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Persona: Icebound In Medias Res



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Cassette-Disk

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A pair of metallic balls collided with Sno's weaponized arm before she could stab at the Shadow. As soon as they made contact, she could clearly see a second pair flying towards her forehead. She brought her frosted sword up in defense just in time, and she could see cracks begin to form where the clackers had landed. Saito's kick found its mark and forced Sno's grip to loosen enough for him to swipe the Shadow away from her grasp. Frustration emulated itself on her face as Sno's eyebrows furrowed. She slashed at the air menacingly, forcing the heavy swing to ring out against the cold air before taking a few steps towards the pair.
"You okay?"
"I'll be fine," Crystal huffed as she rubbed her wrist against the cold snow in an attempt to alleviate the pain of Sno's iron grip. Crystal looked towards Sno, who was making her way towards them, but she stopped suddenly. There was a real danger now.

"PALE RIDER!"
Sno turned her full attention to Max and the newly-materialized scythe. Things were going to get worse before they were going to get better. It might be a better idea to knock them unconscious one by one at this point, especially if they were going to draw power from their Personas. With this thought in mind, Sno favored knocking the boy away with an aimed kick, but her follow up attack was dodged. She would examine her performance later; whether she telegraphed the second kick too much or if she had simply underestimated the Persona users would be determined later. Instead Max counter attacked with his weapon. Not only did the slash connect, it managed to break the surface of her skin.
"That weapon you wield is not man-made," Sno mumbled as she sized up Max, Saito, and Crystal. One good attack would end this. Snow exhaled deeply. Her frigid breath manifested in a mist that began to shroud her body. The already icy temperature dipped even more as Sno concentrated on her preparation. She took a step forward, and the snow beneath her foot hardened into ice as her shoe audibly clanged against it. Then she broke into a sprint towards Max, her arm blade poised to attack. "Let the merciless embrace of Frost take you! Absolute Ze--" Before Sno could finish her sentence, and as she was a mere three meters away from the trio's frontliner, a sudden metallic four-ton red-colored mass collided into her. The red jeep knocked Sno off her feet, and though she had enough presence of mind to stab at the front end of it with her weaponized arm, it only made contact with the hood of it before the icy sword snapped due to the combined stress of Saito's clackers and the velocity the car was traveling. Sno's body slammed against the windshield before tumbling over the jeep. The powdery snow did little to soften Sno's landing as she dropped onto the hard grass under it.
---​
Charles fidgeted. He wasn't sure how much more of this he could watch. He turned to face the two woman with him, and it was obvious they were both thinking the same thing. Chloe with her quizzical gaze and Zoey with her worried expression at her friend. It was then Sno was struck by the jeep.
Charles let out a quick "Holy shit," before tapping his phone closed, ending the stream. "Alright, you want answers? See that white haired woman? The one that just got nailed? She's got her facts mixed up and that jeep isn't going to keep her down for too long. I need to find an old friend of mine that can help sort things out, but I can't find him myself. I was hoping that I could ask those four kids fighting her to help me, but I don't think that's gonna happen now. Instead I might have to ask you two. Any chance you can call your detective friend? Or anyone else? Because we're gonna need all the help we can get where we're going."
 

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Saito felt the air grow colder behind him. He pieced together that Sno was preparing an icy blast. The red-eyed lad braced himself for impact as he held Crystal closer to him. The next thing he knew, Sno unleashed her attack, but it was aimed upward. He took this chance to get further away. Even when he heard more of a fight occurring, he didn't turn to help, concentrating on finding a safe place to drop the Shadow possessed girl off.

Saito looked around to find a suitable place for his compatriot, knowing full well he was leaving himself open. His eyes went to the parking lot.

Behind the car? No. If she found out, that ice lady will get there faster than any of us.

The half-Irishman's gaze went towards the people in front of the café and thought, Near those people? No. I shouldn't get people outside the group involved.

The next thing he knew, he heard the sound of a car crashing into something. His head snapped in the direction of the noise and saw that Valerie hit Sno with her Jeep. The window rolled down before the former yelled at everyone to get in.

Not needing to be told twice, Saito put Crystal on the back seat of the car. He was about to get in the car as well when his attention got caught on something pulling on the back of his mind. When he concentrated on this feeling, he realized that he was still focusing the power from before. Out of the corner of his vision, he also saw the heap on the ground called Sno.

Not believing Sno was down quite yet, the street fighter ordered this strength to attack the android. This power took the form of a silhouette of his Persona throwing an electrified punch parallel to the ground at Sno's side in an attempt to send her as far away as possible.

Soon after that and Max getting in the Jeep, Saito got in as well and ordered, "Go! GO!"

Following that, Saito leaned back on the seat feeling spent. Having a few seconds of non-action, the brawler started laughing. "I can't believe that just diddlyin' happened."
 
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Chloe let out a small yelp coming from her lips as she watched the girl's jeep hitting the mysterious woman and her sliding away from everybody by something mystical force that came from that older guy with those whom were fighting out. At first she was afraid for everybody but quickly it turned into amazement then started to ask Charles about their next move when he answered it in a quick fashion.

Nodding her head to him, Chloe managed to reach inside her purse and dialed the number Erin gave to her that morning, only to reach the voicemail as she gave out a small puff while it continued on until the beep.

"Erin, it's me! Listen, I don't know if you saw the weird live-stream thing, but I'm here with some girl, Zoey, I think and Charles need help finding his friend, so when you get the chance to check this, all three of us are already well on the way to my place," Chloe started to end it but added something to it. "Also, this might as well be the chance to get some answers to what happened to the students you were looking for."

With that, she sent it to Erin and turned to Charles as she set aside her phone back into her purse. "Message delivered! And I'm pretty sure the police will be on the way soon, so we'll better leave like a leaf from a tree and head to my place." Chloe pointed in the direction of where she lives.

"So, let's goo!" She chanted on, oblivious that soon or later she will meet the students looking for a place to crash and that place would turn out to be Bennett's Inn.

While on the way back home, she glanced at Charles and Zoey then back to the whiteness of the snow that seems to be unable to stop. Chloe couldn't believe all that happen in a such short time; Yet at the same time, inside of her soul, Chloe felt something stirring within her as she recalled the mysterious figure that somehow dropped an scythe into the hand of that dude and the woman being sent flying away by something powerful after being hit by a jeep, nonetheless.

What that feeling was, Chloe wasn't sure but she was sure that this Charles person knew something important about this and how it all involves her and these students. The only way to know was to ask questions and that would come later as they finally reached their destination.

A smile crossing her face, Chloe leaped forward and turned to the duo then with a bow to the waist and back up, telling them where they are. "Welcome to my humble home, Bennett's Inn! The place where everything you need is right here and many more!"

She knew she was being like her mom when she greeted someone to the inn, but this was something different about everything and she decided to take the chance to do something else different for a change as the trio walked inside to get dry from the weather.
 

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~- Catching Up on Sleep -~

Mavis had finished with Xun and had moved along her way to the orphanage. She had forgotten about her recent exhaustion, until she dozed off for a few seconds. Waking up to the sound of a blaring horn, Mavis yanked hard on the wheel and went off the road; her foot finding the brake to keep from totaling her car. Breathing in short gasps, Mavis looked around her to see that everything was okay, by some miracle.

She took her hands off the wheel, moving them toward the gear shift to put the vehicle into park. It took a couple of tries due to how badly her hands were shaking, but eventually she managed it. Leaning her head against the seat, Mavis closed her eyes to try and see if a little bit of rest would help her out. After all, she really didn’t want to have to call in to work, she enjoyed helping the kids out.

Mavis was in an airplane, and there was a familiar elderly man in front of her. He was playing with a tarot deck, his face calm as he flipped through the deck. She didn’t know why he kept sending chills down her spine, it happened every time she saw him. Approaching the gentleman, she called out, “What do you want now Igor?”

“Mavis Sakuraba, the orphan girl that was raised in an orphanage despite being adopted. The girl who despite her dislike for tarot, plays with the cards. The one who lost the only family she’s ever known…the Empress.”

“Knock it off Igor, I’m not in the mood for your games. What do you want?”

Igor looked up at her finally, a smile on his face as he said, “This reality is bending into something it wasn’t originally meant to be because of the three intruders. You foresaw this and yet did nothing.”

“The future cannot be changed, despite how much we want it to be.” She snapped, she knew this for a fact because she’d tried to overturn fate when it came to Adam and her mother.

Igor smiled, seeming to know what she was thinking as he said again, “Don’t be that way Empress, you know that you mustn’t be bitter. Until the next time we meet, have a nice day Ms. Sakuraba.”
Mavis was sent flying backwards as she quickly approached the state of being awake again…


“Pale Rider!”

Mavis blinked at the shout, staring down at her phone she saw the images flashing past that seemed to imply that there was a fight happening. She vaguely recognized the one that had yelled from earlier at the café, but other than that she didn’t recognize anyone. Her eyes darted around her, checking to see that she was safe before she put the car into reverse and pulled back onto the road. She knew what she had to do, so despite the knot of dread that formed in her stomach, she called up the orphanage. When her boss answered, she said quickly, “Sorry for the short notice Amalia, but I can’t come in today.”

Amalia was quiet for a few moments, processing what was said before she answered in a motherly fashion, “I understand, just take it easy for rest of day.” She was glad for the fact she didn’t have to explain what was wrong. She loved Amalia for that, and after a traditional parting between the two, Mavis hung up the phone. She turned around when she got the chance, heading back to her house to get some rest even as she listened to what was going on with the fight that was somehow being broadcasted on her phone.

Only for it to suddenly stop, which confused her, but she didn’t pay any mind to it as she continued driving.
 
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more fiction than fact

I was embarrassed and utterly flushed after hearing the turn of the bowl. I walked over to the mirror and gazed remarkably long and hard at what was my face. Even to this day this perplexed me, you ever felt like you were born in the wrong body? I felt a bit ashamed deep down, the son my parents wanted was actually a girl with really strong male-esque features. The logic wasn't important, this was fact...and I needed to concentrate.

Finally, I exited.

This bothered me more than I was readily willing to admit. I found a note that was inside of Pepper's desk and it was addressed to her, the handwriting wasn't Cures either. The time she went missing, the day she went missing matched. It was leading me to quickly believe the cafe I left only just this morning had something to do with it. The police I'm almost positive didn't even have a comprehensible idea as to where the two of them disappeared given it was the parents that reported their disappearances well after this window of time.

The more intrigued I was by this, my mind started to blitz on the scenarios almost instinctively. I was starting to do the math, there wasn't one of these in Cures desk, so if it was likely she had asked him to go with her. Any normal person was speculate a secret admirer or a sexual predator of some kind and she asked her male friend to accompany her for safety reasons. I sighed, grabbing the steady vein throbbing from my front right lobe, I was processing this like a madman.

On my way back to the faculty office, the captain sat reviewing the list of students tossed it across the desk. It was clear he was frustrated beyond compare, a revered chief of police here in Nyx, needing the aid of a sixteen-year old prodigy. I was already fairly uneasy about the situation, but my intention was to bring forth the missing students, same as bringing the perpetrator to light.

"Lane...what are we doing wrong...these kids don't know anything about these two. It's like throwing something at the wall until it sticks, how the hell do you do it?"

I gave him a bit of a long and yet strangely relaxed look before I sighed, "It's apart of the job Captain. It's a lot of frustration and combing over every blade of grass until you find that one impeccable detail that you missed. I've got several thousands of hours doing just that, even as a child."

I made the conscious decision not to reveal the note I found in Pepper's desk to the captain. Not for nothing, but the young girl we interviewed earlier already left him with a bad impression about the cafe, I didn't need his further speculation holding up my own investigation to top it off. He had the look of defeat quite literally written all over his face and quite honestly, I couldn't really blame him.

"Lane. Thats it for today, we've run out of students to interview, we'll just have to take this information back to HQ and have our deduction team look at it while you head your own independent investigation. You must be pretty obsessed with that Cafe, but as a professional...I'm telling you nothing but disappointment awaits you, nothing good can come of superstition ya hear?"

I nodded...rather inauthentically, and as the captain patted my shoulder he was off. I exhaled and pulled out my phone, we'd been here for a while now, I had to remember that Ms. Bennett did invite me to dinner and I was never lax when it came to appointments save for todays unexpected happening.
 

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Sno slid along the cold ground for a few seconds. It took her a brief moment to realize what had just happened as she skidded to a stop. Her body had collided with a van traveling at at least 30 miles an hour, and though she had managed to mitigate the damage, physics still favor the traveling 5 thousand pound vehicle instead of the stationary lighter object. There was a slight pain in Sno's side where the van had made contact with her. She made an attempt to stand but was once again struck from above by Saito's Persona. The blast struck her off her knees and slammed her into a pole, once again damaging the same side that was hurting. Wordlessly, Sno rubbed at where her left rib cage would be. There was a small tear between her skin, and red fluid dripped from the injury.

You're not invincible.

The words echoed in Sno's mind. She had been warned about the her limitations. About applying too much stress on her body. And here was the proof. To make matters worse, she could be facing internal damage as well and not even realize it. But how could anyone expect to be hit by a van in this situation? Grabbing a handful of snow that surrounded her, Sno rubbed it into the wound. The bleeding stopped, but the bio-recovery implementation of her system would take time, and wasn't intended for use while in combat. She looked up. The red van was beginning to speed through the park. Sno didn't have the luxury of time.

"I can't believe that just diddlyin' happened." Saito laughed as Valerie forced the van through the snowy park. She was thankful that the van was capable of off road travel, especially since the collision had knocked Sno into the main path towards the road. The only way out for them was to travel through the woods for a bit before reaching town. Plenty of people used the woods as a shortcut, but those were all people traveling on foot, not in a car. Val hoped she wouldn't run into any pedestrians; the van barely fit on dirt road as it was. The idea of dodging and weaving people in this situation would be laughable. Val did a quick headcount. She was fine, though bruised where Sno had kicked her. Max had managed to barrel into the passenger seat and awkwardly held his scythe, trying to keep it out of the way while occasionally peering into the side view mirror. He seemed okay too. Saito had dragged Crystal into the car and though he seemed the least hurt, Crystal constantly rubbed her wrist where Sno had grabbed her. Was it broken? Probably not. The van itself seemed to be in perfect working order, besides a very obvious series of cracks in the windshield where Sno's body had smashed into it, as well as a dent in the hood where the sword had attempted to stab into it. She could explain those away. Probably.
"What's her problem?!" Val blurted out suddenly. "Why's she want to kill Crystal? What's going on?"
"Why would we know?!" Crystal yelled. "Just keep driving! The last thing we want is for that chick to catch up with us."
"Have you guys seen the terminator?" Max asked hurriedly.
"What the shit are you talking about?"
"Look behind us!"

Doing as they were told, the group turned and saw the impossible. Sno was sprinting towards them, and was slowly catching up.
"Crap crap crap crap," Val said.
"Faster! Faster!"Saito yelled.
"I'm trying! The pedal is literally on the metal!"
"Where'd you buy this thing? In a junkyard?! Let's go!" Crystal yelled.
"OH I'M SORRY. IS THE CAR THAT JUST SAVED YOUR LIFE GOING TO SLOW FOR YOU?!" She pulled down the lever to her side. It was always on D for drive but she pulled it down to the "1" below that, hoping it would make it go faster. Like in the movies. Whether it did or didn't, it didn't stop Sno from quickly gaining ground. The group watched as she jumped into the trees and vanished from sight.
"Aw hell. That's probably not good." Crystal said. Before anyone else could say anything else, a loud bump was heard on the van's roof. Val slammed the breaks immediately, but Sno was ready for it and easily landed on her feet in front of the car. Crystal rotated her wrist once and extended her fingers, the pain still fresh in her nerves. "Her side's hurt," she said before opening the door. Sno's left hand was motionless as it sat on her rib cage, but besides that she stood solemnly, waiting to see the group's next move. Without warning or regard for the others, Crystal charged forward. She wasted no time in taking advantage of Sno's injury. Crystal feigned a punch to Sno's face but ducked the block and instead kicked where Sno's resting hand was. The blow connected. Sno winced. Without missing a beat, Sno's hand turned over and grabbed Crystal's foot. She through the Shadow sideways into the road and slowly walked towards her, ready to attack once again. Crystal slammed into a wooden post and pain thundered through her back, knocking the wind out of her. Crystal wouldn't be able to defend against another attack.

---​

Charles' cane tapped heavily against the floorboards as Chloe welcomed him and Zoey into her inn as if she were in a commercial.
"Welcome to my humble home, Bennett's Inn! The place where everything you need is right here and many more!"
"This is a nice place," Charles said. He tapped the floor with his cane once more to shake off any snow that might have gotten stuck under it. The last thing he needed was a slippery crutch. "Very nice." For a moment he could almost forget why he was here. The warmth of the inn contrasted with the harsh climate outside and it would have been very easy for him to sit down with a mug of coffee and relax the day away. Zoey twitched next to him. She had been worried about Crystal, and the fact that he had dragged her away from the scene wasn't helping any. He raised his hand to pat Zoey on the head, but she dodged it wordlessly. Fair enough. "Do you have a room where we could talk...without prying ears?" Charles asked. He was careful to avoid the word 'private.' It was already suspicious enough that he just entered an inn with two underage women, he didn't need any passerbys to get funny ideas. As if to further distance himself from the situation, he once again pulled out his cell phone as Chloe led them into another room.

"Is this the phone of Ms Mavis Sakuraba?" He asked cheerfully as soon as other line picked up. "I know it's a bit sudden but you've got a reservation at Bennett's Inn. Free continental breakfast." He looked towards Chloe to make sure there would be breakfast before realizing it was already far past noon. "Okay forget breakfast. Has your phone been showing you a stream of some kind? Or have you been seeing some old guy with a ridiculously long nose? Because if so, I'm going to need your help." After a quick conversation he turned back to the two girls that were with him. "So we're just gonna wait for her before I start my whole spiel. The detective too, probably. At the very least I can tell you two this for now. Everyone you just saw are still alive. They're fine. The woman that was hit by the car is probably okay too, for better or for worse, though I don't really know everything about her." Charles turned to Zoey for the next part. "Crystal is perfectly fine." He didn't have the heart to add 'more or less,' but went on. "There's a lot of stuff happening. Some time nonsense I'll get into once everyone's here. My leg, my missing friend, and how you can all help me out. Because I think everyone here has something they're looking for, whether they realize it or not. First thing's first." Charles placed a large black bag on the table in front of him. "Inside this is nearly any weapon you can think of--except explosives and guns, I think. Hell, I don't know. Some girl named Pepper left it behind before going missing. I'm putting this here because you're gonna need them. You don't gotta grab something now though, I'm just laying it out there so you can mull it over while we talk." Zoey was hesitant to even look at the bag. "Crystal got a sword from this thing you know. Before she gave it to someone else and traded it for some punching gloves."
"Crystal's never fought a day in her life," Zoey's voice was accusatory but shaky.
"Not until a few days ago. I'll tell you all about it. What about you, Star?" He asked, nodding to Chloe. "Ever dreamed about swinging a weapon around for good? Or evil? I'm not picky at this point to be honest."
 

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As Valerie drove the car, Saito took this chance to recuperate from the fight. That double-tap took more outta me than I thought it would. But hopefully that's that last we'll see of her, he recalled as he caught his breath and tuned out the other passengers for a bit.

As if Saito brought this upon himself and his compatriots, Max called out something about a movie. He turned around at Max's prompt and saw Sno running after them. No only that, but gaining on them. Well diddly me sideways.

He urged Valerie, "Faster, faster." This lead to some bickering among the group. The argument ended when Sno jumped out of sight and landed on the roof of the car. The impact made Saito jump in his seat a little. Valerie's response to the newly acquired passenger was to stomp on the brake to shake her off. It worked for the most part, but the android landed gracefully some distance away.

"Shit," the caller of Ronin muttered as he got his gloves and goggles on. As he stepped out of the car, Crystal informed the group of Sno's injured state. This led to Saito trying to formulate a plan. She's holding her left side. She's majorly hurt and we outnumber her. Maybe I can appeal to pragmatism and stop this before anyone can get seriously hurt. I doubt it since things went so well last time.

As soon as Saito opened his mouth for negotiations, Crystal attacked. He groaned in his head, Goddammit, Crystal!

He pulled out his last clacker from his pocket and rushed Sno after she dealt with Crystal. He attacked with a dropkick aimed at the robot's head. Whether or not he succeeded, Ronin appeared to grab at Sno's face to push her into the ground and deliver another electric shock at double the power of a stun gun. This time proved easier to summon the suit of armor, but still took a huge chunk of his stamina. So much so that he could barely right himself after he landed from his attack.
 
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~- Teach and Tell Me-~

Mavis was driving home, the music that was playing was something to help settle her nerves. It was working out until her phone started ringing, and upon seeing that it was a number she didn't recognize, she almost thought about hanging up. She didn't really like answering the phone for people she didn't know, it went against her common sense. It's important you answer though, trust me. A voice whispered in her mind, and it said so similar to her mother that Mavis didn't hesitate to answer the call.

"Is this the phone of Ms Mavis Sakuraba?"

"How'd you get this number?" She countered, hesitation lacing her words but not much more emotion showed through. She wasn't sure who this guy was, even so something prompted her not to hang up. She could humor the guy but just not do anything that he wanted, right?

"I know it's a bit sudden but you've got a reservation at Bennett's Inn. Free continental breakfast." She was about to protest that she hadn't made a reservation at the Bennett's Inn, nor would there be breakfast given the time when the guy corrected himself with, "Okay forget breakfast. Has your phone been showing you a stream of some kind? Or have you been seeing some old guy with a ridiculously long nose? Because if so, I'm going to need your help."

The two questions startled her, although her voice was steady when she asked, "Does this have to deal with the red-eyed shadow creatures? What about the recent disappearances in town?" She didn't ask about his involvement with her dreams, about how she saw a bunch of familiar strangers in it with different tarot cards floating above their heads. She couldn't ask that without seeming crazy, and even so she didn't fully understand the dreams.

Taking in a shaky breath, she added before he hung up, "I'll stop in and see what you have to say, just know that this doesn't mean that I trust you." She didn't give him a chance to answer, she just hung up. She knew it was rude, and she knew her mother would have scolded her for it. Even so, it felt good to be that abrupt. Maybe Adam was more of a bad influence than she originally realized, not that it mattered anymore. She pulled into a cafe shop, one that was different than the one she had visited earlier. Putting the car into park, she turned it off and when inside to place an order.

The cafe was small, the plain red cedar panels were worn from the previous years. The table were made from a light bamboo flooring with light wood seats to accompany them. She saw the look on the barista's face as she moved behind the counter, it was one of curiosity and innocence. The barista had pretty pale violet eyes and white hair that brushed her shoulders, which only made her fair skin seem like porcelain. In all honesty, if Mavis didn't know better she'd almost mistake the girl for her twin.

She made her way to the counter, ignoring the pictures that hung on the walls of the cafe. She took note of the name tag on the girl, and made a note that the girl was a new hire but in her class. "Have you been very busy today, Yuiko?" She asked gently, and it didn't escape her notice that Yuiko was surprised. Then again, Mavis couldn't blame her, the two had only spoken a couple of times but Mavis had come to seen Yuiko as a friend. The girl was rather unique, and it was probably why Mavis had become friends with her so quickly.

Shaking her head, Yuiko answered, "No. Not at all, what would you like?"

Mavis thought on it, before she answered, "Two hot chocolates, one with whipped cream and nutmeg. The other with...?" She sent Yuiko a look in questioning, causing the white haired girl to laugh as she answered, "Whipped cream, nothing else." Even as she was talking, Yuiko was working on the order that had been given.

Mavis already had the money on the counter by the time Yuiko was done. Mavis took the hot chocolate as Yuiko took the money, it was during the cashing out process that Yuiko asked softly, "What did you get today on a reading?"

"Same thing it's been for the past month, and when I pulled a card for you..."

"It was the magician, as always." Yuiko finished.

Nodding her head, Mavis glanced down at the hot chocolate, trying to figure out if she should say something. Even though she knew it wasn't the case, Yuiko again seemed to have been able to read her mind as she commented gently, "We can talk later after I get out at five-thirty, 'kay? Just let me know when you get home."

Startled Mavis looked at her and confessed, "I'm not going home, I'm going to Bennett's Inn to meet a couple of people." She saw the skeptical look on Yuiko's face, and she decided to tell the other girl the whole story. She saw the way her friend tensed at it, growing more and more suspicious as the story unraveled itself. She couldn't blame her, she was pretty skeptical too. Although it wasn't a surprise when Yuiko begged her to stay in touch with her, and she did agree to the other girl's request.

Saying goodbye, she left the cafe and her concerned friend behind. It only took her a moment to get her car going, and only a few more minutes to get over to the Bennett's Inn. Parking a little bit away from the front, she turned off the car and took a sip of her hot chocolate, something about this wasn't sitting well with her. Climbing out of the car, she retrieved a couple of things from the back seat (including her deck) and locked the car. Hoisting the small backpack onto her shoulder, she quickly crossed the parking lot. She saw a group of people standing together, a guy and two girls, one of which she recognized from the morning incident at the cafe. Her inner alarm bells went off as she registered the girl as the idol Star, and she almost ran back outside.

What are you freaking out over? There's no need to be a coward, Sakuraba! She reprimanded herself mentally, and to help settle her nerves, her fingers sent off a text to Yuiko before she put her phone away. Walking over to the group, she looked at the guy and asked once more, "How did you get my number?" She didn't pay any attention to the girls, she was pointedly focused on the guy.
 
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Shaking off the snow that wrapped around Chloe's jacket, the idol actress pulled down the zipper on her heavy jacket and held it over her arm while taking off her hat that kept her hair from freezing into place then shoved it inside one of the pockets of said jacket. At this point, she glanced at her new guests and motioned to them to hang over their coats so she'd put them up in a safe position until they were ready to go outside for any specific reason with the exception of a black burlap bag that Old Man Charles were holding onto for some reasons unknown at this moment.

Within a few minutes of doing that and delivering them some mugs full of coffee including hers as well, Chloe started to talk about the events earlier when Charles mentioned that they should move somewhere more quiet as so people wouldn't get wind on the future conversion with another girl and detective Lane, she quickly ushered them into another room that was sometimes used for conventions.

The room appeared to hold even the grandest conventions and the last time there ever was one, it had to be before the disappearances occurred. There was two tables that has now been used for breakfast and the room itself was massive to the point it felt like it led into another world of wonders.

Finally, after giving them chairs and sitting one of them, Chloe noticed that Charles had already whipped out his phone to call someone named Mavis and when he tried to bring her here by breakfast (which was way well over at 10 AM...), she raised one of her eyebrows at him as if to say, "You couldn't have asked first?" But that quickly changed and after a bit of talking on the phone, Charles quickly turned to her and the other girl, Zoey and explained what was inside his bag.

When the name 'Pepper' popped up, all Chloe could do was to blanch in response as she was already well familiar with that name as it was Erin who explained to her about the disappearances. Curious as she already was about everything since ever she stepped off the plane, she held back her barrage of questions as she slowly opened the bag to see what was inside it.

Turns out the guy was right as it was full of weapons, some were ancient and some were recent. Digging into it more carefully as the items were sharp as it is, the girl eventually found something that seemed to match her style and pulling it out slowly but surely enough to reveal the weapon in question in her hand was a staff. Looking at its beauty, Chloe could tell it used to belong in the ancient past as the color seemed to fade, the former being gold but changed into a purple like fade. Atop of it there held a jewel that seems to match the mood of the people whom gazed upon it and right now it showed the current color: black as if it is saying that the atmosphere is cloudy, depressive.

It is at this point that clearly Chloe was very curious and so she asked him one question that was burning on her mind. "Hey, if you know Pepper, does that means you know Cures, too?" She questioned him as she gently set her staff down beside her, aware of Zoey's accusations about her friend.

Before she could get an answer to that, she glanced outside to see a girl with some sort-looking backpack coming and wondered if she was the girl they're waiting for. Excusing herself to the duo, Chloe stepped outside to meet her, motioning to her if she'd like for her to put her stuff up and was initially ignored as the girl barged into the conference room.

'Charming gal, isn't she?' Chloe thought to herself internally as she followed back in and only got the end of the conversation between the girl and Charles, closing the door behind her and briefly pulled down the shades then back into her chair, drinking her mug of coffee and waiting for Erin to come in.
 

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~- Someone You Don't Know-~

Mavis realized her rudeness only after another girl followed her into the room. Watching as she moved to take a sip of her coffee, Mavis noticed the tiniest hint of embarrassment starting to spread in her chest but she didn't like it show. Looking at the girl she spoke calmly, "I'm sorry for ignoring you before hand, I was just a little focused on someone else." Her eyes darted to the man in the room, and it was also then she noticed the other unfamiliar girl standing next to him. Shaking her head, she focused back on the one that had followed her in and took a close look at her. "Hm, are you the idol Star? I remember you from the cafe shop earlier, you caused quite the fuss earlier ma'am. My apologizes for my rudeness earlier, my name is Mavis Sakuraba, but you can call me Sakuraba."

This girl seems to have a connection to the Lovers, and the other girl is the Sun. she mused to herself, although nothing on that thought showed on her face. Focusing back on the man, she again asked in a calmer voice, "How did you get my phone number?" She glanced around the room, searching for an area to put her backpack even as she clung to it like a lifeline. She almost thought about asking, but the idea of someone accidentally stumbling across her tarot deck terrified her. She didn't want to explain why she had one, and if these people have been having the same dream as her about Igor she felt like dealing with it even less.

She glanced at the man, trying to identify his card but she kept coming up blank. Her hand slid into the pocket with her deck, she started to remove her hand before it registered that her fingers were curled around her deck. A frown flitting about her face, she let the cards go and pulled her empty hand out. Setting the backpack down on the ground, she sat down next to it and looked at everyone in the room. She just kept herself from chewing on her lip at of nervousness, only for her attention to get drawn back to the man as she saw the bag he held. She thought she could see something sharp in it, although she wasn't entirely sure. She was acutely aware though about something in that bag calling to it, it's energy humming in her veins much like how her cards did whenever she used them.

"Looking to the girl that had followed her in, she asked a little more gently than before, "How long are you going to be here ma'am? Also, what brings you to our humble town, if I may ask?"
 

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another late arrival

Leaving the school's front gates, I proceeded to take yet another sip of my coffee. I was truly confounded, but looking at the information I had before me, I would need to conduct a completely separate investigation. The coffee shop owner, Jin, I believe his name was, quickly popped into my mind. Telling the captain about this potential development he'd wager was a waste of time. I'm no big believer in superstition, it almost sounds crazy, but my blurred memory of other things that have already happened don't do "what i've seen" justice.

"I can't believe how much time we spent spinning our wheels..." there was a bit of depression in my voice when I said that. Truth be told, partly due to what the captain said to sway me from pursuing superstition. I wrapped my scarf up rather tight and proceeded to trudge through the snow. The town itself wasn't as large as I'd first thought when my parents happened upon it, but it was quaint, quiet, humble in it's build and residents. As I passed the coffee shop, my eyes darted through the glass window observing briefly as Jin was polishing/drying mugs on the front counter. An even smaller glint that caught my eye was a music video of Ms. Bennett performing one of her hit songs.

The instant flashback was uncanny, here we were hours later and were I and her there, we'd see a very similar situation. Coincidence? I shook it off and proceeded towards her family's inn. With how I was greeted last time, it would feel a little more eventful this time. Taking a breathe, I passed through the front door, removing my hat and ringing the bell at the front desk.
 

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Max and Val climbed out of the car as Crystal launched herself towards their attacker and could do nothing as she was quickly countered, despite the successful attack.
"Has she always been that hotheaded?" Max asked. Saito rushed in for the save before anyone could answer.
"Follow his lead. Come on, come on!" Though Sno expected another feint attack after Crystal's shenanigans, she hadn't expect the full use of someone's Persona. Though she managed to block Saito's kick with both hands and was ready to weave away from another attack, the sudden appearance of not only Ronin, but Max and Valerie were enough to give her pause. She was able to steer away from Max's swing and just barely back stepped away from Val's follow up, but the addition of the ethereal samurai was too much for her to overcome. Sno quickly found herself facedown on the ground as the cackle of electricity stormed through her body, as if multiple tiny battering rams were banging against her every nerve. Once the surge was over, Sno took a moment to recover and regroup herself.
Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak. Sno felt her body twitch as an echoing cackle of electricity tickled her back.

"Get her out of here!" Max cried to Val as he pointed to Crystal. Valerie almost argued. Why was it up to her to skip out on the rest of the fight? Then Crystal fidgeted and tried to stand. Val rushed towards Crystal and crouched down to her.
"Hey, I'm getting you out of here, alright?"
"What? No. No, we gotta--" Valerie raised an open palm and struck Crystal across the face. It wouldn't be the first time she's slapped someone in her group, and for some reason she doubted it would be the last.
"Would you stop being so selfish?! This woman wants you dead! And we're being dragged along!"
"I-I...I didn't--"
"What? Think? No, you didn't! You just rushed in. You've just been a ball of hatred since this chick showed up. But you're a Shadow, right? And you aren't after us?"
"No. What? No, I need to find the real Crystal and bring her back. I'm just fake version of her though. I don't expect you or Max's help."
Val smiled softly.
"Remember what I said before? You could be an alien or a brain eating zombie. Either way we'd still bring you into our group." Crystal paused before letting out a short laugh. "You know, you sounded kinda like Pepper a bit back there. Hope she's not dead. She scared the shit out of me, but was cool. Help me up?" Val nodded and grabbed Crystal's good arm before pulling her to her feet. She threw Crystal's arm over her shoulder and the two hobbled into the backseat of the van.

Sno slammed both her fists onto the ground before slowly standing upright. As she rose, so too did the snow to either side of her. Rising up from either side of her, two large pillars of frost towered over her.

"Hey, uh...Not for nothing," Max whispered, "but how much gas do you have in the tank? Because I think we might need another shove. Or five." Max gripped his scythe and focused as the silhouette of Pale Rider hovered over him. Just as he did so, Sno spoke up. Her tone was harsher than before, more foreboding than her previous monotone threats.
"Why do you defend this Shadow so hard? She, who has stolen away your friend? Who has shattered and Shifted time into this perverted reality?" Sno threw her right arm forward and, just as she did so, the first square pillar of snow on the right rushed towards Max. Then she threw another punch, forcing the left pillar to soar towards Saito. Not willing to reveal any further cracks in her attack, she repeated the motion as another fresh pair of snow pillars arose besides her. These two were sent towards the two boys one after another. Then she did it again, and again, in what felt like an endless wave. The pillars only allowed just enough room for the two to squeeze between the fired blocks, and the two would need to dodge and weave between each pillar to make their way towards Sno and start the fight anew.

---
Charles sat back comfortably, letting his leg rest after the walk.
"Hey, if you know Pepper, does that means you know Cures, too?"
"Nope. Not at all. I don't know either one of them personally. I mean, I know of them, but I don't know much besides the fact that they exist, went missing, and then, hey! I found her big bag of weapons! That's gotta be worth something, right?" A few seconds later, Mavis made her way into the room and gave Charles the third degree about her having her phone number. He stammered for a few seconds, thinking of a way to share his story without sounding like a crazy person. Thankfully he was given a few precious moments as Star's fame seemed to ease Mavis down a bit.
"How did you get my phone number?" She asked again, much calmer this time.
"I mean, I'm not stalking you, if that's what you're asking. I have all of your phone numbers." Charles paused and considered what he had just said, and how he just admitted to having access to three strangers' personal phone numbers. He was suddenly very glad detective Lane had been the last to arrive. "Okay wait. That sounded better in my head. What I mean is that there are some forces at play that involve all of you. It's a bit complicated and a little scary. It's kind of like...um...Do any of you know anything about tarot cards?" Charles saw Mavis react at the words. "Oh, you do! Do you happen to have a deck handy by any chance? I know it's an odd request but--" The woman reached into her pockets and pulled out her deck before he could even finish his sentence. "Oh. Well that simplifies things. Do you mind if I just...?"

Charles reached towards the deck. Slipping the top card away, he flipped it over. Figures.
"Much like the Tower, destruction has rained," He said, holding the Tower card for the three to see. "But! From destruction comes creation. And that's were you all come in." He placed the card face up on the table and gave it a spin on the smooth wooden surface. A small bell rang from the front counter. "The detective, probably." Charles said. The card in front of him slowed to a stop, face up from Mavis' position, as if it urged her to return it to its deck. Once Lance entered the room, Charles waved at him. "Hello. My name is Charles. Charles Inn. No relation to the building." There was a silence that went on a second too long. "See...because...we're in an inn...and my last name--Nevermind." Zoey covered her mouth, stifling a giggle. At least someone liked the joke. "I'm sure you've all got questions? Like, why we're all here and all that? But it's a bit complicated. Like, there's a real chance I could be condemned if I told my story to the wrong people. Detective Lance, I think you and your department are searching for a pair of missing kids? Because if so, I have information. Just...don't take me in for questioning. We can talk here. For instance..." Once again Charles shook the large bag of weapons. "This used to belong to Pepper. She was using it to outfit some kids for combat. It's filled with almost every weapon imaginable, like a bag of holding from fantasy stories except it weighs a ton. Any of you can grab something now or later if you want. It's what she would have wanted, I feel." He nodded towards Zoey, but she only looked away from his glance. The idea of taking arms from a missing girl's bag wasn't something she was comfortable with, especially since Star--who Zoey was waaaay too nervous to even look at--so easily took some crazy looking staff from. Charles went on. "I'm...actually not entirely sure where to start. From the beginning, I guess. Is there anything any of you want to ask me before I get too into it? Besides the phone thing," he added, looking at Mavis, "that's part of the story."
 

Roxie1563

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Chloe let out an deflated sigh when Charles told her he didn't know them personally, just the names and the bag he found somewhere wherever that was.

"So much for that one.." She resorted, aware that the girl, Mavis, seemed to want to apologize to her for being rude. Turning to her, a smile on her face, she dismissed it and admitted that she had her fair share of stalkers.

"After all, when you're in the media business as I am, it's bound to happen. But Charles here, I don't think he's that kind of person who does that everyday," Chloe said to her as she shifted her weight around.

Then it hit her. She hadn't even introduced herself to everybody just yet! That wasn't like her, but then again it's not your average day when supernatural events are happening around you, apparently.

Clearing her throat, Chloe apologized to Mavis and Zoey for not introducing herself. "My real name is actually Chloe Bennett and I'm the 'heiress' to my parent's inn, Bennett's Inn. I'm born and raised in Nix until I was ten when my future manager apparently saw me in school here and said I could make it big and better for my parents. I thought about it and decided to it and that's how I made it big.. Until now."

Chloe let out just a chuckle before continuing on, her eyes on the trio. "I'm sure you saw the news about me taking an hiatus due to medial reasons.. That isn't kinda true; it's more of a 'Who am I' reason and is it worth it to stay in the media business, you know? So, I'm pretty much staying here until I find that answer to my questions."

After that small history, Chloe and the girls were surprised when Charles let it slip that he had all of their numbers. Glancing at him and wondering if she should just change her number again when the unmistakable sound of the bell let out a 'ding' and Charles mumbling that it could be the detective, the actress set her mug down and walked toward the door then opened it and went ahead to the desk.

There stood the detective as Chloe smiled at him and lightly grabbed his arm, motioning that they should go where the others were. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd never come, but I bet the thought of dinner with me hasn't left your thoughts, hmm?" The girl teased at him, her eyes dancing with delight. "Anyway, you should know that when we go in, it'll be an doozy.. Thought you should be well ahead of it in advance."

With that, both of them entered the room and as Chloe closed the door once again, she overheard Charles trying to make some small joke to which she groaned internally and grateful that he didn't put himself with her and her family's business and quickly made another batch for everybody then gave Erin his mug and gave him a little smile on her face, glad for the company of someone more familiar, even just for the day.

After making sure everybody were comfortable and herself as well, Chloe sat down between Mavis and Erin while Zoey sat close to Erin. Adjusting herself and quickly managed to take care of her newly acquired staff from the mysterious bag of Pepper's, Chloe turned her attention to Charles as it was clear that Charles was ready to plunge in his story as to why all of this are happening.

Chloe wasn't sure how believable his story would be, but there was no denying that something strange was going on and she was got caught in the middle of this. Keeping her eyes on him as he used Mavis' tarot cards to explain the beginning of his story, suddenly she felt strange and slightly dazed when memories of the meeting of the mysterious man with the long nose, Igor and his assistant, appeared and all she could see was that Charles were imitating him, point for point. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Chloe knew that this wasn't no joke at all.

Something was brewing and all it took for her to get involved in it was just to step off the plane that brought her here. To calm her nerves down and try to listen to his story, Chloe sipped a few times of her coffee and glancing at Zoey to see if she needed anything or whatnot.

After the show with the cards, Chloe could tell it was time for the meat of it and stretching just a bit then readjusting herself, Chloe encouraged him to keep on going with a brief smile to him.
 

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Saito attempted to stand back up after his landing. As soon as he moved his legs, they buckled underneath him. The combination of his fatigue and the shock he received for the brief moment he was connected to Sno when Ronin grabbed her. He smacked his legs and urged, Come on! Get up! Shortly after that, he rose to his feet. His pants made themselves present in the air as fog. "Thanks for the assist," he said to Max and Valerie.

As Sno laid on the ground as a result of his last blow, Saito made his way to the van in order to get the hell out of here. When he was about halfway there, he heard the crunching of snow behind him. His head dipped down in exasperation. "Oh, for the love of- Stay down!" Saito groaned then yelled as he turned back to her. He got into a stance, ready for round three.

Then Max asked him of his condition as Sno prepared her next attack.

"Honestly, I only have one more shot. I'm lucky I'm even standing after that last one," he admitted lowly with a smile on his face.

Sno then piped up asking why they're fighting so hard to protect Crystal.

"We don't owe you anything," Saito simply responded. After that, his eyes narrowed in concentration.

Think. Even if we try running again. She'd just chase us down. So there's gotta be something I can do to make her stay down. I don't want to kill her though, the half-Irishman thought as he looked around for anything that could give them an edge.

This cost him as not only did a pillar of ice come at Max, but another hit Saito square on. The force of which made him lose his balance and tumble on the ground for a few meters. Ronin's summoner got back up while dodging another pillar.

I need to learn more about Ronin, he thought. As soon as he did, Ronin's "stats," for lack of a better word, appeared to the front of his mind. Not what I was thinking, but okay, he commented while he went through them.

Okay. Strength Arcana. Whatever. Weak against electricity. Makes sense since he's armor, he analyzed. He went to a list that contained a pair of familiar phrases, one he's never heard of, and five empty slots. Cleave, Zio, and... Tarukaja? The hell? Why don't these things' names for their powers make sense? He focused on the one he didn't recognize and got a description. Increases attack power for someone for a couple of minutes. Awesome.

The street fighter then noted a bunch of numbers besides his abilities after he got hit with another column. After he got back up, he figured, These are anything like Stands, they're probably ratings. After a quick look through, it seemed that Ronin's stats are more geared towards physical attack and defense. Also, he realized that he's been using the red samurai's crumbiest stat this whole fight.

I have a plan, Saito thought as he avoided another pillar. He threw his last clacker at Sno and ran behind it. He darted to the side to get out of the way of another snow column. Then he sprinted at her at full speed and aimed a roundhouse kick aimed at her face. After that, he launched an uppercut at her chin. This was followed by a crescent kick at her injured side.

Finally, Saito summoned Ronin behind her in his silhouetted form. With odachi in hand, the former samurai swung at her collarbone using the back of the blade. This strike is enhanced with the combined efforts of his Cleave, Zio, and Tarukaja skills.
 
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The snow pillars were being thrown at Saito and I endlessly. Saito took a big hit just after telling me of his fatigue.

"Saito!" I called out as I played the dodging game with the pillars. A jump backwards, a leap to the side, and a pillar just barely missing taking out my head as I slipped and fell on my ass. I glanced back to Saito and saw him looking, almost studying something in front of him. And then I could tell; he was ready.

Saito took another hit from a pillar and the jumped up and immediately started the dodging game again. I was exhausted, I just realized that I had been heaving. Feeling like I had been on my ass sitting out of the game forever, I finally stood up and was ready to take this head on.

"Saito, I've got your back," I called up to him as I followed him closely behind. If I saw him shift left or right, I shifted the same, and a pillar would whiz past my head right after I watched it whoosh past his, his hair blowing in the wind a delayed second afterwards.

Reaching Sno, Saito didn't hesitate to take her on. He roundhoused her face, uppercutted her chin, and gave her a swift kick in her injured side. He managed the power of his Persona from behind as well, and I took that as my queue as well. I took to Sno's left and braced my scythe in my right hand, and focused my thoughts towards Sno's right side guided by the open palm of my left hand.

"Pale Rider, Mind Slice..." I said almost unto myself. I saw Pale Rider's silhouette form on her other side and he braced his own, new spear, ready to launch his physical assault. We had Sno boxed in. Saito, Ronin, Pale Rider, and myself all launched our attacks in our last ditch effort to get ourselves and Val and Crystal out of this shit situation once and for all.
 

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The snowy obstacle course was buying Sno precious seconds. The bio-recovery implementation was slowly running its course and she could feel the pain in her side slowly dissipate. It would only take a few more minutes until her wounds were healed. After, it would be a straight brawl between her and the exhausted Persona users. She would be at full power while they were on their last legs. If the shifting pillars knocked the two boys out now, that would leave even less work for her. Just as Sno was finishing that thought, she saw the impossible. Both users had made their way through the pillars and were charging straight for her. How much energy did these two have?! Without hesitating, Sno scooped at the ground, grabbing a handful of white powder. She threw it at the boys as it sharpened mid-flight into a pointed icicle. The icy attack shattered loudly against Saito's clacker, but the pair were still rushing towards her. Sno readied herself for the incoming attacks and was able to lift both arms to block the kick which pushed her back a bit. She kept her arms near her face as the boy crouched to punch upwards and was able to grip his fist, negating the blow. Just as she was going to swing Saito around like a lasso and toss him aside, Sno felt a sharp stinging pain on her side.

Her waiting arm blocked her side view just enough to cause a blind spot where Saito's third attack connected. Sno toppled over, sliding off the main path the van had been traveling through and towards the lower area of an embankment, where the woods began anew and a nearby set of stone stairs allowed for easily reaching the road. The kick had been enough to disrupt the regeneration of her bio-recovery, and even offset it. Already her vision was beginning to dim, and her eyes were heavy. Could she be on the wrong side of this after all? Sno looked up from the embankment to see both Max and Saito posing to attack, with their Persona's silhouettes behind them. Without wasting any more time, the pair jumped towards towards her and struck. There were two distinct 'clang' noises that rang throughout the forest as Sno's hands caught the attacks. Saito's blade was held firmly in her right hand while Max's scythe rested on the palm of her left. Though apparently unscathed, it was obvious Sno was struggling against the duo's strength as she was slowly lowering to the ground, unable to push back against the weapons. She fell to one knee as the pressure overcame her and as her eyelids began to close, the two couldn't help but notice a small smile slowly spread across her face.
"
I had...forgotten," Sno mumbled, "that Persona users draw their strength from the bonds they have made. If you had made a bond with her..." Sno lowered even further as she began to lose her footing, "then I should have known there wasn't anything you wouldn't do to save her." Sno closed her eyes completely as clear fluid--almost like water--began to flow from her hands where she grabbed the weapons. The two fighters heard Sno let out one last long breath and expected her to collapse, but instead where surprised to feel her resistance grow as a chilling wind blew through the embankment and a thick layer of frost began to crawl along the edges of the weapons towards the duo. Sno snapped her eyes open as she pushed herself off the ground and began to press against Max and Saito.

Then the skills kicked. A sudden flash of white, hot, sharp pain raced through her arm and sliced into her head. It only lasted for an instant but was enough to break her resistance as a second surge of power raced through her system. The electricity jolted from limb to limb as her arms visibly shook against the weapons. Sno's mind went black, and the last th
ing she felt was the soft snow meeting her face as she fell forward.
"Cut her diddlying head off!" Crystal called from the road above.
"
Crystal, no," Val said, annoyed. "Let's get you back to the van, come on..."

---​

Charles watched on as everyone got themselves comfortable in the room with detective Lance's inclusion. He stood from his seat to get everyone's attention and walked forward where everyone could see him.
"Before I start, I need everyone to know that this all stays with us. Even you, detective. Though if you tried to tell this to anyone on the force, no one would believe you anyway. So let's get started. So uh, alright this all started when people started going missing and their dead bodies would later be found under the ice of frozen lakes. Spooky stuff. So a bunch of dumb teenagers at nearby school got together and formed a club." At this point Charles reached into inner coat pocket and produced a piece of paper folded four times. After unraveling it and putting it on the table, the group could see it was a poster for an investigation club.
Zoey pipped up, "That's the club Crystal wanted me to join. She made it."
"Except she didn't." Charles produced a second identical poster and placed it next to the first. Then he pointed to the names on both of them. The first said 'Crystal Donn,' while the second said 'Cures Candidus.' "Recognize him?" Charles asked, eyeing detective Lance. "Cures created this club because he wanted to learn the truth and felt he could reach it. And he probably could have. Everyone who agreed to be a part of the club investigated the Loveless-Lovelast pond, which had some silly unimportant rumor about confessions attached to it. Anyway, once there they were pulled into the water. One by one, by an unseen force. They awoke in another world. A world of dark monsters where you can be your worst enemy. It was a little before this that Sarah Bell Pepper had joined the club and was dragged under as well. But they managed to fight their way out with something called...wait for it...Personas.

"Personas are a physical representation of one's soul. They're quite literally the mask we wear, once we accept ourselves for who we are. Persona users are able to fight dangerous enemies called Shadows, which are the opposite of Personas. Those are the parts we try to hide from everyone; what the mask covers up. Everyone has a Shadow, and in exchange for the power to survive, Crystal gave up her body to her Shadow. So...yeah, the person walking around isn't Crystal, it's like a mean doppelganger, but she's trying to get the normal Crystal back--"
"Wait, where's Crystal? What are you talking about?"
"Yeah. Um. We don't know. Or at least, I don't. She's somewhere in the Shadow World, probably. Safe, but far from sound. She'll be fine--like I said her Shadow is looking for her too and we're going to too, if you all agree to help. Before that I need to finish up my story. So, the club went around trying to figure out what was happening and found one of the missing person's Shadow. A young woman by the name of Claire. Before the fight could be resolved, something happened. Something that really shouldn't have.

"We call it a Time Shift. It's when someone or something messes with the world and changes things. It can change the order of events that happened, change genetic material, shift people's entire personalities and lives, or just move a lamp somewhere two inches to the right. While the club was fighting, the Shift happened and spit them out into a new world. They're the only ones who remember things how they were before. A theory I have is that Crystal's Shadow being in the real world was such a rare occurrence that it was the cause of the Time Shift, but I don't have any proof to back that up. That silver haired chick they group were fighting? She thinks the same thing, but also thinks that killing the Shadow will set things right. I don't know how true that is." Charles paused to take a drink of water before continuing. "A few things that I know were changed with the Shift. First is that Cures and Pepper and a few of the other club members are just...straight up gone. The first two are missing children, but I don't even know if the others exist in this time line and I don't have any way to find out. Second is that I now have a bum leg." Charles tapped his damaged foot with his cane for emphasis. "Before all of this I was an attendant of the Velvet Room--oh I'll talk about that too in a second--but now I can barely run despite being in my late twenties. Finally, my friend and fellow Velvet Room attendant, Theodore, has gone missing. Probably somewhere in the Shadow World. I want to ask all of you for your help in finding him. You can think of it as some on-the-job training. And finally, the Velvet room is where that pointy noise old dude hangs out. Igor. He's kind of creepy but knows how to pick Persona users. The Velvet Room is only for people who have formed a contract with him, and are therefore Persona users. If you've seen him or have been inside an incredibly purple room, you've already dove in, which I think all of you already have.

"So...that's my pitch. I need your help to save Theo, find Crystal's self, and figure out what caused the Time Shift. Oh, also. I should mention that there's a great calamity coming onto the world soon and only Persona users--that is to say, you--can stop it. If you don't, then the world's going to end so you should try and get a grasp on your powers sooner rather than later. No pressure though. Boy I'm not used to talking this much. Can I get another glass of water? I finished mine a while ago."
 
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Saito grew confident as his assault bore fruit. He mostly expected the first kick to be blocked by Sno. Especially since he was approaching from the front. Also what helped to do her in last time was a kick to the face. He wasn't done as shown by the uppercut which was stopped with her hand. His knuckles flared up in pain as he felt that he just hit concrete. He ignored the pain and followed up with not only a kick that hit its mark, but his Persona slashing down as well.

Saito's eyes grew in surprise when Sno caught his and Max's Persona's strikes. Shit. I threw everything I had left in that last combo. What now?

As soon as he thought that, he felt Ronin's silhouette start to fade and waver. Also, he started panting harder and faster. When he did, he saw the white-haired android's legs buckle. But she had a smile on despite that.

Sno then rambled on about the power of friendship that Saito half-paid attention to. It was then ice started to form on Ronin's and Pale Rider's blades and her legs sprung forward to attack. He flinched into a battle stance to take her on. Her effort was quashed by a sudden shutdown.

Saito didn't know if it was his electricity that did her in or that she ran out of stamina. Either way, she was down and he was glad. He stood there for a couple of seconds to make sure she was really knocked out. Shortly after that, Ronin's silhouette and the ice caked on his blade faded away. When that energy left him, he sat down on the steps to recuperate for a little bit and put his goggles around his neck.

"Now what to do with her?" Saito asked himself as he looked at Sno.


"Cut her diddlying head off!" Crystal loudly suggested as if she heard him.

Saito yelled back, "Nice of you to contribute, but no!" He also heard Valerie refute that as she pushed the Shadow-possessed girl to the Jeep.

Saito made his way up to the car as well then asked the group, "What should we do with her? We can call an ambulance to pick her up, drag her to the main path and hope someone calls one, leave her here, or tie her up with jumper cables and bring her with us to try to get some answers."

The brawler then clarified, "I prefer getting answers, but I don't know how cooperative she'd be after waking up. If our initial encounters are any indication, not much. Especially since she hates Crystal and I can assume vice versa. I don't want to talk to the authorities if we can help it. At the same time, I'd feel bad about leaving her here to freeze."

As the idea popped into his head, he said, "Oh, we can also take off the car's plates, dump her in front of the hospital, and go. Either way we should put it to a vote."
 

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"Cut her diddlying head off!" I heard Crystal yell as Valerie maneuvered her into the jeep. I gripped at my scythe and turned our fallen foe.

"It's not like it would be our worst option, but..."

"Nice of you to contribute, but no!" Saito chimed in as he headed back to the jeep. "What should we do with her? We can call an ambulance to pick her up, drag her to the main path and hope someone calls one, leave her here, or tie her up with jumper cables and bring her with us to try to get some answers. I prefer getting answers, but I don't know how cooperative she'd be after waking up. If our initial encounters are any indication, not much. Especially since she hates Crystal and I can assume vice versa. I don't want to talk to the authorities if we can help it. At the same time, I'd feel bad about leaving her here to freeze.Oh, we can also take off the car's plates, dump her in front of the hospital, and go. Either way we should put it to a vote."

"I'd honestly like to get some answers too, but I just don't know." I crouched down and looked over Sno, examining her face and hair, her body completely unmoving and frozen in time. "She seems far from human, and if she had it her way I don't think we would be breathing right now. But I don't know. If we kill her now, if we can kill her, I don't think we'll learn anything."

I looked up to Valerie who was standing beside her open jeep door and Crystal who was looking outside from the window.
"I think we should do what Saito mentioned and tie her up; throw her in the back of the jeep. I just hope the jumper cables will hold, I'm not sure how strong she is..."

Valerie nodded and Crystal rolled her eyes. Majority rules I guess, because in short time we had her tied up as best we could and tossed into the back of the jeep before we were on our way. As Valerie drove, I leaned my head against the window. The cool glass felt nice on my forehead. "You guys, where are we headed anyways?"

If someone answered my question, I became too distracted to hear them. I felt the frost on my forehead from the window and pulled away. Outside things started to look not quite right as ice slowly began to engulf the trees and the road. I heard a noise from the back of the jeep and turned to see Sno's eyes glowing as a foreign sound escaped her mouth, and then a moaning that sounded like that of Crystal's voice filled my ears as my vision began to fade.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Welcome to the Velvet Room," the cool and chipper voice of an unknown female said to me. "Was that okay?" My vision focused on her, and across from me in the blue-clad plane was and attractive blonde girl with gold eyes. She looked to be about my age, her hair was shoulder length and parted to the right, and she wore a similar blue uniform to the one Theodore had.

"That was fine," Igor said, sitting beside her. "But this is no new guest, he's been here on a couple of occasions before, so he knows this is the Velvet Room."

"My apologies," she said to me as she flashed me an open mouthed smile. Her teeth were perfect and her smile genuine.

"What's going on?" I asked. "Why am I here again, what happened in the van? And who are you, what happened to Theodore?"

"You asked for a different attendent, a cute girl if I remember correctly,"Igor said from behind his huge nose. "She is our newest addition and will be working with you from here on out."

"My name is Melody," she said, "I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance, and I look forward to working with you."

"Working with me on what?"

"That will come in due time," Igor said. Until then, you must concentrate on the matter at hand. One of Sno's functionalities kicked in in an unexpected way due to both her current status and in reaction to Crystal's Shadow's strong presence. It's quite the mess, but I think you might find you've fallen down the rabbit hole once you wake up."

"Wait, this doesn't make s-"

"Until next time!" Melody said, her smile unwavering.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It felt as quick and natural as a blink of the eye. One moment I had been sitting on the plane and the next I was back in the jeep with all of my friends (plus one). The windows had been frosted over and the temperature dropped immensely. I let out a sigh and watched my breath form in front me.

"I think we're back," I said. "Back in that shadow world."
 

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As soon as Charles finished his story, all Chloe wanted to at this time was to point and laugh and call him an idiot. But something inside her said otherwise and judging from Charles' look on his face proved otherwise, other than asking for more water since all that talking made him thirsty than usual.

Getting up and grabbing his glass, Chloe proceeded on to the kitchen to refill while thinking on the story as she flipped the handle to the right for the cool water that fell into the glass. It was one thing to say, other to believe as her parents would say, but for Chloe herself while glancing to make sure it didn't overflow, she did believe after all.

Turning the sink off and returning to the others, Chloe gave Charles the biggest grin to let him know he wasn't insane at all and didn't needed to be committed to any asylums before sitting down back on her chair, careful not to let her staff hit anyone else when something popped in her head, which caused her to bring her eyebrows together; It was something that usually happens when she gets something in her head.

"This Time Shift you mentioned earlier in your story," said Chloe as she crossed her leg over the other, her arms crossing her chest. "It sounds something from Back to the Future: Part Two and for those who don't get the reference, it's a movie that is pretty much about time travel and what have you, only this is real."

Looking at Charles for a minute then grabbing the two posters in her hands and showing the others as a demonstration to her thought, she continued on. "The poster on my right with Cures has to be from the original timeline where the whole Time Shift didn't happen and probably the rest of us that are here didn't come together in the first place while the other on the left is from this alternative timeline where the shift did happen, which would explain why Cures and Pepper are missing and Zoey's friend, Crystal are the leader of this club, so to speak."

Putting the posters back on the table and feeling like Doc Brown, the energized actress suddenly rose from her chair, zoomed to the door then opening and heading to her office to grab her father's clear marker board and marker then returned to the others as if she never left in the first place. There she wrote what she said earlier while adding the stuff she memorized from the scene of Doc and Marty talking about it.

Turning the others to let them see what she wrote up on the board while taking a sip from her own cup of tea to refresh her voice before returning to it, Chloe continued on. "If there's a way to fix this Shift would be to figure out the who, when, where and why. Obviously, Charles and this mysterious woman that the three of us saw at the cafe with the exception of Erin knows it has to be Crystal's Shadow."

Concluding her thoughts on it, Chloe slapped the lid back on the marker then set it back on the handle while adding one thing. "In all likelihood, the best way to get to somewhere is to find Crystal's true body and that's heading to the Loveless Pond," she spoke firmly and hoping they'll believe her as she lend on the top of a table, waiting for anyone to agree with the method or not.
 

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I stepped out of the frost-covered car and almost slipped as my feet hit the sheet of ice now covering the ground. Ahead of us was a tall, semi-trasparent woman made of ice. A sense of doom overcame me as the knowledge was pounded into my brain by Thor's hammer that she was indeed a goddess, a literal goddess with curves chizzled in all the right places.

"You've arrived at long last." Her words were like biting wind as they passed through each of us, now standing outside of the car.

"Who are you?!" Saito yelled out to her as he guarded his face from her icy words with his arms.


"I am none other than Izanami!" She said. "I've waited entirely too long with the group who played with the T.V.s and wore glasses to see through my fog. I've decided to do what I know is best this time. I will cover this world in ice; I will freeze all of the puny humans who are so scared of death, freeze them in time where they can stay forever young in my ice kingdom!"

"This chick is like, evil-Elsa incarnated..." Valerie said. Her joke was definitely appropriate, but her cool tone and expression showed no humor.

"Crystal, what's going on?" I whispered to her, almost as if to hold the goddess Izanami off from hearing me. Crystal stared in awe. Was this goddess unknown to her as well? And what was this talk of T.V.s and fog?

"Shall we arrange the rest of the cast?" Izanami said. She threw her arms up in the air as if conducting a symphony, and many large icicles launched up from the ground. Once the icicles were at eye level in midair, I could see into them, clear as day, and inside each was a person. The one directly in front of me was Cures.

My eyes darted around. With a glance at each icebound person's face, their names and their stories became engraved in my mind the same as the knowledge of the goddess Izanami before. Jack, Claire, Peppers, Noel, all familiar missing faces.

And then there were the new faces. Erin Lane, the detective. Chloe, the entertainer with a hotel legacy. Mavis, who helps out at the orphanage, Zoey, the violinist, and more. More names and stories connecting to the faces of those trapped in ice started overflowing in my head.

And then I knew what I had to do.


"RrrrrrrraaAAAAARRRRRRRGHHHHH!" I shouted as I threw off my jacket and ripped off my shirt. The ice beneath my feet began to melt as my fiery rage filled with with energy. "PALE RIDER!"

Pale rider swept out of the air on his horse, and without my having to say a word, he lifted me up onto his horse. I stood straight up, my feet side by side, arms crossed, on the top of the horse's head, his mane tickling my feet as the wind blew through it. Pale Rider rode around to each frozen friend, each frozen unmet ally, and with my fury alone I melted the ice around them as we passed until they were all freed.


"He's- he's so cool..." Superstar Chloe Bennett whispered as her gaze met mine.

"Cool... And handsome," Mavis added.

"Now all of my friends across the universe are freed, Izanami. You really think you can stand a chance against us?!"

"This is ridiculous, wake up!" She shouted as she began to melt. Her body became smaller and smaller, but never lost form, until she was the size of a normal human woman. I hopped off of Pale Rider's horse and walked up to her to look her in the eye.

"I know your weakness, Max. I know you can't defeat me in a dance battle, and until that day arrives, this world is doomed to be entrapped in my ice.

I took a shaken step back. She knew what she was talking about. I didn't even want to turn and look my friends in the eyes knowing I had let them down. I fell to my hands and knees, and Izanami's ice started to slowly climb around my arms and legs, embracing me, taking me into her.

Yes, that's right, Max. Let me take you, and then I shall take all of the others, and you can live in my world..."

That was when the wall of the icy mountain beside us shattered. I turned my head to look at it, and out walked another Velvet Room attendant I had yet to meet, and floating beside her was a door with the shell of a man infused to it.

"I am Elizabeth!" the woman shouted, And his time to awaken, HAS COME!" She yelled this as dramatically as possible, and the man on the door started to separate himself from it. His hair became a brilliant blue, and out of thin air a high school uniform formed on his body. He floated down to the ground and approached me.

"I am known by many names," he said. "Some have known me as Makoto, some as Minato, even some as Door-Kun. But what's important is that on this day, I have risen again, to give you my greatest gift."

As Makoto snapped his fingers, Izanami's ice that had been embracing me melted away. I stood up, and Makoto gestured for me to look back at Crystal. He spread his arms, and Crystal split into two, her normal self and her shadow self now two individual beings. At the flick of his wrist, a piano of ice formed in front of them, and the identical girls took their seats side by side at the piano and began playing the world's most beautiful unimaginable melody.

Makoto turned to Zoey, and with a wave of his hand a violin of ice was in her arms. She began playing along with the Crystals, and then I knew.

"Saito, Valerie, back me up." And while I wasn't positive, I had a feeling my backup dancers were already behind me, ready to follow me into hell and back.

"Now take all of your newfound protag-swag, and win. I want to take Elizabeth and show her my dorm room, the same way I had long ago." And with that, Makoto and Elizabeth vanished.

A foot tap here, a wave of my arms there.
Valerie, Saito, and I all danced right up in Izanami's business to the perfect song that was Crystal-Squared-Zoey. Izanami tried to dance back, arching her back in unfathomably over-professional dance waves, flinging her hair to the tune, but my lack of actual knowledge of any dance terms whatsoever while typing this and her unfortunate position as the antagonist, guaranteed our victory.

And as the song reached it's end, the three of us struck out in a pose as Chloe, Mavis, Erin, Cures, Peppers, and everybody yelled "FRIENDSHIP AND DREAMS!" and delivered simultaneous roundhouse kicks to Izanami's face, shattering her ice queen expression and putting an end to her once and for all.

With that, the many women of our story surrounded me, all eager to be my newfound post-story bride and live happily ever after with me. All but two of them that is.

The Crystals each took one of Saito's arms and gave him a kiss on each cheek. He turned to me and gave me an out of character goofy grin and a thumbs up. I thumbsed upped him back, and hugged my harem of Zoey, Valerie, Mavis, Chloe, Erin, Sno, the Velvet Room Girls, the shards of shattered Izanami, and anyone I may have forgotten that Makoto gifted me since every Persona protag is a swag-master McMan, myself now included.

And we lived happily ever after~

The End

 
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