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TheCharredDragon

Yomu Yomu Fruit User
Content approved by bobandbill
My thanks for approving this.
Rated R (or M if this was AO3 or M in ESRB rating) for mature themes, violence, strong language (usually shit, crap and damn, but up to fuck) blood, physical abuse, sexual themes, suicide (both attempted and past), partial nudity, alcohol references, drugs references and gun usage). Otherwise known as typical Persona 5 stuff.
Additional and approptiate warnings/reminders will also be added in appropriate chapters.
Summary: "You didn't have to fight for me, you know." "And you didn't have to curl your hair so we'll look even more alike." Ren stared before he softly chuckled, Akira joining him not long after. With one simple decision as a child, Ren Amamiya goes to Tokyo alongside his little sister, Akira. (P5R Sibling AU) (Ren/Ann, Akechi/Fem!Akira) (Updates bi-weekly)
FF.net version here.
Prologue: For Want of A Breath
Chapter 1: The Other Wild Card
Chapter 2: A Journey of a Thousand Miles...
Chapter 3: I am Thou, Thou art I
Chapter 4: Black Sheep
Chapter 5: Cat Got Your Tongue?

Prologue: For Want of A Breath

{R}​

Screaming, shouting, and insults... Those were the only thoughts in Ren's head as he tried to make himself as small as possible in the corner of his room and covered his ears to block the noise. But it was no use. He could still hear Mom being mean to Dad. He whimpered and sniffed. It was probably over something stupid again, like Dad not buying the right drink or not putting his clothes away. Or, worse, it was something he did and Dad was taking it for him again. Why did Mom have to be so mean? Dad loved her but Mom just kept shouting and hitting him. And she was never nice to Dad or him. Wasn't Mom supposed to love Dad and him?

There was a crash and Ren flinched.

He didn't really think. There was only one new thought:

Run.

And he did. He went out of his room, past his parents in the kitchen, shouting for him as he burst through the front door. He felt the heat of the sun on his skin. He could hear the talking of people passing by. And he could smell the scent of wet concrete. But he didn't see any of it, shutting his eyes to try and stop the tears threatening to come out. He didn't care where he went, he just wanted to run. But it wasn't long before his body slowed, telling him to stop, and he was forced to listen to it. He ended up sitting on a sidewalk, his back up against a random building as he hugged his knees to his chest.

Ren didn't know how long he sat there. All he knew was that the ones around him only glanced at him before going on their way, and that the sun was starting to set. He knew he should head back, but he also knew there was still a good chance of Dad and Mom still fighting if he did, maybe even because of him. And he didn't want to go back to that. It didn't matter though as when he thought that...

"Ren!"

Dad shouted and he glanced up to see him run up to him. When Dad was beside him, he kneeled and looked him over.

"Are you all right?" he said.

Ren looked back at the ground.

Dad just sighed. "Come on, let's get going."

He gripped his arm and started to move him.

But Ren snapped his head side to side. "No..."

Another sigh. "Ren, please. Your mother is mad enough as it is."

He was going to speak again but his ears picked up the sound of coughing and panic. Ren turned to his left to see a woman in very dirty clothes shouting for help, asking for someone to call an ambulance. In her arms was a little girl, her clothes just as dirty and torn, who was shaking from her wheezing. It looked almost like the little girl was choking. Ren felt Dad pull him again, about to lift him up and carry him. But he thrashed in his grip. That surprised Dad into letting him go and he said, pointing at the girls,

"Dad! They need help!"

His dad followed his hand and saw them.

"What?" he said.

Why did Dad have to be slow? Ren just went for his dad's pockets to see if he had his phone.

"R-Ren!" he said, his big hands stopping him with little effort. "What are you doing?"

"They need help Dad! That girl can't breathe!"

He struggled to get his hands out of his dad's. Why didn't Dad get it? Why did he keep doing things that didn't make sense? Why did Mom do the same? He was tired of it. He wanted to help. He just wanted to help. Just let him help!

His thoughts were interrupted when the hold was suddenly gone and he saw Dad grab his phone, call the ambulance, and said,

"This is Souichirou Amamiya. There's this girl having a hard time breathing and..."

He went on to tell what the person on the phone needed to know as he went closer to the two, Ren following him. When the woman noticed them however, she looked like a scared puppy as she hugged the little girl closer. Not liking that, Ren said,

"We wanna help!"

The woman was shocked and she looked back and forth between him and his dad but eventually stopped to look at only Dad, who nodded at her.

"I have some questions I need to ask you for the caller. Can you do that for me?"

Despite everything, and also looking like she was going to cry, the woman smiled, nodded and said,

"Thank you."

(A)​

Darkness in her eyes.

Softness under her back.

And...air up her nose?

Akira gasped and opened her eyes to find that, no, she wasn't in Hell or Limbo or Heaven. Even if she didn't know what kind of place was so big and white and clean nor why she had a mask over her face, she knew this wasn't any of the places dead people would go. Not that she was sure which one of the three would she have ended up in. Good people went to Heaven after all and Mom said she was a good girl but people kept saying she was a demon, a curse. And she couldn't help but wonder if they're right...if all she caused her mom was pain and she couldn't even breath or see properly.

"Oh. You're awake," a voice said.

For a second, Akira thought that she was actually in Heaven after all and that was an angel's voice. But then there was rustling to her right and she saw the silhouette of a boy who had black hair and almost looked like he had black eyes, but it was hard to tell with the distance between them, too far for her broken eyes.

"You okay?"

"Ah. Yeah..." she said.

"Good," he said, Akira imagining him smiling from his tone. "I'll go get your mom."

He ran off, presumably towards the door as, after some grunting, she heard the slide of wheels on metal and the black of his hair disappeared while he leaned out to say something. Akira just blinked as another silhouette in grey clothes and Mom rushed inside. Mom was the first by her side with tears in her eyes.

"Akira... Oh Akira..."

Mom hugged her tightly and Akira did the same, feeling like she would cry too, glad she was back with her. They stayed like that for a while but then Mom leaned back, turned to the stranger and, for the first time she had seen towards anyone besides her, smiled.

"Thank you again," she said. "I...I don't think I could ever repay you."

"No need," the stranger said, a man from his voice. Akira could also easily hear the relief and slight smile in his tone. "I'm just glad your daughter is fine."

"But..."

"I'll say it again and again, it's fine."

The black puff then joined in and said, "We just wanted to help."

Her mom jumped a little before looking down to him with surprise, but it was for a moment, her happy expression soon back.

"Thank you very much for that," Mom said. "Can I know your name? Mine is Shiori Kurusu." She briefly glanced at her. "The one you saved is Akira."

The black puff once again disappeared but she assumed he was bowing since he came back up again as he said,

"I'm Ren Amamiya. Nice to meet you, Kurusu-san."

"Nice to meet you too, Amamiya-kun."

The peaceful moment, however, was broken when someone at the top of their lungs said,

"SOUICHIROU!"

Everyone jumped and looked to the door as there were sounds of a commotion outside. Then, just as sudden as the shout, Akira heard the door to the room slammed open and she scrunched her nose. In the doorway was the person who had shouted earlier. Whoever it was, all she could tell was that it was a woman with brown hair, she stunk of alcohol and had sounded ready to tear something into pieces. The man, Souichirou, seemed to know her but...

"Tomoko..." Souichirou said, apprehension dripping from just that one word.

But then the woman, who she assumed to be Tomoko, said, "What are you doing here in the hospital? Where's Ren?"

"Ah, well, about that..."

She seemed to have spotted the boy she was looking for as she said, "There you are, you little brat..." The brown dot went to the black puff, Ren. She seemed to have done something as he shouted in pain. "Where did you think you were going?"

"Tomoko, please..." Souichirou said.

"And you! You still haven't answered me! What are you doing here in the hospital?" she said, now with Ren struggling against her.

Akira frowned, and so did Mom too. Akira wanted to tell the woman to let him go, but then Ren said,

"We were helping Akira!"

"You! Shut up!" Tomoko said, sounding crazier by the second. "I've had enough of you! I am talking with your father."

"No you're not! You're shouting at him! And then you're gonna hurt him! Stop being mean to Dad!"

"Why you!"

Akira felt her breath freeze but not from her breathing problem. Even with her imperfect vision, she could make out that Tomoko raised her free hand and swung it towards Ren. But there wasn't the sound of flesh slapping flesh. Instead Tomoko gasped as Mom had jumped from the bed and grabbed the offending arm.

"Don't hurt him!" Mom said, sounding like an angry cat. "It's my fault they're here! So if you're going to hit anyone, hit me!"

"Stay out of this!"

Akira gasped. The crazy woman finally let go of Ren and was about to hit Mom, but once again...

"Tomoko! That's enough!"

...her hand was caught, this time by Souichirou.

"Souichirou... Let. Go..." the crazy Tomoko said, her voice now low and dangerous.

"No. I won't. I won't listen to you this time, Tomoko. I thought you would get better if I stayed and tried to help you. I thought it would be best for Ren to have his mother. But if a stranger has to protect him from his own mother, then I've had enough. We're done."

"What...?"

"You heard me. We're done. I'll ask our families for a divorce. Now get out."

Tomoko gritted her teeth. "Why you...!"

"Ma'am?"

Everyone focused on the doorway to find a nurse standing there.

"If you will continue to disturb the patients, we will call security to escort you out."

Akira knew it was only a second. It wasn't actually long. But it felt like it to her as the woman stared the down the nurse, scared she might just decide to turn into a wolf or something because she certainly acted like a monster and maybe she was secretly a werewolf. But that second passed, the woman muttered something Akira couldn't catch, and then she said,

"Fine. I'll go."

Mom and Ren's dad stoped holding on to her and she stalked out the door. But not before she said,

"You'll regret this, Souichirou."

"No, I won't," he said. "I only regret that you won't let me help you."

Tomoko once again said something Akira couldn't hear and then she was gone. The nurse stayed a bit to make sure she wouldn't come back all of a sudden before leaving with a good-bye. It wasn't until the nurse was gone did Souichirou and Mom relax. When they did, she and Ren said,

"Are you okay?"

She turned and stared at Ren, who she imagined looked just as surprised as her that they had said that at the same time. Their attention returned to their respective parents when they chuckled. Akira couldn't help but pout behind her transparent mask.

"What's so funny?"

"Aha, sorry sorry Akira. I'm just glad you and Amamiya-kun are okay," Mom said.

"Me too," Souichirou, Ren's dad, said. Then he turned a little towards Mom, his voice having lost its edge and now much softer. "And...thank you."

"Eh?" Mom said. "For what?"

"For protecting Ren."

"Ah, well, um...it's the least I could do... You've done so much for us already."

It was then Ren decided to tackle Mom's leg in a hug, surprising her.

"Amamiya-kun...?"

"Thank you, Shiori-san. You were cool."

Akira smiled. "Yeah! You were cool, Mom! You grabbed her arm like on the TV!" she said.

"Eh? Cool...?"

Akira was going to say more but those words turned into a yawn in the middle of opening her mouth.

"Akira?" Mom said with slight panic.

But Ren's dad said, "It's fine. Just tired, right?"

"No I'm not..." Akira said, but it wasn't very loud and her eyes started to droop.

Souichirou chuckled. "Come on. How about we leave and let Akira rest? We can call a nurse to check on her to be sure."

"But..."

"You need sleep too!" Ren said to Mom. "You look bad! Dad says a good sleep always makes you feel better."

This time his dad kept back his chuckle, only letting out a short snicker. Mom stared for a bit, looking back and forth between Ren and his dad. Eventually, she calmed down and said,

"Okay okay, Amamiya-kun. I'll rest too."

"Then let's go," Ren's dad said.

The three went to the door but Akira whimpered and said, soft from her body's want to sleep, "Wait..."

Only Ren heard as he turned but Mom and his dad went out, soon followed by their voices sounding like whispers as they talked to some of the staff. Ren, meanwhile, went back to her bed and, with the help of a chair, leaned against the bed to be near her.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't...wanna sleep..."

The boy just tilted his head. "Why not? Sleep makes you feel better."

"But..."

She didn't want to see the bad people in her dreams hurting her or Mom... She tried to say that, she really did, but her throat choked up as the nightmares came to the forefront again and she wanted to cry from them.

But, thankfully, Ren then said, "Is it bad dreams?"

Akira just nodded.

A moment passed before he nodded and sat like a shogun with a thud, his legs crossed.

"I'll stay until you sleep so that I can steal any bad dreams you have."

Akira pouted. "How can you steal bad dreams?"

"Because I'm a phantom thief."

"Huh? Phantom thief...? What's a phantom thief?"

"Phantom thieves are special thieves that can steal anything."

"Really...?"

"Really."

"But aren't thieves bad?"

"Yeah. But phantom thieves can be good. Because they can steal anything. So they can steal from bad guys and bad things like bad dreams."

Well, if he put it that way, it sounded very nice. And he and his dad did save her. If he thinks he could steal her bad dreams...

Akira nodded and leaned against the pillows, the surprising softness making her close her eyes as she said,

"Okay..."

No bad dreams came.

Author's Notes: Hello and welcome to Persona 5: Refraction.

This is more or less P5R but with a twist: we have both Ren and Akira.

The reason why stems from several things. One was my want for a FeMC for P5 which spawned from the speculation on Kasumi before she was properly revealed. Another was my love for the Akechi/Fem!Akira ship, which is because of the fic Wings of Rebellion by aiyumi (which you'll notice will have a lot of influence on this if you've read it). Yet another was wanting to make a novelization of P5. And because of those it led to me thinking of unique way of combining it from one simple AU that is common (as far as I know): Minato and Minako as twins.

And thus this was born. So there will be some self-indulgence in this but hopefully it won't be too much and/or you'll still enjoy reading this as much as I had writing this.

I was actually tempted to not make this prologue at all but changed my mind because there were several things I wanted to establish. One, what Ren's family situation is and how I imagine it to be for canon P5/P5R. Two, what changes to that situation because of deciding to save Akira. And three, a reason why Ren and Akira have the intense urge to help others, even a certain detective.

Yes, there will be pairings in this fic. The main one is Akechi/Akira as that is, well, kind of the one third of the point of this fic. Ann/Ren will also be in here too, with hints of others if I can sneak it in... But note, as I've said, the pairings aren't the main/only focus and are, if anything, a subplot (at least from the research I did on subplots...). Hence why this fic is in this section and not the Shipping Fics section despite there being ships in this.

Akira's asthma was slightly inspired by the time-loop-travel-fix-it-fic called Escape My Night by KhadeanVhaden on AO3. I liked the idea, especially since I'm someone who actually has asthma, and once I thought of Akira with asthma, it worked well with tying her into P5's story, or at least how I tied her into the story. I would recommend reading that fic. It starts out really dark (and I do mean dark) but ends very sweet.

The title of the fic, Refraction, is in part because it starts with R like Royal, but more in reference to the fact that it means that the path of light goes in a different direction when it deflects on something and colors are the light we see reflected from a surface, thus a reference to Colors Flying High, the opening song of P5R, which is all about "choosing your own color" aka "being yourself". So basically the title is reference to the canon divergence in this fic and the colors theme in the song of P5R.

Meanwhile, the title of the prologue is based on the trope For Want of a Nail and changing the end to breath in reference to Akira.

For anyone who might have noticed, the reason why Souichiro said "I'll ask our families for a divorce" is because of what research I could do on Japanese divorce and child custody. Short version: for the sake of my sanity on their backstory while keeping it realistic to what I researched, Souichirou kept custody of Ren thanks to both his parents and Tomoko's agreeing that Tomoko wasn't fit to be a mother anymore when they were divorced by them and the law.
 
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TheCharredDragon

Yomu Yomu Fruit User
Chapter 1: The Other Wild Card

(A)​

Akira observed the scenery.

She had always wanted to ride a train. There was nothing quite like seeing the surroundings go by so fast and yet feel like floating past it. It was made even better with all the landmarks on the way, thanks to the line they were on having quite a few of them on the way to Tokyo. But she couldn't really bring herself to enjoy it as she reminisced on how they got here.

"Please, Big Bro," she said that day. "Can you please come with me?"

"Hmm? Come with you?" her older brother by one year said. "Why?"

"Well, there's this book I want to get but it's..."

"It's...?"

"It's on the far end of town so it'll be close to dark when I'm heading back and..."

Her brother just sighed before shaking his head with a small smile. "Is it about swords, by any chance?"

"Hey! It's not just swords! It's an encyclopedia of weapons! I've been looking everywhere for it! And the only reason I know it's there is because—!"

"All right, all right, I get it. Let's go so we can get back soon," he said, shouldering his briefcase with an amused smile.

As grateful as she was, she still couldn't help but pout at that. But that was soon gone when they reached the bookstore and Akira finally got the encyclopedia she wanted.

"Thank you, Mrs. Akatsu," she said to the woman manning the old bookshop.

"Oh, it's my pleasure, Amamiya-chan," she said, her smile making her wrinkles prominent. "It's always good to see books off to new homes."

"Bye! See you later!" she said and they left the familiar bookstore.

As soon as they were out, Ren said, "You're sure that book is in top condition?"

Akira rolled her eyes and smiled. "Yes, I checked. Or rather, I had Mrs. Akatsu check. The pages don't smell."

Her brother was still hesitant, but sighed and said, "All right, if you say so."

"You can check it yourself when we get back if you want, you know."

"I think my little sister has had enough of my nagging, so no," he said, smirking.

She slapped his arm in retaliation but all that did was make her brother laugh and she, too, fell victim to it. When the laughter faded, they walked in companiablr silence, the little lighting not deterring them as they walked the familar path back home. However, about halfway home, they heard a woman shouting in distress. The two stopped, looked at each other for a moment, then rushed off towards the sound. As they thought, there was a woman and it seemed she was being harassed by a man.

Just as fast as they came, they intervened, telling the man to stop, her brother also pushing him away from the woman. Apparently, that was enough to make the man topple over. But considering Akira could smell the alcohol off of him so strong it almost made her wretch, she hadn't been so surprised.

What had caught her off guard was the man blowing his top off, threatening to sue her brother. And, as if on cue, the sound of police sirens were coming closer and the man told the woman to tell them her brother had assaulted him.

"What?!" Akira said, took a step towards him, ready to say more with a punch, but was stopped by her brother grabbing her wrist.

Then the police came and fearfully recognized the drunkard man, who then turned to the woman and said,

"Well?"

And the woman did it. She actually did it. She told them that her older brother, Ren, had attacked the man.

Next thing she knew, Akira was the one to blow her top, shouting as loud as her defective lungs would let her. How dare he falsely accuse him?! He had been drunk and fell on his a
ss! She tried to get closer, to see his face so she could find out who the hell he was she was going to punch, but someone was holding her back. And that woman! Why did she do that?! They had been trying to help her! Why—

"Aki?" Ren said, her memory interrupted. "You all right?"

Akira glanced around, realizing she wasn't at the street anymore. She shook her head and gave her brother a smile, weak as it was.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said. "Just...thinking."

"About last month?"

She glanced away at that and only heard her brother sigh.

"You didn't have to fight for me, you know."

That made her look back with a smirk. "And you didn't have to curl your hair so we'll look even more alike."

Ren stared before he softly chuckled, Akira joining him not long after. When he was done, he said,

"Then I guess that makes us even."

It was then that the train announced the next stop, signalling that they needed to switch lines if they wished to reach their destination.

"Ah, looks like our first stop's coming up." Ren adjusted his fake glasses and bag then said, "Ready?"

"Yup," Akira said and pulled up her mask. "Just lead the way, Big Bro."

The train stopped like it hadn't been going several miles per hour and its doors opened wide. Akira had to hold onto Ren, otherwise she would've been pushed outside and away from him by the mass of people swarming out of the locomotive. Once they were out, and not being squashed, Akira let go and looked around the station.

One thing was for sure, it was noisy. Akira was half tempted to cover her ears from the constant thrumming of steps echoing off the pavement. Thankfully, the sound wasn't as deafening once they went up and into the streets, but it was still just as crowded, everyone rushing around like ants. Despite the relatively lower volume, she was still tempted to get some form of earmuffs later.

Ren was quick to find the next line to their destination and Akira started following him. But when they reached a crossway, she heard her phone ring in her bag and took it out, a reminder for her to drink her medicine on the screen. But she couldn't take it here, not wanting to risk losing it, so she snoozed the alarm. With that handled, she looked up to her brother and was about to ask him how long it would take to get to their destination when she noticed him staring at his phone with a blank expression.

Akira frowned behind her mask and said, "Big Bro? You all right?"

Ren blinked and turned his stare to her, as if not realizing what he had been doing, before he shook his head.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just some weird app," he said. Then he moved his finger, recognizing the motion as him deleting it. "Our next train's in five minutes. We better hurry."

Akira decided not to question it since she needed to take her medicine soon. So they went to their next train, this trip sailing by just as fast, and then they arrived at Yongen-Jaya Station. Thankfully, this one had less people milling about, making it as peaceful as a city as big as Tokyo could be.

Yongen-Jaya itself was much the same with few people going about the residential area. But Akira couldn't help but stay close to Ren as he double checked the address. Everywhere she looked were buildings, buildings and more buildings, the only things breaking it up were the streets, the signs and the people. Not a single tree in sight. The best she saw were potted plants.

Soon they found themselves in front of an unassuming house, with the nameplate "Sakura" by its gate. Ren ringed the bell and they could hear the distinct sound of a modern and artificial bell but no one answered.

"You're sure this is the right place?" she said, unable to help it.

"Pretty sure," he said, his face showing he was just as confused and worried as she was.

It was then that a passing delivery man said, "Are you two looking for Sakura-san?"

They were hesitant, but seeing as they had no other leads, they nodded.

"He's usually at his café at this time. Just back down to the street and make a left at the second turn," he said.

Ren said, "Thank you."

As the man had said, they did indeed find a café with his directions, a place called "Café LeBlanc", from what Akira could read of the overhead sign. And she was glad that their caretaker was here as the inside was a welcome change. The brown colors and soft lighting made it feel like a lived in home. Though that impression was somewhat dampened by the news talking about a car crash earlier that day and an elderly couple mentioning they've been becoming frequent.

"I thought they were exaggerating it..." she said in a low voice.

It was then that a middle-aged man with a small beard and glasses noticed them. In a somewhat deep and definitely grumpy tone, he said,

"Ah, they did say it was today..."

Then he groaned and put away the newspaper whose sudoku he was trying to solve.

Coincidentally, the old couple stood up and the old man said, "Well, we'll be going now. The payment's on the table."

"Thank you for doing business with us," the bearded man said.

"Oh, it's our pleasure. After all, this café is in the back alleys so we don't have worry about cars crashing in here."

"A what now?" the small-bearded man said, eyebrow raised.

"Oh, didn't you hear the news? There have been more of those accidents lately. People apparently going mad or something and not remembering a thing," the old man said.

Akira shuddered. That sounded terrifying.

"That's none of my concern," the middle-aged man said.

"Ah, I see. Well, we'll see you next time."

Akira and Ren moved to allow the elderly couple to leave before turning back to face the man that remained, who groaned and muttered,

"Four hours for a single cup of joe..."

From the fact he was the only one left in the café and how he was acting, Akira could guess that this bearded bespectacled man was Sojiro Sakura. Especially as he turned his stern gaze to them and said,

"So, you two kids the ones?"

With a brief glance at her brother who met her eyes, she knew that Ren thought the same as well. She nodded, telling him in silence that she wanted him to answer. He returned it in agreement before turning to the presumed Sojiro Sakura.

"Yes sir. I'm Ren Amamiya. This is my little sister, Akira." He bowed then said, "Please take care of us."

That politeness, however, made the café owner look at them with suspicion as he said, "Uh huh."

Akira frowned, wondering if he was acting cold because of their record.

She didn't get much chance to dwell on it though as he said, confirming her first suspicion,

"Well, I'm Sojiro Sakura. You'll be in my custody for the year." And he cemeted her second one as crossed his arms and harrumphed. "I was wondering what kind of unruly kids would show up. But you're the ones, huh?"

"What? You didn't know what we looked like?" she said, giving him a flat stare.

"Akira..." her brother said with a frown.

Sakura-san looked unimpressed as he huffed again. "Of course not. It was a customer of mine who knew your parents and suggested to—" he said. But then he shook his head and sighed. "Well, not that that matters..."

The bearded man then turned and went to the end of the café, where there were stairs to the right.

"Follow me," he said as he went up it.

Akira pouted. The temptation to give him a hard time in payback was very high. But with a comforting hand from her brother in a reminder, she sighed in agreement. Since this was where they were staying, she would have to put up with it. So, tailing behind her brother, they went up the steps their guardian took in the back...

Akira's eye twitched.

...to find themselves in an attic that clearly wasn't used a lot. There were cabinets in various parts of the room, plenty of boxes stored in them. There were canvases covering many of said boxes. In the far left was a desk and the right a makeshift bed made from crates, with windows above them. Not too far from the bed, beside a cabinet, she noticed a potted plant that was beginning to wilt along with various other things, like a freaking ladder and bucket. And, worst of all, a layer of dust covered everything everywhere. The only thing that wasn't under the light grey veil was the box that had all of their essentials in it sent from home.

In other words: an asthmatic's nightmare.

"This is your room," Sakura-san said. "I'll at least give you sheets for your bed."

Akira groaned. You've got to be kidding me...

"Hmm? You wanna say something?"

Oh she did. And she was about to, but then Ren said, polite to the point of near emotionless,

"It's cluttered."

And that calmed Akira somewhat, glad that Ren was also, at the very least, annoyed at the man.

"If you have a problem with that, then it's on you to clean up the rest," Sakura said.

"My little sister has asthma."

Alarm flashed briefly on his face, but it soon returned to his previous stern expression.

"All the more reason for you to behave then," he said. "I'll be leaving you two alone at night after I lock up each day. I'll throw you both out if you cause any trouble."

Akira was glad for her mask because there was no way she could hide her frown otherwise as she gritted her teeth and held her bag tighter. Ren was, arguably, taking it better than her as his face became even more blank.

"I see," he said.

The man huffed and crossed his arms. "Look, I got the gist of your situation," he said.

Akira nearly scoffed but held it, if only because she knew her brother would scold her slightly. But she bet that the man only got the official repo—

"The kid protected some woman from a man forcing himself on her, he protected her and the man got injured then sued you, right? Then when you were getting arrested, you—" He looked to her. "—protested. So you got arrested and resisted, right?"

—what? He knew? But then why was he being so—

"That's what you get for sticking your nose in a matter bettween two adults. You did injure him, yeah? And now that you two got a criminal record, you were expelled from your high school. So the courts ordered you to transfer and move out here, which your parents also approved."

—oh. Now it made sense. She had hoped their intentions were enough to ease up his stance, but no, they were just being "troublesome brats" in his eyes. Even if it was to help someone. Just like everyone else. Just as expected of everyone else.

But then he said, with a freaking smug face,

"In other words, they got rid of you for being a pain in the ass."

Red.

Fist.

"You son of a—!"

"Akira!"

It was only when she felt a hand on her shoulder did she realize she had raised her own, ready to slug him. And, of course, Sakura-san was not impressed. Akira grunted and relaxed her stance, staring at the floor as Ren let go of her. Even if Sakura-san didn't think of them as criminals, that certainly solidified his impression of them being troublemakers. But at least it was even, seeing as she didn't have a good one of him either.

"You're lucky your brother stopped you or I really would've kicked you two out already," he said. "It's best you quit that attitude of yours and not talk about anything unecessary. I am in the restaurant business you know."

Not wanting to lose their current residence just as soon as they arrived because of her, Akira just nodded and glanced at Ren so he'd know she wanted him to talk for both of them. He nodded to her then at their "caretaker" and said,

"Understood."

"Right. I'll say this again: behave yourselves for the year. If nothing happens, your probation will be lifted. Cause any problems and you'll be sent straight to juvie."

She nodded.

"Yes sir," he said, tone back to extreme politeness.

"Well then. We'll be going to Shujin tomorrow."

"Shujin?"

The man sighed. "Shujin Academy. The school you'll be attending. We'll introduce you two to the staff there. There's rarely a place that'll accept someone like you, you know."

"Oh. I see. Thank you, sir," Ren said.

The man just scoffed before he groaned. He mumbled, "What a waste of my Sunday..."

Akira felt her eye twitch but then the man turned to the cardboard box sent from home in the middle of the room.

"Your luggage arrived earlier. I left them over there."

"Thank you," Ren said.

And with that, and another scoff, the ageing man with glasses went back down. It was only a few seconds after he left did she say,

"Saying stuff about us is one thing...but saying stuff about Mom and Dad..."

All Ren did was sigh and say, "Well, it's not like most parents would be happy about their children having a criminal record. It'd probably be hard for most people to believe our parents didn't do that with our situation."

Akira grumbled. "I know, I know, but still...this sucks..."

Her brother put a hand on her shoulder in comfort, giving her a sad smile. "I know. But we can't do anything if he that's how he will treat us," he said. "How about after you take your medicine you go look around while I clean up?"

Akira knew he was right, with both Sakura-san and needing to leave the room for now. But still, she groaned and said, "I wish I could help..."

Ren just gave an apologetic smile, as usual, before he said, "Well then how about you get dinner while you're out? And maybe see if there are any spots we can hang out after school."

That didn't sound too bad, even though she knew it was suggested so that she wouldn't breath the dust he would undoubtedly kick up while cleaning.

"All right then. I'll see you later, Big Bro!"

"See you, Aki."

Before she actually left, she took her medicine out of her bag and her water canteen to drink it. With that done, she then went down the stairs to exit the café. As soon as she reached the door however, the building's owner said,

"Where are you going?"

She paused her steps, took a deep breath, and then turned to him.

"I'm gonna look around and get dinner while my big brother cleans up our room," she said.

Sakura-san narrowed his eyes slightly but Akira kept her gaze locked with his, not backing down. Thankfully, he soon stopped and sighed. Then he said,

"Remember to come back before dark."

Akira allowed herself an eye roll as she finally exited the café. She couldn't tell if that was his attempt to make up for earlier or he just didn't want to deal with the trouble of a teen coming back late.

Which she hoped wouldn't be the case as there wasn't really anywhere else to get food besides his café in the area nearby. It wasn't "empty", as there was plenty of places to go, like a small market, a laundromat, and even a theater and a batting cage in the area. And, handily, she found there was a clinic that seemed to double as a pharmacy just a short walk away from Leblanc, which she made a mental note to check out if she could get her medicine from later. Which was good since it seemed there were plenty of stray cats in the neighborhood, as well as some neighbors with pets, wistfully reminding her she couldn't have one.

But besides Leblanc, there wasn't anywhere in the backstreets to eat and cooking a proper meal using the café's kitchen was out of the question. She was tempted to see the rest of Yongen-jaya considering what she's heard of the neighborhood, but she didn't want to stray too far from the area around Café Leblanc or the route they took between their new home and the station. That would add even more time, even with a map on her phone.

So with that, she decided to try her luck in nearby Shibuya, managing to take a train. Hopefully there would be some place to buy food not far from the station. Though once she stepped out of the packed elongated bullet and into the rushing tide of the Shibuya streets, she almost wished that she hadn't. She wasn't quite squished, but it was hard to keep an eye on her phone that had a map of the area and on her surroundings without getting jostled by people hurrying to their destinations. Seeing that was a disaster waiting to happen, she looked for a spot where she wouldn't be pushed by the flow, so that she could get her bearings and decide on a destination of her own.

As she did, all of a sudden her nose was assaulted with the nauseating stench of perfume, strong and decidedly minty. Her stomach churned, bile already threatening to leave her throat, and air struggled to get into her lungs as her airways clogged. In a quick and smooth motion, she pulled down her mask and reached for her pocket, taking out her rescue inhaler. But just as she did, she was pushed, the pungent perfume even stronger now, and her inhaler flew out of her hand.

No!

She moved, ignoring the gaudy and pungent lady, with only one thought in her mind as her air lessened with each step to find her savior.

I have to find it. I have to find it. I have to find it. I have to find it!

[G]​

Akechi sighed as he checked his schedule on his phone after copying the message that arrived to an encypted file and then deleted the original message. He had just recieved another mission to cause a psychotic breakdown, this time on the engineer for a train. He would have to leave it for tomorrow since not only did he have to go deal with "closing" the case involving the last breakdown he did this afternoon, he also had been asked by Sae-san for help on something. Which was annoying since the new mission was a simple one but it couldn't be helped. And Sae-san did ask for his assistance. It would be fun to see what it was. She was one of the few adults he knew that actually had a brain.

Akechi was pulled from his thoughts when something bumped into his foot. He looked down to see a bright blue inhaler. He furrowed his brow as he picked it up and returned his phone. From the label and L shape, it was a metered dose rescue inhaler for asthmatics. And if it was out, that meant someone was going to use it but dropped it...and most likely desperately needed it. That wouldn't do. If the owner died and someone found out he held the inhaler, he could be blamed for letting a bystander die, damaging his reputation as the perfect Detective Prince, thus ruining both his fame and his plan by consequence. He thought of quickly disposing it, after all it wasn't his business, but he heard the sound of wheezing over the din of steps and murmurs and he looked to find it was a teenaged girl likely close to his age, clearly having a hard time breathing and searching with what little strength she had.

At a brisk pace, he went up to her, put down his attaché case and placed the inhaler in her hands as he moved it near her face, knowing every second counted. The girl, despite wheezing, moved with quick and practiced movments, uncapping it, putting it to her mouth, and pressing the button in less than a second before inhaling, long and deep. After a few moments of holding her breath, she exhaled and let go of the inhaler. It was only then as Akechi waited while she took a few more tentative breaths, making sure her symptoms wouldn't rise again, did he realize what he had done. But before he could berate himself for something unecessary and impulsive, the girl sighed in relief and gave him a smile as she said,

"Thank you very much for that."

Akechi returned it with one of the charming smiles he was taught to give.

"Oh it's no trouble, I'm just happy to be of service," he said.

That warmed her expression, the corners of her pale blue eyes crinkling as she straightened her posture. Akechi followed her example and was a bit surprised to find she was more or less the same height as him.

"Still, thanks. I don't think words can really tell you how grateful I am for the help," she said.

Then her cheerfulness disappeared as her eyes narrowed and she pouted.

Akechi almost took a step back, wondering why she was making such a face. Did she recognize him perhaps? That wouldn't be too surprising but if that was the case then all the more reason he should leave soon. But it would be rude to just leave all of a sudden and that would be a slight to his persona of Detective Prince. So he said,

"Are you all right?"

And when she answered, he would make his exit. As he hoped, she did answer, but not in the way he expected.

"Do you like sweets?"

He blinked. "What?" he said, unable to stop himself.

And she just said it again. "Do you like sweets?"

Unsure where this was going, but not seeing the harm at the moment, he said, forgetting his persona, "Well not particularly. But I don't mind them."

"Oh," she said, slumping her shoulders in disappointment. Then she put her hand in her pocket. "Well, it's not much but..." The girl pulled out a bar of wrapped chocolate. "...here. You're on your way to work, right? I'm sure this'll be a good pick me up. Well, unless you're allergic to dairy or chocolate..."

Akechi raised an eyebrow. She actually recognized him after all?

"What makes you think I'm on my way to a job?"

The girl gestured to his attaché case on the ground with her chin.

"That doesn't look like your regular bag for school. So I thought you're off to some part time job," she said. "Hopefully I'm not making you be late."

So she hasn't heard of him and she noticed despite the asthma attack... Unconsciously, Akechi's smile got smaller but more genuine as he chuckled. He wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or glad she didn't seem to know him yet was observant.

"I see. Very well then, I'll accept it. Thank you," he said, taking it.

The girl's eyes lit up behind her glasses when he did. She pulled up her mask, but not before he saw her amused grin as she said, "Hey, I'm the one thanking you, remember? And it's not much anyway."

"Well I appreciate the thanks nonetheless," Akechi said, a little surprised himself that he meant it. He picked up his attaché case. "I'll be taking my leave now."

"Sure, go ahead. Don't wanna make you late because you helped. Good luck with it, whatever it is."

Unbidden, he said, "And good luck to you as well."

The girl with glasses nodded before taking steps to leave. But, once again to his surprise, she waved as she left, looking over as she said,

"Bye! Hope we can meet again!"

With that, she got swallowed by the crowd, not even her distinctive curly hair making it easy to spot her in the mass. And Akechi stared at the spot he last saw her for a few moments before staring at the chocolate in his hands. He didn't need it considering he already had a few snacks in his case for emergencies, and there was a good chance it was melted considering he didn't know how long it had been in her pocket, but somehow...he didn't mind that it was the best the girl could do in the circumstances. And though there was very little chance of it happening or it being sincere...

She was the first to want to see him again.

{R}​

Ren let out a deep breath before he scanned his progress.

The room was pretty clear now. Since they weren't his and there wasn't exactly a storage space, he piled everything—boxes, ladder and all—that wasn't theirs to the back of the room, behind the railing around the stairs, which, thankfully, still left plenty of space. The exception being the withering, but not dead, plant that he guessed was a palm tree of some kind. He had swept as much as he could reach that wasn't blocked by furniture too large to move by himself and then he cleaned the dusty areas he couldn't use a broom on with a wet cloth. Of course, he would have to change the sheets on the bed in the corner, but otherwise his makeshift cleanup would suffice for now, the darkening sky outside reminding him to stop. He would have to see if there was anything else that could cause an allergy or an asthma attack another time.

Sounds of footsteps made him turn to the stairs and, to his disappointment, found Sakura-san...and he was staring in surprise.

"Huh. I was wondering what was with all the noise, but I didn't think you'd actually clean up," he said. His expression made way for a smug one. "Pretty impressive."

Ren sighed quietly. He wasn't sure whether to feel complimented or insulted.

"Do you need something, Sakura-san?" he said, keeping his tone polite, as he walked up to him.

"No," Sakura-san said. "Just checking on you. I'll be closing shop soon, so don't stay up too late. I won't take care of you if you get sick." The middle-aged man glared. "And don't mess with anything in my shop. If I see anything out of place or gone, I will throw you to the cops."

Ren nodded, not caring too much of his words because of his tone...until he realized what he said.

"You're closing now?"

The slightly bearded man sighed. "Didn't you hear me?"

"Well, yes, but my sister..."

"I won't wait up for her. But you can let her in if she doesn't come back before I—"

"I'm home!"

Ren sighed in relief. Speak of the devil. He went past Sakura-san, down the stairs and said,

"Welcome home."

"Hey Big Bro!" Aki chuckled sheepishly as she said, "I hope you don't mind me getting cup noodles. I didn't want to stay in Shibuya too long."

Ren gave an inquiring look and went up to her. "You went to Shibuya?"

"I couldn't find anywhere else to get food," she said with a pout.

Ren smiled. "Just wondering. I don't want you hurt."

"Yeah yeah... I know..." Aki said as if exasperated but her smile showing she wasn't.

Sakura-san then cut in and said, "Well, since you're here, I'll be going now."

Ren wasn't sure if he was imagining his deep tone being softer than before.

"Good-bye, Sakura-san. And good night," he said.

Aki's face soured but Ren sent a silent threat with his eyes. She met his gaze then sighed.

"Good night, Sakura-san," she said, low on energy.

The man raised his eyebrow, pausing his steps. But then he said, before he stepped out, "Make sure not to get in trouble, all right?"

With those words, he left.

And Aki said, "Geez... I don't get him... Does he wanna be nice to us or not?"

"You know we won't get an answer to that, Aki. And even if we did, I'm sure you won't like it."

"But still..."

"Come on, while dinner's getting ready, let's call Dad and Mama," he said as he made his way to the stairs.

"Oh yeah!" she said, following him.

Once in the attic, Aki sat on the couch and pulled out her phone while he pulled out the electric kettle from the cardboard box filled with their belongings. When he started to boil the water, the familiar voice of Mama said,

"Akira! You're okay! You are okay, right?"

His little sister laughed and said, "I'm fine Mom! See?" Then she made a haunting breath that made their mother laugh.

"Okay, okay," she said. "Where's Ren?"

"Here," he said, sitting beside Aki. "How are you doing Mama?"

"I should be asking that to you two! Are you settled? Is the room fine?"

Aki turned unsure. "Uh..."

"It's fine," Ren said. "A little dusty but I cleaned it up."

"Yeah! And it's pretty cozy."

Mama, however, then said, in a tone usually accompanied by a stern stare, "Akira... Ren..."

"Really, Mom, it's fine."

"It could be worse. We could've been stuck in a closet."

"Very well, if you say so..."

"Is Dad there?" Aki said.

"Oh! Give me a second."

There was the faint sound of wind rushing around it with the phone being moved and her voice being faint.

Then Dad said, "Akira, Ren, how are you?"

"We're fine, Dad! We already said that!" Aki said, smiling.

"Ha ha. Is your mother bothering you again?"

"I'm not bothering her! I'm just worried."

Another laugh. "Sure sure. If you insist."

He and Aki couldn't stop themselves from laughing as well, not doubting that Mama was pouting at them ganging up on her. Unsurprisingly, she was the one who decided to change the subject, and said,

"So, how was your day?"

And so dinner was spent talking with their parents as if they were right there with them, telling them of the train ride, of the bustle of Shibuya and how their room was like. But soon enough, they were done and they wished them good night, with the promise of calling often. Ren moved the extra futon and put it on the floor beside the makeshift bed, making sure there was a gap between them. After a short discussion, they agreed that he would take the floor while Aki took the bed so she wasn't as close to the floor and dust. Before they turned in, Ren set the alarm on his phone...

...and found a red and black eyed stared at him.

Ren was confused. He was sure he got rid of the strange app from his phone. How was it back? He didn't give much thought on that though, his mind too tired, and just deleted it again. With his alarm set and the lights off, Ren pulled the blanket over him, turned to his side and said,

"Good night, Aki."

"Night Big Bro."


"A couple years ago, there was an incident where a cabinet member did very questionable behavior and caused a scandal that he didn't even remember doing. When it first happened, it was written off as a mere accident. The same treatment was given when a similar incident happened a month later, this time that led to a CEO's car to crash, leaving him heavily injured. It wasn't until it happened several times, most ending in major accidents and scandals but some in deaths, did people notice and it became a relatively common place event on the news.

Author's Note: Disclaimer, I'm not an expert in Japanese culture and the most I know is from some research and second-hand knowledge from someone who has done more thorough research on it, but there is something I do need to mention, and that is the treatment of Joker in the game by most people who know of his past.

Short version, because of Japanese culture, reputation is very important, and thus even if it was for a false charge, if you did something considered bad in that society, it brings shame on both the person and their family, hence why Sojiro's treatment, and everyone else's, is so harsh, besides the fact that, in the case of Sojiro, he has personal reasons for being that way.

That's also why, even if both Ren and Akira don't like it, they're not surprised by the treatment. So, as far as I know, if anything, the fact that I had their parents still be nice to them is probably an outlier with what I know. And if that is the case, then it's just more proof that their parents, having found one another, don't care about the usual rules anymore.
 

TheCharredDragon

Yomu Yomu Fruit User
Chapter 2: A Journey of a Thousand Miles...

{R}​

Trickster.

Welcome to my Velvet Room.

My name is Igor, the master of this place.

The state of this room reflects the state of your heart.

It involves your life as well.

Ruin awaits you.

You must be rehabilitated.

Know your place Inmate!

Caroline.

Justine.

They serve as wardens.

Do you have the resolve to challenge the distortion of the world?

Blue.

Chains.

Prison.

You truly are a "prisoner" of fate.


Ren froze, expecting to see deep blues and even darker blacks. But instead he is greeted with the dulled out colors of early morning and his futon on the floor beside his sister's bed. He groaned and pressed a hand against his eyes. It had been just a dream. A rather realistic one where he was somewhat lucid, but still a dream.

"You okay, Big Bro...?"

He looked to see Aki put on her glasses after trying to rub the sleep from her eyes.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a weird dream," he said.

Aki smirked, though the effect was slightly diminished with her eyes' droopy state.

"What? The kind you shouldn't be telling your little sister?"

Ren rolled his eyes but still smiled. He ran right into that one. But still...

"What time is it?" he said.

"Too early."

Ren huffed in amusement as he reached for his phone to see it was about ten minutes before six in the morning. He groaned once again. There was nothing worse than waking up mere minutes before planned and not sleeping to the maximum amount possible.

"Yeah, you're right. But might as well get up."

Aki grumbled but agreed nonetheless as she followed his example and they both got up. They did their routine as best as they could, Aki taking her medicine as they took turns using the restroom downstairs to change into their uniforms and do their business. When it was Aki's turn to use it after he finished, he decided to wait for her in one of the booths, getting their breakfast ready, once again cup noodles as Aki bought enough yesterday for such. Thus he saw, to his surprise, Sakura-san come in the café, dressed in a white suit and fedora.

"Oh, you're awake," he said when he came in.

"Good morning, Sakura-san," he said, putting on his stoic but polite mask.

The man raised an eyebrow but still said, no doubt only out of politeness as well, "Good morning." Then he saw what was in front of Ren. "Is that your breakfast?"

Though he felt that was obvious, Ren nonetheless said, "Yes."

The white suited man stared at it for a while. Ren could only imagine what he was thinking before he sighed, his posture suddenly lax. Then he said,

"Well then. I'll be waiting outside. When you two are done, I'll drive you to Shujin."

"Drive...? You're going to take us to school?" he said.

Though when he spoke, he wished he hadn't as Sakura-san's cold façade, stern gaze and displeased frown returned.

"Just for today. Don't take too long. I'm a busy man."

And just like yesterday, he left the café with little fanfare. Ren sighed and pushed up his fake glasses. He would admit it only to himself, but Aki was right, the man was confusing. He was acting cold and yet took them in. He didn't dwell on it long as his little sister came out of the restroom. Ren told her about what Sakura-san said so that they finished breakfast quickly and soon they were in his car. When he saw it, he couldn't help but be surprised of it, its condition pristine despite clearly being an older Porsche, the yellow paint and cloth on the seats not showing any age, giving no discernible scent. Which was good considering the last thing he wanted was having to argue over the smell of the car and Aki refusing to go in because she didn't like it.

Ren sat in the back while Aki rode shotgun, to Sakura-san's curiosity if his expression was any indication. But he didn't ask, and Aki certainly didn't feel like talking so the trip to Shujin in Aoyoma-Itchome was silent and made it feel even longer than the several minutes it took to get there. After parking, they were at the gate and Ren found that the building wasn't too noteworthy, despite its name in kanji.

The whole thing reminded him of office buildings, all practicality and no aesthetics, except not as tall or as small. The building was merely grey and square, like the windows marking each floor. A wall surrounded the place, just high enough that it would take a tall student to reach its top but not so tall it obstructed the view of the main building. At the metal gate entrance was a plaque on the right side simply saying "Shujin Academy".

Before they passed the gate, Sakura-san stopped and turned to them.

"Do me a favor and behave yourselves, all right?" he said, though it was clear it was more directed at his sister with his gaze.

Aki frowned in confusion and Ren had a feeling she wad about to speak. But Sakura-san seemed to have guessed what she would say as he then said,

"Don't get the wrong idea. I just don't want you causing me any trouble."

Once he turned his back to them, his sister rolled her eyes, and he couldn't help but be amused at her mood. That made her glare at him but that left as they went inside, which wasn't much better than the outside. It wasn't ugly by any means, the doors to the various rooms were of equally varying colors, the floor were smooth wooden planks, and the walls were pristine, but it almost felt like he was walking around in a hospital or, again, an office building.

Though, perhaps, it was for budget reasons as the principal's office was almost like a rustic but professional oasis in the sea of rigid conformity. Which made the principal himself stand out all the more and Ren had to do everything in his power to not show his discomfort at seeing the bald and obviously chubby, if not outright obesse, man. He didn't even have a neck. It was like he was wearing a collar of flesh. And paired with the checkered suit, the man reminded him of ventriloquists and contrasted with the surroundings. He nearly didn't notice the woman in a light orange shirt and the man in a black suit with a yellow scarf to the principal's left.

Pleasantries were said between the principal and their caretaker before they were signing papers for the school, the last one being done by Sakura-san. When that was done, the overweight man said to him and Aki,

"To reiterate, just so we're clear, you will immediately be expelled if you cause any problems."

Aki just nodded while he said,

"Yes, sir."

Then the principal said, "Honestly, I hesitated on accepting someone like you but there were some...circumstances...on our side..."

Only loud enough for him to hear, Aki said right beside him,

"Probably a sponsorship from a food company..."

Ren nearly snorted at her comment and sent her a glance in warning. It might be blocked from his view, but he knew Aki was smirking at him under her mask.

"You might have done a variety of things in hiding in your hometown but you will behave yourself here," the principal said, making Ren return his attention to him. "If you are thrown out from our school, there will be no place for you to go. Keep that in mind."

He was sure Aki had another comment in mind from the quiet strangled scoff he heard from her.

"Yes, sir," Ren said.

Aki nodded again.

The bald and wide man stared at them for a moment before gesturing to the two people beside him.

"This is the teacher in charge of Class 2-D, the one Ren Amamiya shall be in," he said towards the woman before moving on to the man. "And this is the teacher in charge of class Akira Amamiya shall be in, 1-A."

"I'm Sadayo Kawakami," the woman said.

"And I'm Kiritsugu Shimizu," the man said.

Ms. Kawakami held up two IDs as she said, "Here are your student IDs."

She put them down on the desk for them to get. Ren was about to reach for them, but he stopped and frowned. What was that pink paper under the IDs? Whatever it was, Ms. Kawakami noticed as well and was quick to grab it. He glanced at Aki, confirming that he did see it. But as curious as he was, he would have to let it slide for now. So he took both of the IDs and handed Aki's to her.

The floofy, wavy haired woman continued, pretending as if nothing happened.

"Be sure to read the school rules. Any violations will send you straight to the guidance office. And, if by chance you cause any problems, I won't be able to protect you at all."

Ren's face twitched as he stopped his expression from changing, now even more curious of the woman with her choice of words. He noticed Aki stared at her because of that, so he guessed she thought the same as well.

Ms. Kawakami looked to the seated bald man as she said, "That is your promise, yes, Principal Kobayakawa?"

The man nodded. "He is responsible for all of his actions."

This time Aki did react noticeably, but thankfully it was just a snort so it was ignored.

The orange shirt woman frowned and said, "But really though, why me...? There should've been a better candidate."

"It was a sudden transfer, and your class was the only one that had an opening."

Before Ms. Kawakami could say more, Sakura-san said, "If you're done explaining things, mind if we get going?"

Finally, the man, Mr. Shimizu, spoke, looking almost disappointed when he did.

"Do you not wish for a tour of the school?" he said. "It would be helpful for Ren-kun and Akira-chan to become familiar with the layout."

"I got a store to get back to."

Now Ren was sure the younger man was disappointed, as well as apologetic, as his shoulders slumped slightly and gave a small smile that reflected his mood.

"Ah, my apologies then."

The white suited man turned to leave but then Mr. Kobayakawa said,

"Sakura-san, please keep an eye on them. Don't let them cause any trouble outside..."

"Well, I'll be sure to have a serious talk about the situation they're in."

Aki stare turned flat, likely resisting the intense urge to roll her eyes. Ren gave her a smirk.

Ms. Kawakami then said, "Come to the faculty office when you arrive at school tomorrow. I'll show you to your classroom."

Followed by Mr. Shimizu. "The same goes for you as well, Akira-chan." Then he said, his tone surprisingly gentle, "And tell me if there's anything I need to know about the what medications you need to take so I can do my best to acommodate you."

Ren stared at him in surprise, much like his little sister.

"Oh uh...thank you, Mr. Shimizu. I'll keep that in mind," she said.

Though the principal didn't like that as he sent a stern glare at the man while Ms. Kawakami looked surprised at his words. Not that Ren was surprised at their reactions, seeing as Mr. Shimizu was being nice to outcasts who had shamed their family. Ren could only hope he would be able to keep it up, but seeing as the the man with the yellow scarf gave an apologetic look for his behavior, he kept his expectations low, if not outright non-existant.

"All right then, let's go," Sakura-san, already walking out.

Not wanting to get left behind, they followed their caretaker. It was silent on the way down. Though he briefly reminded them that he would kick them out should they misbehave before they were back in the car. For the most part, it was a repeat of this morning. The main difference was how long it took to get home, the traffic being as bad as the a clogged drain, to the disgruntlement of their driver.

"Gah, traffic's not moving at all..." Sakura-san said, fingers tapping on the steering wheel. "That's it. You're taking the train starting tomorrow."

Ren already knew that, considering Sakura-san had more or less said that this morning. But he wasn't going to mention that.

Then, to his surprise, though it was somewhat awkward, Sakura-san then said,

"So...how was it? The school I mean. Think you can manage?"

"Yeah," Aki said. "Probably."

The fedora wearing man gave her an inquiring, if somewhat suspecting, gaze.

"Probably?"

"Hopefully," she said, the tone of her voice giving the impression of a cheeky grin.

Sakura-san's frustration returned as he frowned. "Do you even understand the situation you're in?"

All mischief left Aki as she said, tone heated like a furnace, "What? That no one wants us around?"

Ren nearly missed it, but the man's face twitched and his hand on the steering wheel tightened for a brief moment.

"You were expelled once before. No one would think you would enroll in a different one. It's not like anyone will be sympathetic with you," he said.

He could've been imagining things again, but his tone sounded weary, almost as of speaking from experience.

Then Sakura-san sighed and mumbled, almost as if he forgot the car was rather cramped compared to more modern ones.

"If that's what it's like at the school people, might say stuff about me in the future too," he said then sighed. "What troublesome kids I've taken in..."

And before Ren could stop her, Aki said, ticked off, "Then why'd you agree to take us in?"

Sakura-san didn't answer right away. He looked elsewhere, back at the traffic which had moved just a bit. He inched the Porsche forward and then stopped. Ren thought he wouldn't answer at all. But then the man said,

"I was asked to do it, and I just...happened to agree to it." And like an afterthought, he added, "I've already been paid for it after all."

Once again, Ren readied to calm his sister, but as if to break the tension as well as answer the man's earlier frustration with the road, the radio announced that another train accident has occurred, the most recent of a string of them.

Aki shuddered. "Train accident...?"

Meanwhile, Sakura-san said, "So that's why it's so crowded." His posture relaxed with that but then he said, his tone somber by the end, "There's been a lot of those lately. In fact, there was a real sad one just last month." He took a deep breath. "If I remember right, the girl that passed away was only fifteen."

The silence became much more heavier with that, the words reminding Ren of how he met, and saved, Aki all those years ago.

As if to avoid it, Aki sighed and took out a familiar and well-worn book from her bag, Phantom of the Opera, and read it. Ren looked out the window to see that the compression of cars wasn't going to filter away any time soon. He leaned against the chair and closed his eyes. School hadn't even started and already they were having difficulties.

This was going to be a long school year.

(A)​

Yesterday had not helped her impression of Sakura-san, nor allayed her hesitance in going to school. Sakura-san had been as confusing as before, mostly dismissive of them and doing his job, like giving them a journal so they would record their activities and their "talk" in the car. Yet there were brief instances of warmth that looked like accidents, like the fact he drove them in the first place and that he, apparently, trusted them enough to ask them to flip the sign and close up the café at night. The school was much the same during their first visir, the few people there dismissive, with only Mr. Shimizu having any hint of human decency. But even he seemed cowed by the principal. Put all of that together and Akira didn't feel like going at all.

But she didn't want to bother her brother more than she already has with her attitude towards Sakura-san, so when Ren's alarm sounded, she did her medicine without a fuss, coming down with him to wait on the ground floor while he used the restroom first. However, as soon as they stepped down, they both stared.

Sakura-san was there...right in front of a pot over a lit stove.

He noticed them then and said, "Good, you are going to school."

"Sakura-san...?" Ren said, voicing both of their confusion.

"Aren't you getting ready? Go on. I'll feed you two when you're done. Just make sure to finish it before the customers come in," he said then returned to his cooking.

He and Akira stared for a few more moments before his little sister said, "You first or me?"

That snapped him out of it and he said, "You go first."

Akira nodded then went inside the restroom. While inside changing and washing up her face, she heard Ren and Sakura-san talk.

"Curry?" Ren said.

"Have a problem with it?" Sakura-san said, tone grumpy as usual.

Though she couldn't see, she knew her big brother was smiling in amusement as he said, "Not me. My sister. She's a bit of a picky eater."

So she said,

"I heard that!"

Knowing full well he would smirk. What she didn't expect, as she did the final touches on her uniform, she heard Ren said,

"I think she'll like this though."

Followed by Sakura-san in a less grumpy but still rough tone.

"Well good, because that's all I'll be cooking for you two for your breakfast."

"Thank you, Sakura-san."

If their caretaker said anything more, she didn't hear as she went out and told her big brother she was done. She waited before she ate he changed into his uniform and fixed everything else up. When he was done, they ate their curry breakfast, which she liked as Ren guessed, and then put the dishes in the sink.

"Thank you for the food," Ren said again.

Not wanting to disappoint him, and actually liking the food, she too said, "Thanks for the food."

All Sakura-san said to that was, "Hmph. So you really do have manners."

I could say the same to you, you grumpy chef, she would've said and she opened her mouth to do so. But then he continued.

"Now get going. You'll be late if you stay any longer."

Quickly followed by Ren. "Did you double-check everything, Aki?"

Momentum lost, she did as told and made sure she had her medicine, water and extra masks.

"Yup," she said, pulling up the mask she had put on earlier.

"All right, let's go."

At the door though, before they left, Sakura-san said, "Flip the sign to 'OPEN' on the way out."

Ren looked to him, confused. "You're open this early?"

Which Akira shared, considering most restautants, cafés and the like only started opening at ten in the morning.

However, Sakura-san acted as if that was a stupid question.

"Hmph. Early? If anything, I'm running late. Now go, flip the sign, and don't get lost. This isn't like the countryside."

"No kidding, Sherlock..." Akira said, her mask muffling it.

The city and the countryside were like night and day to her.

Her brother patted her back, telling her he heard and said, "Okay, Sakura-san, we will. Good-bye."

And finally, after doing what Sakura-san asked of them, they left for school. The streets were just as bustling and the trains just as packed as the last two days, making the trip feel cramped when they rode the subway and she was grateful when they were out of it. However, just when they left the underground station...

It rained.

"Oh come on!"

They ran to the nearest roof, which was the front of a clothes store. Akira took deep breaths, bracing herself on her knees, and hoping she didn't have to pull out her inhaler. Thankfully she didn't and she was back upright again, glaring at the rain.

"You don't have the umbrella with you, do you?" Ren said.

"Nope," she said. "You?"

"No, unfortuantely."

She groaned. "So we double checked everything...except the umbrella."

"Mmhmm."

"Of course it's the umbrella... What's the fun in it raining if you don't get wet, right?" she said, sarcastic.

"Not fun at all," Ren said, smug amusement in his voice. "After all, what other time would it be perfect for a water fight?"

She glared at him.

As she thought he would, he just gave a cheeky grin.

She groaned again and ignored that. They had more important things to worry about.

"Damn it..." she said. "How we gonna get to school now? It doesn't look like it'll let up soon..."

"Hmm... Maybe..." And then Ren said, "Huh?"

And Akira saw her brother looking at his phone...and a red-and-black app with an eye on it was on the screen.

"I thought I got rid of this," he said.

"What? It keeps coming back?"

Ren hummed. "This is the fourth time it's popped up already."

"Geez... I hope it's not malware..."

"The virus scanner didn't detect anything, and I hadn't opened any spam, so I doubt it is."

"Still creepy. And still need to get rid of it."

Before further discussion was done, the sound of footsteps made their gazes follow someone who ran under the nearby roof just like they did. Once under, the person pulled down the white hoodie they were wearing, revealing that it was a girl, about their age more or less. She was about her height, if not a couple inches shorter. And her hair was platinum blonde. She leaned out a bit and looked around, likely also checking if the rain will let up soon, at least until she noticed them. To Akira's surprise, when she did...

...she gave them a smile.

The blonde girl didn't do more than that though and returned to looking at the streets. Seeing she wasn't going to make small talk, Akira turned to her brother to talk about that app, or maybe even back to trying to decide how to get to school...only to find he was still staring at the girl.

"Oh you've got to be..." Akira took a deep breath and then she said in a sing-song manner, "Big Bro..."

"Yes, Aki?" he said, not moving.

"You're staring."

"Huh?" That snapped him out of it. "Oh uh..."

"Please don't tell me it's love at first sight or I'm calling bullshit."

Her brother's expression turned flat.

"Really?"

"You were the one staring, not me."

Before it could turn into one of their sibling banters, there was a giggle behind her and Akira couldn't help but turn to see that the girl was, indeed, finding their antics funny.

"Oh great, now she thinks we're crazy," Ren said.

Akira gave him a sideways glance. "And whose fault is that?"

Another giggle and the girl's smile got brighter. However, a car that Akira thought would pass actually stopped before them and the window rolled down to reveal a man with poofy hair, a square chin, and wearing what looked like a gym school uniform. As soon as the blonde girl saw that, Akira could've sworn her smile turned more strained.

"Hey, you're gonna be late in this rain. You want me to give you a ride?" the man said.

"Oh, uh, sure," the girl said and went in.

But as soon as she did, Akira saw her deflate, like she wanted to be anywhere but there. She was tempted to ask if they could get a ride too. After all...

"Oh, you can come along too."

...the man was offering. But when she pulled her mask down and took a deep breath, she nearly retched. Ren's hand was on her back, rubbing it in circles. She groaned. The one time she wished she didn't hate new car smell. If she felt like throwing up from this distance, then there was no way she would be able to stand staying in that car. Akira tried to speak, even with her breakfast threatening to come out, but thankfully her brother did it for her.

"No thank you," he said. "My sister is sort of allergic to the smell of new cars."

Both the poofy haired man and the platinum blonde girl looked confused, but the former seemed to realize what Ren meant as recognition was on his face.

"Ah, I see," he said. "Well, don't be late then."

With that, the window rolled up and they watched as they went off down the road, Akira wondering if the girl would be all right.

"God damn it!"

Akira jumped and then a boy with bright blond hair arrived, stopping only a foot to their left.

"Screw that pervy teacher," the boy said.

"Pervy...teacher...?" Ren said.

It was then the boy realized he wasn't alone and turned to them. Akira thought he kind of looked a bit like a delinquent with that blond hair, his blazer open and his undershirt being yellow with the word "ZOMG!" on it. That was definitely a shirt she wouldn't mind wearing.

But then he frowned and narrowed his eyes.

"What?" he said and stalked up to them.

Ren stepped forward and Akira stepped behind him.

"Are you guys plannin' on rattin' me out to Kamoshida?"

What the hell, man? Akira thought. She was tempted to say it but the last thing she wanted was getting in trouble on their first day.

"I don't know what you mean," Ren said, his voice level.

And then all of sudden, the punk's hostility evaporated, replaced with confusion.

"Huh? In that car just now. It was Kamoshida." He looked away, grtting his teeth, and said, "He does whatever the hell he wants. What does he think he is? Some king of a castle? Am I right?"

"I didn't see a crown," Ren said, flat.

Akira snickered.

"Huh? No, that's not... Wait, you don't...know Kamoshida? Are you for real?" he said. "You're from Shujin, right?"

"What makes you think that?"

"What? Come on, no other school's got a uniform like this."

"Well we're new here, so I didn't know," Ren said.

"Oh? You're a transfer student then?"

Her brother nodded and relaxed. But he still stood in front of her, just in case, she figured.

"No wonder you don't know him..." the stranger said, likely just thinking out loud from his tone.

But still...

Thank you, Captain Obvious, Akira thought but still kept shut.

It was very tempting though.

Then the punk did a once over on Ren and her.

"A second-year and first-year huh? You two siblings?"

She and her brother nodded.

"Huh, you guys are lucky to be in the same school." Akira really felt like laughing at the irony of that but thankfully she didn't when he said, "Well, how about followin' me? I know a shortcut to school. We'll be late at this rate."

"But the rain..." Akira said.

The loud punk looked at her. "Hey, it ain't too bad."

"Still don't wanna get wet."

Ren added, "And it wouldn't be good for her asthma if she got wet."

"Asthma?" he said, surprised.

Akira felt her brother tense and she herself was getting ready to talk back but then he said,

"Well then, here."

And he took off his blazer and offered it to her.

"It's not much, but it's better than nothin', right?"

Akira didn't move. She actually felt her jaw dropped, not that anyone could see it with her mask.

"But what about you?" her brother said. "I don't mind giving my sister my blazer."

The blond boy grinned. "Heh, I'll be fine. 'Sides, you need to keep yours more than me, right?"

Her brother was silent for a few moments. Then he said with a smile,

"Thank you."

"Heh. No problem. Come on, let's go."

That was when Akira finally shut her mouth as Ren put the stranger's blazer over her like a blanket. Though as soon as he did, Akira felt another wave of nausea, but with the added thump of a headache. She groaned. She was starting to wonder if fate was making fun of them or something.

"Ugh... My head hurts..." the boy said. "Damn it... I wanna go home..."

Despite the mundaneness of it, the fact he had one too felt odd. But Akira didn't say anything, it was likely a coincidence after all, as they followed the kind punk down the streets. They weaved between the buildings, going through a couple of pretty narrow alleys. It reminded her of home actually, how they would usually go a seemingly roundabout way between houses to get to plenty of places. But with each step, a strange feeling kept nagging at her. It wasn't quite nausea, or even an itchy nose. The closest she could think was the feeling of being watched, like being self-conscious of every movement.

Ren stopped and Akira nearly bumped into him.

She was about to complain but the look on his face silenced her. He was looking behind them as if checking if they were being followed.

"You feel it too?" she said.

He didn't answer right away. Instead their attention was caught by the punk as he said,

"What the!?"

Akira had to agree when they caught up to him. That was a succint way to put it.

Author's Notes: I'll admit I was tempted to use an existing teacher as Akira's homeroom teacher but I had difficulty finding out if Japanese high school teachers taught in other grades besides their own, as that is how high school works for my country. So, to be on the safe side, I just made someone up.

Also I made Akira's class 1-A for one reason only: a reverse A1, as in A1, as in A1 Studios, the one who did most of the Persona 3 movies.

Also also, for my own sake more than anyone else's, Sojiro's car is a modified, yellow Porsche 356.
 

TheCharredDragon

Yomu Yomu Fruit User
Chapter 3: I am Thou, Thou art I

{R}​

It was not the cold and office-like building of Shujin Academy they saw when he, Aki and the blond stranger arrived at their destination. Instead it was a medieval castle that towered over them. It was designed like a stereotyped one, but it was colored in reds and yellows instead of being all grey. The walls protecting the castle, which were large in itself, were dwarfed by the structure it guarded. And the only way inside was a gate that was open with a drawbridge leading into it.

"Did we take a wrong turn?" he said.

"No, I'm sure we didn't," the blond said. "And it says Shujin on the gate."

Ren turned to see that the wall that was supposed to surround Shujin Academy that he saw yesterday was, indeed, still there, plaque and all, looking tiny in comparison to the castle. But that begged the question: what happened? It couldn't be some weird trick of the eyes for all to see, not so soon and not at this scale. The only possible "explanation" would be that the school changed.

"What? So you're saying the building transformed?" his sister said.

"I don't know! But this is where it's supposed to be..."

If that was the case...

"Then clearly," he said, making his voice as dignified as possible while trying to hold back a smile. "There's only one solution."

"Eh?" the blond said, confused.

"But thou must."

As he thought, Aki laughed at his reference and the truth of it, after all they wouldn't be able to figure out what was wrong if they didn't go in. The laughter got worse when the young man gave him a flat stare and said,

"Not that I disagree but...for real?"

Ren just smiled, no doubt looking cheeky as hell.

"Right... Let's just go."

Ren chuckled and at that point Aki calmed down as well. But their merriment left them as they took their steps up the drawbridge, across the stone courtyard and into the castle building. The inside was as he expected. The foyer was large and lit with candles and chandeliers. There were red carpets wherever appropriate, such as the round one in the center of the room. There were doors to the side leading to hallways while in front of them were two stairs, opposite of each other, the landings leading to other parts of the second floor, with some kind of portrait hanging above it.

Their blond companion stood in the middle of it and looked around in confusion.

"That's weird... Where's the school?" he said.

"Maybe it disappeared and got replaced by this castle," Aki said, tone not meaning it.

The boy frowned. "Then what about the sign at the front?"

"Then the building got replaced and the aliens were too lazy to make sure it's inconspicuous."

"What the? Can you stop it with the weird ideas?"

"Well something strange is going on, the reason could be strange too," Ren said.

The blond second-year grumbled and took out his phone. His expression turned more disgruntled.

"Out of service?"

"Wait what?" Aki said and checked her phone. From the look on her face, it was true.

The blond put his own away. "Man, where'd we end up...?"

"Well I don't like it," his sister said as she did the same. "Something's really wrong if we can't get a signal in a city."

"But what could cause such a thing?" Ren said.

Something supernatural, the part of him that read many stories told him.

He shook it off. There was no way. Those were just stories. This was reality. Which he returned to as their blond companion reminded him why Ren likened him to a punk at first as he said,

"I don't know! I wanna know!"

As if to answer his question, the sounds of clanking echoed behind them and they all turned towards it. For the second time, Ren stared, not believing his eyes while their punk acquaintance shouted in surprise.

Before him was an honest to goodness knight, armor, sword, shield and all.

What wasn't surprising though was Aki.

"Woah! Is that a real sword?!" she said and went right up to them. "Is that a basket-hilted sword? Nah, it looks more like a knightly sword... Is that a replica? It's a pretty good one. Unless that's real... Wait is it real?!"

That seemed to calm the blond down as he said,

"Uh, yeah, that costume's impressive." He sighed then he too closed the distanced with the knight. "But geez, you freaked me out. Who're you? Are you a student?"

All the while, Aki rambled and rambled. Ren, however, tensed, dread roiling his stomach and his instincts screaming.

"Come on, don't just stand there. Say something."

Ren's apprehension only grew as another identical knight came up. He strode over to his sister, who had been startled by the new knight, along with their acquiantance.

"H-Hey, what's goin' on?" the boy said.

"We need to get out," Ren said, loud enough for just them.

As if to prove his point, the two knights came closer.

"Damn it! Run!"

And they did. But they didn't get far. Even more knights came and surrounded them.

"Ugh, what's with these guys?!" the blond said.

The knights gave him no answer. Instead, one swung their shield at him. The clang made Ren wince. He thought of taking that opportunity to flee with his sister. But then quashed it. He hated that it even came to mind. Even more so as the teen screamed and complained. Ren wanted to help. They hadn't done anything to make them attack. They didn't even know what they did wrong, if they even did anything.

But then his skull rang. His neck snapped. And his face stung. Darkness began to knaw at him. But he heard another clang and the pain of his sister. Heat filled him. He forced himself to ignore the throbbing of his head to stand. They would pay. He would make sure of it. He had to—

Another clang. Another bash.

—protect Aki.

And the darkness swallowed everything.

(A)​

Aki...

Please...

Aki...

Wake up.


Akira groaned and she was met with blurred greys and blacks. When she found it wasn't from grogginess and that a familiar weight from her face was gone, she realized she'd lost her glasses. But she didn't have to look for it as her brother said,

"Here."

And it was right before her. She took it and groaned as she sat up. Once she was sure they wouldn't fall off and that she could see, she said,

"Thanks."

"You're welcome," Ren said. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I've been hit on the head."

Ren huffed but had an amused smile. That didn't last long though as someone's screams echoed around them. Her brother flinched and it was then she noticed their punk tagalong grimaced. Akira frowned.

"What was that?" she said.

"We don't know."

"But whatever this shit is, it's real and we gotta get outta here fast," the blond said.

"Or we'll be the ones screaming next," Akira said. Or even worse in my case, she silently added.

But she knew Ren thought the same from how his face turned more emotionless.

"Unfortunately there's no way out," he said, sounding calm.

"Oh come on! We didn't look everywhere yet!" the blond said.

"I doubt there's a secret passage in this cell," she said.

"But...we gotta do somethin'! We can't just sit here and do nothin'!"

Akira groaned. "Hey, I wanna do something too. But unless we can pick that lock, there's not much we can do."

Her brother nodded in agreement.

The blond punk slumped. "Ugh..."

But it was then that the clanking steps of metal boots sounded and some of the knights from earlier came to their cell.

"Be glad that your punishment has been decided upon," one of them said once in front of them. "Your charge is 'unlawful entry'. Thus you're sentenced to death. "

"What...?"

"Say what?!"

Snap.

"Death?! For unlawful entry?!" she said.

Akira crashed on the bars, the back of her mind faintly acknowledging the surprise of the punk and her brother's hand on her shoulder. That just made her rattle the metal and snarl.

"Unlawful entry my ass!" she said. "The door was wide open! With no guards! Why would it be like that unless it's public?!"

"This is my castle, not the public's. And no one's allowed to do as they please in my castle."

Her blood stopped thudding enough for her to notice that a man arrived...with a familiar square chin and floofy hair.

Except a red and white mantle covered his body and he wore a crown.

"What the...?" she said, all her rage replaced with confusion and questions.

She wasn't the only one.

Their punk acquaintance said, "Huh? Wait... Is that you, Kamoshida?"

"That's...Kamoshida...?" her brother said, voice filled with doubt.

Whoever that man really was, at the very least he knew the punk as he said,

"I thought it was some petty thief, but to think it'd be you, Sakamoto..." The "king" smirked. "Are you trying to disobey me again? It looks like you haven't learned your lesson at all, huh?"

Sakamoto, their acquaintance, grumbled.

The "king" then "graced" his attention on her and her brother.

"And you brought friends this time...because you can't do anything for yourself," he said.

His gaze lingered on her for a moment longer than on Ren. Akira didn't like that, and neither did her brother as she felt him step forward.

As she guessed, his smile twisted into a lecherous grin as he said, "Oh? Not only that, one of them is a girl. Hmm, not much of a looker though."

"This ain't funny, you asshole!" Sakamoto said.

Thankfully that got the pervert's gaze off of her. She hated she shivered and gripped the bars tighter.

"Is that how you speak to a king?" the strange Kamoshida said. "It seems you don't understand the position you're in at all. Not only did you sneak into my castle, you comitted the crime of insulting me—the king. The punishment for that is death."

Rage returned full force.

"Oh yeah? You deserve it, you piece of shit! What kind of a person kills someone over an insult!" She smiled with mockery. "Oh right. You're the king. Kings' egos are so bloated that anything'll pop 'em!"

Akira felt satisfied that the man looked absolutely pissed.

The "king" snarled. "I was thinking of sparing you and making you a part of my girls, but it looks like I'll have to do another execution," he said. "It's time for the execution! Take Sakomoto out first! We'll deal with the insolent girl later."

"S-Stop it..." Sakamoto said and Akira's heart twisted through the fires of her rage.

His voice had wavered in fear.

Damn it. She made it worse, didn't she?

Akira had to let go and back away from the bars as the knights opened the door. Ren stood before her as they came in. Lucky for them, they ignored her and her brother and focused on Sakamoto. But that just made her worry worse. The teen had his fists clenched as he mumbled something. And the knights were serious.

Which was why she and Ren jumped when Sakamoto shouted.

He tackled a knight and the knight fell.

"I ain't down for this shit! Come on, we're outta here!"

The blond was going to attack once more. She and Ren crouched to run. But another knight came and punched Sakamoto's gut.

"Gah! Agh..."

Akira froze as the blond hit the wall. She should go, she should escape. But she wanted to help. She hated seeing him hurt. Her brother didn't hesitate. He grabbed the knight that punched Sakamoto before they could continue their assault.

But Sakamoto just said, "Just go! Get outta here! These guys are serious...!"

"Oh? Running away, are we?" the "king" said with a smug smile she wanted to punch off. "What heartless friends you are."

"Ugh... They ain't friends..." He looked straight at them, teeth gritted, and said, "Come on! Hurry up and go!"

"What's the matter? Too scared to run away?"

Akira knew they should run. She knew she should run. She knew. There was no point in all of them dying. There was no point in his sacrifice being in vain. But...seeing Sakamoto down like that...hurt and telling them to go... She wanted to help. She wanted to save him. And she knew her brother wanted to too.

"Hmph. Pathetic scum isn't worth my time. I'll focus on this one's execution."

The "man" did as he said and ignored her and Ren, picking up up the blond only to hit him again and again like he was a punching bag.

"Take this!"

One punch.

"Lowly scum!"

Another punch.

"Useless pest!"

And one more.

"Hmph. Where'd your energy from earlier go?"

Sakamoto fell flat on ground with a groan. He tried to move but it was slow and it was clear it was painful.

"A peasant like you isn't worth beating. I'll have you killed right now."

Screw it!

She shouted and ran with all her might. She aimed to tackle the stupid king. But instead of hitting flesh, she hit steel and screamed. It all happened too fast. All she knew next was that she was pushed onto the wall, arms were holding on her shoulders, and her brother shouted,

"STOP IT!"

"Hmm? Don't you dare tell me you don't know who I am," the king said. Akira heard steps before he continued. "That look in your eyes irritates me." A pause. "Hold him there. After the peasant and girl, it's his turn to die."

A laugh that got on her nerves so much it burned echoed the chamber. Her brother thrashed and choked under the the hold of knights pinning him. And Sakamoto started to still, resigned. Akira wanted to punch the owner's face so bad but... She tried pushing against the grip that held her but it didn't even budge. She knew it. She wasn't strong enough. There wasn't anything she could do. Nothing... Nothing at all...

But then...

No, there isn't, a gentle, feminine voice said. But if my voice can reach you, then there may be a possibility open to you to change that.

Akira gasped, her head and heart thudding.

What was...?

"Execute him!" the egotistic king said.

A knight before Sakamoto raised their sword. Akira's breath hitched. But then the squirming stopped...and her brother said, his voice as smooth and cold as steel,

"That's enough."

Kamoshida froze.

"What was that...?" he said as he turned to her brother. "You desire to be killed that much? Fine."

Kamoshida signalled the knights. They moved with speed and efficiency. One hit her brother's face, knocking off his glasses.

No...

That let the knights that held him to switch to putting their lances across his neck, still pinning him to the wall, for a clear path so his executioner's sword would be a clean cut. The knight raised their sword. Akira struggled once again, tears threatening to spill.

No!

And then it happened.

Her brother opened his eyes and a gust of wind pushed all three off and away from him, including the "king". And when Ren did, a mask appeared on his face. Akira nearly didn't believe it, but her brother noticed it and was feeling it...before he dug his fingers...

And ripped it with a scream.

Red.

There was red on his face.

And a murderous smile.

Akira watched in stupefication as the blood turned into flames and engulfed Ren. A small part of her mind worried he would be burned. But then the blue flames took shape and seperated from her brother. If her mouth hadn't been hanging before, she was sure it would be now.

Ren was magnificent.

He looked like a gentleman with his black high collared tailcoat, grey shirt and black pants. Behind him stood a fallen angel, also dressed like a gentleman but in the red of his blood and a deep black top hat. Even its voice sounded like both a fallen angel and a gentleman.

"I am the pillager of twilight—Arsène!" he said, its voice smooth yet fierce.

"What the?!" Sakomoto said.

"I am the rebel's soul that resides within you," Arsène said to Ren. "If you so desire, I shall considering granting you the power to break through this crisis."

Steel was now his expression as Ren said, "Give me your power."

"Hmph. Very well."

And the two gentlemen turned together to face the cowering king who had backed up to the entrance.

"Who the hell are you?!" he said.

Neither spoke. Only glared steel.

"Tch! Guards!"

The knights stood. But then...

THUD

"Agh!"

A headache hammered her head as a voice rich in velvet spoke from within her.

See? There is something you can do, he said.

But all Akira could think was Make it stop.

Stop? Stop?! the velvet voice said, rage engulfing his words. Did you not see what happened before you?! You too can use your rage! You too can rebel against this unjust fate! You too can gain power! Now...

"Start by killing that one!"

...are you going to let your brother do it alone?

"Hell no!"

And Akira tore off her mask.

Good...

There was the woosh of wind and her sight was filled with blue flames. On instinct, she stopped breathing. The hammering in her head stopped to be replaced with a laugh from the velvet voice.

Do not worry, my lady...I will not hurt you, he said from within her. And then, "After all, I am thou, thou art I."

Akira opened her eyes, not realizing she had closed them, and turned around. She gasped. Before her stood another man—no, a mannequin in a tuxedo, a red-and-black mantle flowing behind him, and a black mask that covered his entire face. So Akira could only see the glowing golden eyes on the half-happy, half-sad mask.

"I am the Fantôme," he said, pulling out a lasso with his red gloves. "And I shall perform your ode of wrath!"

She stared at the man before her. The second felt like eternity even though it was only a second. With everything that happened, she should be wondering about what he meant, or how he appeared, or the fact that chains and fire were still surrounding them. But after that second, Akira smiled with savagery.

"Ready Big Bro!?" she said and turned to him.

Ren mirrored her. "Ready."

Both of them faced Kamoshida as he said,

"Don't think just because there's two of you that you can escape! You'll learn the true strength of my men!"

To her brief surprise, the guards didn't just charge at them. Instead, they shook before they burst into black and red goop that soon solidified into something else. That something, in this case, being four pumpkin ghosts holding a lantern.

Ren made the first move.

"Change your animosity into power and unleash it!" the fallen angel behind him said.

His smirk turned vicious. "Ravage them!"

And Akira followed him.

"Show your strength!"

It was a dance of black and red as they fought the four pumpkins, alternating between commanding their companions to using their weapons. Try as the pumpkins might, it wasn't long before they were all gone, her brother plunging his dagger into the last, screaming ghost. Akira breathed in and out, her shoulders heaving and her lungs struggling. She briefly closed her eyes at a flash of light as Sakamoto said from behind her,

"What... What was that just now...?"

Ren opened his mouth to say something but saw his gloved hand and started checking himself out.

Wait, we both summoned something. Does that mean...

She followed suit and said,

"What the?!"

Her uniform was gone. Instead of that, she wore a white long sleeved tunic, a slight weight telling her it was hooded, grey pants and a mask. But most of all, somehow she was holding two daggers, one black and one white. But then—

"You little..."

The voice of Kamoshida made them remember he was still there with them. He walked right up to them, only to be pushed over by Sakamoto. The "king" screamed and something flew off of him.

"Ha! You like that you son of a bitch?!" Sakamoto said.

"The key!"

Sakamoto was startled but looked where Ren pointed.

"You mean this?!"

He grabbed it and they followed him out. The blond then turned and locked the door. He backed off just in time to be out of reach of the raging Kamoshida.

"Damn you!" he said.

They let out a collective sigh of relief, glad they were alive. But then Sakamoto turned wide eyed again.

"Hey! What was that just now?" he said. He looked them over again, like not too long ago. "And...your clothes...!"

As if that was some sort of cue, there was a flash of light and whoosh of flames that made Akira jump. When it faded, the weight over her lifted and she checked to see that, yes, her uniform and extra blazer returned. But that begged the question of how it returned.

However, Kamoshida reminded them once again that he was still there, banging and cursing on the cell door.

With that, the punk threw the key away into the waterway beside them and they had Ren lead them. Akira hoped they would find a way out fast, but considering there were bridges, waterways and how big it was from outside, she could easily imagine it being huge and thus not making it easy on them.

So of course they had a few dead ends as they searched, forcing them to jump over both broken bridges and floating cages. They even had to go through a "tunnel" from one storage room to another. Sakamoto nearly got stuck there because of his bag. But from there, it seemed the dead ends would stop. Except the blond punk noticed some guards coming, so they were forced to find another way.

As they continued, they used a drawbridge and she heard Sakamoto say,

"Is that...a drawbridge? Dude...the hell is this place?"

"My bet? It's a dungeon. And I mean the castle kind," she said.

"H-Huh? A dungeon? Why'd you say that?"

Akira didn't know whether to be annoyed or let it pass considering the situation.

"We went in a castle," she said, settling on answering. "And castles usually have dungeons. Especially if it's where a king lives."

The punk was about to open his mouth, but then they had to hide again, this time her being the lookout while Sakamoto complained in frustration, thankfully not loud enough for the guards to hear. Thankfully, it wasn't long before they moved on and found some stairs, one that spiraled upwards. She didn't like the look of how high it was, which was only confirmed as they climbed and they all panted by the time they reached the top.

"Is this...the exit?" their tagalong said.

She doubted it.

"Come on, let's get the hell outta this place!"

The punk, re-energized, rushed through the door, she and Ren quick to follow him. As she thought, it just revealed even more waterways and bridges around them.

"Dude...you gotta be jokin'... This ain't the exit?! What the hell is this place?!"

Akira groaned. "It's...a castle... A...huge one... What'd...you...expect?"

"I-I don't know! I just wanna get outta here!"

"Then we keep moving," Ren said. Before they did though, her brother turned to her. "How are you feeling?"

Damn it. She held out her hand and took a few more deep breaths. When it didn't feel like her heart was going to explode, she said,

"Fine now."

Ren stared for a bit, probably not completely convinced, but knowing they were still in danger, nodded anyway. They set off with him at front, though now she noticed they went more at a jogging pace. Akira scoffed even with her ragged breaths, unsurprised her brother adjusted for her.

"Hey look..." Sakamoto said, slowing down to a stop.

Akira was about to snap at him for that, until she saw it.

It was a guy, about their age, stuck in a cage over a waterway.

"What the hell...?" she said.

She knew this was a dungeon. She had heard the screaming earlier. And yet... And yet... This just hit all the harder how close they were to death.

"We really did hear screamin'. So we ain't the only ones who got captured!" Sakamoto then noticed the prisoner's condition and said, "Is uh...is he okay?"

"What do you think?" she said in reflex.

But all she thought was that she wanted to help him out...yet she knew there wasn't anything she could do. Not even the voice within her from earlier objected.

"We...should go..." her brother said.

Akira saw Ren clenched his hand and set his jaw. She gave him a sympathetic smile. That relaxed as he returned it with a wry one. And it seemed the punk kid agreed with Ren as he said, his tone full of hesitation,

"Y-Yeah... We should..."

Ren started jogging again, with her and Sakamoto tailing him. But it wasn't long before they had to stop.

"Another dead end...?" Sakamoto said. "Damn it! How the hell're we suppos' to get outta here?!"

Akira panted, thankfully not as heavily as before, and nodded in agreement. They needed to find some map or else they were toast.

"...hey, you there," a voice said.

The three startled and looked to see if there were guards.

But then the voice, much louder and clearer, said, "Blondie! Frizzy Hair! Mask! Look over here!"

They looked and...

"What is this thing?!" Sakamoto said.

Well, it looked like a cat really. But she didn't feel like ribbing him for that since it looked like a chibi anthropomorphic cat dressed in black, and it was waving its white paws at them with a pitiful expression.

"You're not soldiers of this castle, right?" it said. "Get me out of here!" Then it pointed to a key not far for them but clear out of its reach. "Look, the key's right there!"

"We're trying to get the hell out of here!" Sakamoto said. "I mean, you obviously look like an enemy too!"

"It's locked up! Why would it be an enemy?" she said, incredulous.

"Exactly!" it said. "Now help me out!"

And then her brother said,

"...A cat?"

Akira snickered and calmed. Of course he did that.

"I am not a cat!" it said, glaring. "Say that again and I'll make you regret it!"

Akira had to hold back her laughter. This really wasn't the time for this. As if to prove the point, there was the sound of footsteps and voices meshing together to make a commotion.

"They're catchin' up already...!" Sakamoto said. He then pulled out his phone. "Shit, there's still no service. Isn't there any way to contact someone outside?"

"If this is a castle, probably not," Akira said.

While Ren said, "Maybe a flare?"

"Argh! How the hell do we get out?!"

The not-cat then said, "Hey you three! You want to know where the exit is? Let me out and I'll take you there."

"You know?" he said, suspicious.

"Of course I do!" it said, offended. "You don't want to get caught and executed, right?

Her brother was quiet for a second. Then, he said, "Can you really help us?"

"Of course I can. I'm a phantom thief after all."

Akira stared in surprise, and so did Ren. It was a phantom thief?

"This thing sounds like it's all talk..." their blond companion said.

Well, she would have to agree since it got caught but still...it had said it was a phantom thief.

The cat thief glared at him. "If you guys think you can get out on your own, then be my guest!"

Despite the warning, Sakamoto looked hesitant. "What do we do...?"

They all snapped their heads as commotion happened nearby, the guards clearly getting closer.

So Ren said, "We'll let you out."

"But...what if it's messin' with us?" Sakamoto said.

It was quick to point out though, "If you don't hurry, they'll catch you."

Ren stared at Sakamoto, and she joined him in his efforts, as he was the only thing delaying them. The punk looked unsure, but with each passing second, resignation appeared on his face until finally he said,

"F-Fine..."

With that, Ren unlocked the door and Sakamoto opened it for the not-cat, letting it out.

"Ahhh..." it said as it smiled and stretched...like a cat. "Freedom tastes so great."

"Now where's the exit, you monster cat?!"

It looked like a vein popped as it said to Sakamoto, "Don't call me a cat! I am Morgana!"

Morgana? Wait? So was it a girl? But it also sounded like a little boy...

"Shuddup and hurry it up! You wanna be locked up again?!"

Akira shook her head, reminding herserlf that, again, this wasn't the time for stuff like that. Though Sakamoto's outburst did cool down Morgana's own.

"A-All right... Sheesh..." it said. "Follow me, and stay quiet!"

And off it went, rushing past the punk blond. And if Akira didn't know any better, its legs turned into a cartoon white-and-black blur. It didn't take long to catch up to it. When she found they were at the bridge they just passed, Akira felt like smacking her forehead.

"What're you doin?" Sakamoto said.

Morgana looked annoyed. "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm lowering the bridge."

"What? Lowerin' it? But there ain't no lever."

"That's 'cause the lever's disguised," Akira said.

Her brother nodded before he reached out and pulled down the jaw. Sakamoto jumped as the bridge rumbled down and connected the two sides.

"Wha... How were we supposed to know to do that?!" he said.

All Ren just said was, "Spy movies."

Akira snickered, Sakamoto looked embarrased and Morgana looked impressed.

And then the phantom thief said, "I figured you two would pick up on things faster than Blondie from your looks."

"Hey!"

But before the boy could say more, Morgana then said, "Come on, let's get going!"

And he started off, Ren quick to follow. Akira did the same, not wanting to get left behind, but despite the fact that Sakamoto noticed last, he caught up with her brother and Morgana pretty quick. However, as soon as they left the bridge...

...a guard popped up from a door they hadn't seen from their distance.

"Ahhh! Shit shit! It's them!" Sakamoto said, trying to stop but he fell as his left leg gave out.

She would've asked if he was okay, but a flash of blue made her blink and all of a sudden, the weight of her white tunic and double daggers from earlier came back, along with the gentleman getup and single dagger for her brother. And then Morgana jumped forward.

"Tch. You amateur. Stay still!" it said then turned to her and her brother. "Hey you two! You can fight, right? Let's go!"

Before either of them could reply, it then faced the guard as it burst into goop. Then it said,

"Come! Zorro!"

Just like with them before, a flash of white and blue made her shield her eyes for a moment but when it passed, she saw a ridiculously buff and wide chested man with an equally ridiculous long mustache floating behind the not-cat. Its attire was black with intricate white lines and a long flowing cape. And, to top off the comical sizes, it held a tiny rapier in its hand.

"Y-You got one of those things too?!"

The phantom thief huffed, ignoring him as it said, "We will promptly shut them up! Now fight like your life depends on it!"

At that moment, the goop solidified to the two of those pumpkin ghosts earlier and...two pink devils, both with something very long between his legs. It looked lecherously at her. She snarled, ignoring her spine shiver, and struck at him. Thankfully his ogling distracted him enough for her to hit. As she did, her brother attacked the perverted demon as well. However, thanks to that, the pumpkin ghosts had plenty of time attack with their flames. Akira flinched then retreated with her brother.

"Hmph. I knew you were amateurs. This is how you fight!" Morgana said.

There was a shink and a green and white tornado burst from under one of the pumpkin ghosts, knocking its vegetable head off as it screamed. With that lantern maniac down, the not-cat called upon Zoro again and another tornado hit the other ghost. After that, it rushed and slashed at the first with its sword. Akira wondered what it meant with its earlier sentence, but then she screamed, kicked right in the face. Her vision was blurred but she could hear her brother shout,

"Ravage them!"

Followed by screams. Akira shook her head, thankful that her vision cleared, and saw that the pumpkin ghosts were gone and only one pink demon remained. That disturbing monster though slashed at Ren with its claws, making him scream.

She gritted.

"Fantôme! Annihilate them!"

The mannequin florished a white laser at the attacker and it screeched. Akira smiled as it fell to the ground and melted.

"That's what you get, you son of a bitch," she said.

"Thanks," Ren said as he rubbed his face.

Akira turned to him, frowning. "You all right, Big Bro?"

Her brother nodded.

"Not bad. Your Personas are pretty powerful," it said and they faced it. "But remember: strike the enemy's weakness to knock them down then use that opening to strike again. It's the most basic of basics!"

"Weakness?" Ren said, curiosity in his eyes.

Sakamoto though said, "Persona...? You mean that thing that comes outta you guys all dramatic-like?"

"Yes," Morgana said, not being snippy to her surprise. "You saw how they ripped off their masks when they summoned them, right? Well everyone wears a mask deep within their heart. By removing that..."

This time, when the blue and white light flashed, she wasn't surprised her and her brother's uniform returned.

"Huh? They turned back to normal..."

"Hmm. It looks like you don't have full control over your power yet.
The transformation shouldn't normally dissolve like that. After all—"

Sakamoto, however, just said, "Ergh, that's enough! This crap doesn't make any sense."

Akira definitely saw a vein pop as Morgana said, "Can't you sit still and listen for once, Blondie?!

"Don't call me Blondie! My name's Ryuji."

Before either of them could go further, Ren said, his tone sharp,

"Stop it. We need to go."

The not-cat blinked, like it only just remembered what they were doing, and shook its head.

"Ugh, you're right, there's no time for me to lecture! Let's go! It's not much farther to the exit."

Akira sighed in relief. That was good. She wasn't sure how much she could take it. Unfortunately, not too long after they passed through the dungeon halls, Sakamoto said,

"Hold on a sec!"

They stopped and turned just as the punk went up to one of the occupied cells.

"I feel like I've seen what this dude's wearin'..."

Akira gritted her teeth but it was Ren who spoke.

"We need to go," he said, Akira easily able to pick out the regret in it.

"Hold on, damn it! I'm tryin' to remember!"

"Well then make it quick!" Akira said with a stomp.

"Ugh! Damn it! That just makes it worse!" The blond shook his head. "I can't remember a damn thing!"

"We need to go," Ren said, his face now showing his regret.

Akira couldn't stop her own frown either.

"But...who are these guys?" Sakamoto said, looking back at the prisoner.

"Do you really think you have time to worry about other people right now?!" Morgana said. "Besides, they're—"

"There!"

The drawbridge that had been up lowered itself while the door raised, revealing a guard coming their way.

Morgana grumbled. "You should've listened to me!"

"Well, no choice now, right Big Bro?" she said and the weight of her hooded tunic returned.

Ren nodded with a hum and said, "Let's fight."

That made his own battle attire activate.

Their not-cat turned to them surprised for a moment, before it smiled and said, "I'm glad you stick to your guns."

The knight burst into other beings like before, this time into three fairies in a purple leotard. At this point, she and Ren knew they could take a few hits while they threw their own and the fight was done before long, especially since they seemed to particularly hate Arsène's shadows. Akira thought that, maybe, they could get out easy now. But with her lungs struggling, sweat dribbling down her forehead and their battle suits disappearing again, she reminded herself that, despite their chances, they couldn't fight enemies forever.

Especially her.

Thankfully Morgana spoke and her thoughts moved away from that trail.

"All right!" it said. "Let's get away before more show up!"

But Sakamoto said, "Hold on! We can't just leave these guys here!"

"Hrgh! You really don't get it do you? Argh, there's no time to explain."

Wait, explain?

"Look, I'm going," Morgana said. "If you don't want to follow, be my guest."

Then it rushed off, this time Akira was sure his legs turned into a white and black blur. But even though the phantom thief was right... She looked at the cell that held the boy, not that much older than them, if at all, flat on the floor with bruises all over. She clenched her fist and gritted her teeth. Akira opened her mouth and was about to say they should at least try...until she met Ren's eyes.

There was no other way to describe it. He was at war with himself. He couldn't decide whether to do the same as she thought...or get her to safety since they nearly died.

Akira felt the fire extinguish in her veins. She hated that she was the cause of his inner conflict. So she said,

"Come on... We should go." She glanced at the other cells. "'sides, we don't have a key for them."

The only consolation she had was that the blond just as hesitant as them to leave, looking back and forth between her, her brother and the prisoners.

But still, he said, "Damn it, fine! I'm coming."

Ren nodded and, as before, led the way. Thankfully for them, Morgana waited just a little bit and they caught up with it. When they did, it said,

"The entrance hall is right above here. The exit's close... Keep it up!"

Akira felt relief at that, her steps becoming rushed and lighter.

"We're here!" Morgana said after they ran from one side of the entrance hall to the other.

"Finally! We're saved!" Sakamoto said. "Wait, why aren't we passin' the front door?"

And Ren said, "We escaped. It's probably locked."

"Oh... So is this it then?"

He went for the door on the right but that turned out to be locked.

"Hrgh! It's not openin'!" Sakamoto glared at the not-cat. "D'ya trick us, you jerk?!"

"Don't jump to conclusions!" the phantom thief said as it went through the door on their left. "Over here!"

She and her brother walked after him, Sakamoto saying "H-Hey! Wait up!" as he caught up with them. The room they found themselves in seemed to be some sort of unused storage space, with empty shelves and vaults around them. And the grate covering a ventilation shaft.

Their blond companion looked around and said, "Where are we supposed to get out from here?! There aren't even any windows!"

All Akira could do was stare, her lungs still pumping a mile a minute. Did he really not see the ventilation shaft?

Morgana agreed with her as it said, "Ugh, amatuer... This is the most basic of basics."

"What? It somethin' to do with spy movies too?" the punk said.

"Yes," Ren said.

And Akira pointed as she said, "See that? It's the ventilation shaft."

It seemed he really hadn't seen it as he looked surprised.

"Exactly," Morgana said. "You should be able to go through it one by one."

"I see... Then we just gotta get that metal mesh off!" Sakamoto said.

Before any of them could do anything, the punk ran straight at and up the shelf before colliding with the grate. Akira flinched at the loud crash. And then again when there was a grunt and a thud.

"You okay?" Ren said, worried.

While she said, "You didn't have to do that. We could've just unscrewed it or somethin'."

"Ugh... I'm fine. It was faster, ain't it?" the blond said. "Agh... Crap... The enemy didn't hear us, did they?"

Akira froze but then went back at the door to peek through. She sighed in relief when she saw nothing but extravagance and stone.

"Coast's clear," she said.

Her brother's posture relaxed just a bit and Sakamoto said,

"Phew... We're finally gettin' outta here!"

But then Morgana said, "I would wait to celebrate until you actually get out."

Which, well, was true.

"But...what about you?"

"There's something that I still need to do," Morgana said. "We're going our seperate ways here."

"Thank you," Ren said.

And she said, "Thanks. Don't get caught again, you hear?"

Morgana humphed but still smiled as it said, "Heh, I could say the same to you. Be careful, okay?"

They nodded about the same time and started to climb up to the shaft. Of course, she was the last as she had trouble but beyond that, they had no problems crawling through the cramped space. Well, except that she needed both help to get down when they found themselves in the courtyard. And before she knew it, they left, a brief wave of nausea passed her, and her brother's phone said,

"You have returned to the real world. Welcome back."

Author's Notes: Akira's initial Persona is called Fantôme, better known as "The Phantom of the Opera" (or in French, "Le Fantôme de l'Opéra"). I originally named it "Opera Phantom", but after a suggestion I got after putting this up, I decided to change it to "Fantôme". It took a really long time to decide on who it'd be for several reasons, and some of the ones I had in mind are still tempting, but in the end, I decided on Phantom of the Opera because, originally, Akira was just going to be another Persona user, despite being the "female protagonist", also for several reasons, the biggest being a certain mastermind's plan. But that actually ended up also being the reason why I changed my mind and make her a Wild Card as well, and, well, along with the various twin AUs of the P3 protagonists where both of them are Wild Cards.
 
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TheCharredDragon

Yomu Yomu Fruit User
Chapter 4: Black Sheep

{R}​

"You have returned to the real world. Welcome back."

What did that mean? Oh he knew the actual words meant they had traveled to some other world, likely some kind of parallel one, which would explain all the fantastical elements they encountered and experienced. No, he wondered what did it mean that it existed at all and why was it so distorted. How was it related to their world? Was it related at all? And how did just a little app enabled them to do what scientists only dreamed of?

Those questions, though, stopped when Sakamoto said,

"Huh? Returned...? Does that mean we got away?"

"Probably," he said.

And Aki said, "Yeah. I mean, we're not in the castle."

The blond slumped and groaned. "I dunno what to think anymore..."

"Not surprised," she said.

Sakamoto glared at her. "What's that supposed to mean?!"

"Exactly what I said," Aki said, smirk evident even with her mask.

"Ugh... Seriously, what was that all anyways...? That castle, and Kamoshida, and that weird cat!"

"Phantom thief," he was quick to say.

After all, if Morgana was a real phantom thief, then they should treat him with respect.

Unsurprisingly though, Sakamoto-san just said, "Whatever! The hell's goin' on?!"

And that attracted attention.

"What's with the yelling?" a man said. "Are you students of Shujin?"

The police officers walked up to them, one pushing a bicycle along.

"Cutting classes are we?" the officer without the bicycle said, his aura exuding aggression.

"Huh? No!" Sakamoto said. "We were tryin' to get to school and we ended up at this weird castle."

The officers stared.

"What?"

Ren would have to agree with them. That was the last thing he wanted them to hear.

"Hand over your bag," the aggressive bicycle officer said. "You better not be doing drugs."

Case in point.

So before the blond could say anything more, Ren said,

"My apologies, officer. He was helping me with my sister."

Aki nodded and, catching on, made herself look more tired.

"She was having an asthma attack but it turns out we forgot her medicine so I went to buy some while my friend kept an eye on her. But then I was yelling at him for thinking one of the medicines was a snack," he said.

"U-Uh yeah! What he said!" Sakamoto said. But then he realized what exactly were Ren's words. "Hey! I'm not that dumb!"

"Well it...looked like a candy...so don't blame ya," Aki said, her speech lethargic on purpose.

The blond glared at her. "Why you...!"

So Ren gave a bow, deep enough for a "sincere" apology but shallow enough that it wasn't condescending, and said, "We'll be going now. We don't want to be even more late."

"Very well then," the bicycle office said.

But the aggressive officer was doubtful.

"Really...?" he said.

But he and Aki just nodded before he took his sister's wrist and she took Sakamoto's, which made him yelp in surprise. Thankfully he still followed them even when Aki let go of him after a couple of meters. Though the blond still said,

"Seriously, what was that?! I'm not dumb enough to mix up medicine with food!"

Aki glared at him. "But you're dumb enough to mention the castle to them."

"But that's what happened!"

His sister's gaze softened at that. "Yeah, but do you really think they'd believe that?"

That considerably calmed the blond down, any and all anger dissipating, as he frowned and his demeanor slacked.

"Yeah, you gotta point."

"I will apologize though," Ren said. "I couldn't think of anything else that was reasonable to our circumstances."

"Nah, it's fine," Sakamoto said. "You said that so we could bail, right? No biggie."

Ren frowned. "Still..." He could've come up with something else.

But Sakamoto kept up his smile. "Come on, let's go! We don't wanna be late, right?"

And Aki said, "Wait what time is it?" She took out her phone. "Shit! It's almost lunch!"

Shit indeed.

"Let's run," Ren said, holding on Aki tighter.

Thankfully, not only did Sakamoto catch up to them, he actually overtook them and led them through the same shortcut they took before. But unlike earlier, instead of a castle gate, they were met with the sleek and almost lifeless school gates of Shujin Academy. They didn't go inside right away however as Aki stopped and caught her breath.

Ren and Sakamoto stopped as well, which touched him considering he could just ditch them to get to class as soon as possible. But he looked just as worried as he was over his sister's health.

"Need anything?" Ren said.

"Just...short...on breath..." she said. It was then she noticed the other blazer on her and she handed it to Sakamoto. "Too...hot..."

Sakamoto laughed and took it.

"Don't worry 'bout it," Sakamoto said. "It ain't rainin' anymore anyway." His grin, however, left him as he looked at the school. "But still... I'm sure we came the same way. What's goin' on here...?"

Before either could give their suspicions that Ren felt they shared, a voice said,

"That's exactly what I wanted to ask you."

And they saw a man walk out of the school's front doors, arms crossed and his lips set in a frown.

"We recieved a call from the police," he said.

"Tch. That damn cop snitched on us after all!" Sakomoto said.

"It's rare to see you not alone," the man said. His gaze narrowed in accusation. "Where were you roaming until now?"

Before Sakamoto could say anything, Aki said, in a low voice, "Remember our cover."

"Ah, right..." he said, thankfully much more quiet.

And then his sister glanced at him, asking him to take over. He nodded then turned to the man.

"We were at the pharmacy and taking it easy on our way back," he said. "My little sister was having an asthma attack but the medicine we had wasn't enough and we ran out of the stronger one, so I went to get some after asking him to keep an eye on her. And I didn't want to push her too much after that attack."

The staff member locked his gaze with his, examining him and trying to make him crack. But Ren kept up his own, standing firm. It was a lie, but it wasn't as if the truth was any better, especially with his and Aki's background likely already known among the staff and faculty. He was sure they would've kept up the staring match if not for a now familiar voice saying,

"What's this about an 'attack'?"

And the "king" walked out to join them, except Ren felt something was different, and not just because he was wearing clothes expected of a gym teacher.

"Kamoshida?!" Sakamoto said.

The puffy haired man chuckled.

"You seem so carefree, Sakamoto," he said. "Quite the difference from when you did morning practice for the track team."

The blond gritted his teeth. "Shuddup! It's your fault that—"

But then the man said, "How dare you speak that way to Mr. Kamoshida!"

Ren narrowed his eyes. That was like...

Then he said, much calmer, "...there's not much leeway left for you, you know?"

"He's the one that provoked me!"

This wasn't good.

"Do you really want to be expelled? Anyways, you'll have to explain yourself! Follow me!"

"What? This is bullshit!"

So Ren said, "Sakamoto." The blond was surprised, along with Aki. "Just go. It's just as we said, right? Thank you for helping."

He looked reluctant, but after Aki sighed and gave him a sympathetic gaze, he too sighed.

"Fine... I'm comin'," he said.

Now it was the two men who were surprised, but theirs was quickly reigned in.

"Come now. I should have been more considerate too. Let's just say we were both to blame," Kamoshida said.

"Well, if you say so..." the man said, but he then glared at Sakamoto. "Still, you're coming with me. It's undeniable that you're extremely late."

"Yeah yeah, I get it..." Sakamoto said, following the man who went inside.

Though not before sending a quick glare to Kamoshida.

The puffy haired man seemingly ignored it in favor of him and his sister.

"By the way...you're the new transfer students, right? Ren and Akira Amamiya..." he said.

Rem just nodded and waited, Aki still catching her breath, which he could tell annoyed her.

Then Kamoshida said, "Have we met somewhere...?"

He and Aki glanced at each other. She was likely wondering if they should answer. But Ren saw no harm in it, since there was a truth he could give.

"You offered a ride to us after giving one to a blonde girl," he said.

Recognition flashed on his face.

"That's right. I remember now..." he said. "Well, I'll overlook this just for today. But..." The teacher glared and crossed his arms. "I'm sure you've heard this from the principal, but cause any trouble and you'll be expelled. Understand?"

"I understand," Ren said while Aki nodded.

Kamoshida seemed to contemplate their answers, checking their sincerity, before his earlier geniality returned.

"At any rate, hurry up and go to the faculty office," he said, tone light and teasing. "I'm sure Ms. Kawakami and Mr. Shimizu are tired of waiting." He smiled. "Good luck trying to enjoy your new school life."

And at last he left. He was going to just wait for Aki to catch her breath, but then she said,

"Let's go, Big Bro."

He turned to her and said, "You're sure?"

She nodded. He stared at her, making sure anyway, but as she returned his gaze with a challenging glare, it would have to be enough. So he nodded and led the way to the faculty office on the second floor, the chatter of students filling the background. Once inside, they saw Ms. Kawakami looking absolutely annoyed at her desk while Mr. Shimizu was pacing around, clearly worried, at least until he noticed them.

"Oh, Ren-kun, Akira-chan, you're here!" he said, making his way to them as they themselves walked up to Ms. Kawakami.

Ms. Kawakami, however, sighed and stayed in her seat.

"Unbelievable. Being over half a day late on your first day...?" she said under her breath, likely not intending for them to hear. She threw them a glare. "Can you explain yourself?"

Aki looked to him and he nodded and once again he gave their cover story. Ms. Kawakami softened only a tad while Mr. Shimizu's eyes widened.

"An attack?!" he said. "Are you all right, Akira-chan?"

Aki blinked in surprise and just nodded. The scarfed teacher sighed in relief and Ren's lips twitched, tempted to smile.

"I see," Ms. Kawakami said. "I heard that student happened to be that Sakamoto."

Ren and Aki's brows furrowed.

"That Sakamoto?" his sister said.

Ms. Kawakami sighed, exhaustion apparent in her frame, while Mr. Shimizu's worry returned.

"Ah, yes, well, he's..." he said.

But she said, "Don't get involved with him, okay? He's nothing but trouble."

"He was much different before however," Mr. Shimizu said.

"That was when he was devoting his time to the track and field team though..."

He was sure Aki was frowning behind her mask because he had turn his own expression blank, not wanting to hint at his worries and suspicions. Instead, he just nodded and said,

"Yes ma'am."

Once again, Ms. Kawakami sighed. "Anyways...break's almost over. Classes will end after fifth period because of the subway accident. I'll have you introduce yourself when class resumes. Follow me, Ren-kun," she said.

"You shall follow me, Akira-chan," Mr. Shimizu said.

Aki nodded but then faced him. He gave her a small smile and said,

"Good luck."

Though he couldn't see it, he knew Aki returned his smile. "You too, Big Bro."

And then she followed Mr. Shimizu out, who was smiling softly as well, while he trailed after Ms. Kawakami, whose expression hadn't changed. Before they went their seperate ways, however, Mr. Shimizu turned to him and said,

"Don't worry, Ren-kun. I'll be sure to keep an eye on her."

He wouldn't know for sure until later, but he was glad nonetheless so he nodded in reply and chuckled as Aki rolled her eyes but said nothing. After Mr. Shimizu left with his sister, they continued their way to their classroom. But instead of going inside right away, Ms. Kawakami stopped before the door and she said,

"By the way, when you introduce yourself..."

"Yes?"

"Be serious about it, even if you're lying to the class. Do not say anything unnecessary."

Ren frowned. "You don't believe me?" he said.

It was true he was lying but it was true his sister's life had been in danger, and he didn't like the thought that she might not care even if she was indeed about to die from an attack. However, Ms. Kawakami said,

"No, I do. I just..." She sighed. "Never mind. But I mean it when I say 'do not say anything unecessary'. I don't want any trouble."

With that, Ms. Kawakami opened the door and entered. Ren followed her and was already greeted with yet more murmurs that weren't quiet at all.

"Being super late on his first day. He really is insane."

"He looks normal though."

"But he might slug us if we look him in the eye..."

It took a lot not to show his confusion on his face. What made them think that?

"Settle down," Ms. Kawakami said as he stood by her desk. To his surprise, the class actually obeyed. "Well, I'd like to introduce a transfer student: Ren Amamiya. He attended in the afternoon since his little sister's asthma acted up this morning."

Yet more murmurs occured.

"Oh yeah, I forgot he has a sister."

"I wonder if they look alike."

"I bet she's a cutie."

"Nah, don't think about goin' after her, dude."

Ren, thankfully, only felt his eye twitch instead of making his displeasure known, but he was glad when Ms. Kawakami spoke again.

"All right. Please say something to the class," she said.

Oh he wanted to tell them to shut up. But not only was that rude, Ms. Kawakami didn't want any trouble. Perhaps she wasn't as openly concerned as Mr. Shimizu, but it was still certainly better than what he expected from the faculty. So he settled on bowing a reasonable amount forward as he said,

"Nice to meet you all. I hope we can get along."

Once again, that just made the class gossip.

"He seems quiet...but I bet when he loses it..."

"I mean, he was arrested for assault, right?"

"And his sister too..."

"Wait really?"

"Uh huh. That's why don't even think about goin' after her."

"Yeah, if he doesn't get you for hittin' on her, she probably will."

Ren froze. Now he really was glad his polite mask was on. The last thing he wanted was to have them see him rattled. After all, only the faculty were supposed to know about his and Akira's stained record. How did they know?

And, of course, Ms. Kawakami ignored the gossip. Or at least tried to.

"Uh...so...your seat will be...hmm..." she said, scanning the room. "Over there. The one that's open." Then she added, "Sorry, but can the people nearby please share their textbooks with him for today?"

There were groans in the room as some voiced their dissent with "This sucks..." but Ren ignored that to see that his seat was one near the window. He internally chuckled as he made his way to it, imagining Aki snarking at the fact that he was a high school student by the window like so many anime protagonists. Before he took his seat though, the one seated in front of him said,

"Hey..."

And he realized it was the same girl from this morning, the platinum blonde girl that went inside Mr. Kamoshida's car.

"Is she okay?" she said, worry in her face.

He blinked, surprised, but allowed himself to give a small smile in gratitude for the concern.

"Yes. Thankfully."

And she returned his smile before slipping it off. He, too, followed suit as he took his seat. Unsurprisingly, that set off a new chain of gossip around him.

"Did you catch that? Do those two know each other?"

"Does that mean he hit on her before transferring?"

"That means she's cheating on him with Mr. Kamoshida."

"Then again, this is Takamaki-san we're talking about..."

"For real, that side of the room is totally awful."

No, the rest of the room is awful, he thought. And he was sure Aki would agree with the exact same wording. Either way, it was clear his class, if not all the students in school, knew about his and Aki's criminal record. No doubt it had been leaked. That begged the question on who did it. But he didn't know much of the faculty or staff to make a guess...except for Mr. Kamoshida, but that, he knew, was only because of what he saw in that strange castle in that "other world". So he dismissed the accusation, even when the part of himself that sounded like his gentleman thief guardian protested at the thought.

"Oh right! The volleyball rally's in two days..." Ms. Kawakami said, pulling him from his musing. "Everyone's just changed classes. So be sure to use that time to get to know each other."

Ren internally scoffed, keeping his face blank and bored. He doubted they would to get to know him. If this class was any indication, no one would want to even stand a meter away from him after today.

"Well then, let's get class started. Who's on duty today?"

"Everyone, please rise..." a boy with a beat up face said.

Despite his mask, Ren let himself sigh as he did as told. He hoped Aki was doing better but he doubted that as well.

He also hoped she wouldn't explode before the day ended.

(A)​

Akira was glad she wore a mask because there was no way she had any energy to spare on resisting her frown on top of keeping her glare at bay. Her mood plummeting the moment she entered her classroom because everyone started talking, and it wasn't the usual "new student in class" talk.

"Hey, is that her?"

"The one with the assault charge?"

"Yeah that's her. I saw her with her brother earlier."

"She looks normal though."

"Normal? She's got a mask! She's gotta be a delinquent."

"Yeah, I mean, why else would she have an assault charge?"

The only one who hadn't mentioned anything was a red haired girl with a ponytail who was seated at the front. Everyone else just kept going on and on whenever they could. And as if to put the cherry on the top, the entire school just kept gossiping about her and her brother as she made her way to his classroom. Akira gritted her teeth, wondering who in the world let their criminal records leak. Only the teachers were supposed to know. But no, the entire school knew. She wondered if it was Mr. Kamoshida's fault. But she let that go as soon as she thought it. True, they had ended up in a weird world, but she had no proof that "King Kamoshida" had any relation to Mr. Kamoshida. It could simply be an alternate version of him that was evil after all.

Not only that, she was exhausted, every step felt like a chore, and she had occasional flashes of that castle they went to replacing the school around her. Now that worried her. Was she going insane? Or was she now being dragged into that world? She didn't like the thought of the latter happening. The last thing she wanted was disappearing mysteriously. Before she could give it more thought though, she stopped on her way down the stairs when she heard two familiar voices.

"Why did you allow a student like him to transfer? And not only that, his sister as well. They've already started associating with Sakamoto," the voice of Mr. Kamoshida said. "Two students with a criminal record and both of them culprits in an assualt case..." A pause. "At this rate, it'd be pointless how much I contribute to the school..."

Somehow she wasn't surprised the teacher version of Kamoshida also had a big ego like the king version.

"Now don't be like that. This school counts on you, Kamoshida-kun. You are our star," the voice of the principal said. "Still, a steady build-up is necessary behind such brilliance as well."

"Your troubles never seem to end, do they, Principal Kobayakawa?" Another pause. "All right, I'll continue to do my best to answer your expectations of me."

Akira waited until the footsteps faded before she went up the stairs. Thankfully, her brother was already at the top, so she didn't have to go too far.

"Are you okay?" he said when she reached him.

"That obvious, huh?" she said.

"To me? Yes." He frowned. "Do you want to go ahead?"

Akira's brow furrowed. "Ahead?"

"...Sakamoto asked if we could talk, you included. But if you're tired, I'll just tell him that."

She shook her head. "Nah, let's go talk to him."

"Aki..."

"I'm just tired, okay? A few minutes won't kill me. Besides, I want to make sure he's okay too."

He stared at her, gaze hard, but she just met it, daring him to say otherwise. As she hoped, Ren sighed and twirled one of his hairs as he said,

"Okay. But tell me if that changes, okay?"

Akira nodded. "Sure." Then she said, "So where's he want to meet us?"

"On the roof."

"Of course the roof."

Her brother smiled. "Any better ideas for privacy?"

"Okay, good point. But still, how'd he get to the roof? They're supposed to be locked.."

Ren chuckled and said, "Only one way to find out."

It was easy enough to find the way. They just kept going up thr stairs until they reached the highest floor. Though it was less of a floor and more a room. However, there was a sign on the door that said, in short, "off limits". Akira wondered if they got it wrong somehow, but considering he had told them to go to the roof, she just pushed the door. As she guessed, he had somehow unlocked it and the door gave way, showing the school roof. It wasn't anything spectacular, or clean for that matter. Farthest away from them were AC units and large fans. Before those seemed to be a simple, urban garden, with four rows of sprouts in long, rectangle pots. But most notably there were a bunch of tables and chairs all around them, particularly bunched up near the AC units on the right. And there, sitting on a chair, was their blond acquiantance, Ryuji Sakamoto.

"Sorry for callin' you up here like this," he said.

"It's okay," Ren said as they took their seats.

"Don't worry about it," she said.

"Really? But I bet Kawakami already told you stuff like 'don't get involved with him', huh?"

"Pretty much."

"She said you're trouble," her brother said.

The blond sighed and leaned back. "Figured as much," he said. "Then again, we're in the same boat."

She and Ren grew curious, though she had a guess on what he meant. And she was right.

"Heard you two got a criminal record. Everyone's talkin' about it," he said.

Akira groaned while Ren frowned.

"I know... That's all I've been hearing," she said.

"Do you have any idea how they know?" her brother said.

Sakamoto shared their frowned and hesitated. Akira almost thought he would say anything until he shook his head.

"Besides the internet? Nah. Not really," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, people started talkin' about how some transfer students with criminal records were comin' to our school. I don't know who started it."

They both sighed at that. It had definitely leaked somehow. And they didn't really have much reason to spend a lot of time tracking down who leaked it, if they could even find out the source by normal searching.

And Sakamoto said, "Still. Even if they're rumors...it's no wonder you were so gutsy."

Akira glared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Sakamoto was startled. "Uh, well, you know...how we almost got killed at a castle...?" he said, frowning. "I mean...It wasn't a dream...right? You remember it too, yeah?"

Oh. Now Akira felt bad for assuming he was about to insult her or something.

"Yeah," she said.

"We remember," her brother said, twirling a strand of his hair.

The blond sighed in relief. "Oh good..." he said, though he was soon somber again. "Though I guess just 'cause we remember it doesn't mean much though."

"I guess you have a point," Ren said.

"Well that just means we're all crazy!" she said.

The blond was surprised before he laughed. Akira, and Ren for that matter, couldn't help but smile at that. Even more so when he stopped and said,

"Well, even if it was a dream, you guys saved me from Kamoshida. So yeah. Thanks, Ren, Akira."

"You're welcome," they said.

But then they noticed something.

"How did you know my name?" they said.

Looking like a kid caught with their hand in a cookie jar, Sakamoto chuckled.

"Oh right, I forgot," he said. "I kinda...knew your names from the rumors, heh heh."

Akira rolled her eyes again. "Geez, how much do these rumors know?" But then she said, mostly to lighten the mood, "Actually, never mind. Probably don't wanna know."

"Agreed," her brother said.

But Sakamoto turned serious, if not brooding.

"Is something wrong?" Ren said.

"Nothin', it's just..." He sighed. "You prolly don't know about it, but there are some rumors about Kamoshida too."

"Kamoshida?" she said, foreboding feelings in her gut.

"The one we met at the gate, right?" her brother said.

"Yeah, the ripped mophead."

That was a moniker she liked more than poofy haired man or just Mr. Kamoshida. She would start calling him that, at least in her mind. But right now she had to focus.

"What about him?"

"The asshole who was all full of himself at the castle," Sakamoto said. "No one says anything against him cause he's some medalist who took the volleyball team to the nationals. The way Kamoshida was king of that castle felt crazy real 'cause of that."

Well that explained his big ego earlier. But if both had such an inflated head and the king version of Kamoshida acted exactly as Sakamoto described him... She glanced at her brother, who likely shared her thoughts. Did that mean he was not just another world's Kamoshida, but a parallel version? And if he was, and there were teens in those cells, did that mean there were students suffering in their world as well? The foreboding worsened.

Then Sakamoto said, "...I wonder if we can go back to that castle again..."

And she couldn't help but agree with him, even with the pit of fear deep in her stomach when remembering how they almost died meshing with her worry. But it wasn't like they even knew how they got there so they couldn't even try...

Could they?

She started to examine what had happened since she arrived until now but it seemed Sakamoto changed his mind as he stood up, startling them.

"Ugh. Forget it! It must've all been a dream! It has to be!" he said.

That just sounded like denial. But then he said, with an apologetic face and sincere tone,

"Sorry to drag you out here like this. That's all I had to say."

And Akira couldn't really get mad at him for wanting to forget it. After some thought, it made sense. They did just nearly die. And it was pretty strange. They would sound like they had been on drugs or something if they mentioned the truth.

So she said, "It's fine, dude."

Along with her brother nodding and saying, "Same."

"Good," he said, his cheer back for a moment. Then he crossed his arm. "You know, we might be pretty similar. I feel like we're gonna get along just fine as 'troublemakers'."

Akira gave him a flat stare. "Really?"

"Oh come on, Aki," Ren said, smug. "He's just being friendly."

"Yeah...right."

The blond laughed. "Anyways, I'm Ryuji Sakamoto," he said.

Taking the chance, she said, "We know."

The blond stared, his mouth hanging. "Wha—how?"

Now she grinned. "The castle," she said and nothing more.

And on cue, though also partially in concern, Ren said, "Shall we go? My little sister's tired from that."

"Uh, right," Sakamoto said. "Seeya then. I'll come talk if I see you around."

With that, the blond left, her and her brother watching him go. They just stared at the door where he went through for a while, gathering their thoughts.

Then Ren said, "Need any help?"

She was tempted to say no. But she very much wanted to lie down soon, so she said, "Yeah. I wanna nap."

"Okay," he said and wrapped an arm around her waist while she wrapped one around his. "We still have some cup noodles for dinner, right?"

"Think so. But hey, we forgot the umbrella, so who knows?"

Her brother chuckled. "True. Then let's get extra."

The time it took from school to the convenience store then the café passed surprisingly quick. By the time they made it back, Akira was able to walk on her own but still felt her eyes drooping. But what greeted them was a Sakura-san who looked annoyed.

Akira had a bad feeling as he said, "Hey, I got an interesting call from your school today." And she had been right as it followed with, "It's only your first day and you're already showing up hours late?"

Of course. The school had likely left out why they had been late, or rather their excuse as to why. Her brother expressed annoyance at that, not even bothering with being polite as he glared and frowned.

"Aki had an attack," he said.

To her surprise, Sakura-san's was shocked and he looked at her with worry. But just as quickly as it appeared, it was replaced with his usual grumpy expression. However, his tone was decidedly less harsh and had a hint of that concern from earlier.

"I...see..." The bespectacled man sighed. "Look, just...don't do that again, okay?" he said. "They're not gonna take that as an exucse every time if you don't behave yourselves. Your life's forfeit if anything happens. Both of you. You understand?"

Akira could only stare. She...hadn't expected that kindness, especially considering his track record thus far. She nearly didn't speak until her brother said,

"I do."

Then he glanced at her.

She tried not to look sleepy and nodded as she said, "Yeah, Sakura-san. We understand."

Another sigh, as if he was carrying the weight of the world.

"Okay then," he said.

Then the bearded man's phone rang and her brother took that as a cue to leave. He gestured to the stairs, she nodded and both walked to it. Though Akira still listened into the conversation. It was hard not to.

"Hey what's up?" Sakura-san said, his voice a whole lot warmer than anything she's heard from him before. "...Yeah, I just closed up shop. I'll be there in half an hour."

They were about to go up the stairs when he noticed them.

"Hey, don't forget to lock the door and turn all the lights off, okay?" he said.

Ren said, "Yes sir."

But the middle aged man was already back on his phone.

"No, I just hired a part-timer," he said. "Yup. I'm leaving now."

And with that, they finally went to their room and Aki just flopped on her bed. She knew she would have to get up to eat, change and take her medicine, and maybe even have to deal with a call from their parents, but right now she just let herself drift off.

However, her brother said,

"Aki?"

So she said, "Yeah?"

"What do you think about the castle?"

Oh she had a lot of thoughts. Like how they almost died, the "not-cat" phantom thief...and how they left a bunch of kids there...and how Morgana reacted to them. But most of all...

"You wanna do something about it, huh?"

"Mmhmm."

Aki groaned. "We don't know how we got there though and I'm way too tired to think about it... Can we just sleep on it?"

Her brother chuckled. "Okay, okay. You rest," he said, rubbing her head. "I'll get dinner ready and wake you when it's ready."

"Thanks Big Bro."

"Always, Aki."

{R}​

Bang!

"On your feet, Inmates!" a girl's voice said.

Ren opened his eyes and was greeted with black and blue. Where was he? He had noodles for dinner with Aki taking her medicine, changed to more comfortable clothes for bed and went to sleep. And now he was in a prison cell?

Another girl said, "Our master wishes to speak with you. It's for your sakes that you take his words to heart."

And then he remembered the dream from before. The one who last spoke was Justine, the first one was Caroline, and this was the Velvet Room.

But then a third voice, also a girl and also familiar, said,

"What the hell?!"

And his breath stopped. That couldn't be...

"Aki...?" he said, sitting up.

"Huh? Big Bro? Is that you?" Aki said.

Bang!

Ren jumped as Caroline said, "Quiet, Inmates! Did you not hear us when we said our master wishes to speak with you?"

"Master?! What're you talking about?!" Aki said and he heard the bars beside his cell shake.

"Show some manners, Inmate!"

"I will when you explain why the hell I'm in a cell!"

"I will admit, I did not expect that you would awaken power, much less special ones," the long nosed bald man, Igor, said from the the desk before him, looking to his right. Then he looked back at him. "But, perhaps, because you have awakened your powers, ones that are special as well, it influenced her own." He chuckled, the noise as deep as his voice. "Now your rehabilitation can finally begin."

"My powers?" Ren said, frowning.

"Rehabilitation?" Aki said.

"There is no need to understand it all for the time being," Igor said. "You will be training the power of Persona, which you have awakened to. Personas are, in other words, a mask—an armor of the heart when confronting worldy matters."

"We already know that, baldy!" Aki said. "What I wanna know is why we're here!"

"Hey! What did I say about respecting our master?!" Caroline said as she hit Aki's cell bars again.

The old man himself looked shocked before his ever present grin got even wider.

"Is that so?" Igor said and chuckled. "Then I have high expectations for both of you."

"What do you mean?" he said.

Meanwhile Aki said, "I don't care about that! Answer me, damn it!"

"There is no need to worry. You will learn when the time comes," Igor said.

He heard Aki groan. He didn't blame her. She wanted answers but Igor wasn't forthcoming. They had no choice but to listen, like the prisoners they looked like.

Then Igor said, "By the by...have you come to appreciate the Metaverse Navigator?"

"Metaverse Navigator?" his sister said, curious but still annoyed.

The long nosed man nodded. "Using it will allow you to come and go between reality and Palaces."

"Palaces...?" Ren said.

"You mean that place we eneded up in?"

And then it clicked. That app, with its sinister eye, was how they were able to travel between the two worlds. But if that was the case...

"Why did you give it to me?"

And Igor said, "...I bestowed it to you as a means to train you as a thief."

Ren blinked. What?

"Thief?" Aki said, incredulous.

"Yes! The Metaverse Navigator is a gift from our master! You better take care in using it, Inmates!" Caroline said, harsh and high pitched.

"Devote yourself to your training so that you may become a fine thief," Justine said, cold and subdued.

And Aki was likely gripping the bars and glaring at them as she said, "Why you..."

Meanwhile, Ren frowned and gathered his thoughts. The dream from before wasn't a dream. Igor wanted him to be a thief and gave him the Metaverse Navigator for that. And he hadn't expected Aki to be here with him. In other words, he was still no closer to any answers for any of his questions, like what did Igor mean by "rehabilitation" or why was Aki here when she apparently wasn't supposed to be. He would have to settle for what Igor said...for now.

So he said, "What do you want me to do?"

The master of the room chuckled.

"Just continue your journey. You will reach it in time," he said.

And of course it was cryptic.

"No way am I gonna let him do it alone!" Aki said, rattling the bars once again.

The long nosed man stared at Ren's right for a moment. Then he said,

"I see. It must be disheartening to make use of the Metaverse Navigator alone." He chuckled. "Very well. I shall grant you the Navigator. And, as I have done with your kin, should you find anyone beneficial to you, I shall grant it to them as well." Igor's grin turned amused. "This is all for you to grow as a most excellent thief."

"Hey! Wait!" his sister said. "You still didn't—"

A alarm sounded, dinging repeatedly.

"Hmph. It's time," Caroline said, crossing her arms. "Go and enjoy what rest you might have..."

"I said wait!"

That was the last thing he heard before the blue faded completely from the black.

Author's Note: Fun fact: the school roof in Japanese schools is supposed to be closed off in real life (as far as I know).
 

TheCharredDragon

Yomu Yomu Fruit User
Chapter 5: Cat Got Your Tongue?

(A)​

Akira gasped and bolted up, panting. There was buzzing in her ears and her vision was blurry and all she could think of was, What the hell was that? Was she truly so angry at her situation that she dreamed of being trapped in a prison along with her brother with two pint sized guards and an old, balding, long nosed man as their master? No, that couldn't be it. She had dreamed of worse wardens and monsters than those three, a long, long time ago, when she had no brother and no father.

The buzzing stopped and she turned to see the blurry outline of her brother turning off his alarm on his phone. For a while, she just stared at him, her brain deciding to crash. And then Ren looked up to her and said,

"I think I would've called him rocket nose instead of baldy."

Akira laughed, long and hard enough that she held her stomach and fell back into her bed. Leave it to her brother to say something that was both completely unrelated yet totally related to whatever was going on. She shouldn't be surprised at this point, but she still was. She loved that. Thanks to that, they were both smiling, even though she couldn't really see it, and decidedly much calmer.

"Nah, carrot nose is better," she said. Then she glared at him. "Don't even think of the inappropriate one."

"You said it, not me."

They both chuckled and then content quiet came back. But Akira knew it wouldn't last. And Ren, as usual, was the one to end it.

"So you saw it too? The blue prison?" he said.

She sighed and sat up once again, putting on her glasses.

"Yup," she said. "And you have no idea what that place is, huh?"

Ren shook his head. "Not really. I only know the names of the ones there and the place."

"That prison has a name?"

He nodded. "It's called the Velvet Room. The master, carrot nose, is Igor, and the terrible twins are the wardens, Caroline and Justine," he said. "The one with the stick is Caroline. The one with the clipboard is Justine."

Wait really?

"Those are names from Frankenstein," she said. "Well, related to Frankenstein in Igor's case."

"I thought they were familiar...but I'm not sure if that'll help figure out the mystery."

Ren had a point. If they were truly named after characters from Frakenstein, then that implied their names were either appropriate or ironic. And considering the characters of Caroline and Justine in the actual novel, particularly the latter's fate, she doubted the names of the residents were important. However...

"Yeah, okay, but why's it called the Velvet Room? It definitely isn't velvet or a room."

Ren looked hesitant. But then he said, "Well, according to Igor, the room reflects the state of my heart, so..."

And then she got it. If that was true and the Velvet Room appeared as a prison...then that implied that Ren thought they were imprisoned in their circumstances. And he had somehow dragged her into it. Akira sighed and plopped down beside her brother, startling him, before she leaned on his shoulder.

"Hey, Big Bro?"

"Hmm?"

"Remember that you said you don't much about that room, right?"

"Mmmhmm."

"So don't think it's your fault I'm trapped too, okay?"

Ren chuckled and finally relaxed, leaning his head on top of her own, no doubt smiling.

"How'd you know?" he said, already knowing the answer.

"Because we're family," she said, giving it anyway.

They stayed like that for a while, just enjoying each other's presence and the calm quiet. At least until, once again, Ren broke it.

"There's one more thing..."

"The castle, I'm betting."

"Mmhmm," he said, nodding. "I...want to investigate it."

"And do something about it, yeah?"

"Yes. Even if it's some sort of parallel world, I want to find out why it replaced the school."

"And why ripped mophead and those kids were like that in the castle."

Her brother nodded.

"How we gonna back though? We don't even know how we got there."

"About that..." Ren said and showed his phone with that eye app from yesterday. "I believe this is how we did it."

Her brother, after messing with it, showed a search history for it, the words "Kamoshida's Palace" being the only thing in it.

"Wait, this is that Metaverse Navigator?"

"Most likely."

"How does an app send us to a parallel world?!" Akira said. But then she realized her words and remembered the Velvet Room. "Oh wait, supernatural. It's not supposed to make sense. Never mind."

Ren snickered and she glared at him.

"I was thinking we'd try after school," he said. "Is that okay with you?"

"Do you even need to ask?" Akira said, smirking. It was, however, replaced with a more somber one. "I wanna help too."

Her brother gave a warm smile. "Thank you."

Below, the café's door opened, ringing its overhead bell. Akira sighed, making a show of it, and said,

"Well it looks like our warden is here. Let's get ready before he gets more grumpy."

"He's not that bad, Aki," Ren said but chuckled anyway.

"Yeah yeah, I know. But I can still complain, can't I?"

With that, they went downstairs to change and get ready, Sakura-san cooking on the stove in the small kitchen. But just as she was about to go in the restroom, their caretaker said,

"You're not going to take a bath?"

Before she could think, she gave him a flat stare and said, "Does it look like I can take a bath here?"

It was only after that did she realize what she did but before she could apologize, Sakura-san just huffed and said,

"There's a bath house down the street. Just go left and then right."

Uh... Did he just...?

Ren smirked at her, reminding her of his words earlier.

She glared at him.

Of course that just made his smirk worse. But it lost its smugness as he turned to Sakura-san and bowed slightly.

"Thank you for telling us," he said. "Let's go, Aki."

She sighed. But she would admit, even if it was a bit rushed since they needed to go to school, it felt good to have warm water soak into her skin and her hair a lot lighter on her head. Somehow that made breakfast taste better and definitely made the compactness of the train less annoying, even with them carrying their umbrellas. Which was good, because as they were switching trains along with other students, a head of red hair tied in a ponytail caught her attention.

"Hey..."

"Hmm? What is it?"

"I think that's my classmate."

"Hmm?" Her brother followed her sight. "Her?"

"Uh huh," she said. "She was the only one who wasn't gossiping.."

"I see... I'm glad then."

"Me too."

After that, they got on the train and they happened to be standing right beside her redheaded classmate and thus saw when she stood up from her spot.

"Please, take my seat," she said to an old lady before her. "My station's coming up."

The elder looked surprised. "Are you sure? Then..." she said and moved to take a step...

...but was beaten by a man in a suit.

Akira gritted her teeth and felt Ren tense beside her.

"Oh wow, what speed!" redhead said but then she shook her head. "I mean—excuse me, that seat was for this lady..."

But the man didn't answer as he slumped and snored.

"Oh."

Akira couldn't help it.

She said, low and threatening, "You want me to 'wake him up'?"

Then Ren said, "You should at least say something."

The girl was startled from their words but then she said, "It's all right. I can understand his position as well."

Well, now that she said it, it was true. He was likely dead tired if he fell asleep that quick, but...

"It's still not fair..." she said, mostly just to grumble, while her brother was silent but with sadness in his eyes.

The redhaired girl seemed amused but gave a sympathetic smile at them before turning to the old lady.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be any help," she said.

The old woman waved it off with a smile. "It's all right, dearie. Don't you worry."

"Please allow me to carry your luggage, at least," the ponytail girl said, already reaching for the woman's bag.

"Thank you!" the woman said and handed it to her.

And the girl shook her head and said, "Not at all! I train plenty."

Akira shook her head as well, still upset at the guy who stole the old lady's seat, but let it go anyway, especially since the girl before her was still trying to be helpful despite the hiccup. It wasn't long before they reached their stop and Akira and Ren lost her in the flow of the crowd. However, just a couple of meters after they stepped off, they heard a,

"Pardon me."

And they turned to see that it was the same redhaired ponytail girl from before. When she got their attention, she suddenly bowed, just slightly, and said,

"Thank you so much for earlier."

Akira eyed her then looked to her brother to see if he knew what she meant. But he mirrored her expression, also confused, so she shrugged, answering his own unspoken question. He did the same and they both faced the girl again.

"What are you thanking us for?" her brother said, curling his hair.

And she said, tilting her head, "Yeah. What did we do?"

"For speaking up when I offered my seat on the train," she said, standing up straight and Akira noticing she was shorter than both of them. "You're a second-year at Shujin Academy, correct? I'm a first-year there myself."

"Yes," Ren said. "And we know you're a first-year."

The girl looked surprised before realization passed on her face.

"Oh right, you could tell, huh?"

She and her brother laughed.

"It's okay," he said. "It's not as if we were any better."

"Yeah," she said. "We only found out yesterday that Shujin's uniforms are unique. Though we probably should've guessed with its rep."

The girl giggled. "Well, either way, thanking you totally slipped my mind back on the train and I didn't want to be rude to my senpai."

"It's fine. Everyone forgets sometimes," Ren said. "Besides, I should thank you as well."

"Eh? What for?"

Akira grinned, knowing what her brother was thinking, said,

"For bein' nice."

"Huh? For...being nice?"

"Yeah. You weren't gossipin' yesterday when I popped in class."

"Yesterday? Wait..." Recognition flashed in her eyes. "Oh! You're the delinquent transfer student!"

Her eye twitched, resisting a glare, and Ren tensed, glancing her way. Akira wondered if she actually had the wrong impression of her, that her ignoring her yesterday was simply because she didn't think highly of them, until the red haired girl's eyes widened and she said,

"Oh, I'm so sorry! I mean Amamiya-san!" Then she turned to her brother. "So then you're...Amamiya-senpai, I presume?" She bowed forward considerably. "I'm so sorry for that. It's just that I remembered the class talking about you so much yesterday that I tried to ignore it."

And it was their turn to stare. Akira had thought she wouldn't be nice to them anymore now that she knew they were the "problem students". Instead, she apologized, and Akira smiled and relaxed alongside her brother.

"It's fine, and yes, I'm Aki's big brother," he said, amused.

"I see... But still, I shouldn't have called you that, Amamiya-san, after thanking you."

"Hey, no problem. At least you apologized," she said.

And she meant it. It wasn't everyday people ignored rumors.

But then Ren said, "We should get going, or we might be late."

"Oh I'm so sorry! Please, excuse me!"

"Wha—? Hey wait! Wanna go..." Akira said but the redhaired girl ran off. "...to...ge...ther..." She sighed. "Geez, we're headin' the same way..."

Ren laughed and she glared at him. It did nothing but make him smirk.

"Well considering how many times she apologized, I'm not surprised she didn't want to bother us. She seems like she likes being polite," he said.

Akira sighed again. "Yeah, that makes sense...but still..."

"Come on, let's go," he said, heading for the station exit and readying his umbrella.

With one more sigh, Akira readied her own and followed him, thinking about the redhaired girl with the ribbon. Akira had wanted to get to know her. After all, she seemed to be pretty nice, especially since there were rumors about her and Ren all over school and yet she didn't seem to not want them to cloud her judgement. But she guessed that would be later. Ren did want to figure out about that castle yesterday.

{R}​

After making sure he had all his new textbooks accounted for, Ren left his classroom and began head up to meet with Aki when he saw the platinum blonde from his class approached by Mr. Kamoshida.

"Hey there, Takamaki," the teacher said. "Looking for a ride home? Things have been pretty dangerous lately with all those accidents."

Ren frowned as he watched the teacher make thinly veiled advances on Takamaki-san and the girl did her best to rebuke them, offering both excuses with her modelling job and lies about illness.

True, his perception might be skewed by his first impression of the man being an egotistical king ,who he wanted to throttle for even thinking about laying a hand on his sister, in more ways than one, his "friendliness" came off as anything but, especially with how uncomfortable the girl was. And with the rumors about the plantinum blonde and Mr. Kamoshida... He knew he shouldn't take stock on them, but he couldn't help but wonder and worry if there was some truth to them.

He was thrown out of his thoughts when Aki arrived and said,

"Hey Big Bro. Ready?"

"Yes," he said and they left the school building.

He had been thinking on where they should talk when at the school gates...

"Yo."

...Sakamoto came up to them.

"What's up?" Aki said.

"I wanna talk about that castle from yesterday," he said. "I tried tellin' myself it was all a dream...but I couldn't do it. I can't act like nothing happened. It's all connected to that Kamoshida bastard, after all."

"For real?" Aki said.

"Yeah. I wanna find out what's up with that place, no matter what."

"Well that's convenient."

The blond blinked. "Huh?"

"We were gonna try lookin' in that castle too. Right, Big Bro?" his sister said, grinning.

He nodded.

"So let's go together."

The blond was shocked and Ren couldn't blame him. If Sakamoto was known as a delinquent, it was unlikely people were friendly to him, much less help him. So he gave a soft smile as Sakamoto recovered.

"For real?" he said. Now convinced, he grinned as well. "Thanks you two."

"No problem," Aki said. "You gotta plan? 'cause we got one."

"Wait, you do?"

"Uh huh." His sister glanced at him. "Big Bro?"

He nodded and took out his phone. "Do you remember hearing a voice after we escaped?" he said as he tapped on it.

"Yeah. Somethin' about returnin' to the real world, right?"

"Yup," Aki said. "And we think..."

"...we can use this to get us back."

Ren showed his phone to the blond, the screen displaying the app on "Kamoshida's Palace".

"Really?" he said. "So all you gotta do is click?"

They gasped.

"Wait!"

Ren moved to get it away but it wasn't enough. Sakamoto tapped it and a wave of nausea hit him as his vision distorted. But only for a moment, being brought back to reality as Sakamoto said,

"Look! It's that castle from yesterday!"

And he turned to see the same large gate, and castle...and Sakamoto went right in.

"Hey! I said wait!" Aki said and they followed him. "Don't just rush off!"

"You're not much better," Ren said on reflex. She glared at him for that. But he ignored her and said to the blond, "And you shouldn't have just pressed it. We don't know what it looks like to other people."

"Yeah!" Aki said, now glaring at the blond. "We probably looked like we vanished or somethin'.

"Hey, don't worry so much. No one was watchin'—" Sakamoto said.

And then he turned around.

"—yeargh! Those clothes!"

Their clothes? He looked to Aki and found that she was wearing that hooded white tunic again, its long sleeves and coat tails just as prominent as her contrasting grey pants and black Colombina mask.

"Huh. They popped up without a battle," she said, curious and checking Ren's attire.

"That happened last time too, huh?" Sakamoto said. "What's with that outfit?"

"I don't know," he said.

Aki, on the other hand, smirked and said, "You jelly?"

"I-I ain't jealous!"

"Sure don't sound like it."

"Aki," he said, tone admonishing.

"All right, all right," she said, not guilty at all.

"Ugh. What's goin' on here? This makes no effin' sense at all..."

Then...

"Hey! Stop making a commotion!" a familiar voice said.

"Ah! You?!" Sakamoto said, jolting back.

And, lo and behold, the "not-cat" phantom thief, Morgana, was there before them.

"The Shadows started acting up so I came here wondering what it could be..." it said. It sighed. "To think you guys would be back at the entrance when you barely managed to escape..."

It was brief, and hidden well, but Aki tensed for a moment before she spoke.

"We wanted to know more about this place."

"Yeah, what is this place?" their blond companion said. "Is it the school?"

"That's right," Morgana said.

"But it's a castle!"

Aki snorted. Ren knew she snarked in her mind. But he kept silent, listening to the cat burglar.

"This castle is the school. But only to the castle's ruler," the not-cat said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"The castle's ruler?"

Ren wondered as well. It was clear that Kamoshida was in charge, but that meant Morgana could've just easily called him king, not ruler. So why the distinction?

Then Morgana said, "I think you called him Kamoshida? It's how his distorted heart views the school."

Ren furrowed his brows and glanced at his sister, who mirrored his expression. What was a distorted heart?

"Kamoshida... Distorted..." Sakamoto said, bringing them back to the conversation.

The blond also contemplated, his face scunched up like them...

"Explain it in a way that makes sense!"

...for one second.

Morgana sighed. "I shouldn't have expected a moron to get it..."

"What'd you say?!" Sakamoto said.

Ren frowned. He was about to tell the not-cat off as well. It wasn't like the words "distorted heart" alone explained everything. But then...

"AAAAAAAAHHHHHGGGG!"

They were startled and Ren scanned the area, looking for any sort of movement.

"What was that?!" their blond companion said.

"It must be the slaves captive here," Morgana said.

"For real?!" But when he realized it was serious, he said, "Oh shit...it's for real."

Memories of yesterday flashed in Ren's mind. Cells, prisoners, and near death. Guilt pushed at his insides. He nearly choked on it. But he swallowed it and set his jaw. That was why he was here after all. And he wasn't alone. Aki also had that stubborn look on her face now.

"Makes sense," she said. "We did see prisoners yesterday."

"You know, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure they're guys from our school," Sakamoto said.

"But what are they doing here?" Ren said.

"Most likely Kamoshida's orders," it said. It continued in a nonchalant manner. "It's nothing out of the ordinary; it's like that everyday here. What's more, you three escaped yesterday. He must have lost his temper quite a bit."

Ren clenched his fists.

"That son of a bitch!" Aki and Sakamoto said.

"You two! Keep quiet!" Morgana said.

Aki's eyes widened, panicked, realizing what she had just done with how loud she'd been.

But Sakamoto would have none of it.

"This is bullshit!" he said before tackling one of the double doors. "You hear me, Kamoshida?!"

"Doing that isn't going to open it, you know..." the not-cat said, tone flat. Though it added, mumbling, "Still, it seems you have your reasons..."

"Tch. Hey, Monamona!" Sakamoto said, coming back to them.

Aki stared incredulously. "I'm sorry, what?" she said.

"Monamona...?" Ren said.

"It's Morgana!"

The loud boy ignored them. "Do you know where those voices are comin' from?"

"You want me to take you to them?" Morgana said.

"Yeah."

The phantom thief contemplated for a moment.

"Well, I guess I could guide you there," it said. Then looked at him and his sister. "But only if they come with us."

Aki scoffed. "Of course we're comin'," she said, unsuspecting.

Ren, however, was quiet, the condition making him curious. It was clear it wanted them for a reason. But what was it? Was it solely because they proved their potential for battle and thus wanted insurance considering the dangers? Somehow Ren doubted that was the only reason. But as he tried to think of any other reason that could risk them, Aki looked at him with curiosity and Sakamoto with worry, so he decided to say,

"Why us?"

As he hoped, Morgana answered his question in more ways than one.

"I just want to get a better look at your powers," it said, one ulterior motive now out in the open. "Even if you don't agree, I bet this guy'll go on even if he has to do it alone. Are you going to leave him?"

Ren glared at him. "I never said that," he said.

Morgana smirked. "It's settled then!" it said, pleased it got its way.

He wanted to wipe that smug face off.

But as Sakamoto said, "For real?!"

Ren couldn't bring himself to focus on something like that while Aki smiled and said,

"Yup. We said we'd go together, 'member?"

So Ren gave Sakamoto a reassuring smile and nodded.

"Thanks man," he said.

"All right, let's do this! Follow me!"

Morgana then jumped on a barrel and pointed up. "This is our infiltration point."

"Hey, ain't that where we escaped out of last time...?" Sakamoto said when they followed its paw.

"That's right," the not-cat said. "Not barging in through the entrance is one of the basics of phantom thievery."

"Let me guess, those are in spy movies too, huh?"

"Oh good, you're catchin' on, Sakamoto," Aki said.

"Hey, I don't watch those kinda stuff, okay? How am I supposed to know that stuff?"

"I'll make sure to teach you as we go. Now be quiet and follow me!"

The not-cat went inside. The three followed, after Sakamoto thanked them once again for coming, and they were back in the storage room. From there, passed the large foyer as they went for the dungeons. They were briefly held up by blurring surroundings that Morgana had no time to explain, but soon went down the spiraling stairs, Aki thankfully not breathing as hard as yesterday, and made it to the first dungeon floor in no time. However, not long after leaving the stairs, Morgana stopped and hid behind a steel bar door. At first, Ren was about to ask why it did so, until it said,

"Shoot... I had a feeling there would be guards here..."

"I thought that was a given," Aki said as she followed its example.

"I meant for this area, smarty-pants," it said, annoyed. "The guards used to patrol just around the cells but now it's all over the dungeon because you escaped." It sighed. "Looks like we'll have to fight our way forward."

"F-For real...?" their blond friend said.

"But phantom thieves are supposed to be sneaky," Aki said.

Though Ren was a bit surprised she did. She hasn't been this cheeky around strangers since...before the Incident.

Unsurprisingly, Morgana looked more incensed but, to its credit, kept its calm as it said,

"Errrg. Yes, they are. And that's why you always try to ambush the enemy from the behind. You'll need to pull of their mask to momentarily break the ruler's control over them. If you succeed, they'll get confused and we'll have a chance for a preemptive attack."

"Backstabbing? Sounds more like an assassin."

"Oh you've got to be...!"

Still, as glad as he was to see Aki sassing freely again, this was bad timing for it to rear its head.

So he said, "You have it memorized, Aki?"

"Yeah. Easy. Sneaky sneak then rip off mask and strike."

"Good. Then are we ready to try?"

"Yup."

Morgana sighed but still said, "Yes." Though not without adding, "And you better not forget about what I just taught you."

"Yeah, yeah, got it, Phantom Thief-senpai."

"Wha—?"

Before it could say more, Ren spotted a chance and said,

"Follow my lead."

Then he dashed forward and jumped on the guard's back. It only started to struggle just as Ren dug his fingers into the edge of its mask and tore it off. He backflipped as he felt the steel soften and landed just as the red-and-black slime solidified into two of those pyromaniac ghosts from yesterday, looking confused. Aki and Morgana thankfully caught up with him by that point. With the three of them, they dispatched the pumpkins in no time, Ren making note that they would lose their pumpkin heads when hit by Zorro's tornadoes. After that, they arrived at the cells Sakamoto noticed yesterday. However...

"Why ain't anyone here?" the second-year said. "Damnit! They were here before! Where'd they go?!"

All the people they saw yesterday weren't there anymore. However, Ren reminded Sakamoto that there was still more to the dungeon they could check. That calmed him down but just as they readied to search more, footsteps were heading their way. Morgana was quick to lead them inside a nearby room. It seemed to be a shoddy break room, with a couple of shelves, a table and a plenty of benches, big and small, literring the room, all made of poor quality wood. Sakamoto was catching his breath, likely from panicking earlier, and Morgana stood atop the table.

Aki questioned whether such a simple room would truly keep them safe but the not-cat explained it was because there was less "distortion" here, meaning Kamoshida had less control over this area in his projection of his heart. From that alone, it seemed his and Aki's suspicions were right. This place was parallel world reflecting the person's mind.

Ren didn't like what that implied.

But that begged the question: did the imprisoned students get dragged into this world as well?

Sakamoto, however, didn't understand any of it. Ren was tempted to explain, but Aki looked ready to simplify it for Sakamoto so he let her do it. But Morgana beat her to it, as well as adding more, as expected of the expert. He explained that this place was called a Palace, a world where one's distorted desires are made real. So since the school was a castle, that meant that was how Kamoshida saw it in his mind.

Sakamoto laughed in hyseterics and he and Aki worried for him. But then Sakamoto said,

'That son of a bitch!"

And they were startled.

"Seesh, not so loud!" his sister said. "Though I don't blame you."

"Me neither," he said.

"You must really hate this Kamoshida guy," Morgana said.

"Hate doesn't even cover how I feel. Everything is that asshole's fault!"

As curious as he was about that, and no doubt Aki as well, they had more pressing matters to attend to, like their plan of action. Even with their newfound power, there was only so much they could do. At that mention, Morgana took the chance to explain to them about their powers, Personas, and how it related to the Palace. Mainly that they would've been distorted by Kamoshida's will had they not had a powerful "will of rebellion", which manifested their clothes as the "image of rebellion" they held in their hearts.

With that information, Ren couldn't help but smirk and say,

"Guess that means your image is an assassin from Assassin's Code, huh? Seems a bit impractical for a thief to have white clothes though, don't you think?"

"Hey! You're not much better, phantom thief!" she said, glaring. "You look like you're a combo of a secret agent and a Victorian gentleman!"

"Ah! How dare you!" Ren huffed, still smirking as he flourished his hand. "Of course I appear this way! A phantom thief must be stylish, after all."

"Show-off."

"Why thank you."

"You're not welcome. I thought phantom thieves had manners."

"Ah! You wound me, dear sister, with your harsh words!" Ren said, leaning back and placing a fist over his heart.

And then Sakamoto said, interrupting them, "Ugh! I'm so fed up with all of this! I don't get any of this stuff! I mean, like, what the hell are you?!"

"I'm a human—an honest-to-god human!"

"No, you're obviously more like a cat!"

"This is, well... I lost my true form," it said. "I think."

"You think?" Sakamoto said, doubtful.

Ren was the same even as he said, "You have amnesia?"

Because if that was the case, it didn't add up with its knowledge.

"No!" it said, mad. But then it was depressed. "Well, not completely at least."

"Like what you know of these 'Palaces'?" Aki said.

"Yes. And I do know how to regain my true form," Morgana said. "That was the reason I snuck in here, for a preliminary investigation for those means."

"Then you got caught," she said.

"Er, well...yes I did..." it said. "But I was only looking around and yet I was tortured by Kamoshida for it! So I'm gonna make him pay for sure!"

"What is this, a comic book?" Sakamoto said. "This is seriously crazy..."

"The costumes didn't tip you off?" Aki said.

"Oh lay it off!"

Morgana looked at the door in alarm and said, "If we're gonna keep going, we should hurry along."

"Hey, it's not our fault you decided this was the perfect time for a lesson," his sister said, smirking.

"Hey! You're the ones who asked first!"

"If you say so."

"What kind of gentleman would I be if I didn't answer your question?" it said with a huff. "Besides, I'll be counting on your skills too this time rookies. Got it? So it's only fair I give something in exchange."

"Really? We're rookies but you're gonna make us do all the work? Geez," Aki said, her words belied thanks to her smirk.

But still Sakamoto said, "Hey, don't worry, I'm not gonna force it all on you two. I thought it might help so...I brought it just in case!"

He reached into his pocket...

...and pulled out a gun.

"What the hell man?! Where'd you get that?!" Aki said, scrambling away.

"Woah woah! Hey hey! It's just a model gun! So it only makes sounds."

"That's just a toy!" Morgana said.

"But it looks totally real, so it'll at least fake 'em out. I mean, it fooled her, didn't it?"

"Well excuse me for thinkin' it's real!"

Ren tried to smother his snicker but his sister still noticed it. Thankfully, Sakamoto then took out some pills and said,

"Oh, and I brought some medicine too. You know what they say, 'providin' is pre...somethin'.' Huh? Huh?"

His sister facepalmed, likely in disbelief over his mangling of the saying and that they forgot to bring supplies.

Ren just accepted it, putting it in his many pockets as he said,

"Thank you."

While Morgana said, "So you were planning this from the start..."

Ren suspected Aki wanted to distract herself from her hindsight realization, so she said,

"Yeah, why do you think we came back?"

"Hmm, I see..." it said, quiet for a moment. "Well fine. If you're ready to go, we'll resume our infiltration."

One problem however.

"We still don't know where the prisoners are though," Ren said as Morgana hopped down from the table.

"Yeah," Sakamoto said. "Where'd they go?"

"I don't wanna just roam around lookin' for 'em. That's askin' for trouble," Aki said.

And Morgana said, "That's why we're going to listen in on the guards."

His sister said, "What? We can do that from here?"

"Of course not! We have to sneak up to them."

"Then may you do it, Morgana?" Ren said "You are the most experienced and most suited for stealth out of all of us."

"Ah, you recognize my skills..." The not-cat smiled with smug satisfaction. "Very well! I'll do it." Then it said, "But you'll still be coming along. I promised to teach you as we go, remember?"

Ren was taken aback, considering that it was only helping them for its own gain.

"Thanks Phantom Thief-senpai," Aki said for both of them.

"Now come on! Follow me!"

It was actually easy enough to get the info they needed as the guards were keeping tabs with each other on status of the "slaves", as they called them, which made Ren's blood boil. Thanks to that they found out that the prisoners were being kept in the training hall, not too far from the floor they were on. They also confirmed that the guards were still searching for them, so it came as no surprise that there was a guard blocking the metal gate that led to the training hall.

"Tch! Think we can go around him?" Aki said, whispering, as they hid behind barrels.

"Unforunately, no," Morgana said. "There's a good chance we'd get spotted if we tried and that would raise the security level."

"Damn..."

"Don't worry, as long as you keep ambushing enemies and not get spotted when you do, we should be fine."

"All right then," Ren said. "Ready?"

With that, they got rid of the guard quickly enough and went down deeper into the dungeons, the hallway getting darker. But as they turned another corner, he made everyone step back, yet more guards blocking their way. Morgana wanted to slip past them to conserve their energy but it didn't seem like they would get the chance with the hallway too small. Sakamoto lamented over his lack of ability to help beyond the medicine he gave and the model gun he had. But that gave Morgana an idea.

"I think we might actually have a use for that toy." It then said, "Give it to Frizzy Hair! We're gonna use it to take down the enemies!"

"What?!" Sakamoto said, thankfully not too loud. "Didn't you hear me?! It doesn't shoot anything!"

"Don't worry. It'll work...I think. Just give it to Frizzy Hair. Then we'll ambush them!"

Sakamoto was understandbly reluctant, but Morgana insisted, so he gave in. Once handed the gun, Ren ran straight for the knight, tore its mask off and revealed the monsters within it.

"Point and fire!" Morgana said.

And he did, trusting it. He aimed, pulled the trigger and bang! Ren nearly dropped the pistol gun in shock. But the pumpkin's screams reminded him where he was. He held it with both his hands and kept firing, managing to take down one and hitting another. Then it clicked, the catridge empty. Ren was about to attack, but then Morgana pulled a oversized slingshot from its belt and let loose. Rapid fire pellets hit their opponents, taking yet one more down and chipping off the health of one of the last, leaving only two enemies left. At this, Aki took over and had her Persona finish them off.

"Woah! Did the toy gun just shoot real freakin' bullets?!" Sakamoto said when they fight ended.

"Yeah, how'd that work?" his sister said.

"This is the cognitive world. As long as the enemy thinks it's real, it will be real. It's a good thing it's realistic looking."

"Then why didn't you mention that earlier?" she said. She sent an accusing look. "Don't tell me you didn't know if it'd work and you had to test it, did you?"

"O-Of course not!" Morgana said, his shocked expression anything but convincing. "I, uh...had to teach you how to use it and the best way was to demonstrate it! That's all!"

"Right..."

Ren was tempted to say more on that, but then...

"Hey, what's that commotion over there?"

...a guard came and spotted them.

On reflex, Ren pulled out his pistol and pulled, only remember right then he didn't have ammo. But instead of a click, he got a bang, and the knight shouted as their head was knocked back. With that chance, Aki ran and tore off its mask. Unlike before, it attacked as soon as it materialized, sending Aki away from them. Not wanting to waste time, he aimed over his sister and fired, destroying one by the time his gun clicked. Morgana then Aki followed up and finished off the last of them, though they nearly hit each other in the process. Everyone stood tensed, waiting if anyone else heard, but after several moments of silence, they relaxed. And immediately, Aki said to their guide,

"Hey, what was that? How come Big Bro's pistol could shoot again?"

"Hmph. Simple: because they recognize it as a gun, they see it as having limited ammo, but also because of that, any enemies we encounter will expect us to have full ammo."

"Huh, so more mind over matter, huh?"

"... I don't get it," Sakamoto said.

Ren managed to stop his snicker at that time, but Aki didn't hold back and groaned at their blond friend.

"Don't worry about it," he said to his fellow second-year. "It just means we can shoot it in this place but not in each fight because of them thinking it's a real gun."

"Wow. That's real handy."

"Yeah. Means we don't have to carry ammo," Aki said.

But then Morgana said, "Although..."

His sister tilted her head towards it. "Although what?"

"That battle wasn't very coordinated."

"Hey, it's not my fault I almost hit you. That knight came outta nowhere."

"Exactly! We need a leader to coordinate our movements and roles in a fight, otherwise mistakes like that will keep happening."

"Uh, what you mean by 'coordinatin' your movements and roles'?"

"A leader is supposed to have a battle plan, which can be ruined if their allies do something to mess it up. So a leader should decide whether they want someone to do something specific or if they have free reign."

That was true. That would be for the best. Ren thought that Morgana would be best for that, but then Sakamoto said,

"Well if that's the case, I say we make Ren the leader."

Then he was followed by Morgana. "I agree. If you lead, I can instead focus on providing you intel on the enemies instead of ordering you around."

And, of course, Aki said, "I third that. If you don't mind, of course."

He hadn't expected that. Aki, yes, because she was his little sister, but not the other two, especially Morgana. But as he looked back and forth between the three of them, seeing their expectant gazes, he smiled, his chest swelling in confidence.

"Okay. I'll do it."

"Good. Now let's get going. It should be a straightforward from here on."

Ren nodded and started to lead, though not before he heard Aki say,

"I really should start a count on that phrase at this rate."

And he allowed himself a snicker as before long they encountered a couple of guards again. And, once again, they found another knight that made them stop in their tracks, this time from them guarding a wooden door.

"And...another one," Aki said as all of them peeked around the corner. "Let me guess, that's where we need to go, huh?"

"Yes, I'm pretty sure," Morgana said.

Sakamoto grinned and said, "So you guys gonna take it down too?"

"We don't have a choice," Ren said before Aki could be sarcastic about it.

But then their guide said, "Though if I'm right about what Shadow it turns into..."

"What?"

"Okay, I've decided! I'm going to teach you three a special way to fight enemies! Now go!"

With that, he dashed forward and struck the guard with his dagger and it dissolved then formed into two leotard fairies. Ren smirked, remembering their weakness.

"Ravage them!"

His protector laughed as his shadows attacked. It screeched in pain, its wings getting covered in black, soon followed by its fellow. With all of them down, Morgana said,

"Copy me!"

And they did, everyone giving their all as they struck and jumped. When the not-cat stopped, they followed and Ren turned to see blood gush from their chest before they exploded. He smiled and stood, pulling on his gloves as he said,

"Show's over."

Aki laughed in exhiliration.

"Ah man, that was awesome!" she said.

"Hmm, that went really well!" The not-cat smiled and said, "You two really are fit for this."

"Woah...what was that super move thing you just did?! You went all 'shoom', 'shoom', 'shoom'! I could barely see ya!"

"It's called an All-Out Attack," Morgana said. "When all the enemies are down, you have enough time to go all out and attack them all at once, so it helps finish battles quicker."

"Yeah, that was over quick."

"Well, it is a concentrated attack on defenseless enemies."

And Aki said, "Basically a finisher."

"Well, if that's what you call those kinds of things, then yes," Morgana said. "Since you're the leader, you'll decide when we'll use it from now on, okay?"

Ren nodded, put away his weapons and entered the next room, the sight of which made him tense. Oh it wasn't intimidating or menacing. In fact, it was like the previous room, except that it was colored all magenta, including the door, with there was a sash above it that said,.

"Kamoshida's...Training Hall of...Love...?" Sakakmoto then said "What kinda bullshit is this?!"

"Only one way to find out," Aki said, voice deep from anger.

Ren just nodded, his throat constricted, and went through it. As soon as they took a step beyond it, Ren and the others could hear faint voices from further in, getting clearer the closer they got to the bottom of the stairs. Across them was yet another bridge above a waterway, but at that point, Ren could tell it wasn't words that the voices let out.

It was screams.

Ren glared at the courtyard below. It looked like a volleyball court. There many knights in it and they beat students again and again. He wanted to just jump down and stop it. But with the steel bar door locked and his sister here, there was no way he would risk it right now, not without a plan. Though he was somewhat consoled that he wasn't the only one pissed.

"Damn it! This is bullshit!" Sakamoto said.

Followed by Aki. "This is a freakin' torture chamber!"

Of course Morgana tried to quiet them but they ignored it as they tried to find a way to get them out, Ren lending a hand. However, when they attempted to do so, a voice said,

"Stop it...!"

"Leave us alone...it's useless..."

"If we stay obedient, we won't be executed like you guys."

The blond growled and said, "You're tellin me you wanna stay in a place like this?!"

"Took the words right outta my mouth!" Aki said, also frowning.

But then Morgana said, "Wait a minute...were you planning on taking these guys out of here?"

Ren snapped his head and glared steel.

Aki said, "What did you think we were gonna do?!"

And Sakamoto said, We can't just leave 'em here!"

The not-cat just shook its head. "How stupid can you be?"

"What?!"

He was ready to throttle the cat for its insensitivity but then it explained that the people they saw were merely part of Kamoshida's mind and were not dragged in like they were. But because of that, it likely meant that the real world version of these people were being treated similarly. It was then Sakamoto realized the kids were the members of the volleyball team, the one that Kamoshida couches.

Yet still, the blond was in disbelief considering it was just rumors. But...

"If it's true, isn't this something that should be reported to the police?" he said.

Ren flinched, a flash of a small room and degenerating shouting passing his mind's eye. He shook it off just as Aki scoffed and said,

"You really think they'll take us seriously? Us? The delinquents?"

"Then I'll use those guys as evidence," he said, determined. "If all goes well, we can take down that asshole Kamoshida!" But then he took out his phone. "Huh?! It's not workin'?!"

Dubious, Aki pulled out her phone but found she had the same problem, everything but the navigation app worked. Curiously though, Morgana didn't seem to recognize it. Before Ren could question that, Sakamoto asked for hin to check his phone as well to be sure. Even though he knew the outcome, Ren did so and it was as he predicted, to Sakamoto's chagrin.

"Ugh...what are we gonna do?"

"Well whatever you do is fine, but we need to head back! We're gonna get caught if we stand like this," Morgana said.

"Hang on a sec!"

"Well sketchin's out of the question then."

"Not that either of us can draw," Ren said.

"There's no other way... I'll just memorize these faces before goin' home!"

With no time to waste, he had Aki and Morgana be lookouts while he escorted Sakamoto. First they saw a volleyball court, then a "track" that was more a conveyor, a roll of spikes ready to crush the runners should they fall. Then more cells holding despondent prisoners, telling them to leave them to their fates. And last, and worst of all, students being hung upside down from the ceiling, cannons firing exploding volleyballs at them.

"This ain't trainin'... This is just violence!" Sakamoto said.

Ren agreed, memories of his mother's abuse coming to mind. But he kept quiet so as to not break the blond's concentration. Unfortunately, Morgana came up and said,

"Hey, are you done yet?! We're cutting it close here!"

Ren glared at the not-cat while Sakamoto said,

"Don't freak me out like that you goddamn moron!"

"And it's been some time since we killed those guards, so we if don't go now, we will get caught."

He scoffed but still said, "Anyways, now I got all of 'em!

So Ren said before Morgana could get a word in, "Then let's go."

Then he ran, knowing everyone would follow him. They took the same path they used to get in, but with each step and adrenaline pushing his legs and lungs, there were also shots of anxiety. No guards were preventing their escape. And he was right to worry because as soon as they reached the foyer...

"You knaves again!"

...King Kamoshida and his knights stood in their way.
 
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