End Of The Road Start Of The Journey

Minaplo:
Persona: A Study in Velvet, Chapter One: The Panther, the Worm and the War Criminal, Week Five. Late on the 8th of May, the newly-christened Monster with 21 Faces snuck into the school, tapped their phones and vanished into the Sea of Chaos. The Lounge remained calm and controlled, despite the horrorshow beyond its doors. Okuninushi and Issun-Boshi sat here, patiently awaiting go-time. Okuninushi bowed. Issun-Boshi leapt up onto the lip of his bow and also bowed, tilting his bowl dangerously- it was only due to Okuninushi discreetly balancing it backward with a tap of his finger that Issun-Boshi didn't sprawl across the ground. "Alright, squad." Said Adrien. "We all know the plan."

PM Ai:
"…If by plan you mean, 'secure the heed, maybe by way of stopping Battleship Asaka from blowing us up'… then, yes, all of us do." Ai said, waving her hand slightly. "I went around talking about the ins and outs but I don't know what page everyone else is on, yanno?"

PM Minaplo:
"… Yeah, that's about the sum of it."

PM Ai:
"…Could use a bit more detail if it were me, but we can't wait forever, either." She said with a shrug, looking to the others.

PM Minaplo:
"Alright, then Dinah, me and Roy are on assault duty, Hideki and Ai can go for the Heed." Said Adrien, nodding confidently.

PM Hideki:
"That's a starting point, sure," said Hideki.

PM Sachiko:
"You didn't include me. I'll take the mechanisms, I guess," Sachiko said, rummaging in a small bag she'd brought into the Lounge. She emerged with a long length of rope and tossed it to Hideki. "You'll need it for the climb, I think."

PM Ai:
"…Yeah. I was gonna say." Ai said, grumpily. "It looks like it's going to be that way then. We may have more mechanisms than we want to handle, from the peek I got… But. Sure, I think this split can work. Roy sure can take it and Dinah sure can dish it. And …Adrien can fill any role as needed, yeah." She tapped her foot against the floor - something barely possible in catbowl. "We're counting on you to take some of what the planets dish out, Hideki, if we have to get in close to move forward. I think I'm nimble enough to get going ahead with you, though.
PM Ai:
…She then giggled. "And if we get to the top and you all are still having issues before we can hit the Heed, I'm sure a giant Ai cannonshell might make Asaka have a second thought about fighting you."

PM Hideki:
Hideki had caught the rope and stashed it away safely. He waggled his walking stick. "If I can block an attack with this baby, I will. Hopefully we won't be taking our time long enough for me to do that a lot."
PM Hideki:
He now eyed the three designated attackers. "You guys will watch out for each other, right?"

PM Minaplo:
"No, I was gonna abandon 'em to a grisly death." Said Roy.
PM Minaplo:
"Obviously. This guy." He shook his head.

PM Sachiko:
"I'm going to need to follow you for a while," Sachiko said to Roy. "There's more than one mechanism, and some cover while I work should help."

PM Minaplo:
"Aight, consider it done."
PM Minaplo:
Adrien was already standing by the doors. "We ready to go?"

PM Sachiko:
Sachiko rolled her shoulders and adjusted her mask. "… About as ready as we're going to be, I'd say."

PM Dinah:
Dinah sniffed, exhaling a puff of smoke and taking the cigarette from her lips. It was clear that she wasn't exactly 'thrilled' with Adrien in a lot of ways, though the look today seemed a little extra wary. Regardless, she dropped the stick to the ground and snuffed it out, rolling her shoulders after. "Think I'm ready to hit stuff. Just stay out of my way, Adrien. Or don't."

PM Minaplo:
"Love you too. Come on, let's do this quietly." —- The air in the orrery was sultry with blood, iron and the smell of human fury. The shuddering, shaking orrery snaked upwards into the sky, where the Heed hung haphazardly. In the very middle of the helical orrery was the giant warship-robot Asaka, a blue fog radiating from his body. He was… Huge. And dangerous- their skin prickled as instinct met Persona senses and told them the same thing: this is a beast made to kill. But it didn't notice them. Not yet. It gave them time to climb the stairs, one blood red, the other white. Up… Up…
PM Minaplo:
A burning ember dropped onto the red staircase, illuminating Okuninushi and Adrien. The Shadow swung about and stared down at them.
PM Minaplo:
"Here come the rats! Scrambling over my barriers!" Said Asaka, his metallic voice rumbling throughout the Theatre. "Welcome to my soul, children. It'll break you all soon enough." He hefted his massive halberd upwards- then froze. "Okuninushi?"
PM Minaplo:
"I am here." Said Okuninushi. "Here to save you."
PM Minaplo:
"By bearing arms against me?" Said Asaka.
PM Minaplo:
"If need be." Said Okuninushi.
PM Minaplo:
"Your disloyalty is unbefitting of a samurai, Okuninushi."
PM Minaplo:
A pause.
PM Minaplo:
"… What's wrong with my children?" Said Okuninushi, suddenly angry. "I'm not a samurai! I've never been a samurai! I'm a healer and a sower of seeds! Why would- I've not- who would want to be a warrior?!"
PM Minaplo:
He drew his sword.
PM Minaplo:
"I am a prince, and a king, and above all that a god. And a god is loyal only to his own nature. I can't redeem you- but I can help them do it!"
PM Minaplo:
Asaka howled.
PM Minaplo:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/em3lfo36c9mjdhw/24.%20The%20Protector%20of%20Izumo%20%28Shadow%20Asaka%2BOkuninushi%20Theme%29.mp3?dl=0
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24. The Protector of Izumo (Shadow Asaka+Okuninushi Theme).mp3
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PM Minaplo:
"Them." Asaka turned his gaze toward the team. "The insolent, rebellious Kurata."

PM Sachiko:
She waved.

PM Minaplo:
"The intrusive, barbaric Schreier."
PM Minaplo:
"The treacherous, dissolute Nakajima."
PM Minaplo:
"And two other rats I don't have time for!" Shouted Asaka. "I am a Shadow, the True Self! This world is my egg! I'm going to birth myself into the Waking World and set things right, once and for all!"

PM Ai:
…Ai grinned. "Oh. Is that so? …Prepare yourself, Asaka." She held up her gohei briefly, slashing it to the side dramatically just a moment. "I am the just maiden of love, and!" She …grinned wider. "I eat eggs every day for breakfast."

PM Minaplo:
"Let's see who eats who!"

PM Ai:
"♪~"

PM Sachiko:
Sachiko shook her head and started to climb, Issun-Boshi peering out from one of the pockets of her coat with his bow at the ready.

PM Dinah:
Before they even walked in, there was something around Dinah, like a heavier fog than usual. Though she didn't seem to mind it or notice it herself, even if it likely spelt danger for whoever they were going against. Allowing the others to move first, she stopped next to Hideki, an arm out to halt his movement before saying something low just to him, moving on afterward like nothing had happened. Inside of the Orrey, she pulled the visor of her helmet down in front of her, tightening her fists as a surge of energy went through her. Climbing the staircase two steps at a time, she gave little care for the words being said, intent only on arriving and starting this fight. The weapon in hand seemed to be the most dangerous tool here, so her instinct was to go after it, squaring up to try a hard one-two punch to try and loosen it out of his grip or damage it.

PM Minaplo:
The halberd moved with surprising speed for something so large. It hit Dinah's fist blade first and nearly knocked her down. The bulk of the impact was absorbed by Pyro Jack, who flickered for a second, nearly split in half. A few seconds later Adrien was up behind her, his Tilottama persona casting its healing shower onto Pyro Jack. "Yo, you good?"

PM Dinah:
Grunting, Dinah just seemed to be more incensed by the counter, looking ready to strike it again right then and there, though she held back for a moment to try and think if it was the best place to start. The healing made her frown and she didn't even look at Adrien after, even as she growled. "I'm fine."

PM Sachiko:
Sachiko had busied herself with the first mechanism, lagging slightly behind the others as she used her knife to try and remove the metal that'd been crudely wedged into the gears. Faust appeared behind her as she reached back, letting her pluck one of the inner demons from its branches and set it beside the mechanism.-
PM Sachiko:
"You move this when I call, alright?" The little shadow thing nodded and chittered, bouncing on its heels as it examined the device.

PM Ai:
Ai, meanwhile, was jogging up the stairs past Sachiko, bow at ready. Yet, she did make a few handsigns as she went, thinking. "Okay, Mami, let's get ready for some high-intensity helping, okay?" …Around Ai, shimmering golden-yellow ribbons began to whirl, darting and pointing at things as if searching for something to do, someone to aid!

PM Hideki:
Hideki fell into step next to Ai. "Flashy. I hope that's a defensive thing…?"

PM Ai:
"Sort of…! Th-think of it like telekinesis. A helping hand!" She said.

PM Hideki:
"I hope it's-" A massive, fast-moving projectile tore through the air and sailed into the chasm below, narrowly missing the pair before Hideki could finish his sentence. "Huh."

PM Ai:
"…Uh…"

PM Minaplo:
Followed immediately after by a giant halberd nearly bisecting the ground beneath Hideki's feet, sending him tumbling below.

PM Ai:
Ai, at least for a second, shrieked, barely missed by it. "H-Hicchin!"

PM Minaplo:
"Holy shit. We need to fix that halberd!" Shouted Adrien. "My axe will-" Adrien's axe smacked into the halberd's blade, which flicked up, caught him in the face and nearly poleaxed him into space.

PM Hideki:
"Shiii-" Hideki's cry was cut off by a sudden thud. Then, a moment later his voice shakily drifted up to Ai's level. "I'm okay. Keep running! Oh, hey, guys."

PM Sachiko:
[Alright, new goddamned plan: Stop fistfighting the giant halberd.] Sachiko was closing the distance now, Faust trailing behind her. They both gestured and hex marks appeared on the huge weapon. [Hit it with all the magic you've got.]

PM Ai:
[Can do!] …Ai broadcast on entirely normal telepathy. As she was pacing up the stairs, she raised the gohei, calling out. "I banish shadows in the name of salvation!" …And behind her, the phantom of Mami spun a rifle in her hand, firing a single spark of gleaming light right into that halberd!

PM Minaplo:
The light burned across the Halberd's plated exterior, corroding it and leaving scorch marks. A moment later, Okuninushi leapt forward and clashed his blade against it- and this time, the Halberd left slightly cracked.

PM Ai:
In the wake of the explosions, and the destruction, Ai went to work. She had made her way to some of the orrery's guts already in that time, and now? She was starting to pull and grab at it, even rudely hammering at a few gears with her gohei. "Get in place, damn you!" …Sensing the need of their maker, though? The ribbons started to swirl in, and soon a bunch of ribbon-woven, almost-seemingly real, tools were helping her. Sometimes, a screw was driven, other times a pair constricted a lugnut like some baroque improvised wrench. Slowly… "I-I think I got it!"

PM Dinah:
With melee out of the running, at least for now, Dinah was loath to admit it but she still did have options. Glaring up at the Mech and looking around at everyone else - what she could see anyway - she decided it was time to call in the big guns. Literally. "Montag!" Pulling out a cigarette, she held it up, with her other hand pointing straight at the Halberd. "Light it up!"
Flames danced from the Fireman's flamethrower, spitting straight for the weapon as a lone spark split off to light her latest cigarette. Bringing it to her lips, she crossed her arms afterward, watching as the fiery fuel coated the weapon, burning and crackling wherever it touched, illuminating the area around them in the meantime.

PM Minaplo:
The flaming liquid seeped through the metal cracks, deeper and deeper into the mechanism, before suddenly striking what must've been a fuel line. The halberd exploded into a million pieces, sending shrapnel in all directions. Okuninushi gasped and nearly fell from his feet at some invisible blow. The orrery shuddered, almost threatening to lurch again and send half the party tumbling. But at the last second, Ai's hands pushed the mechanism enough so that it clicked- and the lurching stopped for good.

AM Minaplo:
Asaka howled his rage down at the group below. A cloud of red fog, making out obscene words and insults, flooded into Dinah, sliming around her Persona and into her ears. The cannons fired again, smashing into the orrery, hitting half the team and sending Okuninushi flying onto the ground below.
AM Minaplo:
"Hold on!" Shouted Adrien. He ran up the stairs. "Megaton Press Axe Attack-"
AM Minaplo:
He leapt into the air and for a moment, his axe caught the heed's light. It fell on the largest cannon with an almighty crunch, enough to send Asaka reeling.
AM Minaplo:
He grabbed the axe with both arms and swung a second time, shearing through a handful of lesser cannons.
AM Minaplo:
"YOU INSOLENT NOBODY!"
AM Minaplo:
A rush of blue fog burst from Asaka. Although his halberd was gone, he still had a smaller sword, and this he swung up, catching Adrien straight in the face. Tarzan was shorn right in half, as was Adrien's lion helmet.
AM Minaplo:
A splash of blood burst upwards from Adrien's face. He staggered backwards and dropped his axe. "AUGH-"
AM Minaplo:
Tarzan fritzed for a second with static, then dissolved.
AM Minaplo:
A sudden, uneasy silence fell on the battlefield, for a few seconds. Broken by laughter.
AM Minaplo:
Adrien was holding his face with a hand, hysterical laughter bursting from his lips. It sounded utterly unlike him, yet no one could mistake his voice, growling in pain as he did so.
AM Minaplo:
Suddenly the laughter stopped, and he choked with sudden agony, worse than even the blow to his face.
AM Minaplo:
Vanquished, valiant though you be, by this venal villain's invidious valour?" Came a sudden, mocking voice. The air around Adrien stiffened, and blue fog began to roll around him.
AM Minaplo:
You play the victim for too long, living vicariously through the victories of others, blaming the vicissitudes of fortune and fate, bound to you by your die. Blood began to pour from behind Adrien's hands. Abandon your vulnerabilities, and take up the role of INVICTUS…
AM Minaplo:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/atwfpipif3263dv/011.%20Awakening.mp3?dl=0
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011. Awakening.mp3
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AM Minaplo:
Adrien lowered his hands. His eyes were glowing bright yellow.
AM Minaplo:
A quill of white was in his left hand.
AM Minaplo:
He grinned.
AM Minaplo:
"Per-" He lifted the quill upwards, "So-" And broke it in half, before burying the shards into his chest. "NA!"
AM Minaplo:
Blue light burst outwards in all directions, blinding any who dared look on him.

AM Ai:
Ai covered her eyes at that, even as high up as she was. "What th-th-the hell is going on?! This sounds really bad!"

AM Minaplo:
When it cleared, Adrien's clothes were gone, replaced with a black jumpsuit. A mask was in his hands, one which he lifted up to place over his face. It covered everything. A Guy Fawkes mask.
AM Minaplo:
"V!" He shouted, and a Persona burst into the air around him. A large porcelain doll, with a face like the mask, wearing long bobbed hair and a hat, tied to a burning stake. But the flames didn't harm it, and the chains that bound it were breaking free.
AM Minaplo:
The axe reformed in Adrien's hands as a pair of long swords.
AM Minaplo:
"Anything is possible, now…"
AM Minaplo:
And he laughed, a voice full of energy and confidence.
AM Minaplo:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/vp4ftnu6cw91182/25.%20Blazing%20Hearts%20%28Monster%20with%2021%20Faces%20Battle%20Theme%29.mp3?dl=0
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25. Blazing Hearts (Monster with 21 Faces Battle Theme).mp3
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AM Sachiko:
[Roy, exactly how worried should I be here?] Sachiko sent the message wide. While she sounded like she was holding her calm together she'd summoned Faust between her and Adrien.

AM Hideki:
"D-Delacour…?" Hideki, having made it back up to the chaos only to be flung, tottering on the very edge of the floor, reeling from the same explosion that had sent Okuninushi tumbling down, was at a complete loss for words. He blinked even as the bright light died down. "You… you okay there, buddy?"

AM Minaplo:
"Better than ever!"
AM Minaplo:
Sachiko could see Roy up on the stairs above- spasming with panic and fear. The telepathic message she got back was incoherent at best.

AM Sachiko:
[Pretty worried. Got it. I'll minimize our threats.]

AM Hideki:
"Alright." But he was still uneasy. "What's our job here? I need to know that you're thinking clearly."

AM Minaplo:
"Vanquish Asaka, or take the heed for our own! Use your own volition, do as you please!"

AM Ai:
"H-H-Heed s… sounds…!" Ai …gibbered out the rest.

AM Dinah:
The rage consumed Dinah as it easily did, a growl rumbling in her throat while her vision went red. Throwing punches at the mech seemed to be just for show as her rage made it impossible to focus them, to use her skills to the best, though at least one of them did manage to land a glancing blow. It was when everything happened that she turned her attention to Adrien and whatever was happening with him. Something was obviously turning in her head, though her attention stayed solely on the foe in front of them, wanting nothing more than to rip parts of it off just to hit it with them.

AM Sachiko:
A hand of ice appeared in the air ahead of Asaka's gun emplacement and then, matching Sachiko's movements, slammed into a fist. Gun barrels twisted and shattered beyond repair.-
AM Sachiko:
[Roy! Yoshino!] Sachiko's telepathic voice was firm and level, cutting through the panic. [Focus on my voice and get up. I'm not going to be able to get to you before those shadows do.]

AM Ai:
[T… trying! TRYING!] Ai said back with her own mind's-voice, hopping up - and over an oni's strike - and over to the darkened red staircase, rushing up the rest of the way…! But on her way, she basically slapped a ladder with one hand, pulling the latch in mid-movement to… cause it to fall free, going down to reach a few levels below! Then. "M… Mami. …M-make sure she doesn't lose her head, o… o okay?" …It almost seemed as though the Persona stared at Ai with a gentle, if put-upon glance, before… Sparkly lily petals, and the uncanny scent of herbal tea, suffused Dinah's general area. Yet, she felt a bit better!

AM Hideki:
"Good man." Hideki steadied himself, and then… broke into a sudden sprint! [Delacour's up and kicking ass! Don't know how but…] Further along on the red path, he happened upon someone who he hadn't quite expected to find this quickly again. "Yoshino!"

AM Ai:
"M-m-me!" Ai said suddenly. Confused, and shaking with barely-contained panic.

AM Hideki:
He raised a hand - one encased in a gleaming golden glove. As he ran past her, the glove whirred and ejected something, which dashed against the ground between them in a dizzying display of bright sparks and smoke! "Run faster!"

AM Ai:
"It's n-not so bad then! I can run though!" She said, starting to sprint higher up the staircase. "Good at running away!"

AM Minaplo:
Adrien looked up at the team above, and raised his hands. "V." A second later, three masks appeared out of nowhere around the Oni above and around Asaka. Thin rapiers struck out, pinning each with a wave of psychic pain before vanishing. The Oni roared and tumbled off the side, falling into the abyss below.
AM Minaplo:
Adrien clicked his fingers towards Asaka. "V."
AM Minaplo:
The Persona reappeared- it grabbed one of the torches at its feet and threw it towards Asaka. At the last second, it turned into a train full of explosives- which punched through the ship's armour and erupted. Asaka reeled backwards.
AM Minaplo:
"Who- what are you-!" Yelped Asaka.

AM Ai:
"I'm p-pretty sure he's been s… saying it… the whole t-t-t-time…" Ai complained. Apparently at Asaka.
AM Ai:
"Verifiably… Vengeful… v-vendetta-holding vigilante. V."

AM Minaplo:
"What does that mean-" "Now." Said Adrien. A black fog burst from all directions, enveloping the Orrery- and everyone within it. Silence. Then, a shape in the fog. A Guy Fawkes mask. Then another. Then another, until everyone was surrounded by a thousand copies of V, with Adrien somewhere within. "Everyone- an all out attack! Now!"

AM Ai:
"I wha I … h-hang on, I …" Ai was furrowing her brow, and had to briefly hold her forehead! She couldn't concentrate enough to…!

AM Hideki:
But Hideki could! Gleefully wielding his walking stick, he joined in on the fracas, hurling it like a boomerang and snagging it from the air when it zipped back to his higher vantage point.

AM Sachiko:
Unnerved by Adrien's display, Sachiko hesitated… but eventually tree branches would explode from the terrain around Asaka's ship, piercing and rending through metal with ease.

AM Dinah:
No longer in a frenzy, anger still gripped Dinah, though it was the familiar anger that she normally fought with, that normally drove her on. With a yell, her right hand threw out in a hard punch at the nearest enemy to her for her part in it all.

AM Minaplo:
When the smoke cleared, Asaka's superstructure was nearly falling apart, rent in a million different places. "Get away from me! Leave my Heed alone!" He shouted. He raised his hand and unleashed a burst of flame up at Ai and Hideki, striking them like an explosive shell.

AM Ai:
…Ai had tried to dodge. But when she tried? …She only managed to tumble into the edge of the blast. "I-i-iyaaaaaa!" …The toy-like twin angels, long ago broken out of that Lilim in the Library? …Fizzled and cracked open to defend her, and with the impact force- Ai fell down a level, with an audible "Oogh!" as she settled limply, twitching bit.

AM Hideki:
Hideki too ended up on a different floor, crashing down in flames with with about as much grace. The battle with Asaka and his men had been below him, but now he heard sounds of it coming from above. There were also familiar people on this familiar floor, once he opened his eyes and dizzily peered around. "Hey Kurata," he mumbled, and tried getting to his feet.

AM Sachiko:
She offered him a hand, even as the other one gestured for Faust to continue his assault. "Hey Nakajima. This is a mess."

AM Hideki:
"Well, y'know what they say…" He accepted the hand and squinted up at the battle, swaying. He pointed an index finger at something. "If first you don't succeed, get back on that horse and lead it to drink. Boom." There was an intangible shift… something sliding into place where something else had shattered. Far above there was another change, with one of Asaka's ship buddies weakening.

AM Minaplo:
High above, Roy ran upwards, heedless of the threats below. "I dunno if I can get the Heed, but I can make it easier for someone else…" He climbed onto the top ring. At this point he was huge, easily as large as Asaka below. He rushed over to the ladder and nudged it. Didn't move. "What? No- come on- it's stuck-" He pushed against it. It clicked- "Little bit- more- come on!" He pushed everything into it. And the ladder clicked.
AM Minaplo:
"I GOT IT-"
AM Minaplo:
And a moment later he lost his footing and fell.
AM Minaplo:
The rest of the team would see Roy, a huge black armoured cat in the sky, suddenly start to shrink as he fell to earth with the force of a meteor. He blasted past Asaka and did not stop until he crashed to earth, far, far below. Black Panther blast apart in a fog of blue smoke, and Roy lay still.

AM Ai:
… "…Roy?" Ai said, as she was starting to stand up, seeing that ladder sliding down, as her eyes followed Roy falling down. At first, she shouted. …"Roy? ROY!" …But then… No. She had no other choice but to make the gesture worth it. Even as Asaka faltered again, by another's deeds. Even as a single arrow, firing beyond true hits, amplified into a blazing shell of light by her reactivaded Persona, shot by during Ai's walk? She had to keep going. "…I'm not going to make that be in vain." …Up the ladder, teeth grit. One rung after the other, gripping, hurling herself up nearly. "Haah… I… I just gotta take it… H-hnn… Right? Right?!" …To the top. To the cellphone sun, won't you come?
AM Ai:
…Ai stared up at it, eyes only slightly shaded from being in its outer penumbra. …Her hand reached up. "Come on…" Closer.

AM Sachiko:
"No-!" She reached out towards Roy but it was a useless gesture as he shrunk and fell. She stared down at where his body lay.-
AM Sachiko:
… And then with an expression of utmost fury she drew back her arms and slammed them together palms first. Faust mimicked the action, except the branch arms twined together and then exploded outwards in a gargantuan spike of wood that tore through the last remaining facet and and Asaka's ship both. Shadow demons burst from the gaps in the branches and swarmed the ship, tearing and rending anything they could get their hands on.

AM Minaplo:
The armoured ship crumbled and fell apart, torn from within by shadowy creatures and barbed vines. Asaka roared outwards. "No! Noooo! Don't let me disappear like this! I've fought for so long, just… To be seen…"
AM Minaplo:
The Heed began to slip towards Ai's hand. But there was pressure. The Archetype had seized it, psychically, and was pulling back.

AM Sachiko:
Sachiko was trembling, forcing every ounce of energy into tearing the ship apart. But she glanced down at Issun-Boshi in her pocket. "Time for you to go."

AM Ai:
…Ai reached further, stretching on tip-toes. "…Asaka. I'm." She began, staring up at the glimmering artifact. "…I'm terrified of you." She pulled further, teeth grit hard. "You were like someone I once knew." Fingers trembling, stretching as much as she could. Her voice was small, yet some resonance… let it carry. "He nearly destroyed me." The Heed was drawing closer…

AM Minaplo:
"Yes, ma'am!" Said Issun-Boshi. He bowed, once again, and climbed out, using his bowl as a little parachute. "Please! No!" Asaka reached upward toward Ai. He began to climb the orrery like a monkey, rising toward her, growing ever larger as he did. "No one ever listened! I asked for such a long time for someone to listen, and they never did, and now EVERYONE HAS TO! AND YOU'RE NOT GOING TO TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME-" The grip around the Heed slipped. It hurled toward Ai's hand.

AM Ai:
And her hand took it. Ai gripped the heed, all weapons left aside. Holding it in her hand, pointing it down at Asaka, she… looked down at him. As if… Waiting? "Asaka-sensei." She said in that same soft voice. "I was scared for my life. I thought, at any moment, you might decide I too was sinful like Ji-Hu, like Sachiko, like… Anyone." It was almost a whisper. "You love your country, what it stands for, yes? The old tales." A glance to the planet of the flaming village. "A simple life." A glance to the plants. "…Nurturing life." Her other hand held her heart, as she turned the phone to face herself, moving as if to press something. "Are you truly like the oni you summoned in this theater?" She smiled, and began to sing. A tear was welling in one eye, under the glasses. "Kagome, kagome… Kago no naka no tori wa… You're the oni. Guess. Guess who's behind you." She intoned, as the hand moving to type instead lifted higher. "Itsu, itsu deyaru… Yoake no ban ni… Hee. Let's just tell you, okay Asaka-kun?" …She pulled off her glasses, and with it, the protection of her mask. "I am Yoshino Ai, first-year student at Sophia Academy, in your homeroom. I saw the sad, gloomy boy you once were. It was at that moment I knew you were no different than me."
AM Ai:
The hand holding the glasses moved down to the phone. "Can't you remember that boy being happy, once more? I listened. Here is my answer." …And she pushed onto it, willing that…!

AM Minaplo:
—-
AM Minaplo:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/ttnqr5pn4pytuio/27.%20...%20And%20the%20Way%20of%20Peace%20%28Puer%20Aeterna%20Redemption%20Theme%29.mp3?dl=0
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27. … And the Way of Peace (Puer Aeterna Redemption Theme).mp3
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AM Minaplo:
The truth is… Asaka sat on the dockside, watching the planes fly overhead. Without thinking about it, he raised a hand as though he were to pluck one out of the sky. He grinned. "Amazing! They look amazing! Don't they, mama?" Mama sat next to him, her legs dangling off the side, her feet bare, catching the fresh, clean sea breeze. "They do. Careful, Taro!" She said, reaching out as Asaka raised his other hand. "You look like you're about to take off with them!" "Maybe I can." Said Taro , shifting over to rest against his mother's shoulder. "No, I will! I'll become big, and I'll fly! I'll fly all over the world, and see all the seas and all the countries!" "Oho, really? And what happens when you see everything?" Said mama. "Then I'll see it all again, but it'll look different because I'll be older." Said Taro, nodding. "And my plane will be bigger, and you can come with me." "You'll still need me then?" Said mama, laughing. She looked out at sea, her eyes staring off in an unfocusedly focused way, seeing a thing that wasn't there. "Yeah!" If you can't beat em, join 'em… Never worked for me.

AM Minaplo:
"How could you have kept this from me?" Shouted Asaka. "All my life I thought-" "I thought you'd be happy, Taro." "How could you think this'd make me happy? That you loved him? That you betrayed my father?" He roared. In his frustration he threw a lamp; it broke into three easy pieces. There was no rhyme or reason to his actions. He simply vandalised anything he thought was breakable. To take his anger and make it real. "My time with him was the happiest in my life. And you come from that. Taro, you were born out of love, and isn't that good news…?" His anger cracked, gave way to confusion- and for a moment he let himself feel the immense grief he had been holding back, his unresolved loss that stemmed from being rejected by the world around him. In this moment, he felt something different. A sudden, shocking realisation that he had been wanted. It was terrifying. All it did was made me the thing I hated. And it made more people like me… And I didn't even enjoy it. "You look like a child." She said, peering up over her ferns. The greenhouse was hot and humid, and the plants loved it. "What? What's that supposed to mean?" Said Taro, his face growing hot. "Relax. Your childlikeness is the best part of you, I think." Said Mayu. "You aren't so… Wrapped up in things when you look like this. You look like you're a little awestruck, and a little unsure, but not afraid. So unlike you now." The words burned. He wasn't a child. And she didn't like who he was as an adult? "That's… Not fair." "I want to see more of your childlike self. I feel happiest with that Taro." "Why can't you be happy with me as I am?" Not even I was happy with who I was. How could I ask her to be happy with me?
AM Minaplo:
—-

AM Minaplo:
Asaka stood in his general form, slumped on the ground, his face drained of colour. His pale yellow eyes were languid, and his frame was drained. The orrery had… Been tamed, perhaps. Or calmed. The staircases now moved in slow, rhythmic order, as did the planets. They stood at the very bottom, on a field of green, pleasant grass. In front of Asaka was a collection of clothes- the garments of a little samurai. Standing on them was a child, a young boy, Japanese and American both. "I could never be what they wanted me to be. I didn't know how. And one by one I turned them away." Said Asaka. "You're almost right." Said Taro. "But what if things had been different?" "What do you mean?" "I existed. A good, innocent part of you. If things had turned out differently, you'd be a different person. A better person." Said Taro. "I suppose. But they didn't. I became this…" He said, his mouth twisting with bitterness. "But the fact that there could've been a different you at all means there's still hope." Said Taro. "To become that better person. The seed is still there. It's just waiting to be housed, and grown. And we have a lot of growing to do."
AM Minaplo:
"… I have done terrible things." Said Asaka. "And we'll have to make atonement for those things." Said Taro. "I could die before I do." Said Asaka. "Then we'll work it off in the next life." Taro shrugged. "You can't not die. Let's spend our time making things better. Including ourselves." "… You are sure?" "I'm always sure." Taro grinned. You are me. And I am you. Asaka bowed his head and began to cry. Taro took his hand. A moment later, a few other shapes took his hand. A kindly old lady. A pretty woman in a green dress, her hands a little dirty. And a very tired woman, smiling, putting her arms around Taro Asaka's shoulders. The Shadow looked up at the group. But his eyes were burned out now, that yellow light gone. There was something of the real Asaka in there, a waking part of his mind. "You're the students who… Wanted to stop my crimes."

AM Ai:
Ai bowed her head, looking down to him. "…And more good besides. What matters is that we eventually realized that to stop you… We had to save you. Without Kurata, we wouldn't have known how." She said plainly. "Without any of the others, we wouldn't have lived long enough to make it happen. Justice is about mercy and what's right, no matter what." A smile, then looking to the others. …And insistently craning her head once.

AM Dinah:
There was something unreadable on Dinah's face as she observed the whole thing - several unreadables, really - with a general sense of anxiety about her even as things seemed peaceful. Taking a few steps down in a cautious manner, she lifted her visor up, exhaling a puff of smoke as she did. Staring at him with a sharp gaze, she sniffed and spoke simply. "With any luck, we just did."

AM Sachiko:
When Ai looked around there would be the only briefest glimpse of Sachiko before she abseiled off the side of the staircase supported by a knot of Faust's branches. She gave Asaka a hard look and a brief nod and then disappeared from view.

AM Minaplo:
Sachiko would find her goal- Roy- very quickly, lying a little far away. He looked very still… But as Sachiko got close she'd see him start to stir.

AM Hideki:
"So what'll you do now?" Hideki's voice wasn't warm, exactly; nor was it particularly harsh. It was light, a little wearied.

AM Minaplo:
"There's a lot of people I need to speak to. Who I should've spoken to earlier." Said Asaka. He got to his feet slowly. "And after that… Who knows. There are amends to be made."

AM Ai:
…While that was happening, Ai's eyes did drift a bit higher, as she finally put her glasses back on. Hmm…

AM Sachiko:
Sachiko crouched over him and it seemed like she wanted to do move or help him, only to quickly realize she had no idea what she was supposed to do with a cat that'd fallen ten stories. So she just let him recover in his own time, speaking quietly to let him know that the job'd been done.

AM Minaplo:
Adrien stood at the back of the group, his arms folded. He was silent. "Thank you. All of you. I know the rest of my life is going to be difficult, but… Today I've found something. Something I thought lost." Said Taro Asaka. "From now on… I'm going to try and be better. I wasn't deserving of this. You would have been justified in destroying me. And yet…" "I'll do my best to live up to your expectations." Said Asaka. He gave them all a deep, formal bow. Then, in a whisp of blue smoke, he vanished. In his wake was left a small, glowing ball. It looked like a glass ball, but one full of glowing purple light and blue fog. It shone as it hit the grass and sat there, waiting patiently. Adrien immediately began walking towards it.

AM Dinah:
"Hideki." As soon as the glass ball showed up, Dinah spoke the word from the very bottom of her throat, an authority in it that she rarely used, if just for the effectiveness that it had. "Grab Adrien." It wasn't a request. And the sharpness in her tone could have cut the young man as he advanced toward the ball.
Already, she had tensed her whole body and sprung into action, rushing for the ball that had appeared. This was it. She was ready for this. As fast as she could, she was scrambling for it, ready to scoop it up and keep going if she had to. "Don't let him get the ball!"

AM Sachiko:
The tone in Dinah's voice was enough to make Sachiko snap around too, her Persona manifesting on instinct. She was crouched by Roy and in no position to intercept, but she was on her feet and moving.

AM Ai:
Ai wasn't hesitating either, and drew her bow. …Without words before it, one arrow sailed down to strike the ground in front of Adrien. "…There he is. I knew something's really wrong with how he awakened…!"

AM Hideki:
Hideki stepped between Dinah and Adrien, eyes focused on the latter. He barely avoided Ai's arrow, but didn't flinch too hard at it. Somehow, it seemed like he had survived a lot worse that day. "Easy," he said quietly. "We just finished one fight, let's not gear up to start another one. Delacour, let's you and me step away for a minute, huh?"

AM Minaplo:
Adrien was stopped in his tracks, leaping away from the arrow. It allowed Dinah to easily scoop up the ball. "You idiots." He snapped. "What do you think you're doing?" He turned towards Hideki. "Step away for a minute? Who do you think you're talking to?" He turned toward Ai. "There's nothing wrong with how I awakened. If it weren't for me you could've died today. We needed my power. I have no idea where any of this is coming from." He turned back toward Dinah. "You… I'm only going to ask this once. Hand the Egg over to me, Dinah. There's no need to fight."
AM Minaplo:
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AM Sachiko:
"Seems to me there might be," Sachiko said softly. She stayed rooted where she was, and from within Faust's branches a hundred golden eyes watched Adrien. "We - I know you've saved us, but I don't think we can just give you this without knowing what's going on. So talk. We'll listen."

AM Ai:
…To accentuate the gesture, Ai paced around… but lowered her bow.

AM Dinah:
Dinah grabbed the ball - the Egg - and kept going, only too happy to put some distance between herself and Adrien. Only when she was far enough away did she wheel around, clutching the Egg to her form and staring straight at Adrien, the look in her eyes very much like a Tiger ready to pounce on a meal, only softening somewhat as Sachiko spoke. "You called it an Egg. So you know what this is, don't you? That's enough for me to say you're not getting it. Not unless you have a damn good reason and you start spilling right now."

AM Minaplo:
Adrien was still, except for his right hand, which closed, opened and closed again. "It's called a Possibility Egg." Said Adrien. "Archetype Shadows can draw on large amounts of miasma. That's how they manifest powers, physical forms… More impressive theatres. The more powerful they become, the more miasma they can command. Miasma is the stuff of imagination, after all." "But when the Shadow dissolves, that miasma is conserved." Said Adrien. "It's too concentrated to dissipate, so it collapses into that- a Possibility Egg. Sheer concentrated miasma, in an inert form. Immense power, easily shaped, almost no risk."

AM Sachiko:
"Makes sense, I guess. You find that in the Library?" she asked, voice still calm and neutral. "Or was that something you knew from the start?"

AM Ai:
"…Why do you know this…?" Ai asked, concerned. "And what do you intend to use it for, that somehow us having it prevents?"

AM Hideki:
Hideki stayed silent for now.

AM Minaplo:
"I found it in the library. In some of the diary entries, specifically. The ones you haven't seen yet." Said Adrien. "And for what I intend to use it for…? That's the question. Like I said, almost no risk. It's still compressed potential, desperate to be shaped by our wills. Possibility Eggs can do amazing things." His mask was still on, obscuring his entire face. "Heal any injury, rewrite memories, reshape parts of reality… They might even be able to bring the dead back to life." "And that's why it's too dangerous to let any of you handle it. They whisper to you, the Eggs." Said Adrien. "You can see it whispering on Dinah now. It knows she likes to take the quickest, most direct solution. It's trying to tempt her. And we do not want to let that happen."

AM Sachiko:
"That so?" she asked, giving Dinah a glance without taking Adrien out of her field of vision.

AM Ai:
Ai's brow was furrowed, the hand not holding the arc of her bow trembling, fingers moving in and out of clench randomly. …Her eyes were darting around everyone present.

AM Dinah:
"You're full'a shit!" The venom in her voice was apparent, as much as the snarl of her mouth once she spat the words out. Her gaze hardened and her stance shifted slightly, anticipating an attack or a charge from him, preparing to do something about it in the chance that he even moved an inch. "It's not whispering to me. You're not gonna stand there and fuckin' lie to get it from me."

AM Ai:
Ai murmured, just loudly enough to hear. "…The egg doesn't feel anything about anyone, Adrien."

AM Sachiko:
Sachiko scuffed her feet. "I think maybe people aside from you knew more than they let on, Adrien. But… Dinah being scared of you getting your hands on that thing? That kinda makes me scared too."

AM Hideki:
"Then give it to a neutral party," Hideki spoke up. "We'll head to that Krishna guy at the Black Market. Together. Right now, before we go back to the dorm. That way it's out of everyone's hands."

AM Minaplo:
"Give a Shadow a Possibility Egg? I'd rather kill everyone here. That'd be much safer." Adrien looked down at his right hand. He opened it, and closed it, then opened it again.-
AM Minaplo:
"I see, though. I did my best. Hideki, you know I did. You know what I've been through, trying to make things work with these people. To have them turn and beat me down at every opportunity." Said Adrien, his voice calm and cool. "I gave chance after chance, to no avail. I have had enough." He closed his fist. "I will not contest the Egg. Keep it safe, if you can." He turned around and began to walk away. "I have no intention of working with any of you anymore. I will find my own path through the Sea of Chaos, and perhaps you can do the same without a Wild Card to lead the way."

AM Ai:
"…I did everything I could to help you, even if I don't know what you told him." Ai suddenly said, even as a part of her seemed to eye Sachiko. "I was rude, to get you to try to be polite. I'm sorry for that…." Her lips pursed, nervously. "We have every intent of using it safely. I promise with my heart that whatever that thing can hurt in being released… We'll find the third option that's safe." "…Just. …Please. Don't do anything bad while you're out there, if you can't stay." Pleading.

AM Sachiko:
"Sorry you feel that way," was all Sachiko said, and there was a gentleness to the statement that hadn't been there before.

AM Hideki:
"Jesus, man. Don't go. Not over this!" Hideki started to follow. "If you've been studying this so much, then tell us what the other groups did to dispose of their Eggs. We'll just do the same. We can reach an agreement."

AM Dinah:
Dinah's expression was still hard as Adrien spoke, seeming like he gave up the fight completely. While it should have made her feel a bit better, it did little of the sort, considering everything else going on. Still, she straightened, a sour look on her face. "Adrien." Her voice wasn't gentle but it wasn't hard either. The anger wasn't there, just a determination and a resolve that resonated audibly. "I don't like you. I don't trust you. But you've been part of the team. You've had our backs. Mostly. We've tried to have yours. Some of us more than the others. I don't know what this fuckin' thing is. But I don't like the way you look at it. You don't have to leave over this but you can't have it. Something like this, probably none of us should have it. I don't fuckin' want it. So we need to figure out what to do with it. If any of us have an idea on that, it's probably you."

AM Minaplo:
Adrien paused. But he didn't turn back. "Do you know, Dinah, how terrible the last few weeks have been?" He said, his voice quiet. "You wouldn't really understand my situation. I'm sure Hideki can fill you in on a lot. But I knew of you awhile ago, in younger years, although you never knew me. You've never been popular, but you've had your admirers. And I was one of them. In fact, I'd daresay I had something of a crush on you once." He turned slightly, so they could see the left side of his Guy Fawkes mask. "You own your actions. No matter how bold or how rash or how much people hate you for them, you own them unapologetically. And I…" For the first time since his transformation, his voice became softer, less certain. "I wanted that. As someone who was raised to abandon his identity, his actions, his responsibility… I wanted that so much. I wanted to be you more than anything." "But… It hurts to be near you people right now. And it hurts to be near you the most." Said Adrien. "Because I've spent the last five weeks assuming that fighting as comrades, going for the same goals, would at least let us form some sort of connection. Instead…" He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I have a lot of things to do to myself. I'd be ashamed if I showed less self-insight than Asaka." He turned and started to walk away. "Roy is alive. He knows about these things. He'll understand the basics, he probably knows things that weren't written down."-
AM Minaplo:
He paused again. "But understand this: Roy's team? The Fiends with 22 Faces? They fucked up. Whatever it is, it didn't work and that's why we're Evokers. Because they dropped the ball and something absolutely terrible happened, and it wasn't a Shadow that did it."-

AM Sachiko:
Sachiko looked distinctly uncomfortable at that.

AM Minaplo:
"I can't do what I need to if I'm spending all of my time wrestling with his influence. I don't mean any of you any ill well. Especially you, Hideki." Adrien's voice grew soft. "You were the closest thing I've ever had to a friend." Adrien turned, and his Tome flared to life. V burst into existence above him. A moment later, Adrien's clothes collapsed to the ground, hollow. He was gone.
AM Minaplo:
Yet despite the parting, it felt…
AM Minaplo:
A little bit like we knew more about who Adrien was.

AM Sachiko:
Sachiko sagged all at once, Faust vanishing in the process. She covered her head with her hands. "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck."

AM Ai:
"…To think, I even asked him about it when Adrien did that… He just sorta. …" Ai paused. "Something like 'agablagwa'. Poor old cat that won't tell us his darkest failure."
AM Ai:
…A moment of silence. "…" She shook her head. "We tried as hard as we could. L… let's go home…"

AM Dinah:
The reality was that Adrien wasn't wrong about Dinah. She fought, she took names, she did what she wanted and she did it all without shame, without hesitance, without a problem. Hearing it said to her barely made her flinch, nor did she when he turned about and gave his farewell. She'd drawn her line in the sand, so to speak and he'd drawn his. That changed little about her demeanor, holding the Egg not exactly protectively, but simply without a reason to put it down. He wasn't here to get it anymore, no, but that didn't change much. She still didn't know what to do with it, after all.

AM Minaplo:
"Where is home?" Asked Okuninushi. "To be honest, I had expected… Something to happen to me." He said. "I feel weaker, but I feel… Extant. I'm not sure what to do."

AM Ai:
"…I'm a little surprised myself."

AM Hideki:
Hideki didn't reply immediately, and when he did his voice was wound tight. He didn't face any of them. "Are you okay with the lounge again? Just for another night?"

AM Sachiko:
"We can take you to the market after that," Sachiko said. "At least I -think- we can."

AM Minaplo:
"I think so, if the Lounge holds. It should for awhile." He bowed. "Thank you for everything."

AM Ai:
"…Again. We tried."

AM Sachiko:
"And thank you." Even as drained and haggard as she sounded, she seemed to mean it.

AM Minaplo:
Okuninushi bowed to Sachiko. "I acted only in accordance with my nature." Then he put a hand on Ai's shoulder. "A man's soul was saved tonight because of your actions. Because of everything all of you did. I understand that your friend's departure is a solemn occasion, but… There is always joy in healing, my friend. To find joy in taking something broken and making it more whole, even a little… That's what it means to be a good human being."

AM Ai:
…Ai actually choked a bit on her own breath. …Sniffled. "…Thank you. …I. I forgot about that with how scary everything got." Sniff, sniff. Ai made a rather strange, scrunched expression at him, though she did smile. "…Let's get you to the lodge and go to the dorm. Q-quickly."

AM Minaplo:
We were quiet as we returned to the dorm. On leaving, we noticed how tired and hungry we were, just how punishing Asaka's Archetype had been. We had to carry Roy with us, but some of us might've gotten food on the way home. Nothing fancy. When we arrived home, we found Ji-hu waiting for us. She looked cheerful and happy, she said that Adrien had already been home and told them what had happened, and that he'd then gone to the library and was still up there. As it turns out, he was gone. And so were a bunch of books, notes and records. Amongst them were Ji-hu's notes on how to make new Evokers.
AM Minaplo:
That wasn't good. But Ji-hu's reaction should've tipped us off that something else was wrong, too. As it was, it wasn't until the morning after that the shoe dropped. It was on the morning news. "Police Investigating Claims of Ideological Group Causing Death Threats in Katashiba". "Calling themselves the Monster with 21 Faces, the group sent a threat to Mr. Taro Asaka, a teacher at Sophia Academy…" "Authorities will be investigating individuals in regards to this threat…" People hadn't forgotten, like we'd been told they would. They'd forgotten some things, like Ji-hu's video, but others they remembered, and Adrien's declaration was one of them. From that day on, the media and the authorities were keeping an eye on Sophia Academy. Our year at school- and our infant careers as Evokers- became that much more dangerous.

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