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Reversing Arcana, Chapter 17

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: This chapter gave me no end of headaches.

Previous chapter


Reversing Arcana

Chapter 17


The door groans open at Kanji’s shove.  The Investigation Team enter together in tight battle formation, Rise and Teddie trailing at a safe distance. 
It’s a startling difference to the dungeon before it.
The entire room is wreathed in flames.
Chie poises as though to call up a Bufula, but they soon realise the fire is perpetual, and doesn’t feel quite hot enough to be real – nothing nearly so intense as a Maragi.  The smoke hazing the room is simply swirling fog.  It looks like an apartment, though far larger and more cavernous than any apartment would normally be.
In the centre of the room is the person they’ve been looking for.  Yosuke feels his throat closing up, not sure if the gathering tears are from relief or suppressed grief or just plain old joy.
It’s him.  Souji.  Slumped on the ground, head bowed.  And standing guard over him, mask and armour glinting in the firelight, is the tall, unmistakeable form of Izanagi.
The sight of their friend is like soothing water after a trek through a long, unforgiving desert.  Proof that he’s still alive.  A small, secret part of him hadn’t really believed it until then.
In that state, though…
He looks like he could use more than just a good Diarama. 
“Hey, partner,” he says, voice cracking on the word.  “Sorry we took so long.”
Damn, he looks like he’s been through a war.  Yukiko’s already moving to summon her Persona, but Izanagi shifts, in the slow, deadly way a tiger might move its attention to an intruder.  Chie puts her hand on her friend’s shoulder, stopping her.
“Hey, don’t,” Chie warns.  “We shouldn’t risk fighting this one.”
“He doesn’t seem that strong, though.  If he won’t let us near Senpai…” Rise observes, sounding puzzled.  Fire continues to crackle and roar around them.
“No, you don’t get it,” Yosuke says, not taking his eyes off his friend for a second.  “You’ve never seen it, I guess.  This was his first Persona.”
“Is that so?” A girlish, oddly musical voice joins in.  They all jerk, whirling around, and Izanagi shifts too, wary of the new threat.  Souji remains slumped and prone, though his eyelids flutter.
Stepping through the flames comes the blonde girl dressed in royal blue.  Her amber eyes seem to glow in the firelight, and she bears not a mark from the journey through the dungeon.
“It’s time, then,” she says.
“Where the hell did you-?” Kanji starts to say, but then Rise calls out a warning, cutting him off.
“Guys!  Watch out!  Adachi’s here too!”
The former detective slouches as he strolls through the doors behind them, and they rush to close ranks around Souji, as close as Izanagi will let them.  Yosuke’s just grateful the Persona hasn’t attacked yet – maybe a bit of Souji is awake, maybe it can recognise friends.
They made it here first.  They made it in time.  Yosuke will kill Adachi if he has to.
“I see.  You’ve made it after all,” the blonde girl – Elizabeth, Yosuke finally remembers – observes with a mild smile on her face.  She could be cute, some distant part of him notes, if she weren’t being so creepy.  “We have everything we need.”
Adachi, for his part, just grins like he’s stumbled on a hoard of Christmas presents.
“I see,” Naoto says, dawning realisation in her tone.  “I’ve been wondering about you.”
Elizabeth tilts her head curiously.
“Something’s been bothering me,” Naoto continues.  “About how Adachi escaped from the Kirijo Group.”
“What are you saying, Naoto-kun?” Chie asks.
Naoto keeps her hands wrapped around her pistol, not raised, but at the ready none-the-less.  “I don’t think the Kirijo Group would have been that careless.  Adachi alone might have been able to escape into the TV, but to steal the technology to create an exit?  That would require an accomplice.  And he hasn’t been turning up on the midnight channel, either, which means something’s been hiding his presence.”
Yosuke catches on.  “You’re saying it was her?”  He hadn’t thought much about the interloper – had mentally dumped her in with that other weird trio who ran around shooting themselves in the head.  He eyes her with new wariness.
Elizabeth offers no correction, and Adachi, for his part, remarks, “Not bad, Shirogane-kun.  Guess that title isn’t entirely for show.”  He sticks his hands in his pockets.  “But you’re too late to make any difference.” 
“What are you planning?!” Yosuke threatens.  His palms are growing sweaty on his daggers. 
Adachi ignores him, stalking around them to get a clearer view of Souji and Izanagi.  The Persona’s masked visage turns, tracking him unerringly.
Adachi snorts.  “Is that all you have left, brat?  That weak copy?  Am I supposed to feel threatened?”  He laughs, suddenly, a short and sharp bark that has Yosuke jerking in reflex.  Even after fighting him in the TV last year, he can’t reconcile this person with the bumbling detective who had them all fooled for months.
Adachi prowls around, while Elizabeth watches them all with bright, unreadable eyes. Still, the former detective doesn’t attack, instead sticking his hands in his pockets and commenting, “Interesting place you have here, Souji-kun.  Feeling guilty, are you?”
Izanagi steps back.
Yosuke feels a hint of alarm.  “Wait-”
“How the high and mighty have fallen,” he drawls.  “All this fog, too.  Maybe Ameno-sagiri wasn’t so wrong about humans after all.”  He pauses for dramatic effect.  “It’s not so easy to accept when it affects you, is it?  Knowing that your trusted friends spilled the beans on the TV world.  That your own carelessness let your parents die.  That nobody came to help you when you needed it most, even when you sacrificed so much to help them?”
Cracks start running along Izanagi’s armour.  The flapping coat spontaneously develops tears.
“Shut up!” Yosuke shouts, desperate.  “Don’t listen to him, partner!  We’re here now!  We came!”
Then Adachi delivers his ultimate shot.
“It’s not so easy to want the truth when you’re involved, is it?”
Izanagi shatters in a burst of light. 
When the flash fades, Souji is standing in its place.
No.  Another Souji.  This one with yellow eyes.
Naoto watches in horror as the familiar visage of their friend and leader steps forward, staring down at the slumped form of his counterpart.
Souji’s Shadow.  Their worst-case scenario, come to life before their eyes.
He’s quiet for a moment, then raises his unnerving gaze and sweeps it across the room, lingering longest on the strange girl called Elizabeth. 
Then it turns to her.
When he speaks, his voice is almost the same, but there’s an oddly harsh and hollow timbre to it, an unnatural resonance that no human vocal chords could ever produce.
“I forgive you, Naoto.”
The words are so unexpected she finds herself recoiling.  She’d prepared herself for scathing insults, for hurtful revelations, for recriminations that would shake the very foundations of their relationship.
She had not been prepared for forgiveness.
But the Shadow wasn’t done.  “I forgive you… because I’m grateful.”
The Shadow turns from her to face his counterpart.  “I’m grateful, because if it weren’t for you, and it weren’t for Adachi, and for the Kirijo Group… and if it weren’t for me… my parents might still be alive.”
Souji curls in on himself, as though he knows what words are going to follow, and desperately wants to hide from them.  They hadn’t even been aware he was awake.
“I’m grateful, because that means I can go back to Inaba.”
The Shadow smiles, now – a superior, haughty smirk that would have looked more at home on Adachi than their friend.
“I’m selfish.  I’m guilty because I’m not sad they’re gone.  To them, I was only ever a burden.  I don’t even know how to miss them, because they’ve hardly been there my whole life.  All they do is yank me from city to city and school to school.”
The Shadow leans forward, almost tenderly.  “What kind of monster doesn’t even care that his parents are dead?”
Souji finally speaks.  “I know,” he says.  His voice is coarse, and hurts to listen to.    “I still care… but I know.  I didn’t want to admit that there’s a part of me that was happy.  I wanted to come back to Inaba, and this way I could.”
Naoto lets out a breath.  She knew he could do it.  Souji will accept his Shadow.  He’ll succeed where the rest of them failed in the past.  They won’t have to fight.
But the Shadow’s not disappearing.  It’s not finished yet.
“Of course.  My uncle might be an awful parent, but at least he tries.  And I have so many friends here, who all look up to me and rely on me so much.”
The room has gone completely silent.  Even Adachi holds his tongue, watching the unfolding spectacle with an unsettling hunger.
“But how would they react, if they knew the true me?”
Naoto can’t tear her gaze away – her voice won’t come unstuck from her throat, even though she wants to share her support and denials and acceptance all at once.  She sees the others turn unnaturally still at the words, filled with trepidation.  Where is the Shadow going with this?
 “W-what?” Yosuke finally shakes his way out of his stupor.  “What’s he talking about, partner?”
The odd trance the Shadow has been keeping them in shatters under Adachi’s sudden laughter.  Naoto turns back to the escaped convict, eyes narrowed.  Foolish.  She’d almost forgotten he was there.
“You idiots,” he sneers.  “How stupid are you?  Don’t you get it?”  His eyes dance with cruel joy.  “Didn’t any of you ever wonder what this weird dungeon means?”
“This fire, you mean?” Chie asks.  “It’s kinda obvious!”
“He means the rest of the dungeon,” Yukiko says quietly.
Mirrors.  Nothing but mirrors.  Reflections of themselves, but never anything to show Souji.
Naoto’s breath catches in her throat.

"I figured it out, you see.  Where you get your power from, why your Personae were strong enough to take me down.  And once I knew how, well, it wasn’t so hard to figure out how to undo it,” Adachi brags.  “All you need to know is which buttons to push, right, Souji-kun?”
Unbidden, her gaze slides to the battered figure on the floor.  Souji’s moving now, struggling to his feet.  Yosuke steps forward as though to help him stand, but a cold look from the Shadow stops him in his tracks. 
“Says just the right thing always, doesn’t he?  Helped you all so much.  But I bet you never realised, did you?  It went both ways.  By making you stronger, he makes himself stronger.  And when you’re weaker…
The Shadow spares Adachi a contemptuous glance for interrupting, before dismissing him thoroughly.  He has eyes only for his counterpart.  “The truth is, I’m furious,” it hisses, in that low, resonating voice that’s so like Souji’s but so isn’t.  “All that effort we put into those bonds, forgotten. Everything we gained, lost.  All that listening, all that understanding, and all of those sacrifices.” 
Souji’s shaking his head.  “It’s not their fault,” he mutters.  “They didn’t know, they couldn’t help it…”
The Shadow laughs, then, cruel and vicious. “Them?  No.  They’re not the problem.”
Souji tenses.  Naoto’s not sure if he’s even breathing.

“…The truth is, I’m the one who’s lost.”
Adachi’s giggling madly in the background, a sort of demented soundtrack to the Shadow’s horrible soliloquy.  No one else dares utter a sound.
“It’s my fault the Arcana’s broken,” the Shadow taunts, words carefully spaced, carefully measured for maximum damage.  “I’m weak.  I can’t understand why they took so long, why they left me to suffer for so long.” His expression twists.  “I hate them for it.”
“B-but, we’re here.”  Yosuke’s voice is shaking.  “We-”
“Quiet,” Naoto orders, even though her throat is tight too.  It hurts to hear, but they have to bear it.  However uncomfortable it is for them, it’s a hundred times worse for their leader.  “Let him get it out.  It’s the only way he’ll accept it.”
They’d prepared for this, at least.  But even being prepared, she could never have anticipated the incredible effect those words could have on her.  Even if they’re spoken in the heat of the moment and she knows not to take them to heart, they’re colder than the ice of a Bufudyne, and sharper than the strike of a sword.
Souji’s shaking his head.  “I don’t blame them.  It was my fault!  I …”
“It’s okay, Senpai,” she says.  To buy even a few seconds more, to remind him what he’s facing, so that he won’t make the same mistake they all made.  “Don’t fight it.  We understand.”
Yosuke still looks shell-shocked, but even he manages to nod.  “Right.  We'll sort it out later, okay?  Nothing it says matters to us, so long as you’re okay.”  His voice sounds thick, but sincere.
But the Shadow just laughs, and delivers its final blow. 
“They don’t get it.  It’s not about that at all.  The truth, the real truth, is that I’m a hypocrite. That’s why the Arcana are breaking.  Because I know they’d never want to save the true me, if they knew how fickle I really was.”
“Stop it!” Souji gasps, though the words are scarcely above a whisper.
But the Shadow won’t, his voice only growing louder, stronger, with every statement.  “The truth?  I want to hide from them.  I want to hurt the Kirijo Group.  And I want to kill Adachi.”  The Shadow pauses, savouring the violence of the word.  “I want revenge on everyone, even though less than a year ago I wouldn’t let others do the same.”
Souji cringes, and Naoto feels her first hint of real fear take hold.
This is bad.  She’s underestimated the severity of the situation.
Chie’s shaking her head.  “No way!  I don’t believe it.  I can’t believe Souji really thinks like that!  Not after everything we went through last year!”
“Chie-senpai!” Rise hushes her.
“His emotions have gone haywire,” Naoto says, and adjusts her grip on her pistol.  Her fingers are trembling, and she tightens them, willing her hand to steady.  “Anything is possible.”
It’s too soon.  She should have expected this.  The sort of grief and denial that accompanies such a sudden loss would be hard enough to accept even without a Shadow confronting you with it and Adachi doing everything he can to tear down your last resistance, to expose your every raw nerve to air.  “Be ready,” she cautions.
“I am you, and you are me,” the Shadow intones.  “But you’re too weak to do what you really want to do.  Your parents are dead, and you’re too scared to do anything about it.”  His grin is mad, now – the sort of light in his eyes of a Shadow on the edge of independence.  “So I’ll take over, and do it for you.”
She’s no longer sure if this is even a Shadow that can be accepted.  Not without a lot more time than they have.
“The Truth is hard to accept, isn’t it?” Adachi mocks.
Souji wavers on his feet.  His lips start to work, to form words…
Then Elizabeth steps in, that pleasant smile still curving her lips.
“Thank you, Adachi-san.  That’ll be enough.”

Next chapter


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 23rd, 2011 10:47 am (UTC)

Oh god I am pretty sure if you're reading this you are already spoiled completely but just don't realise it yet. Thank you for reading it anyway? Um, and sorry for the lack of outside-fandom friendliness. Kind of amazed you've stuck this far with it.

XD Oh no, you caught on that I usually drop by FFnet first? Either you're far too observant for your own good or my internet habits have become far too predictable.
Nov. 23rd, 2011 11:21 am (UTC)
The ultimate question is this:

What are you doing, Elizabeth, waiting for Souji's arcana to break one by one? Also, interesting contrast to Minato, whose end was for him to accept all the burdens and rest in "death." In that way, without having to continue living, he wouldn't have to encounter repression, reversals and change.

While we think that Minato got the short end of the stick, not having to die at all, it's honestly Souji, isn't it, since he has to live on... /ponders, stares at this

... damn.
Nov. 23rd, 2011 11:54 am (UTC)
I don't really have much to say in response this time, but it's food for thought, especially given P3's heavy theme of death.
Nov. 23rd, 2011 12:06 pm (UTC)
Not this near the end game! haha. <3

Know that this chapter is my (current) favorite. It tends to change with each reading.

But yes, and this only makes the game over screen all the more poignant. Hum.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )