Key:

#... Archangel

$... Nestis

%.. Sylph

^... Orobas

&... Nata Taishi

*... Omoikane

+... Lillim

=... Valkyrie

\... Forneus

Chapter 39: Stronger

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

After yet another restless night of tossing and turning, I wake, staring once more at a gray ceiling. Outside, I can hear the sound of rain coming down. I open the curtain to see what looks like a light drizzle coming down. I'm surprised to see that my personae have allowed me to sleep in a full half hour today. I'm also surprised to find that my body feels a little sore. This is the first time in quite a while that I've had this feeling.

%'Oh, he's finally feeling it. Good, everything is going according to plan!' Sylph announces, seemingly ignoring me and talking to the other personae.

'I'm surprised that it took this long. Perhaps he possesses some value that we were not aware of?'

\'Bah! It just means that this fool never bothered to force himself forward till now.'

Growing tired of having this conversation go on without me, I finally interject.

'Um, do you guys mind telling me what you are talking about?'

'Oh, you were awake, summoner? Do not worry about it for now. Let us commence your training routine!'

Man, not even the voices in my head listen to me. I wonder if that makes me more sane or completely insane? In any case, I take Orobas' advice and lace up my sneakers. Feeling my foot touch something cold, I lift up my feet to stare at the sole of my foot, which was sticking through a small hole in the right shoe.

'Wow, that's the first time that's ever happened.' I say to nobody in particular. I had purchased this pair of shoes when I began high school. It had never occurred to me that they would wear down so quickly once I arrived in Tokyo.

*'Don't worry, disciple. Those vestments have a few days left in them. For now, you should be more concerned with your training.'

'Huh? Training? How can I run without shoes? You want me to run barefoot?'

'On the battlefield, you will never find a perfect situation. When that happens, will you simply complain? Or adapt to gain the upper hand needed?'

'But I'm not on a battlefield! Can't I at least just go to a shoe store and buy a new pair of shoes?'

+'Like, with what money? Aren't you totally broke?'

I pause for a second before lowering my head. I keep forgetting that they know everything I know. However, I rarely ever seem to know everything that they know. Isn't this type of relationship unfair or something?

&'Well, none o' that matters, boy! Why you ask? Well, I'll tell ya as you run! So let's go!' Nata Taishi laughs that laugh of his, and after letting out one more sigh, I start jogging.

()()()()()()()()()()

After jogging for a few blocks, I'm surprised to feel almost no pain from my right shoe, even though it has a hole in it. Also, some of the muscle soreness is finally fading, which means I won't be able to use that as an excuse to get out of training. Running by the riverbank, I see an old man setting down a stool, box, and fishing rod. Looks like I'm not the only one awake at this early hour. He notices me running by and waves, flashing a toothless but happy grin. I wave back before continuing my jog.

&'Alright, listen up!' Nata Taishi says all of a sudden, almost causing me to trip. As I catch my stride once more, I'm surprised to see him materialize alongside me, zipping along on the two balls underneath his feet.

&'You must be confused about the way this training has been going. Well, let me explain it for you. When you first arrived in this city, you were so overweight and out of shape that being able to run the length of your house would have been impossible. It was only thanks to our power that you were able to survive your initial fight with the shadows. So the first thing we had to do was to get you into shape. That was what all the running was for; to strengthen your body so that you could fight properly.' He pauses, then does a flip, before continuing.

&'Now that your body has been improved to the point that you can sprint a full kilometer without pause, it means that your legs are strong enough. And that's where I come in! From here on in, until we say our goodbyes, I'll be working with you to improve your upper body strength. By the time we're done, you're going to be able to do just about anything! Just leave it all to me!' he says, hitting his chest with his fist. However, I'm surprised by what he just said.

'Have I really gotten stronger?'

&'You haven't noticed? How could you not?'

*'Disciple, you need to be more aware of yourself! You are growing and changing everyday! You have to develop more self-confidence, or all our work will be for naught!'

Self-confidence, huh? Just as I'm about to respond, a memory replays itself in my mind, from a time, long, long ago.

"Jeez, Souji, why did you allow that to happen? You let her walk all over you!"

"I-It doesn't matter to you! Why c-can't you just leave me alone?"

"Why should I? Are you a little baby? Stop running away from your problems!"

"T-That's what was going to happen. W-Why should I e-embarrass myself even more?"

"You're wrong. That was only one possibility! You just told yourself that was the best you could hope for!" The girl says, turning her back, and walking away. She pauses, then turns back.

"You need to have more self-confidence. Otherwise, even I'll get tired of having to defend you."

%'You should really focus on where you're going. It's not a good idea to space out when running.'

Sylph's words drag me back to the present, and I jump to the side just in time to avoid crashing into a pile of garbage left on the road.

%'Not bad! Last time you weren't paying attention, you ended up crashing into a telephone pole! You've gotten better!'

That makes two memories now that I'd like to forget. I shake my head, then look to my right, where Nata Taishi is watching me with something like amusement in his eyes.

&'Well, in any case, from here on, I'll be varying up your training schedule so that you can get stronger. First, we're going to give you a set of washboard abs!'

'W-Washboard abs? W-what are those?' Nata Taishi looks at me in mock horror.

&'Oh boy, we've got a lot of work ahead of us. For now, STOP!'

I jerk back, stumbling a little. Nata Taishi nods, then yells again.

&'Drop into a saddleback stance. Now, punch with your right hand ten times, followed by your left! No pausing for breaks!'

I drop into the Aikido stance, then repeat what Daisuke taught me, and throw out my right arm.

#'You call that a fist, a punch? You should be disgusted! Show me more power, churl!'

Argh! I scream, and punch again.

&'Much better. You may just be able to improve, after all.'

()()()()()()()()()()

For the next half hour, I'm forced to sprint, pause, shadow box, sprint, stop, drop and do pushups, only to get back up and run. All the while, Nata Taishi is yelling to throw a punch, or jump back, or side-step. If the training before was brutal, then there are no words to describe how much I want to throttle him right now. By the time I make it back to the house, my arms feel like dead weight. And unlike before, the pain doesn't seem to be wearing off. I can barely lift my hands to open the door. This is getting ridiculous.

'Isn't this a little much? I can barely move!'

/'Oh? The chick has the audacity to speak back to his betters? Hah! Who knew that you had some backbone in you?!'

'Answer me!'

My demand seems to surprise them, as the personae fall silent. Finally, Valkyrie speaks up.

'A little much? The reason you are complaining is that your body is sore. But because of our training, isn't it possible that in the future instead of losing an arm or a leg to an enemy, you will be able to respond just a slight bit quicker, and only suffer a scratch instead?'

An arm or a leg? What are the chances of that... oh, right. In my fight with the Burner, he managed to attack me first with that sickle thing of his. If he had a more powerful persona, could he have split my hand in half? I stare down at it, and decide to drop my challenge.

%'As for your muscle pain, we were willing to shoulder some of the burden at the beginning in order to make it easier for you to train. But now, you have to learn to take both the rewards with the requirements. After all, you haven't forgotten your contract, have you? "I will faithfully accept all the consequences of my actions."'

That's a little cheap, to hold the contract against me. Also, isn't there technically a problem with that?

'But it was you personae that made me train myself like this!'

'Oh, details, details. Like, let's look forward to another wonderful day!'

()()()()()()()()()()

As I step into the living room after a long, hot shower that thankfully washed some of the pain away, I'm surprised to find Uncle sitting on the couch, watching TV. Nanako is nowhere to be seen. Uncle, however, seems distracted, constantly flipping through the channels, before finally stopping on the news. He looks up when he hears me.

"Oh, it's been a while. How have you been?" He asks as I walk to the fridge to grab the milk.

"D-Doing well, Uncle. H-How about you?"

"Mm," he says, looking down at the carpet, obviously deep in thought. "To be honest, I was really looking forward to this trip with you and Nanako," he begins, but suddenly the world pauses, and my eyes flash. The color emanating from Uncle is...orange. What does this mean? Remembering back, Izanagi told me that I need to learn what the colors mean on my own. Maybe it's time for me to figure it out. Otherwise, I may never understand everything about myself. Uncle continues, oblivious to my thoughts. "But the department is requiring all officers to work extra shifts, and I just couldn't take any time off. I promise that I'll make it up to the both of you as soon as this crisis ends. Deal?"

I nod my head. "Deal. I'm s-sure Nanako will be e-excited!"

*'He's lying, disciple. He has no intention of fulfilling that deal. Not as he is now.'

Omoikane's voice rings loud and clear. The other personae are quiet, simply observing.

'How do you know?'

*'I simply do. In time, if you pursue the meaning behind your power, you too will understand. For now, simply let it go.'

"Is something wrong?" Uncle asks, apparently having caught the change in my facial expression.

"N-No. I was just t-thinking that I wouldn't have to make any b-boxed lunches t-tomorrow."

"Well, I'm sure that we'll get another chance to do so in the future," Uncle says, before turning back to the news. The reporter has just finished a story about economic growth in Japan and is shuffling his papers before looking back at the camera.

"And now for some local news. A development company based in Osaka has made a bid on the grounds of a temple in the Saitama ward. The temple has fallen into disrepair in recent years as worshipers at the temple have decreased. The land that the temple sits on is increasing in value thanks to the construction of a new multi-purpose mall in the vicinity that will include shops, restaurants, a movie theater, as well as other amenities. A group of citizens have banded together to try and block the purchase and subsequent demolition of the temple, noting that the temple is home to numerous species of birds and other wildlife that would have no habitat should the temple be demolished. The group also cites the temple's long history, including a visit by Hayashi Akira, a noted philosopher during the Edo period, who expounded on Confucian principles while staying at the temple.

"Local congressmen, while sympathetic to the plight of the citizens, have suggested that they would like to see the purchase go forward because of the jobs that would be brought to the area, as the developers have promised to construct a hotel as well as a boutique spa and resort. As part of the purchase, the city will be holding a series of hearings to hear input from concerned citizens, which will conclude in the fall. If you are interested in weighing in on this discussion, visit our website to join our online conversation. "

"I remember that temple," Uncle says, pointing at the TV. "We used to visit there a few years ago. I remember it being very beautiful and extremely serene. Course, even back then, it was already a little dilapidated. Pity to see it be bought out," He says, standing up. Once again, my eyes flash. This is the second time in just a few minutes! This time, his color is a light blue that seems to waver. "Well, I better be off. I've got a lead on a case I've been working on, so hopefully something might crack soon. See you later, Souji." With that, Uncle grabs his keys off the table and heads out the main door.

I stretch, then collapse into the sofa. This is the first time that I've actually had some free time, as I'm usually running around to help one person or another. So, what should I do?

\'In the very likely case that you've forgotten, you have tests coming up in short order. Shouldn't you be focused on passing them? Unless you are satisfied with being merely informed?'

'There are tons of people who are satisfied with being just informed!' I retort, though Forneus is correct. I should probably at least catch up with all of the reading that I've been putting off. At the very least, I can do a few hours of studying before I have to do anything else. I grab my books and start to read.

()()()()()()()()()()

I'm disturbed a few hours later when I receive a text. Opening up my phone, I'm surprised to see that it is from Hina, my granddad's secretary.

"The money has been deposited in your account. Make sure you use some of it for a little fun, okay?"

Hina always did enjoy teasing me, though it definitely made my life in the family compound a lot more tolerable. So, the money is in the account. I can't wait to explain to the patriarch how I actually ended up spending it. Having lost any interest in continuing to read about people in caves, I get up and grab my coat.

'I'm going to head to the bank and get the funds, then swing over to Yosuke. He'll be thrilled that we can finally get that TV.'

After texting Yosuke to let him know that I would be coming to Junes shortly, I grab a bus to head to the nearest bank. I take a seat next to a rather severe looking man with glasses. He looks at me, seems to scoff, and then takes out his paper and starts to read. Trying to avoid making eye contact with him, I glance at the articles on the front page of the paper. One of them pops out at me:

"Body found in Tokyo Harbor is identified as journalist who disappeared three months ago. Strong signs of torture."

The story goes on to talk about how the police had waited for a full two weeks after the man was reported missing by his kouhai before they declared him a missing person. Further, based on sources who had seen the body, there was extensive scarring and two of his fingers, several toes, and one eye were missing. Although the sources stated that it might have been because of decomposition or fish eating the body, they admitted that the high likelihood was that the man had been tortured before being killed.

'That's horrible.'

'Hmph. I have said this before, child, but if you step into places that you do not belong, you will face some heavy consequences. This man did not know his place, and thus he has been judged.'

'A regular ray o sunshine, aren't ya, ya sow," Cu Sith stated, his voice dripping with sarcasm, 'better to struggle and be punished, then live ya life as a nobody.'

'Who are you to accuse me, dog? And what has that man accomplished? He leaves behind loved ones, and for what? For truth? Don't make me laugh. The truth is nothing more than a convenient lie.'

'The truth is eternal. All that changes is the way it is given to those who seek it. More importantly, boy, you should be careful. I feel an ill wind is blowing.'

'Really? I don't feel anything right now.'

\'There are days I truly fear for the future of this country when idiots are so plentiful.'

'W-What does that mean?' But the personae give me no answer.

I get off, still clueless as to what Omoikane was talking about, and head for the bank branch. As I'm approaching the ATM, I'm surprised to find Kotone standing in line, apparently waiting. She spots me as I approach, and waves.

"Hey Souji-kun! What are you doing here now? Ah, I know, you don't have to tell me. You're getting money to go on a date, aren't you?" She asks, a mischievous smile on her face.

"W-What? A d-date? No, that's n-not it!" I stutter, surprised by the question.

"Heh, really? I would have thought you would have girls throwing themselves at you! After all, you've really changed even in the time that I've known you." She responds, swiveling her head to see if the line had moved.

"I-I've changed? H-How?" I ask, genuinely confused. She looks at me for a second, as if thinking, then sighs.

"What's the best way to say this: You've gotten stronger. A lot stronger. When I met you for the first time, your body was all over the place, like you didn't know what to do with yourself. Now, you carry yourself completely differently. Like the way you walk, or something. Girls like that in a man, you know." She says, chuckling.

"T-Thanks. I hadn't n-noticed that at a-all." I'm surprised. I know that I've lost weight, but it didn't really feel like I had changed all that much.

"You really should learn to pay attention, then! What's the point of working out and developing a body like Adonis if you don't even notice it? It's a waste, that's what it is."

"W-Who's Adonis?"

Kotone stops and looks at me, with a rather inscrutable look on her face. "And this is why you'll never be popular, Souji-kun. You have to recognize when a girl is giving you a compliment and run with it."

='Truly, the master will forever be alone if he cannot understand the hearts of women.'

'You too, huh, Valkyrie?'

"So, what are you doing here, anyway?" Kotone asks, as the woman in front of her walks into the cubicle with the ATM.

"J-Just withdrawing s-some money. I n-need to go to J-Junes later."

"Oh yeah, are you buying something? I don't like shopping at Junes too much. It's really stuffy. Have you ever been to Croc's Fur? That's a really nice shop to go to. They've got some really great shoes," Kotone says, her eyes shining.

"I-Is that where you're going now? S-Shopping?" I ask.

"Nope. Osamu is going to be competing in a tournament in a month's time, and today's the filing deadline for the competition. I'm going on his behalf to sign him up. The fee's really expensive, you know? Twenty thousand, just for a mid-level tournament. Course, if you win, you get a hundred thousand back, so I guess it's kinda worth it, but I've never been good at math," Kotone says, scratching her head.

A hundred thousand? Man, if I could earn that kind of money, I would never need to ask grandpa for more. Though I suppose a tournament is probably out of my reach, huh? Not exactly a great fighter.

"You know, you should consider doing it as well, Souji. I think you'd be great at it! I mean, you've gotten really strong just in the short time you've been in the Aikido club," Kotone says, swinging back to face me.

"M-Me?" I can feel the blood rushing to my face. I must look really stupid!

"Why are you blushing? It's the truth. Even my brother says so, and he rarely gives compliments," she says, laughing.

"H-How about you, Kotone? W-Why don't you c-compete?" I've got to get this conversation in another direction!

"Huh? Me? Oh, I'm not strong enough. I'd lose in the first round." As Kotone says these words, the world pauses once again. She's now glowing light blue, just like Uncle was before. "Also, my grandpa is really against it, you now? He's really into tradition, and says that women shouldn't fight. It's a little annoying, but I've grown used to it," she ends, sadly.

'Like, you should say something here. She might, like, totally fall for you!'

What? What on earth am I supposed to say here? It's not like I've got any smart ideas. Not to mention I'm pretty much in the same situation. There's just a strong leash on me as there probably is on her.

"G-Good luck?" Well, I guess it's better than nothing.

"Really? That's the best you can do to cheer someone up?" Kotone asks, looking slightly downcast before smiling again, "You need more understanding, Souji-kun! Anyway, I need to get going. I need to head over to the dome where the competition is going to take place. Good luck yourself!" Kotone walks into the ATM booth, withdraws her money, and after a quick wave, takes off jogging. After watching her leave, I sigh, and then walk up to the ATM.

%'You really should consider what she said, you know.'

'Huh?'

%'Oh come on, don't tell me you forgot what the Old Man said: the Bonds you form with others are what gives you power. If you can't even understand what the other person is going through, how can you build that bond?'

'So what should have I said?'

%'That's something you need to learn for yourself. Think about what Kotone said. There may be some hidden gems within!'

Great. As usual, the personae love to talk in riddles. If I could solve the riddle, would I be in this situation? Grumbling to myself, I put my debit card into the ATM, and after a momentary panic due to my forgetting what my PIN was, I finally pull up the amount in the checking account. Looks like Grandpa stayed true to his word. The full amount is present. After checking quickly to make sure that nobody was watching me, I withdraw the full amount, slip it into an envelope, and then leave the bank. I take out my cell-phone and punch in Yosuke's number.

"Yello?"

"Yosuke, it's m-me. I've got the m-money. Do you w-want to meet at J-Junes?"

"Sounds good. Chie already gave me her amount. Adding it all up, we should be able to buy the TV. My dad's also here, and he wanted to meet you. Let me know when you arrive."

"O-Okay. I'll meet y-you at J-Junes."

Yosuke hangs up, and after slinging my bag over my shoulder, I head to the bus-stop to make the trek over to Junes.

()()()()()()()()()

"Hey, there you are! I was waiting for you!" As I enter the food-court, I see Yosuke waiting at a table with a grin on his face. As I take a seat, he leans in and whispers, "You got the money?"

"R-Right here, Y-Yosuke," I respond as I hand him the envelope. He looks slightly disappointed.

"Dude, what was that? Don't you know that when somebody asks 'Do you have the money?', you're supposed to respond: "Yeah, you got the stuff?" I mean, geez, it's like you don't even watch movies or something!" After glancing at my face, he sighs. "We're going to have to work on this. You can't keep acting like you're from the sticks forever, you know? Anyway, come on. My dad is in the employee lounge along with the TV. He's looking forward to meeting with you!" With that, Yosuke gets up and the two of us head into the store.

"Why d-does your f-father want to m-meet me so much?" I ask, slightly confused. Yosuke chuckles in response.

"I think his literal words were: 'I'd like to meet the man who can put up with my son for more than five minutes without killing him.' Real classy guy, let me tell you," Yosuke chuckles as we walk through the store.

"W-Who says that I can put up w-with you for m-more than f-five minutes?" I ask.

"Gee, thanks man. You and my dad are going to get along just fine," Yosuke says, punching me in the shoulder. I grin, and we enter the lounge. As we enter, I spot Yosuke's father. An older gentleman with slightly graying hair, he's a little taller than Yosuke, but just as slim. My father, by comparison, is as fat as I was when I came to Tokyo. Upon hearing us, he turns around and grins. Standing up, he walks over and sticks out his hand, which I shake.

"Ah, so you're the Souji that I've been hearing so much about. The name's Shiro Hanamura. I'm Yosuke's old man, though you probably guessed that already. It's a pleasure meeting you," he says as we shake.

"L-Likewise," I say, ending the shake. The Hanamuras are a lot alike. Both of them have a slightly goofy smile that never seems to leave, yet I could tell just from shaking Shiro's hand that he was strong.

"I wanted to say thanks for being friends with my son. He's a bit of an idiot, so he doesn't make friends very well. I'm grateful that you were willing to do so," Shiro continues, chuckling. Yosuke throws him the evil eye.

"Yeah, thanks a lot, pops. You got any more, or can we actually get our hands on the TV now?" Yosuke asks.

"Cheh, what a mean-tempered son. See what I mean, Souji? Rude as anything, wouldn't you say?" Shiro continues, clearly enjoying the conversation. However, I'm more worried about the TV, and want to make sure that it's still in one piece. More importantly, that nothing's happened on the other side.

"Y-Yeah. But if it's o-okay with you, I'd l-like to purchase the T-TV as well," I respond. Shiro scratches his chin.

"Man, kids today. No interest in talking with their elders. It's all business, business, business. This is why Japan is on the skids, let me tell you..." Shiro seems to be about to go on a tangent, but Yosuke clears his throat, seemingly breaking Shiro's train of thought before it could pull out of the station. "What? Oh, right, the TV. Right this way. I have it ready and packaged. I'm still confused though. You said that you wanted it no matter what, but why this TV? There are plenty of others that not only have a better picture, but also, you know, work. Why this particular TV?" Yosuke and I share a glance, then look back at Shiro.

"Oh, you know, this TV is sentimental to us," Yosuke begins. Sentimental? This TV almost killed us! Is what I wanted to say, but kept quiet. "Plus, we want to see if we can work on it. Maybe we can get it working again, you know?" Yosuke finishes.

Shiro sighs as we enter the loading dock. "Yeah, you've told me that before. But TVs nowadays are completely different from the old analogs. Unless you've got specific training, it's almost impossible to fix them. Oh well, I don't have to send it back to the store, and it seems like something the two of you bonded over, so it's not all bad. Anyway, Yosuke, do you have the money for it?"

"Yeah, hang on a sec," Yosuke says, as he pulls out the money. He quickly counts it, and then hands it over to his father. Shiro flips through the bills, before putting the money in his pocket.

"Alright, that's all of it. So, where do you want me to send the TV? Souji's home?" Shiro asks, as he places his hand on the boxed up TV.

"N-No, we'd l-like to take it to the A-Amagi hotel. They have a r-room that we can k-keep the TV in."

"The Amagi Hotel? Really?" Shiro asks, confused.

"Yeah, is there a problem?" Yosuke asks.

"Well, it's not really a problem, just seems strange that you'd want to take it there. After all, we delivered a TV to them a few months ago. A wide-screen plasma, if I remember correctly. Amagi-san was very excited. From what she told me, they were going to use it to display various events that were going to take place there. Well, no difference. I've got the van outside. We can take the TV over now if you'd like," Shiro finishes. The two of us nod.

"Excellent. Let's get a dolly for this TV. I can give you two a ride over to the hotel," Shiro says, and the three of us get to work on getting the TV into the Junes truck.

"I'll let Chie and Yukiko know that we are coming over," Yosuke says, as he flips out his phone to send a text. The three of us manage to get the box into the truck, and then set off for the hotel.

()()()()()()()()()

An hour later, we pull up outside the hotel. As we get out of the truck, Chie and Amagi wave as they get up from the bench where they had been waiting.

"Sheesh, it took like forever for you guys to get here. What, did you stop to get something to eat?" Chie asks as she approaches the three of us. "Oh, hi Hanamura-san. How are you doing today?"

"Doing good. How about you, Chie? And how are your parents?" Shiro asks.

"Oh, the usual. So anyway, Yosuke, how come it took so long, anyway?" Chie isn't going to let this one go.

"Gee, I don't know. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it's Golden Week and there's tons of traffic?" Yosuke replies, heatedly.

"Oh yeah, it is, isn't it? The trains were really packed. Huh, I completely forgot. Silly me," Chie says, jokingly sticking out her tongue.

"Gah!" Yosuke says, throwing up his arms.

"How are you doing, Hanamura-san? My name is Yukiko Amagi, the daughter of the Amagis. It's a pleasure to meet you," Amagi says as she bows. As always, it feels like she is truly a high class woman.

"Oh, it's a pleasure as well, miss. I apologize for the sake of my son. I'm sure that he's given you all kinds of grief, being my son. We've done our best, but I'm just not sure where we went wrong," Shiro finishes, giving a dramatic sigh.

"Oh no, Yosuke has been extremely helpful. In fact, we couldn't have succeeded without him," Amagi replies.

"Oh, Yukiko-san, I didn't know you cared," Yosuke cries happily. Amagi turns to look at him with a quizzical look on her face. Yosuke takes a hint. "Never mind," he finishes unhappily.

Shiro bursts out laughing. "Looks like my idiot son is in good hands after all. Anyway, where do you want the TV?"

"Oh, I'll show you. Please, follow me." Amagi responds, and once Yosuke, Shiro, and I place the TV on the dolly once more, we wheel it into the hotel. Judging from the number of guests lounging in the main lobby, it seems to be extremely busy. Just as we're heading for the elevators, one of the staff comes running up.

"Oh, Yukiko-chan! We need help over in the main room. A group of guests are getting ready for lunch and one of the wait-staff hasn't returned. Can you help us out, please?"

Amagi turns and looks at the rest of us, with an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, I really need to help them. Chie, do you mind showing them where to put the TV?"

"Sure, not a problem, Yukiko," Chie replies. Amagi bows and then follows the staff member. Chie pushes the door for the elevator, and then holds it open while we wheel the TV in. She pushes the floor for the conference room, and the elevator starts to climb. Shiro is glancing around like a tourist.

"Man, it wasn't nearly so busy when I came here last time. Seems like business has picked up a little. That's good. Oh, that reminds me, I forgot to thank her for their purchase. Yosuke, be good and say thank you for me, would ya?" Shiro asks, placing his hand on Yosuke's shoulder.

"Sure, no problem, pops," Yosuke replies as the doors open. We wheel the TV into the conference room. The next thirty minutes or so are spent unpacking the TV, taking out the wall mount, and attaching it. Another five minutes are spent while Yosuke and Chie bicker back and forth about where the middle of the room actually is, and how high should the TV should actually be, Chie arguing low, and Yosuke arguing high. They finally settle on the mid-point, but not until Yosuke gets an earful from his father about wasted time. Finally, finally, the TV is up and we can look at it. For some reason, the three of us, Chie, Yosuke, and I, all have the same look of satisfaction on our faces.

"I don't know why the three of you look so proud over this. I mean, it's a single, broken TV that none of you actually own, right? Well, seeing how you guys work together, I guess I can understand it's one of those team-building things, right? Anyway, this old man is going to head back. I need to make sure all of our accounts are in order before I head home," Shiro says as he starts packing up his tools.

"Oh yeah, before I leave. I'd like all of you to come over to our home for dinner. The missus and the rest of the family would love to meet all of you. Please, do consider it and let me know when you can, okay?" Shiro asks, as he holds out his hand.

"S-Sure thing, sir," I reply as I shake his.

"'Sir', huh? See, Yosuke, why can't you be respectful, like Souji-kun over here?" Shiro asks.

"Yeah, yeah, sorry I wasn't a perfect child. I'll see you at home, pops," Yosuke responds.

"Thanks for the offer, Hanamura-san. I'll definitely take you up on it," Chie replies, waving.

Shirou nods his head, and leaves the conference room. The three of us sink into our chairs, grateful that the ordeal is over.

"Man, I'm glad we got the TV over here when we did," Yosuke says. "I was worried whether something might happen to it while we didn't have our eye on it," he says, eyeing the TV.

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I was always afraid that the TV would break down, or something," Chie says. "Hey, do you guys think that we can still get through to where Teddie is?"

"W-What do you m-mean? We h-have the TV, r-right?"

"Well, I don't mean that. I mean, like, was it because of the TV, or where the TV was located that allowed us to get to the otherside? Like what happens if you need to go through in Junes, or otherwise you can't get through? Silly idea, right? Dumb ol' Chie talking again!" Chie laughs, only to stop when she sees the same look on both mine and Yosuke's faces. "Guys, come on. Don't take it seriously!"

"We need to check," Yosuke says. "We've gotta make sure that we can get through. Since Yukiko-san can't remember what happened to her, somebody else might end up in the TV, and we can't let that happen."

"G-Good idea. And we c-can show A-Amagi-san the castle as well. Maybe it'll h-help?" I ask.

"Worth a shot. Let's wait for Yukiko to finish up with her guests, and then we can go through. Let's get our gear," Chie says and the three of us nod.

()()()()()()()()()

Amagi doesn't make us wait long, showing up a few minutes after we had finished our conversation. Chie explains the plan to her. Amagi nods enthusiastically.

"U-Um, I want to come too. I'm sure that I can be of use to you," she replies, voice full of determination.

"Of course, we aren't leaving you behind, Yukiko-san," Yosuke replies. "Do you have a weapon that you can use? I should have thought of this sooner, but I hadn't considered it."

"A weapon? Um, I'm not really good at sports," Amagi says, looking down. "Oh, I think I may have an idea! Let me go to my room. I'll be right back," and with that, she leaves the conference room. She quickly returns with a large wooden stick.

"Is t-that a t-tonfa?" I ask, confused.

"A tonfa? Um, I don't know what a tonfa is," Amagi responds, but I quickly realize that it isn't a tonfa at all, but rather a large fan.

"A fan, huh? Doesn't seem like it'd have a lot of physical power," Yosuke says, eying the fan.

"Um, Chie said that what mattered more than physical power was something that you felt comfortable with. I've been using fans to entertain guests since I was little, so I thought it would be helpful..." Amagi tails off at the end, clearly uncomfortable. "U-Um, I'll go back. Maybe I can fin-"

"No, it's fine, Yukiko-san," Yosuke responds. "Let's first test it out and see how it goes. If we need to make changes, we will. Sound good?" Amagi nods. "Alright, everybody check your gear. After that, into the TV."

#'Are you sure that's safe, Master?'

'What do you mean?'

'What he means lad is that ya don't know where the TV might lead. Ya should check it first to be sure!'

Why do I have to be the guinea pig? Still, I suppose that's one of the responsibilities of being leader, huh? I hold up my hand to the others, and they pause.

"Let m-me go first. If everything is ok, I'll s-stick my h-hand through the TV and give a t-thumbs up. If you d-don't see it, then y-you know something is wrong." The atmosphere quickly darkens.

"You sure about this? We could go as a two-man unit, just to be safe," Yosuke offers, but I shake my head.

"I'll b-be fine. A-Alright, here I g-go." I nod to the others, and stick my head into the TV. Not being able to see anything, I reach further, and with a gasp, tumble into the TV world. I hit the ground with a large thump and gingerly pick myself up, only to find myself back in the old studio lot.

'Man, who'd have thought seeing this place would be a relief?' I ask.

I stick my hand back into the exit and give the all clear signal. One by one, the others enter, Yosuke first, then Amagi, and finally Chie. As the others are picking themselves up, Teddie comes wandering out of the fog.

"Sensei! Everyone! I wasn't expecting all of you!" Teddie says as he waddles over.

"Hey, Teddie! What are you up to?" Yosuke asks.

"Oh, just thinking like always. So far, I haven't gotten anywhere," Teddie says sadly, before brightening up. "So, what are you guys going to do today?"

"We wanted to show Yukiko the castle. We thought it might help Yukiko remember anything about the person who threw her in here," Chie replies.

"Oh, the castle, huh? Alright then, follow me!" Teddie says, and the five of us set off.

We quickly arrive at the castle, and as always, the overwhelmingly ominous sensation is still present.

"Man, I forgot how creepy this place was," Yosuke says, shivering slightly. I nod.

"How is it Yukiko? Do you remember anything?" Chie asks, while Amagi intently stares at the castle. After a few minutes, she shakes her head sadly.

"I'm sorry, I don't remember anything."

"It's fine," Yosuke replies, "Well, now that we are here, want to go inside?"

"What? Why?" Chie asks.

"Why? Duh, because it's here," replies Yosuke, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.

"Um, Sensei, I feel something strange inside, like something's there that shouldn't be," Teddie says, while sniffing the air.

"Well, that settles it. We should check it out. Plus, it'll give Yukiko-san a chance to get used to fighting, wouldn't you agree?" Yosuke asks.

"I guess," Chie says, giving up, "alright. But listen, Yukiko. Stay close to us, and if you feel like you are in trouble, just ask, okay?"

Amagi nods her head. "Got it. But I don't want to hold the group back," she says determinedly.

"W-Well, here we go," I say, and we enter the castle.

()()()()()()()()()()()

"S-So, what do you think, Yukiko-san?" Yosuke asks. We've climbed up to the fifth floor and are taking a break in one of the rooms.

"U-Um, I'm slowly getting the hang of this," Amagi replies.

"Yeah, I think I understand why she uses a fan," Chie jokes. "She isn't very strong physical-wise, but in terms of spiritual power, she's second to none. And Yukiko's a great healer to boot!"

"Um, thanks," Amagi says, blushing. But Chie's right on the money. We tried having her throw her fan at a shadow, but the shadow simply brushed the attack off. When she followed up by firing an Agi, I could literally feel the heat coming off the spell, and I wasn't anywhere near the shadow. By comparison, I never felt nearly as much power from either Chie, Yosuke, and if I was being perfectly honest, even myself.

Well, I'm confident that I could match her if I tried. Really hard.

The second piece of good news is that Amagi is a healer with amazing ability. Yosuke struggled to heal one person at a time, and since I was needed in an offensive role, more often than not the team would end up pretty heavily banged up. Amagi's capable of taking care of that, often without even breaking a sweat. We'll definitely be relying on her quite a bit.

"Um, Souji-kun, I hope you don't mind me asking, but, are you able to use multiple personae? I noticed that you were using different ones earlier, but I didn't want to disturb you," Amagi finishes, looking at the ground shyly. Yosuke puts his arm around my neck.

"Yup, that's what makes him special. He's able to use multiple personae, almost at freakin will. Talk about an unfair advantage, huh? But that's why we decided to make him the leader. He's got more experience fighting shadows than any of us."

"T-That's not true. I mean, the only a-additional experience I've g-got over you is the f-fight with your shadow." I reply, kinda surprised by Yosuke's endorsement.

"Yeah, but you didn't have to fight a shadow, right? That gives you another leg up," Yosuke retorts.

"Wait, really? You didn't have to fight your shadow? Wow, Souji, I didn't know that," Chie replies from the corner.

"I guess you really are special, Souji-kun," Amagi replies.

"Uh, t-thanks, I guess," I reply, scratching my head. This is really awkward. Thankfully, the pause only lasts a few seconds.

"Alright, we're about, what, half-way up the castle?" Yosuke asks, finishing off his drink. He turns to Teddie. "So, what were you talking about earlier? Something about 'something that shouldn't be here'?"

"Yeah. I was sniffing earlier, but I couldn't get a good sniff because we were outside. But now, I can definitely smell a shadow in the place where we found Yukiko-chan. And it's a strong one too!"

"Great, then let's get to work. If Yukiko's shadow was anything to go by, this is going to be a tough fight. So let's be ready," Chie says as she stands up. The four of us nod and push on.

A little while later, after spending some time on the seventh floor to get stronger, we once again stand in front of the doors that lead to the inner chamber. Although the enemy behind it is going to be strong, the mood amongst the group is actually pretty up-beat. Probably because we aren't facing the same deadline as we were before.

"Alright, you guys ready?" Yosuke asks, and gets nod from the rest of us. "Then here we go!" he yells, and pushes the door open. Inside, at the bottom of the stairs, is one of the shadows we had seen earlier, with a crown on his head, though this was one was much larger, had a black sheen, and without needing to be told, far more powerful.

"Good luck guys!" Teddie yells, and then the four of us charge.

The shadow notices us, and charges as well. No more time for regrets!

#'Finally! Battle is at hand! Release thine shackles, master, and let loose the power within!'

'For once you and I agree. Let us see just how much you have grown, my liege!'

\'Children, the lot of them. True kings need not bray their intentions to all and sundry. Just display the corpses of those who stood against you, and all will be revealed!'

'Are you trying to imply something, Forneus?'

'Now's not the time! Focus!'

"E-Everybody split up! M-Make sure that he can't g-get all of us at o-once!" I yell, and the others yell in response. "A-Amagi, hit him with f-fire!" Our strongest spell user can't fail!

"Right! Konohana Sakuya, Agi!" Amagi yells, and her persona appears. The appearance of a cheerleader in a pink outfit with flowers in her hair is something I will never fully associate with a Japanese god, but I guess the image is more from the imagination of the person? Anyway, no time for theorizing! Amagi's persona launches a fireball straight at the shadow, who doesn't dodge the attack.

"Yeah, we got 'em!" Yosuke yells. Chie claps her hands in excitement. What happens next shuts us up in a hurry. The fire surrounding the shadow disappears, as if being swallowed by the shadow. But that would mean...

"Sensei, you can't use that attack anymore! That Shadow will absorb fire!" Teddie yells from the corner.

"Great, so much for that strategy," Yosuke groans.

Now then, how do we defeat this shadow?

End Chapter 39

A/N: Yeah, it has been a while, and yes, I am aware of it. Special apologies to Mega Potato. I promised to have this chapter out a month ago. In any event, my schedule has cleared up significantly, so I hope to be able to churn these out a lot faster. I missed P4 the Anime's end, as well as the Golden's release, so let's see if I can wrap this story up by the time Persona 5 comes out.

In any event, thank you to all the readers who've favorited, added alerts, and reviewed. Especially the reviewers. The more reviews, the faster the chapters will come! So hit the box, and let me know what you think, and what you'd like to see happen.