Hearts and Minds

by The card holder


When the Thieves returned to Equestria the next day, Twilight and Dash were once again waiting for them. The former said that she had managed to find some answers about Yearling's palace, but said that she wanted to wait until they were inside the palace itself to discuss them, just to make sure no one would listen in on them.

Once they made their way back to the safe room, she finally spoke up, spreading out her map of Equestria. "Alright, I wasn't able to dig too deeply without having access to Canterlot's libraries, but I still found some interesting things."

She pointed to the circled southern region of the map. "From what I could gather, South Equestria has actually stopped selling the Daring Do books."

"Really?" Indy asked. "Why?"

"I didn't have time to figure that much out, but judging by the fact that a number of her books took place there, I'd bet that her faked adventures left behind some real damages for the population."

"Wonder if the announcement she has planned has anything to do with it," Skull thought out loud.

"It's very much possible," Queen agreed. "What about that name, Magician? Did you find anything there?"

She nodded. "Again, I couldn't find much, but what I did find was... concerning." She levitated a parchment full of notes on top of the map. "According to some population records, there was a pony by the name of Autumn Wisp who lived in Trottingham over ten years ago."

Noir's mood saddened a bit. "'Was'?"

Magician hesitated slightly. "She had passed away from illness. She was still relatively young, too."

"But... how does that connect with Yearling?" Oracle asked.

Something seemed to occur to Panther. "Wait a second, where is Yearling from, exactly?"

Everyone looked to Indy, who shrugged. "Her books don't say anything about where she's actually from, and I've never really thought to ask."

"Actually, that's something else I found out," Magician spoke up. "Out of curiosity, I looked for other records of the time, and..."

With that, she pointed to a specific part of the parchment, which displayed a particular name.

"...I found a record of a certain other pony that lived in Trottingham at the time. One by the name of Yearling."

The group shared concerned looks with one another. "So, were Yearling and Wisp friends?" Noir asked.

"I couldn't say," Magician said. "Still, the fact that her name showed up in the palace at all suggests that the two had some sort of relationship."

"Plus, how does this fit with her books?" Indy brought up. "The first Daring Do book came out... how long ago?"

"About seven years ago, now," Magician answered. "So, from what I can gather, Yearling and Autumn Wisp had some sort of relationship: good or bad. Then, Wisp got sick enough that she passed away, and a few years later Yearling started publishing her books. Presumably, in the mean time, she also started this business with faking adventures and selling fake artifacts on the black market."

"Still a lot of holes in the story," Mona observed. "But that's still a lot more than we had. Thank for the help, Magician."

"Well, what're we standin' around for?" Skull asked, stretching his arm. "Let's bust this place down!"

Joker nodded in agreement, and led the group out of the safe room.

Unlike last time, the halls were much more sparsely populated with shadows. The group only had to fight a couple times on their way to the ground floor, which went by with no issue.

The lack of security also made their trip much faster, and it wasn't long at all before they reached an intimidating metal door, with a keypad set into the wall next to it.

"Looks like we were right about the name being a password," Fox remarked.

Joker took out the piece of paper with Autumn Wisp's name on it, only for Oracle to snatch it from his hand. "Keep me covered, 'kay? This won't take long."

While she started typing on the keypad, Queen started thinking out loud. "What could it mean if the password to the deeper part of the palace is another pony's name...?"

"They had to be friends or somethin'," Skull offered. "Or Yearling liked her, at least."

Indy just stayed silent.

"What about you, Joker?" Skull kept talking. "You got any ideas about this?"

"I don't know."

"Yeah, we still have barely anything to go off of..."

At that moment, Oracle stood back as the keypad lit up. "It's done!"

Immediately after she said that, the door started to slide open, the gears behind it causing quite the racket. Thankfully, it didn't seem to attract the attention of any nearby shadows.

"Alright, the map doesn't show what's past this door, so we're blind again from here on," Oracle warned. "Keep your guard up."

"Apologies, but that area is off limits."

Everyone whirled around to face the new voice, which belonged to a stallion standing in the middle of the hall behind them. Magician noticed that he didn't look at all like a shadow, although there was still a bit of black mist flowing around his hooves.

Indy gasped. "Cabelleron?! What the hay are you doing in here?"

"That's not the real one!" Mona warned. "It's Yearling's cognition of him!"

Cabelleron ignored the cat. "I should be asking that of you lot. After all, are you not trespassing?"

Magician subtly leaned over to Queen. "Nothing bad will happen if a cognition dies, right?"

"Not at all," she answered, keeping an iron grip on her brass knuckles.

Both sides waited for the other to act first, but an uncomfortably long time passed with no action being taken. Eventually, Cabelleron sighed and took a step back.

"Well, clearly, if you've made it this far, you would no doubt make short work of me." He looked around. "I'm sure Yearling's time is up, but that doesn't mean I have to go down with her."

The Thieves looked at each other, confused. "You're just letting us go?" Panther asked.

"I won't try to stop you, if that's what you're asking."

While the others debated what exactly to do, Indy stepped forward, muttering to herself. "If he's Yearling's cognition, then..."

Once she was at the front of the group, she spoke up. "What business did you and Yearling have together?"

Cabelleron paused for a moment, before shrugging. "Well, I see no harm in telling you, since you'll probably find out yourself anyway." He started pacing along the hall. "After the first few Daring Do books were published, Yearling approached me and my men with an offer: work for her to stage a series of robberies, and help to sell fake artifacts on the black market, and we'd get a slice of the profits."

"That's... oddly straightforward," Skull commented.

Joker took this time to ask his own question.

"What did you two have planned for the convention?"

"Ah, I see you pieced that together as well," Cabelleron said. "It was a rather daring plan of her's, pardon the pun. South Equestria has banned the sale of her books, due to the damages of our previous 'adventures' there, so she was going to use the final day of the convention to announce her retirement. Once the news spread, she and I would travel down there ourselves, and I would frame her for yet another crime. She would then proceed to 'solve' another 'puzzle', and reveal to the locals that it was actually I who wronged them. With South Equestria once again fans of Daring Do, she would simultaneously announce her return to writing, no doubt resulting in a surge of book sales across the country." He smiled widely. "Everyone wins."

"Wait," Magician interrupted before anyone could say anything else. "You said you started helping her 'after the first few books'. Does that mean they weren't staged?"

Cabelleron chuckled. "I could not tell you. I know that there weren't any artifacts being sold on the market before she reached out to me, but beyond that I was never paid to ask about her first books."

"What about the name 'Autumn Wisp'?" Noir spoke up from the back. "Do you know anything about her?"

"Can't say I do." Cabelleron started to walk away. "However, I'm sure that Ahuizotl could tell you more. He has been working with Yearling longer than I."

Before any further questions could be raised, he made his escape, galloping down the hall.

"Odd, I'm not used to a cognition passing up a fight with us," Fox said.

Magician let out a thoughtful grunt. "I guess that means... Yearling's subconscious doesn't trust Cabelleron at all, and expects him to abandon her at the first sign of trouble?"

"That... actually sounds about right," Mona admitted. "You're getting the hang of thinking about palaces!"

"Oh, sure, she gets it right, she gets praised," Skull grumbled to himself.

"Well, she does seem to be catching on faster than we did at first," Panther told him.

"Still, we were right," Indy cut in. "Yearling's gonna use the convention to trick everypony."

"Good thing we're stopping her before it ends, then," Oracle gloated. "Now come on, let's press our advantage."

Joker nodded, and led the team through the door, into the depths of the palace.

Kawakami wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead before recasting her line. The fishing ponds were unusually empty, given how nice the weather was, so she was dead set on enjoying the peace that summer break gave her.

At least she didn't have to worry about being a maid, anymore.

She felt a tug on the line, so she immediately pulled the rod back while reeling it in. Unfortunately, she seemed to have jumped the gun, as the hook came out of the water with nothing but bait on it.

Sighing to herself, she reeled the line the rest of the way in before casting again.

"Excuse me, are you Ms. Kawakami?"

Kawakami jumped slightly, causing her to cast too short to even get in the water. Reeling it back in on reflex, she simultaneously turned to see who was talking to her. "Yes?"

It was a short, blue-haired woman holding a notepad. She didn't look to be that much younger than herself, actually. "I'm sorry for breaking your concentration."

"Oh, no, it's fine," Kawakami said. "I just do this to pass the time, anyway." After performing a proper cast, she turned back to her visitor, gesturing to an upturned crate next to her. "Go ahead, take a seat."

The woman nodded and did so, keeping her notepad front and center. "I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to ask you a few questions about last year."

Kawakami visibly slumped. "This again...? Didn't the police question us enough yet?"

Seeing her accusatory glare, the woman waved a hand in front of her. "No, no, I'm not with the police. Call this... an independent investigation."

"Right. In that case, there's not much I could tell you that hasn't already been publicized."

"That may be true, but I would still like to cover all my bases."

Kawakami thought it over. Of course, she knew about Akira and his business of being a Phantom Thief, but there was no reason to suspect her of any sort of collusion, she thought. "Alright, then. Where do you want me to start?"

"I suppose I'll just jump straight into it," the woman said, flipping to a particular piece of paper. "Suguru Kamoshida." Kawakami immediately winced upon hearing the name, but she didn't interrupt. "It is true that you had absolutely no knowledge of his crimes before his confession, correct?"

"Of course not. If I had known, I would've said something beforehand." She fidgeted slightly. "I mean, I heard the rumors, same as anyone else, but there was never any proof. All the students he abused refused to talk to each other about it, let alone to a teacher."

The woman wrote down a few things, before looking back up. "Isn't it also true that you had a student transfer into your class at the last minute? One who reportedly had a criminal record, which Kamoshida spread rumors about?"

Kawakami let out a small gasp, but managed to hide it by also pulling back on her rod. She didn't expect her to switch topics to Akira so quickly...

As she went about recasting her line, she came up with an answer. "You mean Kurusu? Yeah, he was a last-second transfer. My class happened to be the only one with an empty spot."

The woman wrote down more notes, before asking more questions. "Ms. Kawakami- May I call you Sadayo?"


"Sadayo, how would you say Mr. Kurusu was, as a student?"

"He was..." Kawakami struggled to find words that wouldn't give away her relationship with him. "...interesting. Even though the whole school constantly talked behind his back, he managed to keep a strong focus on his studies. All his exam scores were quite good, even though I caught him spacing out in the middle of class several times."

"How about... socially?" the woman asked, not even pausing to write stuff down. "Did you notice anything strange, there?"

Kawakami could feel herself starting to sweat slightly. Hopefully she could pass it off as the heat. "You mean outside of school?"

"We can go with that, yes."

"Well, I very rarely saw him out of class," Kawakami lied through her teeth. "There was one time I happened to see him here at the fishing pond, but that was it."

"Was he with anyone?"

"Uh... yeah, he was with another second year. One of the few students who actually bothered to make friends with him, somehow."

"Would you mind if I asked who that student was?"

Kawakami hesitated. "Ryuji Sakamoto. At first, I thought he was just a delinquent who saw an ally in the transfer with a record, but the two of them seemed to get along rather well. In fact, after the Kamoshida incident, I don't think I ever saw either of them get into any trouble at school."

The woman wrote down more things, flipped to another page, and continued writing. After muttering to herself a bit, she looked back up with more questions. "So what did you make of Mr. Kurusu personally? Not as a student."

"He was certainly the quiet type. I almost never heard him talk unless someone else spoke to him first."

"Would you say he was the... 'spontaneous' type?"

Kawakami thought back to the first time he met her as a maid. "I guess you could say that. From what little I overheard, he managed to form a small circle of friends that always had something planned."

For the first time since they met, the woman let herself chuckle. "Sounds like he was quite the hard student."

Kawakami couldn't entirely stop the blush from rising to her face. "Y- Yeah..."

Thankfully, the woman didn't seem to notice. "Did he ever miss a day of school?"

"Not a single one." She took a couple deep breaths to calm herself. Of course she didn't mean anything by it, she just needed to get her mind out of the gutter.

"Alright, I suppose it's good that he was always coming..."

Kawakami almost dropped her fishing rod entirely as she quietly choked on the breath she was taking. "W- What?"

The woman gave her a confused look. "I just said it's good that he always went to school. Are you feeling alright, Sadayo?"

"O- oh, yeah," Kawakami said, making a show of fanning herself with a hand. "It's just... the heat! Yeah, it's really hot today. Don't worry, I'll be fine."

"If you say so..." Flipping to another page, the woman proceeded as if nothing had happened. "What about all that business with the Phantom Thieves? What did you think of them?"

There was the topic she was waiting for. "I'm still not entirely sure. I mean, sure they only targeted bad people, but I still have no idea how they did it, even up to getting Shido. It all sounded more than a bit shady, to me."

"What do you make of the fact that their first target was Kamoshida?"

Kawakami shrugged. "I can't say he didn't deserve... whatever they did to him."

"Do you think that the Thieves had some sort of connection to Shujin Academy?"

She thought over her answer very carefully. "I suppose, but I have no idea what it would be. Shujin is a big school, and they could've found out about Kamoshida from any number of sources, no doubt."

Although she barely moved, Kawakami just barely noticed a new intensity in the woman's eyes. "Do you believe it's possible that the Phantom Thieves were, in fact, Shujin students themselves?"

Seeing no easy way to answer, Kawakami instead went on the offensive. "Do you think one of my students could've done all that?"

"There is a possibility," the woman admitted. "That's what I'm actually trying to find out."

Kawakami's mind went into overdrive. This woman clearly had the idea that, somehow, Akira was connected to the Phantom Thieves, and that she knew something about it. She knew that he turned himself in last Christmas as their leader, but she also knew that he was immediately released once his original assault charge was dropped, since there wasn't actually any evidence of him being connected to the Phantom Thieves. Whether or not this woman knew that, Kawakami knew she'd have to find a way out of this conversation, soon...

"So far, all I've been able to find out is that after Mr. Kurusu came, there was quite the mess."

Kawakami jumped hard enough to drop her rod into the pond and started blushing furiously. To save face, she also started coughing a lot while standing up.

The woman stood up with her. "Are you okay?!"

"Y- yeah," Kawakami said, spotting her exit. "I... I think the heat's getting to me more than I thought. I'm... going to go home now. Sorry I couldn't give some more answers."

The woman seemed reluctant to stop her questioning, but nodded. "That's alright, you've still been a big help."

She turned to leave, but Kawakami stopped her by calling out. "H- Hey, I never got your name."

"Oh, my apologies." The woman pocketed the notebook. "I'm Naoto Shirogane."

The deepest part of the palace was almost uncomfortably empty, save for the occasional shadow patrolling about. Magician couldn't help but notice that the shadows here started to shift away from manticores and cockatrices, although she couldn't quite remember the name of some of the creatures off the top of her head.

The shadows also seemed to be a bit tougher than the ones in the building above, but the team was still able to overcome them with little issue.

What was more interesting, however, was the scenery.

The area under the base consisted of several hangers, filled with various military vehicles and equipment. Curiously, Magician and Indy both recognized Daring Do book titles on many of them.

While they didn't find a map for this part of the base, the path was quite easy to follow even without one, and Oracle was actively making one as they traveled, just in case.

"We didn't go this far underground, did we?" Indy asked, looking up at the distant ceiling. "Cause I'm pretty sure we should've seen this from outside."

"Palaces don't always follow logical sense," Mona explained. "So long as it doesn't impede us, it shouldn't be a problem."

Suddenly, something in Oracle's goggles beeped. "Oh! I'm starting to pick up the treasure! It's up ahead!"

"Huh, that was easy," Skull said. "Probably something else in the way, though."

"Not like we can't take whatever gets thrown at us!" Indy boasted, doing a loop in the air.

Fox let out an amused huff. "You sure are prideful for a new recruit."

"Lighten up, Fox, she's been doing great," Panther said.

Suddenly, Joker snapped his head to the side.

"Get back!"

He jumped backwards at the same time, the others following, despite their confusion. As soon as they were on steady footing again, a pair of arrows whizzed through the air where they were standing, before loudly implanting themselves in the opposite wall.

"Oh, good, you didn't fall for that."

The group whirled to the source of the voice, and saw a very strange creature, even by Equestrian standards, who was walking towards them while discarding a double-stacked crossbow. Indy recognized them immediately, and narrowed her eyes. "Ahuizotl!"

"Pleasure to meet you again, Miss Dash," Ahuizotl said, nodding his head slightly. "Shame it wasn't under better terms."

"So why are you working with Yearling?" Queen challenged. "Money, same as Cabelleron?"

Ahuizotl scoffed. "I'm not quite as simple as that turncoat. The money is certainly nice, yes, but the truth is, I owe Miss Yearling quite a lot, actually."

Magician tilted her head. "You do?"

"Of course. After all, she helped me realize my true passion."

"And that is...?" Magician continued pressing.

Ahuizotl stuck a paw out. "Acting!"

"Oh great, another artist type," Skull commented. "Fox, this is your part."

"While acting is an art, you can't just expect me to be knowledgeable in all arts, you know."

Ahuizotl ignored the banter as he continued. "I've been an actor in stage plays for years, but for my whole career, I only got cast for one thing." He snarled slightly. "Beasts. Never mind the fact that I could act better than half the ponies in the cast, never mind all of the heart I put into my work, I always got stuck with the part of big, dumb beasts! Over my entire professional career, I only said about ten lines on stage!"

He suddenly chuckled. "But that's where Ms. Do saved me from insanity. I had known her and her friend for a good while, since my acting troupe was in Trottingham, too. When Yearling approached me with that deal of hers, I jumped at the chance. I may still play a villain, but now I had character! Charm! Proper dialogue and motivations!"

"Wait, her friend?" Mona said, stepping forward. "Are you talking about Autumn Wisp?"

Ahuizotl frowned. "I see you've done a bit of research. And I suppose I've been talking a bit too long. Apologies, I do get carried away sometimes."

The swirling black mass at his paws intensified, as his eyes glowed a familiar yellow. "Now, be a good bunch of thieves and sit there while I kill you."

Joker simply assumed a combat stance, the others doing the same behind him.

Skull was the first to act, rushing up to smack Ahuizotl in the face with his club. The attack was easily read, however, and it took little effort for his tail to smack Skull aside.


Mona followed up Skull's failed offensive by sending a gust of wind, which didn't seem to have much effect on Ahuizotl.

"Surely that's not all you can do," he taunted, before pouncing towards Panther. She was able to barely evade the attack, but was still knocked off balance by the impact.

Noir tried to cover her by swinging her axe at the creature, but it was caught mid-swing by the hand on his tail, and both the axe and herself were sent flying across the room.

"Keep your distance!" Oracle called out to everyone. "He's just gonna keep countering you guys!"

Joker kept hopping backwards in an attempt to stay away, but Ahuizotl was slightly faster, and managed to get a solid hit on him, knocking him away.

Before Ahuizotl could capitalize on this, however, there were a pair of loud cracks as two bullets slammed into his body, making him roar in pain.

Some distance away, Fox stood up from his shooting position as he put away his rifle, simultaneously reaching for his mask. "Persona!"

Goemon emerged, and swung its blade, sending a wave of ice towards Ahuizotl. He was unable to evade it in time, and he roared again as the chill cut into him.

He didn't take the attacks lying down, however, and he quickly sprung away, going after Magician, who had been keeping as far away from the fight as possible.

Panicking, she yelped and put up a shield for herself just as Ahuizotl crashed into it. While it held, it put a rather large strain on her magic, and she had a feeling it wouldn't hold to repeated strikes.

Thankfully, she didn't have to find out. "Charge, Johanna!"

Ahuizotl was struck in the back with a ball of blue-green energy, which exploded violently. Magician used the opportunity to drop her shield and fly away, as Ahuizotl was left blinded and angry.

In his rage, he started swinging all of his limbs in all directions, managing to land a direct hit on Skull, who was trying to fit in a sneak attack.

As Mona used his persona to patch him up, Skull got back to his feet, groaning. "Man, eff this guy."

"Michael! Ravage them!"

From the other side of the room, Joker sent a massive fireball flying from his persona, which Ahuizotl managed to avoid. He wasn't quick enough to avoid the follow up shot from Noir's grenade launcher, however, clouding him in an explosion.

When the smoke cleared, Ahuizotl was still standing, and he looked absolutely furious. His paws started sparking with electricity, and he swung his tail around, sending bolts of lightning towards everyone in the room.

While Skull, Indy, and Joker managed to shrug the attack off with little issue, the others were hit a bit harder. Mona in particular was devastated by the attack, falling to the floor from pain.

Ahuizotl used this opening to take a swing at Queen, who barely managed to dodge in time before jumping backwards.

Magician panted slightly, the lightning having hurt quite a bit, and simply watched as the fight proceeded without her. Even though this was far from her area of expertise, she still wished that she could be useful...

She jumped slightly as Panther landed next to her, having jumped back from the fight. She brought out her persona, but rather than immediately sending an attack, she seemed to be focusing energy into herself.

"Come on, sit still you piece of shit!"

Back in the fray, Skull was having a hard time keeping up with Ahuizotl's movements, and was missing every shotgun blast he made against the creature. When the distance between them was closed, Skull braced himself as Ahuizotl hit him with a wicked punch, sending him sliding back several feet, still standing.

While he was distracted, Indy used her persona to send a gust of wind at Ahuizotl, which didn't do much more than piss him off.

While turning to face her, Ahuizotl instead noticed Panther and Magician some distance away, as the former was still using her persona to charge. He growled as he sent a bolt of lighting at the both of them, before turning to deal with Indy.

Panther's eyes widened upon seeing the bolt coming towards her, unable to move in time lest she undo the concentration her persona was doing. Just before it hit, however, her vision was filled with a purple field, which completely deflected the bolt.

Twilight gasped as she put down the shield. That had taken even more out of her than the punch from earlier.

"Thanks, Magician!" Panther said, before turning her full attention to Ahuizotl.

From the other side of him, Joker caught sight of Panther's intense gaze, and instantly knew what she was planning. Hoping to aid her, he dodged another strike as he tore off his mask.


The skeleton played its tune, causing a noticeable sluggishness to overtake Ahuizotl's actions as his strength left him. By now, the rest of the team had picked up on what was happening, and started rapidly backing away from him.

By now, Panther had finished her preparation. "Burn!"

With that, her persona shot forth a geyser of flame, which impacted Ahuizotl with full force. His cries were drowned out by the sheer volume of the blaze, which lasted for a full two seconds before finally fading.

Once the attack was finished, the room was silent. Ahuizotl was much more burnt than before, but he didn't get up from his place on the floor.

Still wanting to take no chances, Joker took out his handgun as he strode up to the foe, holding the barrel just a few inches from his head.

"Who was Autumn Wisp?"

Ahuizotl started to chuckle weakly, before breaking into a coughing fit. "You're all much stronger than Yearling thought, I'll give you that. And as for your question..." He chuckled again. "You already know. She was a friend."

Joker didn't let up on his interrogation.

"How did she die?"

There was a pause, before Ahuizotl continued speaking. "It was a terrible case of the flu. Only one in a hundred ponies actually succumb to it when treated, but, well, she had some impressive luck."

He slowly sat himself up from his prone form, and Joker took a few steps back as a precaution.

Ahuizotl went on. "When Wisp passed, the whole town was heartbroken, but Yearling took it worst of all. She had grown up with the filly, so I can't say I'm surprised. I also think that her parting gift didn't help matters at all."

"Parting gift?" Fox echoed.

"It was a bundle of papers, part of a dream project that Wisp had been putting together. A draft of a few stories about a certain... Daring Do."

There were a number of gasps from the group, but Indy just stared, face wide with shock.

Noir spoke up. "You mean...?"

Ahuizotl nodded weakly. "That's right. Yearling didn't write the first Daring Do books; Autumn Wisp did."

The group shared some concerned looks, before their gazes fell to Fox, who suddenly went incredibly still.

"When she approached me with her offer of working together," Ahuizotl continued, "Yearling had already released the first few books in the series. She needed me because she didn't know what to do once she ran out of Wisp's drafts, so we decided to... Get creative. After our first 'story' together, she went to Cabelleron, to help with selling knockoff artifacts for added profit."

"So all of her fame," Magician said, "all of her success... was just based on her taking credit for her dead friend's work?"

"I always felt like the first books felt different from the ones after," Indy added, "but this...!"

Fox suddenly stepped forward, standing right beside Joker. "Does Yearling feel any regret about this?" he asked, his voice cold.

Ahuizotl grinned. "I would not know. You'd have to ask her yourself."

After a few tense moments of staring at one another, Fox turned around and started walking back to the others, but not before giving Joker a small nod.

Joker slowly returned the nod, and pulled the trigger.

Once Ahuizotl's body was dissolved, Indy tilted her head. "Uh, that's not gonna hurt him in real life is it?"

"Remember, it's just Yearling's cognition of him," Mona said. "It could affect Yearling herself, but this place isn't gonna be here long enough for that to matter. Let's find that treasure."

While everyone started heading down the hall again, Panther stopped beside Fox, who was still staring into the distance.

"Hey... you alright?"

Fox let out a sigh. "It would seem the death of an artist can always benefit someone."

Panther stepped closer to him. "It reminds you of Madarame, doesn't it?"

"I never thought I'd be reminded of what he did so soon." Suddenly, he looked back up. "Oh, I'm sorry. I don't mean to-"

"Fox- No, Yusuke. Listen," Panther said. "We're here for you. Don't forget that."

"...of course. Sorry to trouble you." He looked towards where the others went, only to find that at some point they had noticed their absence and were patiently waiting.

When they regrouped and continued their journey, Joker just gave Fox a small pat on the back, getting a nod in return. "I'm alright now. It was just... some bad memories."

The rest of the walk went in silence, until the group emerged into a massive hangar at the end of the hall. In the middle of the space was a glowing, shimmering ball.

Mona bounded at the front of the group, beaming. "There it is. Yearling's treasure."

"Alright, so..." Indy started flying around it, trying to see what exactly it was. "How do we get it out?"

"We can't get it out yet," Queen said. "First, we need to send Yearling a calling card."

"Oh, you mentioned that before," Magician said. "Does that mean we need to find her shadow?"

"Not her shadow," Noir said, "the real her."

Magician's eyes widened, before she immediately calmed down. "Oh, right, makes sense I guess, world of cognition..."

"We can start making plans once we head back," Skull said. "We still gotta figure out a way to get the card to her without her knowing it was you two."

"I think we can do that no problem," Panther said. "I got an idea."

"We should get out of here for now," Oracle said. "The shadows aren't too alert right now, but there's no telling how long they'll stay that way. On the bright side, I'm also picking up a safe room not too far away."

Joker nodded, and turned around.

"Let's go."

They met no resistance on their way to the safe room, and once inside they were able to crawl through a vent back to the outside of the base, and from there it was a short trip to the fence.

"Now returning to the real world."

Once again outside of the hotel, Twilight couldn't hold in her curiosity. "So what does a calling card look like, anyway?"

"You're gonna find out," Makoto said. "Let's all go up to your room, so we can write it up and make a plan for delivering it."

"You ready for this, Dash?" Ryuji asked. "Once it's sent, there's no going back. We'll have to change Yearling's heart, or we'll never get the chance again."

"Oh, trust me, I'm ready," she said. "I mean, I already wanted to go through with it, but now I'm certain."

"We'll make sure Autumn Wisp gets the justice she deserves," Haru said, before letting out a small giggle. "I forgot how much I enjoyed saying things like that!"

Akira just smiled.

"Alright, enough fooling around," Morgana called out. "This is gonna be our first changed heart in Equestria. Let's try to make a good impression, yeah?"