was still alive, but it was a moment of clarity in which everyone began to realize that they had no power over the Shadows' call. Persona-users would be safe but not ordinary humans.
Hamuko held her worn compendium for the third time today, and she wondered if it would be worth it.
Hamuko blinked in confusion before she excused herself from Rio and Yuko's conversation and proceeded to check her phone. Surprisingly enough it was from Akihiko, and she proceeded to shield the screen from Yuko's ever curious gaze.
"Hey, are you free?" he asked.
"Sempai? How did you get my number?"
"I asked Takeba, hope you don't mind. Mitsuru doesn't have the time to be looking for you all when things come up, figured this would be easier since you all hang out together. Arisato is not answering his phone and neither is Iori."
"They're probably passed out on their desks right now. Why, is there something you need?" she typed back.
"The chairman is planning to visit us all tomorrow. He said he had vital information concerning the large Shadows we have been dealing with."
She frowned. "Information…? Where is he getting this exactly? He hasn't done any field operations like we had. How does he know more than we do?"
There seemed to be a minute pause before Akihiko replied, "I'm wondering too. If anything it should be Mitsuru telling us. Shinji's suspicious about all this and I don't know what to think. But as long as it helps us end the Dark Hour for good – it shouldn't matter right?
She wanted to think that. She really did.
"I hope so," she replied. "I'll talk to you later sempai."
Hamuko flipped her phone shut just in time for Yuko to nudge her gently.
"Hey, guess who's looking for you?" the kendo manager teased.
At the sound of squealing girls, Hamuko did not even have to look to know that Ryoji was standing at her homeroom door. He did not seem interested in the girls who were trying to strike a conversation with him, and proceeded to look over their heads to locate Hamuko. When he caught sight of her, he let out a bright smile before politely shoving his way into the classroom so that he may approach her.
"Hamuko-chan!" he greeted her as he readjusted his scarf so he could be heard clearly. "Are you free today?"
"This is starting to sound familiar," she thought humorously, remembering all the times she was stopped within the halls for a chat.
"I am now, did you need something?" she asked.
Ryoji looked as if he had won the jackpot. "Yeah, actually, I was wondering if you'd like to go on a date with me later today," he said with a smile, pink dusted his cheeks.
"She would love to!" Yuko yelled before Hamuko could even agree. "In fact she's ready right now!"
Rio sighed and muttered, "She hasn't even agreed yet, don't decide for her."
"Great! Let's go." Ryoji cheered as he headed towards the exit, and Rio promptly face palmed.
Hamuko could not help but laugh before she got up and packed up her books. "It's fine Rio, I don't have anything to do right now."
"If you say so…" Rio trailed off before wishing her luck. "Don't do anything I wouldn't."
"Obviously you don't know me well," Hamuko said with a playful wink before she laughed her way out the door, Rio sighing all the while.
"It feels nice doesn't it?" Ryoji commented as he stretched his back. "No rumors, no glares, just the two of us having a fun time."
Hamuko could not help but smile, and she looked away from the view before her. "Is that the only reason you invited me out? Just to get away from the girls?" she joked.
He gave a dramatic gasp. "Never! I always make time for you of course," he said before grinning, "but in all seriousness, I do make time for you. You're not like the other girls." He blinked thoughtfully. "In fact," he murmured, "I'd say you're…refreshing. I-In a good way of course!" He backpedaled upon her stare.
She dropped her look with a laugh. "Calm down Ryoji," she said. "You didn't offend me or anything. It's just I don't get those kind of compliments everyday."
"Well you should," he blurted before turning red. "I-I mean, well, you don't get enough is what I'm trying to say."
"I get the point," Hamuko said with a chuckle. "So tell me, where do you plan on taking me for our first 'date'?" She quoted with her fingers.
He scratched his cheek and bashfully looked away. "I was actually wondering if you'd like to visit the Sweet Shop. I…I hope I'm not over generalizing anything. The other girls didn't like it when I brought them there, and I thought you'd be different. You seem like the type to like sweets."
"I do!" Hamuko chirped as she clapped her hands together happily. "I never got to check it out since I moved here. I wonder if they have my favorite mousse shortcake there."
Ryoji brightened up. "They should, they have literally everything there," he said as the monorail began to slow to a stop. At the sign of this, he reached over and took a hold of her hand. "So we don't get separated," he explained with a grin as passengers proceeded to pack near the doors.
Hamuko felt her face warm up and she beamed as he pulled her passed the doors, and they both dashed down the stairs and onto the sidewalk like giggling children. It felt overall perfect. Something about it all, hanging out with Ryoji and just going places in general seemed much more fun than usual. She never felt this way with the others. Not with Minato, Junpei, or even Yukari. Something about Ryoji just clicked.
It was as if they were one and the same.
They rushed into the shop laughing, taking a moment to lean against the walls to catch their breaths. They were expelling exhaustion but that could not stop the joy from skittering from their chests. The owner of the store shot them both strange looks but said nothing as the two of them proceeded to explore the store filled with stickers, dolls, bags, souvenirs, pastries, desserts, and candies of all kinds.
The whole shop was lit in color and Hamuko proceeded to pull Ryoji along with her through the store. He followed willingly and helped her pick out a few treats to try.
Manju, mochi, umai-do, imogashi, crepes, chi chi dango, moist airy shortcakes, some downed with a side of ocha or oolang tea. They were sure to try most of them, taking only small bites to keep their stomachs empty and their teeth in their mouths.
Satisfied with their purchases, Ryoji pulled her by the hand towards the seats near the store windows. It was a small section of the store that allowed customers to sit down and enjoy their treats without having to go outside. Once settled, they ruffled through their frilly pink paper bags to see what was left from their excursions.
Hamuko pulled out her half-finished mousse cake and a small fork before letting out a squeal when Ryoji stole the dessert from her. "Ryoji! That's mine!" She laughed as she reached over his lap to grab the cake he had just out of reach. He only smiled before stretching his arm out further when she resorted to leaning out her chair, her fingers brushing against the frosting – which she smeared over his face a second later.
He got her back by smearing some of it on her own face, and she batted his hands away with squeals of surprise.
"Karma," he said simply, his blue eyes shinning.
She grinned before grabbing his bag. "Ha!" she said haughtily as she dodged his hand and hugged both bags to her chest. "All your desserts belong to me."
"I guess you're right," he said before he placed the cake down on the table and slid it over to her. "I don't mind if you keep them actually. I'm just happy that I was able to have you to myself for today. We never get the chance to hang out together, just the two of us."
"Careful Ryoji, it's starting to sound like a confession," she teased as she proceeded to clean off the chocolate from her face. Ryoji did the same.
He sat back. "What if it is?" he asked hopefully as he dropped the napkin. "I know we weren't friends for long but it feels as if I knew you since forever. Would you… Would you consider it despite all dates I've been with? I know that fact doesn't win me any points, but I'd like to know you a bit more if that's okay with you."
Hamuko recoiled, speechless. She had only been joking about the confession earlier, but Ryoji was seriously considering it? He wanted to date her? The same girl who transferred to Gekkoukan and was rumored to be the biggest whore on the island?
She wanted to say no. To avoid the situation altogether and run out the door, but she could not do it. Not when Ryoji looked back at her with those adoring eyes and buoyant expression. This was a little too fast for her, especially when dating was the last thing on her mind. She felt ashamed. She had not really believed it when he asked her out. She thought this would just be a friendly outing, nothing serious.
She was such an idiot.
The door to the sweet shop chimed as someone stepped in, and out of instinct she turned.
Her eyes met Minato's and her whole body went cold.
Setton: Minato always has the worst timing.
A little side note, during the Tartarus training, Minato and Hamuko were riding Unicorn and Bicorn respectively. Unicorn is represented as a white horse with a single horn, symbolizing purity and rebirth. In some text, the Unicorn was born from a Bicorn, and it used to have two horns. The Megami Tensei Wikia says that one horn represented the purity of man while two horns represents the seduction brought by the arrival of women. Similarly, text written by men, spoke of the sins of women (Ex. Lilith, her children, and Eve), which could relate to what the Bicorn stands for (adultery, mainly by women). The Bicorn takes on different forms, like a panther with a human face. In the Shin Megami Tensei series it takes the form of a two-horned horse (possibly to create a relation to the Unicorn). Bicorns are said to devour "kind-hearted and devoted husbands, and is thus plump and well fed". …Yes I am talking to you Shinjiro.
Ryoji's proposal is also based on a real life situation that I had experienced, twice. Can be scary when guys just drop it all on you without warning. A little hint here and there would be nice.
There will be more Tartarus scenes involving her past self since she will actively be searching for them from now on.
Do not worry, Akihiko will have his spotlight soon enough.