Note: St Cleon Academy has been renamed White Rose Academy, mostly because I realised it had nothing to do with Stella or the character she took her surname from. Although we only saw the Academy in Chapter 9 (the group fought Richard outside the gate, but didn't go inside), so it shouldn't make much difference.
Chapter 68: Fated Arrival
|Saragel - Karl's Apartment|16:00 pm|
"Holy crap! This place is awesome! You sure know how to splurge, Karl!" Zao cheered.
He had just arrived at Karl's new apartment in Saragel's Gilded Towers, a rather trendy - and expensive - place to live. Lucky for Karl, he was a star player in a sport that paid well. The apartment was equipped with many luxuries. Among them were a mini-bar stocked with beer, leather sofas, a large wall-mounted HD TV, spotless chrome tables and chairs, and video game consoles. Zao at first pondered Karl being into the same games as Serena and Kyle, but quickly realised Karl would be more into sports titles. The apartment also boasted a large bathroom, complete with hot tub.
"You like that thing?" Karl asked, amused.
"Hell yeah I do!" Zao said. "Can I take a spin in there sometime?"
"I suppose, but you can't just splash about like a fish in these things. Anyway, they're supposed to be for romantic settings. And as much as I like you, Zao, you're not my type." Karl said.
"Huh?" Zao asked, confused. "Wait, never mind. I'm sorry I couldn't help you move in."
"Don't worry about it. You're here now, aren't ya? And as fun as that part with the guys was, tonight it's just you and me." Karl said. "So sit back, and we'll watch some movies and down a few beers! Sound like a plan?"
"Heck yes!" Zao said, as he flopped onto the sofa. "Comfy..."
"It should be. That thing cost over a thousand quid." Karl said. "Try not to spill anything on it, or I'll have to get it cleaned."
Two hours later, the two of them were watching another movie - involving women clad in leather costumes, lots of guns, and explosions every five minutes. Even Zao couldn't help but find it stupid. Yet it was fun, perhaps because of the sheer inanity.
"Could you imagine any girl actually wearing that in real life? I mean, it's kinda hot, but a leather thong! Come on!" Karl said, shuddering.
"Nope. Amara would kill me if I asked her, I bet." Zao said. "Hey, this might be awkward, but how did you and her get together?"
Karl laughed, and finished off his beer. "Ah, that's right. It was about a year ago now. She was still in college, and she came to this bar to meet one of the other students. I was there that night with some guys from the team, celebrating another win. Me being me, I went up to her, trying to ask her out - bad move, I thought. She said she thought I was just another dumb jock."
"You mean you're not?" Zao asked, sticking his tongue out. Karl rolled his eyes, and continued.
"Anyway, the guy she wanted to meet didn't show up. So I bought her a drink before we went to another bar. Then the next week, I went along myself, and she was there again. The same thing happened. Then again the next week. On the fourth week, I came there just to apologise for bothering her, but then...she found out this guy was with another girl. She tried to hide it, but she was really upset. I...just sort of hugged her." Karl said. "I dunno, but that moment, it felt right. Then I sat with her for the rest of that night, and we started having a real conversation. Then we arranged to see each other again, somewhere that didn't have the TV blaring all night."
"Aww." Zao said. "That's sweet. It's kinda a shame things didn't work out."
"What? But then you wouldn't be dating her!" Karl said, bemused. "You little dork. This is what I remember, you always wanting everybody else to be having a good time even if you aren't. It's time you cut that out. You deserve some happiness, my friend." Karl said. "Besides, Amara seems happier now that she'd got you. You always were the silly, smiling one in our group. You cheered Aimee up better than I did."
"Yeah...I missed her." Zao said.
"Missed?" Karl said, confused.
"Miss! Hehehe, just a little slip." Zao said. If he had been any clumsier, he could have had to blab the truth about Aimee in the other world. To him, Aimee was alive and well. Yet to Karl, she was long dead. "But I really do miss her."
"So do I..." Karl said. "But that's ancient history. Same with Amara. It's my own fault things went south, so I'm just going to have to live with that. Good thing I have that mini-bar to help, huh?"
"Yeah. Man, that thing keeps beer cooler than Bufu - I mean, the fridge." Zao said. Karl looked at him strangely, but said nothing.
That's the second time I almost blew it today. I have to be more careful. Wait, that reminds me. Were we supposed to meet up tonight? Eh, probably later on. It can wait.
Just then, Zao's phone rang. He leapt up, and hurriedly took the call.
"Hello?" Zao said.
"Zao, where are you? We agreed on six o'clock yesterday!" Amara asked. "You remember why we're going, right? To find out what's happened in the other world after the Divine Spark?"
Karl stared at Zao with even more confusion. Zao gulped - he must have heard what Amara just asked.
"I'm sorry, I forgot all about our plans for tonight! Hehehe. But not to worry! I'll be there as quick as I can!" Zao said. "See you soon!" He quickly put his phone away, and started to head towards the door - only for Karl to grab him by the arm. "Hey, watch it! You're hurting me!"
"The hell is going on, Zao?" Karl demanded. "You've been acting weird, not just tonight, but for a while now. And Amara just said 'the other world'? What is she talking about?"
"There's a new bar near her called Another World, and they have special entertainment nights called Divine Sparks. The last time one happened, uh...some singer called Keisha got into an accident so Amara wanted to go back and find out what happened." Zao said, nervously.
"...Keisha?" Karl asked. "Fine, Zao. Have it your way. You can take Amara to this place. Maybe next time, you'll tell me what's really going on."
"Huh? I just did! What are you getting like that for?" Zao asked. Karl was quiet, but frowned. "Oh, forget it! I'm off!"
Zao left the apartment, sulking. He thought he heard footsteps behind him, but all he saw were a couple leaving another apartment. Now he was more anxious than before - Karl knew something was up. He and Amara had a secret they were keeping from him - and it involved someone very close to both men.
Aimee...just relax. Leave your big bro to me.
|Farawell - Outside Warehouse|18:33 pm|
Everyone sans Zao was waiting outside the warehouse, and at this point all but Nathan were getting impatient. Serena had started playing one of her games, and seemed rather pleased with the way she was handling a difficult boss on the hardest difficulty mode. Blaine, however, was tapping the ground loudly with his foot.
"Oh for crying out loud! Couldn't you get a more punctual boyfriend, Amara?" Blaine said.
"...You don't want me to answer that." Amara said, sighing. "Listen, it'll be alright. We didn't exactly arrange it with the other world guys anyway."
"Exactly. Although Zao did miss out on the Divine Spark. Although I'm not exactly happy with the way everything transpired." Nathan said.
"Amara, are you okay? You sure you want to come along?" Serena asked. "What happened was terrible..."
"It's okay, Serena." Amara said. "Tonight, I'm on fire! You wait and see!"
Zao had just reached the team after running up to them at breakneck speed. However, Zao was not used to being a runner - and was panting for breath, drenched with sweat.
"You know the rule, Zao. One hundred push-ups for every minute you were late." Blaine said. He sounded serious, too. Amara shuddered, but upon Zao's terrified squeal, she burst out laughing.
"He's joking, Zao!" Serena said. She put away her handheld, and stretched her arms. "Anyway, a lot happened last time we were there. I wonder how everyone's doing?"
"Oh..." Blaine said. "Dan, he went to rescue Shirley. I hope he did..."
"I'm almost certain of it. I doubt he would waste any time." Nathan said. "Now come on, let's get inside."
|Other World - Secret Base|18:36 pm|
A woman had leapt up from her seat as soon as the five had entered the secret base. Blaine gasped too. Lucy was here, and looked much like her other self. Right down to the bushy hair and the way she smiled.
"No way..." Blaine said, amazed. "You're here! Lucy! I can't believe it!"
"What did I tell ya? The other me is nearly as manly as me. He's missing the battle scars, though. The mark of a real man!" Other Blaine said.
"Wow..." Lucy said. "You four really are from another dimension. I thought Aimee was trying to trick me before!"
"You seriously struggled to believe in another dimension, despite the fact there are Shadows everywhere, magical beings called Personas, and floating butterflies that talk to us?" Shirley said. "You've always been rather sceptical, Lucy!"
"Oh, shut up!" Lucy said, pouting. Shirley giggled. "Looks like I have good taste in men over there. Very good taste...I was afraid I'd end up with someone like Alastair."
"I beg your pardon?!" Alastair said, shocked. "I'm a perfectly eligible bachelor, for your information! Not only that, I much prefer an older woman!"
"Oh believe me, he does. He likes his...what's the word...cougars." Kazuya said, amused.
"Except Josephine, but it isn't difficult to find her repulsive." Bianca said, shuddering at the thought. "That aside, I am glad to see Lucy and Shirley in good spirits!"
"Me too! And it's good to see you all again. As you can tell, the advent of the Divine Spark wasn't a total loss." Aimee said. "That being said, I...wish I could have saved Keisha from her fate."
Matthew looked up at the mention of Keisha's name, and bit his lip. Hmm. Did he like Keisha? Poor Matthew...
"Keisha...I didn't know she was hiding that much pain." Richard said. "Or that Roger was some kind of sociopath. Still, things aren't so bad now..."
"Exactly. There are still many of us willing to fight the Shadows." Alastair said. "With this many people working together, we're bound to come up with a true solution!"
"Well then, now that everyone's here, I'd like to show you all something rather interesting." Kyle said. "Aeternus employ various high-security measures on their data, as you would expect. However, being able to monitor said measures allows one to develop means to bypass them entirely."
"That's my Kyle!" Serena said. "He once hacked in our school network just because he could!"
"He's a genius, alright. He even took some time to teach me maths." Other Serena said.
"She was concerned about not having an education...after all, going to school in this world is difficult." Kyle said. "Anyway, I located a peculiar report documenting very unique Shadows. Some of which are familiar, to me and to others."
Amara looked closer - and when she read the first entry, she gasped.
"Trickster Harlequin! That...sounds like the Shadow we had to kill to save Serena!" Amara said, looking at Nathan. "And the one after that, the 'Dominating Sorceress'! I had to fight that one, too!"
"Exactly. These Shadows are all deemed the 'Trauma Shadows', due to somehow being derived from various tragedies in our city's history." Kyle said. "Very recently, I encountered the Ixion Stallion and Macabre Rider. Only two of these haven't been encountered yet...but I suspect that will soon change. Yet what concerns me is what Lucy told me about what happened at Motion Publishing."
"Oh, yeah. See, after Tomas blew up the lab, I ended up there." Lucy said. "It was weird...it felt like I knew where everything was. Then Shadows showed up all around me, and I wound up hiding in this big power generator room. Then a big clown Shadow showed up!"
"Indeed. I remembered hearing Nathan mention a similar Shadow, so that got me thinking. What if these Shadows can be reborn into stronger forms?" Kyle said. "There's something to these Trauma Shadows the likes of 'Leanne Grimsby' and 'Naomi Wong' haven't figured out."
"Then if they come back..." Aimee said. "We'll have to kill them again?"
"What are you worried about, Aimee?" Priscilla said. "We've defeated eleven out of thirteen! Add an extra point for beating the Harlequin twice. We have nothing to fear!"
"Exactly." Other Nathan said. "So in preparation for the next wave of Trauma Shadows, we should get stronger. You know what that means, right? We go for a training session!"
"I couldn't agree more." Aimee said. "And this time, I suggest we all go to a larger area. So I picked the White Rose Academy!" She giggled, whilst a few others shuddered.
"I don't get it. What's so special about this place?" Lucy asked. "Sounds like Bianca's kind of school."
"The name might sound innocent, but that school has always been the subject of ghost stories. Dead students showing up in empty desks, nooses, blood stains...not to mention reports of objects being moved by 'invisible hands'." Kazuya said.
"Doesn't it sound cool, though?" Aimee said. "We might get to see a ghost! That would be fantastic, right? Or even better, we could run into poltergeists! Banshees, even!"
"I suppose after a decade of fighting Shadows, ghost stories don't faze her." Shirley said. "At any rate, the Academy is teeming with Shadows. And it's a huge school, even including the dormitories."
"So what's our goal? Split into teams and take a different part each?" Amara asked. "That sounds cool!"
"It'll be like a tour of a haunted house!" Aimee said, smiling. "I wish I'd thought of this place sooner..."
Richard suddenly gasped, and almost jumped up and down.
"Guys! Do you remember way back when we were still with the Ornatu Legion?" Richard said, gleefully. "Well guess what? You guys beat me up outside the White Rose Academy!"
"Oh yeah, I remember that now..." Serena said. "That was the day we first met Blaine. Looking back, you were pretty surprised to see him."
"Hell yeah I was! There was a guy who looked just like him, and he even had the same Persona! And the same name! So I was like 'whoa'!" Richard said.
"Ah, that's right. Me and Alastair went through a similar situation in with your ream." Bianca said. "It's hard to believe we were once adversaries...of course, I much prefer the way things are now. Especially with our Commander still by our side."
"Someone's got to keep your friends in line!" Other Blaine said, smirking. "Man, I really treated you guys like shit. I never did apologise for some of the things I said to you, did I?"
"Honestly, I wouldn't dwell on it. The Holy Cross are a resilient group." Alastair said.
"Maybe. But if I were in your shoes, I'd be pissed off. So sorry, to each of you." Other Blaine said. "Going back to the academy, did you guys actually go inside?"
"No, we merely stopped outside the gates for a breather. When Richard approached us, we were still there. It never occurred to us to look inside." Nathan said. "That day was rather eventful for us. Our team grew to four, and we got to meet Aimee. Which of course, is why we're here today."
"Yeah! So to celebrate me drafting you all in, we're going for a ghost tour! Get ready, everyone! Oh, and bring cameras! Maybe we can see the place where the ghost girls pull on people's hair if they walk by!" Aimee said, hurriedly grabbing her own camera.
"If you think this is bad, you should have seen last Halloween. She made us all wear costumes." Priscilla said. "I was a witch, of course, but I couldn't put warts or an ugly nose on. I'm a lady, not a hag. Kyle was a mummy, Dan was a Frankenstein, and Aimee...well, she had a lot of fun making her ghost costume."
"Really? What about Seraphina?" Amara asked.
"My costume is suited for many things. Impromptu Halloween parties is one of them." Seraphina said.
|White Rose Academy - Courtyard|19:15 pm|
Previously, Amara and the others had reached the academy upon encountering Blaine for the first time. That had been quite an exciting day - meeting Blaine, fighting Richard, and of course, meeting the rebel group for the first time. However, they had let the Academy itself slip their minds - until now.
"Damn, the gate's locked." Serena said. "Dan, can you blast it down?"
"Sure, leave it to me." Dan said. Tezcatlipoca made his appearance, as Dan held up his rifle. "Here we...go!" The Persona's massive energy blasted through the gate, shattering it into pieces of rusted metal.
"Holy crap! What did he just do?!" Shirley exclaimed. "I didn't even know Personas could do that!"
"Personas can do all sorts of cool things!" Dan said, striking a pose. He twirled his rifle, narrowly avoiding Richard's nose. "And mine can turn my rifle shots into beams of utter destruction! Isn't that sweet?"
"You men and your toys..." Karen said, exasperated. Tara nodded, yet chuckled.
"Okay guys, get yourself into teams!" Aimee said. The others nodded, and soon enough the teams were made. Amara was with Zao, Lucy and Shirley. Blaine, Serena, Dan, Bianca and Tara made up the second team. The third was Karen, Priscilla, Kazuya and Other Serena. Then there was Kyle, Alastair, Richard and Other Nathan. Making up the final team were Matthew, Nathan, Other Blaine and Seraphina.
"This has to be my lucky day, getting into a team with you pretty ladies!" Zao said, winking.
"Keep that up, Zao, and you might have to share Kyle's wheelchair." Blaine said, with an icy glare.
"The hell he will! I love this thing!" Kyle said.
"I'm kidding...you know that, right ladies? It's Amara I like the most." Zao said. "Her pretty face, that gorgeous black hair, the darker skin...she's perfect!"
"No way, Zao. Lucy's way sexier. Look at those lips. That hair. And those gorgeous eyes." Other Blaine. "Oh, and her two...uh, earrings."
"Guys, stop it! I don't want to be in a contest of who's the prettiest girl!" Amara said. "Anyway, what about Shirley? I think she's better looking."
"...Really?" Shirley said, scratching her hair. "Dan, what do you think?"
"You, Shirley? I don't think talking about it does it justice. But you're beautiful. That's all." Dan said. "Perhaps this is Zao's lucky day after all."
"Oh! I need to join a team as well. Amara, can I join yours?" Aimee said. "I'm a little concerned you won't be able to heal your wounds. The other four teams each have a healer."
"Oh, come on! Zao gets FOUR girls?" Matthew exclaimed. "I'm stuck with a teenager and Nostradamus!"
"Perhaps you, Zao and Kyle can all share the wheelchair together, if you are willing to maintain that tone with me." Seraphina said. The way she was looking at him, it was like she was staring into his soul.
"Word to the wise, Matt. Don't insult anyone who can read your mind." Zao said. "But glad to have you on board, Aimee! Let's do our best!"
"Will do! Okay, this academy has five fours. So one team per floor! Don't worry, Seraphina will be able to sense if there's trouble. Don't forget, I have Traesto. So...let's go ghost hunting!"
|Academy 1F - Entrance|19:23 pm|
Even if there were no Shadows lurking in the city, this school would still have been abandoned for over fifty years. And it showed. In the centre of the entrance was once the school logo, a white rose on a shield. Now, only the faint outline of a shield could be seen, as well as specks of white paint. A notice board had collapsed long ago, and many spider webs were all over it.
The rest of the floor was almost completed cracked, exposing floorboards. Dust was everywhere, as was loose sheets of crumpled, yellowed paper. Some contained unsolved maths problems, others continued notes.
"Oh, cool!" Aimee said, picking up one of them. "Deborah was going to meet up with Zachary next Tuesday. Well, 'next' Tuesday being fifty years ago."
"Hey, look at this!" Zao said, pointing to various items lying on the ground. "Old shoes. They're all scuffed, and...hey. What's with this one?" He picked up one shoe, that was a red and white sneaker. "They didn't have these back in the day, did they?"
"No...they look brand new." Amara said. "Have people been here lately?"
"I don't think so." Shirley said. "This place has been shut before any of us were born. Why would anyone these days think of going in? There wouldn't be any food or fresh water."
"This sneaker is creeping me out more than the rest of this place." Lucy said. "And - oh crap! Shadows?"
Right ahead, in the remnants of a door leading to the library, were a myriad of Balance and Sword Shadows.
"Here we go!" Zao said. "Rashnu, it's been a little while! Show these girls real power! Wait...WHOA!"
Rashnu normally would have executed one of it's elemental spells. Instead, what it produced was something far beyond that. Rashnu struck a pose, clenching his fists, and from it's heart came a blast of pure power itself. This shattered the remains of the doorway, and also left the Shadows in their death throes.
"Zao! What the hell was that?" Lucy asked. "How did you pull that off?"
"I...dunno." Zao said, shyly. "I was just feeling really great, even if I kinda suck. But...holy cow. Looks like I'm not half bad after all!"
"You always were good, Zao." Amara said, smiling. She quickly kissed him, causing Shirley to smile whilst Lucy sighed. Aimee giggled. "Right, Aimee?"
"Of course. That power...was incredible." Aimee said. "Let's check out the library! Maybe we can check out the old books!"
|Academy 1F - Library|19:31 pm|
This library, as expected, was in utter ruin. Shadows had clearly gone berserk here a number of times, as there were no books left in a remotely readable state. Torn spines lay everywhere, and shredded pages were scattered across the floor. Desks were overturned, some even looked burnt. Lamps were snapped in half, half of a world map was torn off, and various satchels were in countless scraps.
"Oh..." Aimee said. "Man, this is boring! I was hoping to check out old diaries and stuff!"
"This is freaking me out!" Lucy said. Amara noticed she had been holding Shirley's hand at every opportunity, and whilst her grip was tight, Shirley was somewhat lax. "This is worse than that riot at my old school...way worse!"
"Lucy, calm down." Shirley said. "As long as we can fight the Personas, we'll be fine - wait, what's that?"
She broke from Lucy's grip - much to her whimpering - as she walked over to look at an old chair, the only one to have escaped the destruction. Lying next to it was a sneaker, and it matched the one Zao had located earlier.
"What is going on here?" Amara asked. "Could someone really be in here besides us?"
"We've never been inside until today..." Aimee said, in thought. "And no one in our group wears these. So..."
"More Shadows!" Zao shouted. Lucy screamed as a quarter of Jotun Shadows appeared within the room. "Rashnu, come on...do something new!"
Rashnu appeared, and laid 'eyes' on one of the Jotuns. Levitating upwards, it drew a circle with it's sword, and that circle became a rather intricate star symbol. With both hands, Rashnu pushed on the symbol, and it fired a massive laser. The Jotun was destroyed.
"Yes! Rashnu is on fire today! Heartful Cry, Astral Laser...what else can I do?" Zao asked. "Yeah! See guys? I'm the man - argh!"
A Jotun had just smashed Zao into a wall, and he crumpled onto the floor. Lucy sighed.
"Your boyfriend needs to pay attention, you know. Inanna! Maragion!" She commanded. Inanna flew out of Lucy's body and bombarded the Shadows with intense flames. After another Maragion from Amara, the Jotuns were even more violent. They started bashing Lucy and Amara with impunity, and Shirley gasped.
"Phantom Edge!" She cried. Rhiannon appeared, and raised her weapon. In the blink of an eye, she zoomed right through one of the Jotuns, and it suddenly disintegrated.
"Whoa!" Amara cried. "What was that? Did she cut right through him?"
"Yup. Rhiannon doesn't waste any time with fancy big lasers." Lucy said, glaring at Zao. "Come on, let's hurry up and finish this!"
"Okay!" Shirley said. The three girls slashed, shot and kicked the Jotuns until they were defeated.
"Zao, I'm pleased you're growing stronger. But please, try to stay cautious." Aimee said sternly. She helped him up, and dutifully healed the entire team with Mediarama. "I think we should leave this library...there's nothing we can do here."
"Hold up, Aimee." Lucy said, pointing to a sheet of paper on a desk. "This looks new. Lemme read it." She snatched it, and read it aloud.
Shelter Plans Abandoned
4th May 2009
We have considered the proposal made two months prior, which plans to turn White Rose Academy into a shelter for citizens of the East Farawell area. Unfortunately, the cost in refurbishing the area, the decaying structure, and sheer amount of Shadows present within the school's interior has made this proposal unfeasible. A complete report on our findings will be submitted to A.V. Carlos Nadal within the next three days. However, we will leave the Neo Dimensional Door active, and it shall remain connected to the Power Tunnels.
"So there's an NDD here?" Aimee asked. "Then could someone have ended up here by mistake?"
"Perhaps. That would explain these sneakers." Shirley said. "Where do you want to look next?"
"Well, maybe we could look at the teacher's lounge?" Aimee said. "I think Kyle said there was one somewhere on the ground floor. Let's go!"
|Academy 1F- Gymnasium|19:45 pm|
Amara and the group quickly realised exploring the Assembly Hall would have been impossible. Thanks to both the age of the building, the lack of maintenance, and the Shadows being free to rampage around the school, the hall was in utter shambles. Piles of debris that had once been rows of velvet seats blocked every possible way forward. Lights had fallen from the ceiling, and the metal frames that had once held them in place were warped, bent and in some places melted. The stage itself was in even worse condition - the curtains had fallen completely, and their once luxurious red hue was now a dull grey, torn and filled with holes. Behind it, the group could see broken props, more damaged lights, and even holes in the back wall exposing dark, similarly ruined rooms.
At this point, even Aimee seemed unsettled. Lucy was desperately clutching Shirley's hand, but now she was holding Lucy's rather tightly. Zao held his arm around Amara, and despite his attempts to smile, it was clear all of them were feeling spooked out.
They slowly made their way to the Gym - and surprisingly, it was more or less intact. The metal doors were rusted, however, and the floor was covered in dust and various broken sports equipment.
"Perhaps this wasn't a good idea..." Aimee said, meekly. "I mean, this place is so dirty...and creepy."
"You're the one who wanted to do a ghost tour!" Lucy exclaimed. "Come on! What did you think was going to happen?"
"This building...it's so sad." Zao said. "You know what I mean? It used to be a nice school at one point, but everything pretty about it's gone. All there's left is things people abandoned. Like those tennis rackets by the wall. No one will ever play with them again."
"When you put it that way, it is really sad. Most of the schools in this city are open just so they can pick out new Ornatu Legion soldiers...but this one's been abandoned even before that." Shirley said.
Just then, a piercing scream could be heard from behind the gym doors. Everyone turned around with fright, but saw nothing.
"Who's there?" Amara shouted. However, whoever was screaming did not respond. Instead, they continued to scream. "...That's not one of the others, is it?"
"I don't think so...none of us would scream at the sight of a Shadow." Aimee said, nervous. She looked up at the roof. "I think we should go and see - ARGH!"
Ironically, Aimee had just screamed upon seeing a Shadow. And what was flying overhead was nothing short of an abomination. Amara's eyes could not help but focus on the 'head' of the Shadow - or rather, three gigantic stone heads, all depicting angelic faces wearing wreaths with cracks all over and a stream of 'tears' below their eyes. Each of the three heads were connected by a black, fleshy tissue that also attached them to a massive, elaborate stained glass halo that depicted various crosses and swords, and surrounding this halo was one made purely of white light. In the middle of both halos was a floating Justice mask, which had the black 'wires' connected to it.
The rest of the Shadow's body was no less unsettling. Below the heads was a statue of a muscular man's body clothed with a white toga, but upon closer inspection, it was made up of at least three statues that had crumbled apart and been stuck together. Crudely affixed to this body were grey-black wings. One was on the left kneecap. Another was on the right heel. Two were fixed on the left elbow. Two more were attached to the right shoulder. One was on it's left wrist, the other was on the right palm.
"Holy crap!" Lucy shouted. "That's the ugliest angel I've ever seen!"
"Wait. Doesn't this sound familiar?" Amara asked. "Kyle was talking about this earlier! This is the Unblessed Cherub!"
"You're kidding me! It shows up now?!" Lucy squirmed, but anxiously took out her gun. "Hey Zao, now's the time to make with your new magic! We have to get this thing killed, quick!"
"No worries. I think destroying this thing would be a blessing in itself." Zao said. "Come on, Cherub! Take this! Helios!"
Rashnu appeared, and extended out his arms. Then particles of heat and fire gathered before him, and gradually formed a blindingly bright fireball. Rashnu sent it flying at the Shadow, and it exploded, filling the entire area with light.
"Marakukaja!" Amara shouted. Hathor dutifully did her part, and soon the team were protected. Yet the Cherub had yet to strike. With barely any motion, the Cherub gathered immense power - and let out a massive burst of energy. Megidola...stronger than she had seen.
"Ngh..." Lucy said, irritated. "That hurt, you stupid angel! Flame Havoc!" Her Persona joined the fray, slashing the Cherub fiercely with her axe coated with flames. Shirley soon followed up with Rhiannon, casting the potent Grieving Rune.
"Everyone! Hang on. Mediarama!" Aimee swiftly beckoned Irene to heal everyone, and whilst their injuries were healed, the Cherub was not about to give in. It's head moved towards Lucy, making unpleasant sounds of stone crumbling.
"Uh...why is he looking at me?" Lucy asked. "Oh SHIT! NO-"
Amara bit her lip. This Cherub could use Hamaon spells, as could have been expected. The holy symbols struck Lucy, and her body collapsed to the ground.
"Dammit! Aimee, hurry and revive her! I need to teach this thing a lesson. Phantom Edge!" Shirley cried. Rhiannon readied her weapon. For a moment, both Rhiannon and Cherub were still, looking at each other. Then there was a streak of purple light, and Rhiannon was on the other side of the room. Then the Cherub cried out in pain, and fell to the ground.
"Whoa! What was that?" Amara asked.
"Swift, but deadly...I like it!" Zao said.
"Samarecarm!" Aimee demanded. Irene floated to Lucy's body, and by imbuing a mass of divine power, Lucy was back to her usual vitality.
"That sucked...you're gonna pay! Agidyne!" Lucy cried out. Inanna, as well as Hathor sent forth their burning flames at the Shadow. While the Cherub was rather motionless, it seemed rather resilient. Taking it down would be a long and troublesome endeavour.
"Here we go again! Helios!" Zao had Rashnu use the powerful attack yet again, and it's light was just as powerful. Yet Zao was looking rather weary...
"Zao, you have to be careful! That magic looks like it needs a lot of energy! Don't use it up!" Amara said, worried. "You don't know what this Shadow is capable of!"
"I'll...be alright. Come on, let's go -"
The Cherub struck again, except with a different method. A white gavel appeared out of nowhere, bathed in angelic light. Then it swung, and collided with Zao's body.
"Argh!" Zao screamed in pain, as he staggered into the wall. "Oww..."
"Damn. Tefnut's Raze!" Amara had only used this move once before. A powerful flame erupted from beneath the Cherub, one that outshone the Ruby Ignition. The flames spun, spreading all over the Cherub. Despite the heat that it had endured so far, it still had some power - it's wings flapped, sending razor sharp feathers all over.
"Just like Alastair's Persona!" Aimee said. "Ah!" She jumped away from one of the feathers, and soon, everybody was leaping, crouching, and running to flee from the sharp feathers. Eventually, the storm stopped. Lucy, enraged, set off another Flame Havoc.
"I know what to do...Mudoon!" Shirley cried. She clenched her fists, hopeful, as Rhiannon's dark power grew, and formed into the cursed magic. Yet when Mudoon activated, nothing happened. "What? Why isn't it dead yet?! I thought this thing would have been killed easy by dark stuff!"
"You weren't paying close attention to that report, were you?" Aimee said. "Mudoon may harm it, but it won't eliminate it like other Shadows. Whatever the reason, we can't kill them with one-hit."
"Darn..." Shirley whined. "Then let's give this thing as many hits as it takes!"
"Gotcha!" Zao said, leaping off the floor. "Here's something new...Mass Destruction!"
This was a rather apt description, Amara realised. Rashnu's sword seemed unimpressive compared to other weaponry she had seen Personas wield - yet it wielded it with utter carnage and brutality. Insane amounts of energy gathered into the sword, and with two ferocious swings, Rashnu pierced the Cherub with sharp steel.
"...Ugh." Zao said, exhausted. "Sorry, I...think I'm at my limit...Amara, don't get mad, I just wanted to help you guys out. These new skills...they just take so much power..."
"Don't sweat it, Zao. You're doing fine. Try and defend, okay?" Amara said. "...It's still floating. What is the deal with this thing?"
The Unblessed Cherub had taken several heavy hits by this stage, but was no closer to death. However, it seemed agitated. The 'arms' slowly moved closer together into a crude prayer position, and the sound of a choir could be heard from every direction.
"Oh great, are we back in church now?" Zao whined.
Suddenly, the mouths of the heads opened, and out of them came two other Shadows. Lucy almost threw up at the sight. One of these Shadows was a Sky Balance, and the other was a Conviction Sword - both of which Amara had seen plenty of times before.
"This isn't good. Everyone, we have to redouble our offence, and fast!" Shirley said.
"Right. Come on, we can win this!" Amara said. "Maragion!"
Flames enveloped the three Shadows, but it didn't have the same oomph as Tefnut's Raze. The Sword traversed across the gym floor, and slashed Lucy with considerable strength.
"Oww! That hurt, you stupid jerk!" Lucy said, and started shooting at it with impunity. Then, she called upon Inanna. "Ravaging Hell! You're gonna burn!"
The scarlet-haired Persona leapt into the air, performing some rather seductive somersaults. Zao stared at her with amazement, only for Shirley and Amara to nudge him sharply with their elbows. Inanna struck the ground around the Shadows, and a wave of dark flames hit them all. This was a bit more powerful than Maragion, but whilst the Sword and Cherub seemed agitated, the Balance looked unfazed.
"Huh?" Zao said. "What's it doing?"
The Sky Balance, to everyone's surprise, cast Mediarama. Each of the three Shadows were healed - and given back a lot of the health they had lost.
"No! Everyone, leave this to me! Life Lock - huh?" Zao said. Rashnu did not appear. "No...I can't even use that? Damn, I screwed up...then eat this!" Plucking up some courage, he took up his glaive and slashed the Balance. Shirley followed suit, and pulled out yet another Phantom Edge.
"Lucy, hang on." Aimee said. She quickly used Diarama, and Lucy seemed to have regained some of her energy. She smiled, and ran back into the fray - hitting the Balance with Flame Havoc and more of her bullets. Zao resumed slashing, but narrowly avoided a short burst of light from the Cherubs 'eyes'.
Suddenly, the Cherub began to gather more energy. This, to Amara's horror, was the sign of Megidola. And running away from the damage would be far too risky. So instead of trying to flee, she used Maragion once again. Yet the almighty blast of destruction outshone the flames Hathor could conjure. Shirley joined in the pummelling of the Balance, kicking it with all sorts of moves.
"Whoa! Shirley, how'd you learn to do that?" Aimee asked.
"Tae Kwon Do?" Shirley asked. "I picked it up at the shelter I used to live at. I learned a lot there...I wonder how everyone's doing now. I gotta fight my hardest, for them! And for us! EEYAH!"
With another sharp kick, Shirley had finished her combo - but the Conviction Sword slammed her away. At a frightening speed, it hurtled towards Aimee and slashed her fiercely. The Balance followed suit - and Aimee squealed in pain at the double assault.
"No! Aimee!" Zao cried. "Hang on! Helios! Mass Destruction! Heartful Cry! Astral Laser!" ...Nothing's working!"
Aimee quickly dropped to the ground, and rolled away from the two Shadows. She made her way to the others, and got behind them.
"I'm sorry...I'm useless at attacking." Aimee said. "But don't worry! No matter what, I will heal you whenever you need it! Mediarama!"
Everyone was now restored once again. This, in Amara's opinion, had become a war of attrition. Which side would run out of power first? All she could do was continue to fight - and the first step was eliminate the Balance.
"Die!" She screamed, racing towards the Balance. She had managed two slashes before she was interrupted - by the Sword itself. "Urgh!"
"Amara! Are you alright!" Zao asked. The Sword struck him and Shirley as well, and thus the Balance was able to gain more distance. Lucy had stepped back, and began firing away. Her bullets, however, had minimal effect. The Balance, free to act, used Mediarama again.
"Guys! The Cherub might be back to full health now!" Aimee said. "We have to hurry and take down the other two Shadows!"
"Right!" Shirley said. "Grieving Rune!" This attack harmed the Balance quite a bit, but it seemed to still be intact. "What is up with you? Why don't you know when to die?!"
"This is still going on?!" Lucy cried, exasperated. "We should ditch this freak and get out of here!"
"Then what? Leave it free to torment powerless citizens?" Aimee asked. "We encountered it, we defeat it!"
"Aimee, you're exhausted..." Amara said, worried. "Let's try and finish this quick. The Balance is the enemy's medic, right? We have to destroy it!"
Suddenly, the door opened. Breathing a sigh of relief, Amara turned around, expecting to see one of the others. Yet the man standing in the doorway had ginger hair she remembered. A beard she knew rather well. And his shoes were missing. It could only be Karl.
"What?!" Amara screamed. "Why are you here?!"
"...Amara?" Karl said. "What is this place? Zao, you...you're here too? And...Lucy? Shirley?"
"Who is this person?" Shirley asked. "Is he a friend of yours?"
"Sort of, but..." Amara said.
"Karl?!" Aimee said. "Is that really you?"
"You...you're...Aimee?!" Karl said. His eyes were fixed on her, his mouth wide open. What could he be thinking? There had to be some way to explain this to him, one that would make sense.
"It's me, Karl! I...can't believe you're here!" Aimee said. She slowly stepped forward, trying to ignore the pain. Then, tears streaming down her eyes, she started running at him, while he could only watch.
"Huh - no! Aimee, watch out!" Zao yelled. It was too late, however. The Unblessed Cherub and it's minions had been ignored for a moment, and now they were taking advantage. It had conjured up a Hamaon, and the divine cards shrouded Aimee. It took hold, and she collapsed in front of Karl.
"...No. No!" Karl shouted. "NO! Aimee...no!"
He knelt besides her body, and desperately tried to feel her pulse. However, the Cherub started to float nearer him, the Balance and Sword close behind. He stood up, furious.
"Aimee...I'll stop these things for you, if it's the last thing I do!" he said, raising his fists. At that moment, a blue smoke surrounded him.
"What? Him too?!" Amara exclaimed.
Zao gasped, as the blue aura grew stronger. "Looks like he's summoning a -"
"Per...sona!" Karl screamed. The blue smoke manifested into a muscular man clad in a red armored vest, complete with red leather gloves and boots. The soldier's sword was a sharp and sturdy form, and his shield was small and silver. His hair was a dark red, yet he had black sideburns and a beard.
I am thou. Thou art I. I cometh from the sea of thy heart. I am Alexander, and on the path to greatness, we shall protect everything dear to us.
"Holy SHIT!" Zao said. "Karl! That Persona is awesome!"
Karl ignored him. Instead, he stared down the unholy Shadow in front of him. Alexander jumped up, and slashed the Unblessed Cherub three times. The force from the blade was rather impressive, considering the Cherub fell to the ground and slid into a wall, creating a rather big hole.
"Karl. We'll explain everything later! But for now, we have to kill that monster!" Amara said. "Hathor! Infernal Steel!"
Hathor changed her weapon into her sword, and used her free hand to cast burning fire into the weapon. With a violent slash, Hathor collided with the Sky Balance, and fire raged all over it's body. The diminutive Shadow was utterly immolated, and within seconds it had faded away.
"You all...have the same power?!" Karl said, stunned. Amara nodded.
"Karl, don't talk! Just keep fighting!" Zao said.
The Cherub turned to Shirley this time, and the holy gavel of God's Judgment banged again. She screamed, and nearly collapsed. In retaliation, she relied on her favourite Phantom Edge.
"Ruby Ignition!" Amara shouted. While this was a relatively weak move in her arsenal, she was not using it for the damage. Rather, she needed the offensive boost. Anything to get the battle over sooner, rather than later.
The Sword, however, was a threat that had largely been ignored this fight. And Lucy would come to regret it. It swung it's blade incredibly swiftly, and she fell to the ground.
"You..." Lucy muttered. She got up, and wiped away the blood from her face. "I'm not through yet! Maragion!"
Whilst Zao leapt at the Sword, swinging his weapon around like a lunatic, more flames emerged. This battle had been a rather fiery one, Amara noticed. Not just Hathor and Inanna, but Zao had used Helios to great effect. Yet he was still recovering his drained energy. Hopefully, they could win this without straining him further...
"How do I..." Karl said. He looked desperately around him. "Where are you, Alexander?"
"You have to summon Alexander yourself. He's part of your own soul, after all. He's not a guardian angel or anything like that." Amara said.
"...My soul." Karl said. "Then...here we GO!"
Alexander burst out of Karl's body again, causing him to gasp. Then he looked up, angrily, and pointed at the Cherub.
Alexander's sword started to gleam slightly. Then it suddenly began glowing, brighter than the morning sky. Alexander swung his sword, creating ghost-like visions of the weapon that flew into the Sword and Cherub - creating small explosions.
"Karl, that's awesome!" Zao said. "You'll be okay, I swear!"
"I don't get it...why am I able to control it now?" Karl said. "This thing really is part of me, isn't it - whoa!" The Sword had just swung at Karl, and he hastily leapt back. Now he was sweating, and eyeing at his opponent with fear.
"It's okay...I was the same when I started out. Our Personas can help us avoid getting killed by a lot of things - even gunshots." Lucy said. "Shirley, let's show the newbie something that will really blow his mind!"
"Okay!" Shirley said. "Then let's get started! Rhiannon, come forth! Bring those of unjust hearts to a painful demise!"
"Inanna, get a move on! With the power of trust, help us break free of Shadows!" Lucy shouted.
"Thanatos Trust!" Both of them said.
Rhiannon and Inanna leapt towards each other, smiling. They hurled their weapons at both Cherub and Sword, stunning each of them. Then, the two Personas held hands, and out of nowhere, a scythe crafted out of pure energy appeared. It swung at the Cherub and Sword, gaining strength with each swing, until finally it exploded with a massive burst. The Conviction Sword, unable to continue, collapsed and dissolved.
"No way! They-they-they combined?!" Karl stammered.
The Cherub was now alone. Each of the three faces looked anxious - this was the longest battle it was likely to have faced. If it did not act fast, it would face the same fate as its brethren. It turned to Lucy, and started to cast Hamaon.
"Oh shit, not again!" Lucy shouted. However, it failed to connect. "Huh? It didn't do anything this time..."
"It must be getting low on steam." Amara said. "But I'm not! Agidyne!"
Hathor hit the Cherub with yet another fire attack. Angry, the Shadow flapped each of its wings, and the almost-metal feathers were much faster this time. Karl, however, managed to jump, roll, and run from all of the ones that came his way.
"I'm...good at this...thanks to all my training." Karl said. "Come on...Hero's Steel!"
Despite the name of the move, it looked almost exactly like a Tarukaja. Amara was confused, but shrugged - and yelped at the razor feather barrage.
"Hey, I know what I can do..." Zao said. "I picked this up a while back, but I never really needed to use it. Spirit Drain!" Rashnu appeared yet again, and this time managed to absorb some spiritual energy from the Cherub's body. Each of the three heads started to spin around, and fire laser beams from their mouths - and everyone felt the piercing light on their weary bodies.
"Urgh!" Amara was stunned. This Trauma Shadow did not give up easily. Unfortunately for it, neither did Amara. The Cherub, clearly desperate, attempted to summon its allies again. However, despite the loud and dissonant choir, no Shadow came to aid it.
"Ha! No one's here to help you now!" Zao jeered. "I've got another new move for you guys. One you're gonna love! Bloody Destiny!"
Rashnu seemed to be doing the same motions as Mass Destruction. Except the movements were controlled, calm, yet still severe. Rashnu's blade became blood-red, as appropriate. Then he swung his blade with one swift motion, creating an arc of dark red light. The force of the swing sent the Cherub to the floor, and it's halo became cracked from the impact.
"Whoa!" Amara said. "You have been practicing..."
"I know. I wanted to be as good as you guys...and I wanted to surprise you." Zao said. "I'm not the weakling who can only use crappy spells anymore! From now on, I'll do my best to destroy anything we face!"
"Thank you, Zao...it's nearly over. We can handle the rest." Amara said. She readied her sword, and started to attack. Her sword dance sent her blade in all directions, as she laid into the Shadows' stony body. Shirley joined in, kicking the Cherub as hard as she could. Finally, it rose again, and fired more beams from it's 'eyes'. "Ah!"
"Hang on!" Karl said. "That move I did before...I can use it again! Mighty Braver!"
Alexander attacked again, and while the Cherub was not knocked down, it's entire body seemed worse for wear. The halo was breaking apart, and shards of glass were falling. The heads seemed looser, and the wings were dirtied and torn.
Lucy started to smirk. The entire time she had been inside the Academy, she had been afraid, desperately clutching Shirley's hand, or angry. Now she seemed delighted. Inanna appeared before her, and her axe seemed to be glowing a very bright fuchsia.
"Oh yeah, I'm on fire now!" She said, with a devilish grin. The entire room suddenly got dark, and all Amara could see was Inanna and the Unblessed Cherub. Inanna flew up to the Cherub, and started making seductive poses...as she slashed the living daylights out of it. Each swing of the axe created bizarre love hearts to dance all over. Finally, Inanna puckered up her lips, and kissed the Cherub. "How about we Kiss in the Dark?"
The kiss turned into scarlet flames in the form of a heart, and as light returned to the area, Lucy was leaping up and down. "Yes! I did it! Wait till I tell Blaine!"
At last, the repugnant monster that deserved no existence even in one's imagination begun to perish. Each of the three heads opened their mouths, seemingly to scream, but no sound came out. The body crashed into the ground, breaking into thousands of pieces, whilst the wings became a mass of feathers that danced around, fading away as they hit everyone else. The halo shattered as well, becoming nothing more than a broken ring of metal, and the light dissipated. Finally, each one of the three heads disintegrated into falling shadowy rubble, and the Justice mask was gone.
"It's...over." Zao said. "...Oh crap. Aimee!"
Karl and Zao rushed over to Aimee, desperately trying to coax her back into consciousness. She started to stir, her eyes opening. The moment she stared at Karl, she began to smile.
"...It really...is you...my big brother saved me..." Aimee said.
"Yeah. Of course I did." Karl said. "Amara...Zao...you said you would tell me what's happening. Can we find somewhere other than this place? It's not safe here."
"Sure. But first..." Zao said. He reached for his bag, and pulled out the sneakers. "We can't just let you walk around in those socks, can we? Especially when they're all holey, like that Cherub..."
"Was that supposed to be funny?" Lucy said. "Whatever. Let's get out of here. I wonder how everyone else is doing."
"Don't worry, Karl. We'll get you to safety." Shirley said. "Where's the NDD that took you here?"
"Huh?" Karl said. "If you mean that portal thing I went through, it's by this old bike shed. You guys better lead the way."
"Alright. We better rendezvous with everyone else, then." Amara said.
|Academy - Outside|20:26 pm
When the group made their way outside the school, everyone else was already there. From the bored looks on their faces, they had been waiting for a while.
"Hey, over here!" Richard shouted. "You'll never guess what we found outside. An NDD!"
"Kyle, why couldn't you have found the code for it? Then we wouldn't have had to walk so far!" Serena said. "My feet hurt..."
"Sorry. I thought the exercise would have done us all good." Kyle said. "We didn't find any ghosts, though.
"I am relieved to see you unharmed." Seraphina said, smiling. "If the battle you were embroiled in had taken a dire turn, I would have been forced to gather everyone here and march into that gymnasium, and annihilate that Trauma Shadow with my bare hands."
"How does she know - huh?!" Karl said. "The guys from the barbecue, they're all here too? And Richard and his buddies?"
"...Amara, why didn't you tell us you were bringing Karl?" Nathan asked. "It might have made going through that academy less boring. All we found were old photographs and diaries detailing the love lives of teachers."
"It was kinda cool, actually. You'd never believe what Ms Reading and Mr Jenkins got up to in the Gymnasium." Dan said, winking. "But why is this Karl guy here?"
"We're gonna go back to the base so we can rest." Aimee said. "There might not have been any ghosts, but...what was in there was just as scary."
|Secret Base|20:37 pm|
"It seems your adventure in White Rose Academy was the more eventful. Or at least, the least humiliating." Alastair said, glaring at Richard. "Karl, was it? How are you feeling? And how did you even get here?"
"I'm fine...I think. Zao came round my apartment, and he was acting weird. Then Amara phoned him - and I heard her talk about the other world." Karl said.
"Smooth going, genius." Blaine said, frowning.
"I'm sorry..." Amara mumbled.
"So after Zao left, I went after him. I just knew something weird was going on, and he wasn't going to let me know - but Amara was involved. I finally found the place you were meeting - this old warehouse in Farawell. You went inside, and I was stunned. Why would you guys go inside that crummy old place? I was about to turn away and forget all about it. Then I saw a key on the ground."
"Shit. It must have been the spare I had made in emergencies." Blaine said. "I must have dropped it..."
"Smooth going, genius." Amara said.
"I'm sorry..." Blaine mumbled.
"So I unlocked the door, and made my up, quiet as I could. Then I saw the five of you run through a white light. I couldn't believe my eyes. I even pinched myself, in case I was dreaming. But it was all real. Then the light vanished, and there was a piece of paper on the ground. It had a number on it, so I typed it in. The light came back on, and...I ran in. Something told me I had to. When I finally woke up, I was in front of White Rose Academy." Karl said.
"You must have been so confused..." Bianca said. "Especially to appear in a place like that."
"I didn't have a clue what was happening. It felt like I was on another planet, or like I had gone back in time. No one was around...so I went inside. Those things...Shadows! They were everywhere! I know this makes me sound like a coward, but I just ran. My shoes fell off when those things were chasing me, and I wound up all over the school! The whole time, my heart was hurting like hell. Worse than a migraine. But after I summoned Alexander - my 'Persona' - that went. And someone called Philemon started talking to me. Who is he? And where the hell am I, anyway?" Karl demanded.
"Karl, this is an alternate dimension." Amara said. "The explosion ten years ago in the convention centre didn't happen here, and instead our city got infested with Shadows - the monsters you saw inside that Academy. The group Aeternus, lead by the Ater Vox, took over the city and pretended to be our saviours, by creating the Ornatu Legion military unit to fight the Shadows. Yet they are the ones behind everything."
"So you're saying, this is what could have happened to our city?" Karl said. "I...okay, I kind of get that. But why is my sister here? She died in that explosion! She's been dead for ten years..."
"That explosion didn't happen, Karl. Ten years ago, our parents were killed by Shadows, and we were all alone...and then..." Aimee said. Her eyes were filled with tears.
"...No." Karl said. "I'm dead in this world...right? How could that happen?!"
"The Shadows are dangerous, Karl. You saw them for yourself." Dan said. "And your sister here was all on her own, but soon enough she got this group going. So far, we've been through a lot. Not just Shadows, but the Ater Vox, Divine Sparks, Ornatu Legion..."
"This...doesn't make any sense! Aimee's alive, and she's fighting against those monsters? Why?! Why are you risking your life this way?!" Karl demanded.
"I don't have a choice, Karl...I promised you I would get rid of the Shadows. Or the other you..." Aimee said, eyes to the floor. "Please understand...I want to get this city back to normal, and there's not a safe place for me..."
"Then come home with me! Please!" Karl shouted. "I'll look after you! I promise! Our mom and dad will be so happy...and you can stay in my new apartment any time! You will love it, I promise! I...please! Aimee, don't stay here! I can't just leave you here to fight those things! I saw you almost die today because of them!"
Aimee was quiet. Then, bursting into tears, she ran straight into her room.
"How can she go back to a world where she's been dead for such a long time?" Priscilla asked. "Karl, you must realise that's not possible!"
"Anything's possible! Today I summoned a knight from my mind to save my sister!" Karl said. "So what's the difference?"
"Karl. She won't go with you." Blaine said. "This city is a pretty crappy place right now. But Aimee would never give up on it. Just as you've been mourning her, she's been mourning you. But she's fought for the hope of rebuilding New Motus City. She's not going to throw that away just so she can have a safe easy life with you."
"But..." Karl said. He sat down, quiet. Then, she slammed his fist into a wall, angrily. "How could you hide this from me, Amara? You too, Zao! How could you...? Both of you, coming here whenever you please, to help my little sister kill those monsters! Did you ever think how I would feel...at all?!"
"I think you should go home. This is going nowhere." Kyle said. "Amara, please take your ex-boyfriend home, and the drama with him."
"Understood." Amara said. As normal, they stood up and entered the key on the NDD. Karl was confused - and rather alarmed when he saw Blaine and Serena walk into the blue light.
"Where did they go?!" Karl asked. "Don't tell me that's how -"
"That door is our only way home." Amara asked. "Don't worry. We've done this plenty of times."
"Like the plenty of times you've seen my sister fight for her life?" Karl chided. Amara bit her lip, but before she could mutter an apology, Karl shoved past her into the NDD.
Nathan held Amara's hand as they left for their home, without another word.
|Farawell - Outside Warehouse|20:52 pm|
Karl looked around, and looked relieved. Everyone was normal. No Shadows or Personas in sight. Yet when he turned to Amara, his eyes flared with rage.
"What were you thinking?!" Karl screamed. "How long have you been doing this for? Don't you realise you could have been killed?! By those...things!"
"Amara is a lot stronger than you think." Nathan said, frowning. "Ever since that day in June, she's been improving."
"...June?" Karl said. "What about you, Zao?"
"I was in July, Karl." Zao said. "And I'm sorry I never told you. Can you blame us, though? You never would have believed it. These things you have to see to believe. And going into that world, again and again, is...like going into the depths of hell."
"So what was your plan? Just save that world and live here like nothing ever happened? You could have gone decades, your entire lives, without ever telling me about the dimension you saved with the help of my sister!" Karl shouted. "And not only that, you could have taken her from that awful place to this world! Then she'd be happy! This is...this is insane!"
"Zao, can you take this guy home? I'm tired of listening to him already..." Blaine said, frustrated.
"No, don't bother! I'm getting out of here! You guys can just keep going in, doing whatever you have to do. But count me out! And Zao, don't bother coming to the Final!" Karl shoved past a panicked Zao and stormed off into the night, angrily muttering under his breath.
"...Are you two alright?" Nathan finally asked. "Karl needs time to think. Leave him be."
Zao nodded, and quickly dashed off. Looking at his tearful face, Amara's heart sank. The possibility of anyone discovering their mission had never crossed her mind. She had assumed everything would work out, if they just tried hard enough to fight the Shadows. Now, Karl knew - and he was furious. The group went home, without another word.
|Amara's Apartment|21:36 pm|
Tonight had been a lot worse than she expected. First Aimee dragged everybody into a haunted school, then Karl wound up in the other world and became a Persona user. How could this have happened?
If only he had never followed Zao. Then he never would have seen Aimee fighting the Unblessed Cherub. Amara tried watching the TV, but she couldn't focus on a single channel. She thought about going on her computer, but even that was too much right now. To be so wracked with worry, even after everything she had seen so far, felt strange.
Just then, the buzzer went. Amara went to pick up the receiver, confused.
"Hello? Who's there?" Amara said.
"It's me." Karl said. "Let me in. We have a lot to talk about."
Amara, without speaking, hung up the receiver and pushed the button, and waited. Soon enough, Karl entered the room. His clothes were soaking wet, and his hair was drenched.
"You went out in the rain without a coat?" Amara said, confused.
"A little rain never bothered me..." Karl said. "Look, Amara. I tried to sit down and think, but I couldn't. Just sitting there, trying to think about this other world, these Personas, and the Shadows...I can't make sense of it all. That and...my sister. She's MY sister, Amara!"
"Karl, you never once told me you had a sister!" Amara said. "I only found out when Zao met her. And by then, I knew I couldn't get more people involved. Not even you! Besides, we're not longer together. Why should I tell you what I'm doing? Knowing you, you'd try and get involved, all so I'm safe and sound! But I can handle fighting there."
"Amara...ever since my sister died, I've been the same with almost everyone I get involved with, man or woman." Karl said. "I just get this sick feeling inside of me, just as we're getting close. Something will happen that will kill them, just like that fucking explosion! I try telling myself it won't happen, but that never works. So I do my best to look after them. Be near them, always know where they are...but it ends the same every single time. I swear, with you I thought I could beat it for good. But...I fucked up." Karl said. "I'm a wreck, alright? Right now, all I can think of is you almost dying every time you're in there! And I wasn't there to help you!"
"That's right. I can't do it alone. So me, Serena, Nathan and Blaine work together. Zao too. We help each other." Amara said. "But if either one of them tried to hold me back like you did, I wouldn't go with them anymore. So you don't have to go with us to the other world. Me and Hathor are stronger than you think! I know now, we can take down anything as long as we believe!"
"...I wish you didn't have to take down anything at all." Karl said. "But...it looks like you've decided. You can't let that other world be until it's saved. Even with all the danger you and your friends face. And I tried to make you all give up and stay here, like normal. I...I'm a fool!"
Karl had tears falling from his eyes. Before Amara could say anything, he stood up. He was trying his hardest to fight back his tears, she could see it. Never had she seen him like this before - apart from when she ended their relationship. Yet this was worse. Karl's problems were deeper than she realised.
"Get a hold of yourself, Karl." Amara said. "Look. If it were up to me, I'd rather you never came back to the other world. But we need more people to stand a chance against Aeternus. You don't know what they're really capable of, Karl. They're trying to bring forth an event called the Divine Spark. Once that happens, everything in existence in that dimension will be destroyed, and the Ater Vox can do as they please with reality!"
"...You're serious, aren't you?" Karl said. He wiped away his eyes, and turned to the window. "Everything that's ever existed, gone with a flash? What are they going to do after that?"
"I don't know. But they're not going to let us see it." Amara said. "That's why we have to stop them! Karl, your sister can't come here. But you can come back to her. Give her your support. Her Persona can only heal our injuries, so it's up to us to do the real fighting. And your Persona seems strong. For Aimee's sake, Karl. Join her. And Zao, too. He'd be overjoyed if you and him got to fight side by side."
"For my sister...for Zao..." Karl said, thinking. "If you put it that way, I don't have much choice. Fine. I'm going to join you guys. But don't get me wrong. No matter how I feel, I won't interfere with you and Zao."
"...How you feel?" Amara asked. Karl gulped, and turned pale.
"You know exactly what I mean. I'm going, then. Let me know when we're going." Karl said. "I really should apologise to Zao, too. None of this is his fault..."
Karl walked out of the apartment, leaving Amara to watch the rain falling from the night sky.