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Reversing Arcana, Chapter 14

Title: Reversing Arcana

Rating: T, for violence and language. Spoils everything.

Summary: Persona 3 and 4.  Six months after Souji leaves Inaba, he wakes up to his house on fire. The Investigation Team are the only ones who know he survived. But that's only the beginning of their troubles.

Author's Note: Big long monster of a scene this chapter - it didn't want to break up nicely.  Also quite dialogue-heavy, bleargh.  But I can now state with confidence that this fic will be 20 chapters!  (Or at least, 19 + epilogue)

Previous chapter


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Reversing Arcana

Chapter 14


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All hell breaks loose.
 
“What?!” Yosuke blurts.  “Adachi’s in the TV?”
 
“How?!” Rise is freaking out.  “Isn’t he supposed to be in jail?!”
 
“Maybe he jumped into the TV from jail?  They have TVs in jail, right?” Chie’s eyes are wild.
 
“Big enough to fit a person?”
 
Naoto remains quiet, though her hand quivers on her pistol.  A suspicion, a piece of the puzzle, flits just out of reach.
 
Adachi’s grin is elastic, and his eyes widen to that freaky, manic look they last saw in Magatsu Inaba.  His true face.  It matches that of his Shadow reflection a little too closely for comfort.  He’s dressed in a plain orange tracksuit – it looks like prison clothes, and the effect is electric, even more than the vicious twist to his lips, the sneering expression.  They never realised just how disarming that unbuttoned dress suit had been.
 
“You- Where’s Senpai?!” Kanji snarls.  He charges at the former detective, swinging his shield recklessly.
 
“Oops, careful there now,” he says, side-stepping easily, reminding them all that while he might look a bit weedy on first glance, this is the man who fought them to a standstill nine months ago.  “Don’t want to hurt yourself.”
 
“Whoa, it’s Adachi-baby!” Teddie is a little slow on the uptake.  “Back for more, are you?!”  He puffs up with false bravado and fierce eyes.
 
“You stupid bear!” Yosuke grumbles, “How could you not notice Adachi was in here?!”
 
“Leave it, Senpai!” Rise snaps.  “I didn’t notice either.  This dungeon’s really weird!”
 
“Rise’s right,” Naoto agrees.  Her palms are sweaty, but she checks that her gun is loaded, and thumbs the safety.  There’s an odd pull to her muscles, and she catches her reflection miming shooting Adachi out of the corner of her eye.  “We need to focus.”
 
“That’s right,” Adachi all but purrs.  “Because you don’t have your precious Souji-kun to fight for you this time.”
 
“Hey!” Kanji barks.  “Senpai never fought for us.  We can handle you just fine without him!”
 
Adachi raises an eyebrow.  “Ohhh, so you don’t need him, then?  You don’t mind if he stays in here to keep me company?”
 
Kanji splutters.  “That’s not what I- stop twisting my words!”
 
“I see.  I bet you’re actually really happy about this, aren’t you?  A chance to shine on your own.  To play at being the heroes.”
 
“It was you, wasn’t it?” Naoto asks, in as steady a voice as she can muster through the dawning, horrified realisation.  “You burned down Senpai’s house.”
 
His eyes turn to her, next, and his smile widens just a little further.  “Shirogane-kun.  It’s been a while.” He manages to make an ordinary sentence sound so inexplicably sleazy it makes her arms itch.  “I’m so happy to see you.  I wanted to thank you.  You see, because it wasn’t all me.  Some of the credit goes to you too.”
 
Oh no.
 
“What are you talking about?” Chie demands.  “Leave Naoto-kun alone!”
 
“What?  Shirogane didn’t tell you?” Adachi asks in mock delight. 
 
“Tell us what?” Kanji asks, suspicious.
 
“Your little ‘Detective Prince’ sold out your big secret to a big company in the city ages ago.  And it’s thanks to this big company that I can be here with you now.”
 
It’s like being hit by a Bufudyne.  For one moment, even her heart seems to freeze.
 
The others are already shouting denials and questions, but all Naoto can do is think, this is my fault
 
It feels like a little part of her slips away, suffocated under the guilt and doubt and how could she have been so careless
 
And she scarcely has enough time to absorb the blow before new faces run onto the scene, as though summoned by the very revelation.
 
“Adachi!”
 
This voice too, is familiar, but to Naoto alone.  And the timing could not be worse.  “Kirijo-san?”
 
A familiar redheaded woman dashes towards them – her high heels exchanged for knee-high boots, her tight business skirt for a pleated one, and an unusual gun clasped in her hands.  Her eyes flick to Naoto in acknowledgement, but focus on Adachi.  “You’ll go no further!”  She puts the gun to her head, amidst cries of alarm from the Investigation Team.  Then- “Persona!” 
 
With the crack of a gunshot, the form of a masked regal queen, clad in a black dress and sharp, silver armour, swirls into action.  Shards of ice race along the floor, reaching for Adachi’s ankles.  At the last moment, he throws himself aside.  His grin’s disappeared now, replaced with a look half irritation, half loathing.
 
“Holy – she just shot herself in the head!” Yosuke sounds almost hysterical.  “Did you guys see that?!  Tell me I wasn’t the only one who saw that!”
 
No one answers, because it turns out Kirijo’s not alone.  Running after her is a white-haired man – maybe only a couple of years older than they are – in a black suit with wrapped knuckles and a red tie.  Strangest of all is the girl who follows, a blonde with unnaturally bright blue eyes and some sort of contraption – headphones? – covering her ears, and footwear that looks entirely impractical for combat. 
 
None of them, she realises, have reflections like theirs.  The man’s and Kirijo’s are strangely fuzzy, as though distorted by static, and seem far more obedient, reflecting only the movements they’re supposed to.  The blonde girl, however, reflects a startlingly clear image of a black-haired, red-eyed version of herself.
 
“Akihiko!  Aigis!” Kirijo commands.
 
“On it!”
 
“Roger.”
 
Naoto already knew there were others with Persona, but it is still startling to see it for herself.  The headphones whir, and an angel appears, a stunning likeness for Souji’s Uriel.  Another gunshot, and there’s a golem of an emperor, wearing a wreath of leaves and holding a globe of iron.
 
Lightning crashes and a holy sigil flares.  “Hama’s no good!” Rise calls out, a minute too late in her shock.  Kirijo doesn’t have anyone dedicated to scanning on hand, apparently.
 
“Tch.”  Adachi’s grin is back.  “It’s getting a bit crowded here.  We’ll have to pick this up again later.”  With a sharp gesture, he unleashes a Magarudyne.  The vicious wind lashes them, howling and roaring and ripping at their clothes, and Naoto has to step back lest it bowl her straight over.
 
By the time they’ve straightened themselves out, he’s already gone. 
 
Yosuke swears, and moves as though to pursue, but Chie, of all people, stops him.  “Hold up!  Forget him.  We’ve gotta worry about Souji!”
 
“And before that…” Yukiko adds, sending a pointed look at Naoto and the three newcomers.
 
“Who are you?!” Teddie demands, projecting fierceness his cartoon form turns comical.  “You don’t smell right at all!”
 
The white-haired guy recoils.  “A bear?”
 
“Smell?!” Kirijo looks incensed at the suggestion.
 
The onus is on her to explain.  This is Naoto’s mistake – keeping such secrets from her friends.  She forgets, sometimes, that she made friends with more than just their leader.
 
“This is Mitsuru Kirijo,” Naoto introduces, albeit reluctantly.  “After the investigation finished last Christmas, I looked into the possibility of other Persona users.  We’ve been sharing information for a while.  But as to what she’s doing here…”  She trails off, giving the CEO a pointed look.  Waiting for an explanation.
 
If she’s at all ruffled, Kirijo doesn’t show it.  “I’m sorry to meet in such circumstances.  These are my comrades – Akihiko and Aigis.”  She grimaces.  “What comrades I could gather on such short notice, that is.”
 
“There are more?” Yosuke boggles.
 
“Hey, I’m more interested in knowing why you didn’t tell us about this, Naoto!” Chie complains.
 
Kanji leaps to her defence.  “I’m sure she had her reasons!”  He looks at her.  “Right?”
 
It hurts worse to see how much trust he puts in her than it would if he’d simply been angry.  “I’m sorry,” she mutters.  It’s an awful feeling – she hasn’t felt this terrible in… well, since she thought Souji was dead, honestly.  “I’ll explain properly later.  But for now…” She turns to Kirijo.  “I think you’d better tell us what part you play in all of this.  Am I right to assume you were the ones who bought the TV in Junes?”
 
That brings another round of sputtering from her friends.  Kirijo is nonplussed, but her two companions look almost as confused.   “I doubted that would get past you.  I was surprised when you didn’t call, actually.”
 
“Why?” Rise bursts out.  “Why would you do that?!”
 
Kirijo begins to explain, and all Naoto can do is listen in growing incredulity.  She outlines the basics of their research, and how they eventually brought Adachi into the picture to help, and how Souji had come into their care briefly.
 
“…It took some significant bribes, but we ‘borrowed’ him from the prison for testing.  Somehow – we don’t know how - Adachi stole a prototype piece of technology we’d developed to create exits from the TV, and escaped.”  She folds her arms.  “Without our technology, we couldn’t create an exit, and it was taking too long to make a new prototype, so we couldn’t enter the TV to try and retrieve Adachi ourselves.  Our only hope was to take the TV you told us about.  Fortunately, the exit seemed to translate with the TV’s location.  And it had the added benefit of preventing you from stumbling across Adachi by accident in the TV world and being caught unawares.”  She eyes them at that.  “Though it doesn’t seem as though that part of the plan was effective.”
 
Naoto’s jaw clenches painfully.  It takes all of her carefully cultivated self-control to stop her teeth grinding.  “If you’d contacted one of us, or anyone, sooner, this might not have happened.”  She cannot resist the urge to reproach them – they, who had treated her like such a child and made unforgiveable mistakes in light of it.
 
"I know.”  Kirijo has the grace to sound apologetic, though she does not quite speak as though she’s done wrong.  “I did try to contact you several times, but when I received no answer, we were unsure how to proceed. We could not notify the police of Adachi's escape - how to testify that he'd escaped into a television?  Nor could we explain how we’d come to hold Souji Seta – a boy supposed to be dead - in our custody.  Not without casting significant suspicion on ourselves."

Naoto understands the awkward position they'd been put in, but can barely contain her frustration at the injustice served.  It dwarfs even her own guilt and shame over having the secrets she kept from her friends exposed.
 
They are guilty on any number of non-trivial charges - from aiding and abetting a criminal, to bribery, to confinement.  Worse, their silence to protect the reputation of their company had most likely led to the death of Souji's parents, and Souji himself remains in peril, never mind what other havoc Adachi might yet wreak given the opportunity.  He's a psychopath, plainly - an unusually accomplished one, but a person incapable of reform, none-the-less.  Ameno-sagiri’s influence might have emboldened him, made him a little more impulsive, but it didn’t create anything not already there. 
 
Frankly, compared to Adachi, Ameno-sagiri was downright pleasant.
 
This does, at least, confirm their hypothesis about the oddity of the Midnight Channel.  Souji had indeed escaped for a time.
 
Odd, though, that they hadn’t seen Adachi in Souji’s place.  But if he possessed the ability to exit the TV wherever he wanted… It would explain how he’d been able to stay in the TV world without experiencing the negative side effects for so long.  Even someone with a Persona would struggle in the TV after a while without some form of sustenance.
 
“Why was the Kirijo Group even researching this?” Naoto asks.  “You told me before, that the power of Shadows and Personae are dangerous to mess with.”  As sparing as Kirijo is with her information, she’d made that part perfectly clear.  Naoto’s own investigations into Iwatodai turned up an alarming number of mysterious deaths, too – not the least being the former CEO and the chairman of the Kirijo Group.  Then there were the cases of missing teenagers – some of whom turned up dead themselves. Couples disappearing from a love hotel.  An older student, an orphan, dead from multiple gunshot wounds.  A boy who passed away with no apparent cause on graduation day.  All deaths suspiciously short on details.
 
There’s an awkward silence – Kirijo’s two companions seem just as interested in the answer as she.  “It’s difficult to explain.  Our wildcard… We averted catastrophe, but it came at a high cost.”
 
“Mitsuru…” Akihiko begins.  “I thought we…”  She turns her face away, and his words trail off awkwardly.
 
Naoto’s frown deepens.  It is an utterly unsatisfying explanation, but pressing further at this point is unlikely to yield anything immediately useful.  Her voice is frosty when she speaks.  “You will explain this in further detail later.  I would report you to the police immediately, but we have a rescue mission to mount first.”
 
“Of course,” she agrees.  “For now, our top priority is recapturing Adachi.”
 
“Our top priority is saving Sensei!” Teddie argues.
 
“One will follow the other.  Your friend won’t be in any danger once we recapture Adachi.  But you are welcome to do as you wish,” Kirijo dismisses.  “I wish you luck.”
 
It’s frustrating how Kirijo can brush them off so easily.  Unfortunately, that is the difference in power between a high school freelance detective and the heiress of such a massive corporation. For now, it will have to do.
 
“It seems, then, that all the players have gathered.”
 
They all whirl at the sound of yet another voice.  “Rise!  Are you even paying attention?” Yosuke complains.
 
There’s a note of panic in the idol’s voice.  “I didn’t sense her at all!”
 
Teddie is shaking his head furiously.  “No no no!  This is all wrong!  You don’t smell right either!”
 
“Why does he keep going on about the ‘smell’ thing?” Akihiko asks.
 
No one answers.  Naoto stares at the newcomer.
 
It’s a short, almost doll-like, blonde girl, with a bob haircut and a royal blue dress that falls to just above her knees.  She doesn’t carry any weapons – only a heavy, arcane-looking book. 
 
Most alarmingly, just like Teddie and the Shadows, the mirrors don’t reflect her at all.
 
All Naoto can think is that the timing is too unfortunate to be mere coincidence - to run into Adachi and Kirijo’s group and this mysterious stranger all in such quick succession.  Even if they are all still on the lowest floor of the dungeon.  The cold metal of her pistol bites into her skin as she adjusts her grip as casually as possible.
 
“And who’s this, huh?” Chie asks.
 
Naoto shakes her head.  “I don’t know this one.”
 
The girl with the earphones steps forward.  “I do.”
 
The newcomer’s eyes seem to glow amber, like a Shadow’s, and her lips are upturned in a pleasant smile.  “Aigis-chan.  It is good to see you again.”
 
“I don’t understand,” Aigis replies, words oddly robotic in tone, a curious resonance to them that becomes more pronounced on certain words.  “Elizabeth.  How is it that you are here?”
 
“I left the Velvet Room.  To search.”
 
Kirijo, Naoto notes, looks perturbed.  As though sensing this, Elizabeth turns to her next, and her smile grows a little wider.
 
“Kirijo-san,” she says.
 
“Have we met?” Kirijo replies, expression cool.
 
“In a manner of speaking.  You may not recall.”  Her gaze glides over the rest of them, lingering thoughtfully on Teddie, before dismissing them as though they are beneath her notice.  Her appraisal turns to their surroundings, next.  “A curious dungeon, don’t you think?”  Her head tilts.  “So blank and empty.  Like a canvas, waiting to be drawn upon.”
 
The words send an eerie chill down Naoto’s spine. 
 
“What is your purpose here?” Aigis asks.  Again, her voice is curiously lacking in normal inflections.
 
“Why are the rest of you here?” she replies.  She puts a finger to her lips, expression coy.  “Perhaps,” she suggests, “It’s a race.  What do you think?”
 
“Hold up!” Chie interrupts.  “What do you want with Souji?”
 
Elizabeth simply smiles mysteriously.  “You’d better not fall behind.”  With a click of her fingers and a bright flash of light, she vanishes.
 
Yosuke swears.  “Dude!  Was she some kind of ninja?  That was really weird!”  Akihiko nods in fervent agreement, and the two share a moment of brotherly commiseration of not-knowing-what-the-hell-is-going-on.
 
Naoto rather feels like she’s in the same boat.  Just as she peels back one layer of mystery, a new one presents itself.
 
And that worried expression on Kirijo’s face isn’t helping.
 
“We don’t have any time to waste,” Naoto says, since no one else seems to know what to do.  “You’re welcome to Adachi.  But Souji-senpai is ours.”
 
Kirijo nods, and Naoto knows she’s heard the challenge in her tone. 
 
They part ways at the next intersection with a solemn nod, turning to different parts of the dungeon.  Once they’re out of earshot, Yukiko slows her pace to speak to her.  “Naoto-kun?  What was that about?  Even if they were the ones who took the TV… aren’t they on our side now?”
 
Her knuckles clench until they’re white.    “I’m sorry, Yukiko-senpai.  But I don’t think it would be wise to trust them.  It’s their fault-” My fault. “-Souji-senpai is in this mess in the first place.  And we don’t know what they might do to cover that up.”
 
That earns grim expressions all round.  Kanji cracks his knuckles a few times. 
 
Thankfully, nobody presses her on her involvement.  They don’t need to.  The guilt and shame are crushing enough.
 
Souji, she is certain, will never forgive her.


Next chapter



Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
croix_souillees
Nov. 13th, 2011 10:27 am (UTC)
YAY a Sunday fic update. And everything's beginning to come together, it looks like. P3 and P4 parties come together, adding pieces to the puzzle, and then there's Elizabeth.

It also looks like the plot point of Souji having no shadow is also coming up. Niiiiice. I'm beginning to wonder, then, if you're going to address Minato too. /ponders, sits and waitssss
sinnatious
Nov. 13th, 2011 10:40 am (UTC)
Collecting the various story threads is always my favourite part of writing any fic. <3

Indeed, we're getting to those questions. Hope it won't disappoint. Thanks for sticking with this so far!
croix_souillees
Nov. 13th, 2011 10:42 am (UTC)
Oh man, yes! I'm really glad that you focus on tying story threads together in a single story... it gives me a really good sense of closure, in a way. <3

YAY! I'm sure it won't, and so far, I'm loving the ride. I'll stay. :D
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )