• Published 29th Jun 2017
  • 3,654 Views, 121 Comments

Hearts and Minds - The card holder



Equestria is facing a potential crisis involving distorted reality based on cognition. Celestia tells an old friend, who has just the solution for her...

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A New Game

"Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice," Princess Celestia said, giving a small nod of her head as she took a sip from her tea.

"It was no trouble at all, Celestia," a voice answered from the other side of the table, mostly shrouded in darkness. "Though, you'll have to pardon the mess. There were some... rather dire circumstances as of late, and I've yet to find time to properly clean up."

Celestia nodded in sympathy. "I understand, these things happen..." She took another sip, then frowned. "In any case, I contacted you to ask... a favor."

"Oh? And so soon after we meet again?"

Celestia chuckled. "I'm sorry, but, well, it makes me uneasy."

"...very well. I shall listen to your problem."

"Thank you."

The next few minutes were spent with Celestia explaining her predicament, her colleague nodding along and listening intently.

"...and so, I was hoping you had some idea as to how to fix this. This is admittedly beyond any magic I or my sister know."

A short chuckle sounded from the other end of the table. "My, it seems like you have a similar problem to the one I had..."

Celestia tilted her head. "What do you mean?"

"Do not worry, I shall tell you at another time. For now, I believe I have the answer to your problems. I will ask if they are willing to assist, so you shall hear from me shortly."

"Wait, they?"

"Farewell, Celestia," the voice said, ignoring her. "I shall see you again soon, with their answer."

The room faded out, and a moment later, Celestia found herself rising out of bed, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

She let out a yawn as she thought over the previous discussion she just had. "Just what is that Igor planning...?"


A figure walked up to the front door of a cafe, letting out a sigh.

"This place hasn't changed at all, has it?" a voice asked from the bag slung over his shoulder, which got little more than a chuckle and a nod in response.

After adjusting the rolling suitcase in his grip, the figure walked through the door, the bell chiming as he did so.

"Be there in a sec!" a familiar voice shouted from the kitchen. None of the tables in the cafe were occupied, however.

A moment later, a middle-aged, bearded man in an apron came out of the kitchen, drying his hands as he stepped away from a sink with a few dirty dishes in it. He stopped when he saw who just walked inside.

"Well I'll be... didn't expect to see you again so soon." He put a hand to his chin in thought. "Though I guess you did say that was today..."

"I'm here too!" said the voice from the bag, emerging to reveal a black and white cat.

"Shouldn't be surprised you brought Morgana with you," the owner continued. "I take it he's happy to see me again, too?"

The newcomer grinned.

"He said your business is failing."

The cat swatted a paw against his head. "I did not!"

The owner chuckled. "Well, do the others know you're back in town, yet?"

The boy adjusted his glasses and shook his head.

"I won't spoil the surprise for them, then." Picking up his keys, the owner walked to the door. "Your room's just the way you left it. You look tired, so get some rest. You got all summer ahead of you, after all."

Once he left, Morgana jumped out of the bag and onto the floor. "Well, Sojiro hasn't changed... The chief's right, Akira. We should get some sleep."

He got a nod of approval in response, and the two headed upstairs, where they quickly turned in for the night.


Akira suddenly snapped awake. His environment was a familiar one, so he slowly rose to his feet.

"Ah, Trickster," a voice greeted from the center of the room, its owner sitting at a desk. "Welcome back to the velvet room."

A few questions came to mind, before he settled on one.

"Why am I back here?"

Igor chuckled. "Do not worry, your world is not in danger again so soon. In actuality, I have called you here tonight to ask... a favor."

From the corner of his eye, Akira saw a young-looking girl in blue walk to the side of the desk. "Our master has a friend in potential need of assistance. The nature of their problem could possibly be similar to the nature of the threat you vanquished not too long ago."

This got his attention, and his gaze turned serious.

"Lavenza is correct," Igor continued. "However, please understand that you are not obligated to assist if you do not wish to. Rest assured, this issue does not involve your world in the slightest, and neither is it related to the Metaverse, though it may seem identical at first glance. However, my colleague expressed concern about the situation, and asked me for guidance. After some thinking, I decided to ask you directly if you and your friends would like to help."

"The bonds you forged are no doubt still strong," Lavenza continued, "and know that, should you accept, your powers will return in order for you to assist."

Remembering the power he unleashed last Christmas, Akira recoiled slightly.

Igor chuckled. "You are thinking about the persona you unleashed that day, are you not?" He shook his head once. "I'm sorry to say, but such a power cannot be reused as often as you would like. You remember how tired you were after using it that day, correct?"

After thinking back on it, Akira nodded.

"Do not worry," Igor continued, "you will still have the power of the wild card to utilize, and Lavenza and I will still be willing to assist, should you wish. After all, it is entirely your choice whether or not you accept."

Akira put a hand to his chin in thought. While the stakes weren't nearly as high as the last time they used their powers, he couldn't bring himself to turn down a request for help. Still...

"I'll ask the others first."

Igor nodded in understanding. "Of course, please ensure you all agree before you take action. Still, just in case you agree, I will see about restoring the Metaverse Navigator for you, along with what you need to assist this friend."

A bell rang out in the distance.

"Ah, time is growing short. Know that whatever decision you make, I will fully support you, Trickster. Farewell for now."

And so, everything faded back into darkness.


'A favor... And we'll get our powers back... but what would we be doing?'

"-th to Akira! Are you listening to me?"

His thoughts were interrupted by Morgana calling his name from the other end of the bed.

"Come on, we gotta go meet back with the others again!" the cat continued, already bounding over to the other side of the room.

Akira nodded, before getting up and leaving the attic, grabbing his bag (now containing Morgana) on his way out. Sojiro was already up and at the counter, as was usual, but what was slightly more unexpected was the sight of a familiar head of red hair seated across from him, currently eating from a plate full of curry.

She turned around at the sound of his footsteps, and she nearly dropped her fork as she jumped out of her seat.

"Akira!" she shouted, mouth still somewhat full of food.

"And me!" Morgana chimed in, revealing himself from Akira's bag.

The girl immediately ran over and grabbed Morgana's head in her hands, petting him very aggressively, until he shook her off.

"S- Stop!"

"Why are you here?" the girl asked, ignoring the cat's reaction.

"He felt like coming back for summer break," Sojiro explained. "He wanted to keep it a surprise from you and the others, so I didn't say anything." Suddenly, his smile widened. "Say, Futaba, why don't you tell him the good news?"

"Oh yeah! I'm actually going to high school next year! What do you think?"

"You have made a grave mistake."

Morgana swatted Akira's head. "Don't say things like that!"

"Glad to see neither of you have changed at all," Futaba said, chuckling softly as she pulled out her phone. "Now come on, we gotta meet up with the others!"

Akira nodded in agreement.

"Don't get into trouble, alright?" Sojiro called out as they made for the door.

"Please, what could possibly happen to us?" Futaba asked. "I mean, we've only dismantled a massive government conspiracy and then killed a supposed god who was controlling humanity."

Sojiro just sighed. "Just try not to get arrested again, okay, Akira?"

"I make no promises."

"Alright, let's go!" Futaba said, practically pushing them out of the door.


"Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice, Twilight."

"Of course, Celestia. But what's the issue?"

Celestia took a slow sip from her tea. "Tell me, have you or your friends noticed anything... off, lately?"

Twilight tilted her head. "Off how?"

Celestia put a hoof to her chin. "Hmm, how to explain it..." Suddenly, she lightly tapped her hoof on the table. "Okay, you know how the dreams Luna watches over can have all kinds of changes from the real world, based on how the pony thinks?"

"I think so...?" Twilight said, cautiously.

"Well, I have reason to believe that the same thing is happening in the real world, to some degree."

"So, their dreams are somehow becoming reality?"

"Basically, yes. I am unsure of the exact reasoning or cause of this, as is Luna, but she is currently doing everything in her power to investigate the issue."

"Hmm..." Twilight looked into her tea, as if looking for an answer. "Should I get my friends together and prepare for the worst?"

"Oh, no need for that, at least not yet," Celestia said. "While it is an odd phenomenon for sure, Luna has confirmed that the changes caused by this have been minimal at most, and it currently doesn't seem to be spreading that much. However, the simple fact that this is happening is somewhat worrying, so I wanted to let you know as soon as possible."

"I understand... I think." Twilight took a sip of her own tea. "So, do you want me to research this?"

"I'm not sure if we have anything useful within our records, but you are free to look for yourself if you wish," Celestia said with a nod.

"Alright, I guess I can start today, since I didn't really have anything planned for the rest of the day..." Twilight said, getting up from her seat and heading for the door.

"Thank you, Twilight." Celestia let out a sigh as she stared off into space. "Hopefully he'll get back to me by then..."

"I'm sorry, did you say something?"

"Oh, nothing, Twilight, just thinking to myself."

Twilight just let out a small "Hmm," before she left the room, muttering to herself. "Let's see, dream-based shaping of reality would be...?"


"Okay, I got everyone to meet up at the diner on central street," Futaba explained. "They still don't know you're here, so let me go inside first."

"Why are you setting this up so much?" Morgana asked.

"Because you two haven't been here for a while! No one's expecting you, so we gotta make an event out of it!"

"Hmm... what do you think, Akira?"

"We couldn't stop her, anyway."

Futaba smiled. "Glad you see it my way. Now, just stay put until I give the signal."

With that, she hopped up the stairs into the diner, leaving Akira alone in the street.

After a moment of waiting, his phone buzzed, and when he pulled it out a single message was waiting for him from Futaba.

Now.

"There's our signal," Morgana said. However, Akira smirked.

"I think we should wait some more."

Morgana chuckled. "That's evil, but I'm not stopping you."

Another moment passed, and another text came from Futaba.

Hello?

Akira felt his smirk widen slightly as he typed out a response.

Yes?

Get in here!

Why?

Do you want me to tell the others about how you were dating your homeroom teacher?

Akira's smirk dropped.

"Oh, right, she has Leblanc bugged..." Morgana said.

Putting away his phone, Akira walked up the steps, looking for the others. It didn't take long to find them, since they were currently the biggest gathered group inside the diner. None of them saw him at first, as they were instead focused on a Futaba who was still glaring irritably at her phone, though with a barely detectable smug grin on her face.

Akira's presence wouldn't go unnoticed for long, however. "Oh shit, Akira?!"

Ryuji's outburst easily got the attention of everyone else, and Akira could only give a sheepish smile at the stares of everyone else.

"Well, this is unexpected," Yusuke commented.

"So that's why you brought all of us here," Haru added, looking at Futaba.

"Don't forget about me!" Morgana said, sticking his head out of Akira's bag.

"Aw, man, you brought the cat too," Ryuji complained.

"Do you want to fight? Because that offer's still open!"

"Bring it, furball!"

"Ryuji, let me remind you that you are picking a fight with a housecat," Makoto said.

"He started it!"

Akira went ahead and took a seat as the argument continued, and he barely caught an eye roll from Ann. "Well, you can see that nothing really has changed... I mean, Haru and Makoto graduated, but they're still gonna be here for the time being."

"So, what's the occasion for coming here?" Haru asked Akira, likewise breaking away from the bickering Ryuji and Morgana.

Akira gave a shrug.

"Just felt like paying a visit for the summer."

"And now that the gang's all here," Futaba broke in, "we can start the real fun!"

Yusuke gave her a confused look. "Such as?"

"I have no clue!"

Everyone just gave her a look.

"Well, now that Akira's back, I'm sure we can think of something," Makoto said.

As he looked over the faces of all of his friends, Akira couldn't help but think about that dream he had the night before. 'I should probably tell them about that...'

"Hey, what's up, Akira?" Ryuji asked. "Looks like you're thinking about something."

"I might know something we could do."

This got everyone's attention.

And so Akira did his best to try and explain what Igor asked of him. Morgana was also in the dark about it, oddly enough, but quickly got on the same page. The others, however, had mixed reactions.

"I thought I made it clear that any more work of this sort and I'd be leaving," Yusuke said, folding his arms.

"Oh, we know you don't mean it, Inari," said Futaba.

"Yeah, kinda agree with him," Ryuji added. "I mean, I think shooting a god in the face is kinda my limit on all that phantom thief stuff, y'know? Like, how are we ever gonna top that?"

"I dunno, I don't see the harm in it," Ann said. "After all, we don't really have anything else planned for the summer, and plus we'd get to help people again!"

"Plus, I do kind of miss being a thief..." Haru lamented.

"I have to agree with both of you," Makoto added. "I rather enjoyed helping people out that way."

Ryuji groaned. "Fine, if everyone else is on board, I guess I am too."

Everyone looked to Yusuke expectantly, before he let out a sigh. "Very well, I suppose I can go along with this for a little while longer."

"That's our Inari!" Futaba cheered.

"Alright then, shall we all meet at Leblanc?" Morgana asked.

A chorus of agreement met him, as everyone got up and left the diner in a group. Akira caught them up on what he had been doing in the few months he was gone, but he said that it was ultimately not that interesting.

By the time they got back to Leblanc, it was well into the afternoon, although the place was still empty, save for Sojiro.

"Already got the gang all together, huh?" he commented. "Well, try not to have too much fun."

The group headed upstairs, where they quickly gathered around a table that Akira pulled out.

"So, how are we gettin' to this place?" Ryuji asked, holding out his phone. "The metaverse nav is still missing from our phones."

Akira pulled out his own, where he noticed a brand new app that looked quite familiar. Makoto was surprised when she looked over his shoulder and saw it, as well. "Wait, is that...?"

Akira opened the app, and found that the interface was almost exactly like the previous metaverse navigator they had, although he was unable to change the destination at all, with it instead being locked to a certain location.

"'Equestria'?" Ann read out loud. "Sounds rather odd."

"Wait, is that the only thing in there?" Ryuji asked, struggling to get a view of the phone. "Isn't that just like-"

"Mementos," Morgana muttered to himself, before shaking his head. "Well, I guess we won't know until we try it out, right?"

Akira nodded, and pressed the button on his phone.

"Beginning navigation."


Once they shook off the familiar feeling of crossing out of their own reality, the group found themselves in the middle of a castle hallway.

"Another castle, huh?" Ryuji commented.

"At least this one has some taste to it," Ann added. Suddenly, she recoiled slightly. "Wait, Morgana, you're-!"

The others were equally surprised to see the cat in his original, almost cartoonish form. "Hmm, apparently this place shares some qualities with the metaverse," he thought out loud.

"But we remain unchanged," Yusuke said, tugging at his shirt sleeve.

"I don't think this is another palace," Futaba said, looking at the walls around them. "This place feels... different."

"So, uh, just for old time's sake, should we be usin' code names?" Ryuji asked.

Makoto put a hand to her chin in thought. "Well, it wouldn't necessarily hurt, I guess..."

"Then it's settled!" Morgana said, pumping a paw into the air. "Now then, Joker, you know what we're supposed to do here?"

"No idea."

The others just stared at him for a bit.

"Well, we're supposed to help someone," Haru helpfully stated. "Maybe we'll find them if we look around?"

Meanwhile, Yusuke was looking intently at a stained glass window. "Hmm, how peculiar..."

Ryuji looked over. "What's up, Fox?"

Also noticing his confusion, the others stepped alongside him. Once they did, they too saw the window.

"Is that... a horse?" Ann asked.

"Nah, can't be, it has wings," Ryuji noted. "Oh, and a horn, too."

"Pretty sure we've seen a few shadows like that," Futaba said.

"Hey, the others are like that, too," Makoto pointed out. Sure enough, there were other stained glass windows placed throughout the hall, each one showing some kind of scene, and all of them featuring some kind of horse creatures, in varying colors and states of wing or horn possessing.

"So... this isn't like a world of horse people, is it?" Ryuji asked.

"It's within possibility," Morgana replied. "For now, though, we should-"

"Halt! Stay where you are!"

The group whirled around to face the owner of the voice, posed for combat if needed. However, none of them expected to see a small horse in some kind of knight armor approaching them, a squad of similarly armored horses following behind, all of them holding spears under their forelegs.

None of them dropped their guard, however, and simply waited.

The guard at the front snorted, then spoke again. "State your intentions, intruders!"

"Wait, hold on, we ain't intruding anything!" Ryuji shouted.

"This is just a misunderstanding," Yusuke clarified.

"The only way in or out of this area is the door," the guard said, motioning behind him, "which is guarded. Nopony saw you come in here, so clearly you managed to sneak inside another way!"

"Nopony...?" Futaba echoed from the back of the group.

"Don't just stand there, Joker," Morgana whispered, "say something!"

"We mean no harm."

"We'll be the judge of that!" the guard spat back. "Now, arrest-!"

"There will be no need for that."

Everyone present went wide-eyed at the new voice, which came from a larger, pure white horse behind the guards. They quickly parted as she walked towards the humans (and Morgana), and she wasted no time before giving a small bow of her head, her ethereal mane flowing slowly around her.

"Apologies about the hostile greeting. Perhaps I train my guards a little too well."

The head guard gaped. "Princess Celestia...!" Suddenly, he fell into a massive bow. "Please forgive my ignorance!"

'Celestia' chuckled. "There is no need for that. Simply move your squad to the doors for now."

"Yes, your highness!" With a couple more barked orders, the guards were departed from the immediate area, leaving just the princess.

"Well, with that out of the way," she began, "I am Princess Celestia, and I welcome you to Equestria."

"A princess...?" Makoto muttered, unsure.

"Equestria..." Ann likewise thought out loud.

When none of them made a definite response, Celestia tilted her head. "You are the ones I am waiting for, right?"

That got everyone's attention. "What do you mean?" Morgana asked cautiously.

"I am not mistaken, am I?" Celestia took a step forward. "You are the Phantom Thieves, are you not?"

Author's Note:

For every "I never saw it coming" or variations thereof I see in the comments, I'm delaying the next chapter by a day.

Also, reminder that Akira is the closest thing we have to a "canon" name for the protagonist, so I used it here to avoid confusion.

Also also, any pre-existing romantic relationships that the protagonist has in this fic will be based entirely off of the ones he had in my first playthrough of the game, so keep that in mind and don't judge me.

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