• Published 29th Jun 2017
  • 3,556 Views, 120 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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Regroup

The outside of Yearling's house was exactly the same as they had left it. Dash was clearly swaying on her hooves, despite leaning against Pinkie for support.

"You don't have to push yourself, Dash," Makoto told her. "Awakening to your persona is an exhausting process. We were all the same way."

"I'm fine," Dash said, pushing off from Pinkie to stand on her own. "I just... need a little rest, that's all."

"Still, you did pretty effin' great for your first time with your persona," Ryuji complimented. "Ain't that right, Joker?"

Akira nodded.

"She has promise."

Once she was sure that Dash was okay on her own, Twilight turned to the thieves. "Okay, we're safe now. Start explaining what just happened."

Morgana took center stage as he explained. "She embraced her other self, her source of rebellion. The process isn't exactly... pleasant, as you saw, but it's a necessary part to tear off the mask one wears in their life, both metaphorically and literally."

Twilight simply took in the explanation, not entirely grasping the concept, but willing to put that aside for the moment. Instead, she singled out Akira. "What about him? I saw him using two of those personas!"

Morgana looked up at him. "Joker is special; he can use the power of the wild card, meaning he can use multiple personas at will."

Twilight's eye twitched. "But that fully contradicts everything you just told me about personas!"

"To be quite honest, we tend to not question anything regarding Joker or his actions," Yusuke added.

Twilight just let out an aggravated sigh. "Alright, sure. So where does this leave us?"

"Dash needs to rest up for now," Ann said, "and then tomorrow we can head back inside."

"Wait, we?" Twilight asked. "What do you mean-"

"Hey, guys! What's up?"

Everyone jumped at the new voice, and turned to see A.K. Yearling walking up to them, saddlebags full of merchandise of herself. She stopped some distance away, and looked at the pie that Pinkie had left on the table. "Oh, nice, you get that for me?"

Seeing the hostility growing in the ponies' eyes, Makoto took the lead. "Y-Yeah, we figured we'd stop by and see you outside of the con."

Twilight gave her a confused look, but said nothing.

Meanwhile, Pinkie followed Makoto's lead. "Uh, yep! It was gonna be a small surprise party! But, uh..." She looked at Dash, who was stuck between glaring at Yearling and nearly collapsing, and rushed over to pull her into a small hug, shocking the glare off her. "Dashie's real tired from the trip over here, sooooo we were about to head back to the hotel!"

Pinkie capped off her statement with a slightly-too-wide smile.

"Nah, it's fine," Yearling said. "As much as I've traveled, I know how it is. Well, I'll see you guys tomorrow!"

With that, she used a wing to lift the pie onto her back, before heading into her house, the door opening normally. A few seconds after she went in, Akira reached for the door himself, only for it to ripple the same way as it did before.

"So the palace owner can enter the palace area unaffected..." Morgana muttered, just loud enough for the others to hear. "Interesting..."

"What was that?" Twilight asked, trying to keep her voice low despite her confusion. "Why didn't she-"

"We'll explain on the way back," Futaba said, falling in step behind Akira, who was already heading back towards town.

Once the group was entirely moving and a good distance away from Yearling's house, Morgana spoke up.

"A person who has a palace doesn't remember what happens within that palace. After all, their other selves within that palace is their shadow; as in, the deepest, darkest part of themselves. In other words, a person's shadow shows how they truly feel, even if they don't want to admit it to themselves."

Twilight nodded along with the explanation, slowly starting to catch up to the concept. "So, she doesn't remember anything we did?"

"Not a thing."

"But the reverse situation is much different," Futaba took over the explanation. "Since palaces are based around cognition, anything the palace ruler sees in the real world will be reflected within the palace. So, for example, say there's a locked door within the place that the person's palace is based in. In the palace, this could manifest as an impenetrable door of some kind, typically fitting within the 'theme' that the palace appears as. With me so far?"

Twilight slowly nodded. "I think so..."

"Good. So," Futaba continued, "if the ruler sees the door unlocked in the real world, and they know for a fact that they didn't unlock it, that would mean that their cognition that the door was impossible to get through would be proven false. As a result, the door in the palace would spontaneously open, allowing us to infiltrate even deeper into the palace."

Dash just stared ahead, ear twitching as she went over the brief lesson. "I don't really get it..."

"That's fine, it takes some getting used to," Ryuji said. "If you ever get lost, just sit back and let us handle the details. Hell, that's what I did for a while when we first got started."

Akira gave a wry smile at that, but said nothing.

Eventually, they arrived at the hotel. Dash was practically falling on Pinkie, she was so tired.

"So... we'll end up changing her heart, right?" Dash asked, looking at the thieves, getting various nods in response. "So... what will happen?"

Makoto answered her. "Her palace will disappear, and her desires with it. However, her crimes will remain, and the guilt will most likely push her to confess everything publicly. While she wouldn't get arrested for writing books based on faked adventures, her shadow did mention something about 'underground contacts'."

Dash nodded, clearly understanding the implication, and thought to herself before reaching a conclusion. "Okay. Let's do it."

Twilight was slightly shocked. "You reached that decision pretty quickly..."

"She's been using me this whole time," Dash explained, wearing a dark smile. "I have to do this."

"Well... okay. I trust your decision, Dash."

Pinkie then helped Dash inside the hotel, both of them saying their goodbyes as they did so.

Now alone with the thieves, Twlight turned to address them all. "The convention lasts through to next week. Will that be enough time?"

"Oh, that's fine!" Haru said. "We've been able to tear through palaces in far less time!"

"Yeah, if this guy knows anything," Ryuji said, patting Akira on the back, "it's good scheduling."

Morgana smirked. "We both know I'm the real brains behind his decisions."

"You sure about that?"

Morgana shot a playful glare at Akira. "Hey!"

After the group shared a small laugh, Makoto spoke up. "We'll probably come back tomorrow. Does that sound good?"

Twilight nodded. "While I can't begin to understand your methods yet, I'm at least thankful you're willing to help."

"Then we shall see you tomorrow," Yusuke said, as Akira pulled out his phone.

And with that, the Phantom Thieves once again vanished into thin air. Twilight's eye twitched trying to figure it out, but she quickly gave up on that line of thought in favor of checking up on Dash herself.

It was going to be a long road ahead, that's for sure.


The sun was already starting to set on Tokyo by the time they got back, but Akira already had plans, so he and Morgana said their farewells to the others and went into the city.

After ducking into an alleyway, Akira was pleased to see that a certain store was still in place, entirely unchanged from the last time he was there.

As usual, the inside was completely devoid of life, save for the surly-looking man behind the counter, feet propped up as he read from a gun magazine.

The man at the counter looked up at the sound of the door chime, and cracked a smile as he sat up properly. "Look who's back in town."

Akira returned a smile of his own as he stepped up to the counter, before shaking his hand.

"How's business, Iwai?"

"Heh, gotta admit, it hasn't been the same since the Phantom Thieves left town," Iwai said, giving a knowing look at Akira. "But something tells me that business is gonna pick up again, am I right?"

"Something like that."

Iwai chuckled as he started looking through his inventory. "So, what're you guys gonna do this time? Any big plans for the city?"

"You could say we're operating out of town."

"Oh, laying a little low, are we? Well, can't say I blame you." As Iwai started putting together the things Akira picked out, he continued talking. "Apparently, ever since you guys stopped working, the clans have been antsy; something about them being afraid they're gonna be targeted."

At Akira's questioning glance, he elaborated. "Tsuda's keeping me informed when he stops by now and then. Not for anything business related, mind you, just personal visits. Just like old times..."

Before he could get too far gone in nostalgia, Iwai shook his head. "Nevermind. This everything?"

Once Akira nodded his head and started handing over payment, Iwai continued talking.

"I've heard that the cops are a little antsy, too. As far as I can tell, they got you pinned as the leader of the Thieves, but they're still debating whether or not that's true. After all, there's still very little evidence that your group even existed, no matter how hard they dig."

Akira smirked.

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Iwai let out a genuine laugh. "Fair enough, kid. Just try to stay alive, alright? I still don't know how fake weapons help you, but you better not waste them, anyway."

Akira thanked him, before exiting the store, Morgana struggling to not get poked by the small pile of new equipment in his bag.

"Glad to see he's still doing alright," the cat commented. "Maybe we should ask how his son's doing, next time we come here."

Akira nodded in agreement, and started walking back out of the alley-

"Oof!"

-only to bump into someone on his way out. Thankfully, neither of them dropped anything or fell down, so Akira quickly muttered an apology to whoever he ran into.

"Oh, don't worry, it's fine," the other person- a short, blue-haired woman, he noticed now- said. "I should've paid attention to where I was going."

Before Akira could say anything else, she continued walking into the alley. He was barely able to make out a notebook in her hands before she went into Iwai's shop.

"Huh, he really does have other customers," Morgana noted as they started heading back to Leblanc. "Who knew?"

The rest of their trip home was uneventful, but there was still time in the night by the time they got up to the cafe's attic. With nothing else to do, Akira spent the rest of the night making tools, in preparation for the journey ahead.

They were officially back in business starting tomorrow, after all. Best to be prepared.

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